Not all company growth comes from selling more.
Wes Gipe, Founder of Agil IT, agrees, saying he experienced this within his own company: “I had been so externally focused. I was focused on growing the business," he says in this video. "I really didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the success of the people within the organization.”
Just like Wes, business owners are tasked with growing the business and driving strategy. There are different types of strategy: product superiority, customer intimacy, and operational excellence. Each of these strategies can drive a competitive advantage.
But one of the most important questions successful CEOs step back and answer is, “What drives a sustainable competitive advantage for the organization?”
The answer is important, because a great strategy may bring you customers, but a sustainable competitive advantage can keep customers with you over time.
Culture: A Sustainable Competitive Advantage
A strong culture can be a sustainable competitive advantage, if not the only sustainable competitive advantage, because it cannot be duplicated, unlike a product, price point, or delivery system.
A healthy company culture provides an environment that supports stronger recruiting, retention, increased customer intimacy and loyalty, greater productivity, and an increased sense of employee ownership. And, last, a strong culture also directly impacts the bottom line.
Allowing Your Employees to Flourish
Strategic, social, and structural influences are what shape an organization’s culture. There’s a three-part, intentional process to set the climate that will allow individuals to flourish:
- Define the culture: Have you clarified the driving organizational values, beliefs, and behaviors that will help you distinctively serve your customers?
- Align the culture: How do you turn your values into ongoing norms of behavior within your organization?
- Monitor the culture: How are you supporting the environment? How are you getting and giving feedback?
Part of this culture design process can require a change in perspective for many entrepreneurs. You may think delivering results is your primary responsibility, but part of your responsibility is fostering culture and growing the individual and team talent needed for today and the future.
“An organization’s leaders need to revisit how they view their structure, including how they see themselves as supporting the rest of the organization,” says Mary Connors, a 2-Day Professional Management Workshop facilitator at Aileron.
Shifting from a manager mindset to a coaching mindset gives you a more participatory, supportive role with your people.
“Everyone within the organization needs a voice in co-creating the collaborative culture, and leadership's role is then to support and engage that process,” adds Mary.
Supporting Positive Change in Your Organization
As Mary argues, you’re never truly “building” your culture because there is already a culture in place at your company. What you are doing, however, is evolving your culture every day. As a business owner, you’re uniquely positioned to shape your culture in a way that can drive long-term value for the organization.
Knowing this, here are three actions you can take to invest time in developing your culture:
1. Make sure your vision, mission, and values are clear.
Your vision should be written in the future tense and can describe what you want the business to become. The vision should be attainable, believable, and easily understood by employees.
Your mission is the company’s purpose in life. It’s a brief statement that summarizes your reason for existing. It should be clear, defines what you do, and should capture the soul of the organization.
Your values are “how we do it.” Having complete clarity around your vision, mission, and values supports decision making that contributes to a healthy culture. Individuals will feel comfortable and safe within an environment when you are very clear on the vision, the mission and values, and you are able to hold people accountable to those guiding principles.
2. Hire people who align with your company values.
Mary has seen organizations who celebrate their values by displaying them on walls within their office or facility. It’s a reminder to current employees of the values that matter to them and to their customers.
Some teams will collectively use sticky notes to describe and share the values that matter to them on a wall. Then they take the hundreds of sticky notes and filter them down to the company’s core values.
“This ‘value wall’ is not a quick process, but it's a very inclusive process,” explains Mary. Once you have a wall that displays your values, you can use it to show and attract individuals who align with these values and your culture. “You can also challenge all associates to hold each other accountable for living those values out each day,” says Mary.
3. Provide ample opportunities for input.
How do you support an environment where there is respect for your constantly evolving culture? High-performing organizations embrace opportunities to exchange ideas. Ensure that you gather input and feedback from employees. Last, look for development opportunities that align with the company’s strategic direction and employee’s aspirations.
Support Positive Change Through Your Leadership
You can start supporting positive change in your organization by improving your leadership. And, to become a better leader, you must first increase your self-awareness—awareness about yourself (your emotions, thoughts, and actions) and also awareness about how others see and view you. In the Leading With Your Best Self workshop, you’ll take a deep dive into the areas of self-discovery, self-awareness, and personal accountability so that you can know more about what’s holding you back, and how you can break through.
A version of this post post originally appeared on Forbes.com