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Serve, Strive, Succeed: Creating a Culture at Your Business

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The phrase “positive work culture” has been bandied about so much that it’s often hard to tell what it means anymore. OK, so we all know it’s much more than slapping down a box of donuts on the reception room table. But trying to find reliable, dynamic constants can prove as confusing as picking a diet—then going online to find that there are 1,000 diets all claiming to be the right one.

Then, there’s the time factor. “Most small business owners are not managers or entrepreneurs; they have a skill and they are focused on delivering their product to customers,” says Rich Biava, vice president and co-owner of GAC Services, an HVAC company based in Gaithersburg, Maryland. “But the job of executing the work is so overwhelming that thinking about culture improvements is too far away from the day to day issues at hand.”

That’s nothing to be ashamed of, necessarily. The late Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” wrote and spoke of “Quadrant 2”—the space where we put important but not urgent business priorities. Even the most conscientious owner-operators will leave workplace culture goals there, because they’re absorbed in those “overwhelming” day-to-day tasks. (Covey referred to the “urgent, important” space where people put out fires all day long as Quadrant 1.)

True, creating a culture that’s energized and affirming and dynamic takes a concerted effort over time—and in heat of summer or frozen depths of winter, time is precious, especially when there’s money to be made. But taking the long view, Biava contends, can have a lasting affect on business: It optimizes operations for the long haul as opposed to maximizing them in the short run.

“Building a culture costs time and money,” Biava says. “You won’t see results immediately. It is cultivated by years of work and effort and starts from the top. Even if you don’t think you’re working on it you could be—but unfortunately it’s the completely wrong way.”

Just as you wouldn’t hang ductwork with masking tape, a wing and a prayer, work culture isn’t something to leave in a grey zone where it’ll work itself out. Here, Biava offers five action points for fashioning a workplace that will take your business to a whole new level of harmony, efficiency and profitability.

Keep communication clear
Biava says that for company communication to work, it’s wise to use an approach that combines verbal and written styles to deliver and reinforce a consistent message. Be specific and concise; in an age of Twitter-length attention spans, three-page emails won’t cut it. Outside of HVAC, some companies are going a step further with tremendous results. When Julie Sweet became the CEO of Accenture’s North American business in 2015, she got rid of standard memos in favor of quick, in-house videos that allowed her and her team to convey, besides important content, non-scripted emotion and enthusiasm.

Promote understanding of your vision and mission

Vision, of course, is what you’re aiming for, while your mission defines what you’re in business to do. “Write it down, say it, believe it and work toward it no matter what the hurdle or what life puts in your way,” he says, adding: “Stop and think about your purpose. It isn’t to make money. That’s cheap and shallow. However, it is great to make money from executing your purpose well—but you need to find your purpose and be passionate about it.” That kind of positive thrust is contagious and encourages employee buy-in and loyalty on the front end, which leads to staunch customer loyalty on the back end.

Show leadership by acting as a servant
Servant leadership reduces the distance between an owner and staff through a simple-yet-powerful principle: Your employees know you are there to help when it’s needed, and that you’re as much of a team player as they are. Biava refers to this concept as “from ‘me’ to ‘we’ and ‘I’ to ‘service.’”

Use meetings, and use them productively
This links to servant leadership in that meetings need not be top-down affairs—and, in fact, shouldn’t be. A productive meeting framework gives you an opportunity to collaborate on and discuss ideas; get input from workers in the field; share vital information; and get everyone into the same physical space to reinforce a team atmosphere.

Embrace a learning environment
“When someone makes a costly mistake we don’t send them packing or make them pay for it,” Biava stresses. “We address it and create case studies to help educate others.” GAC also offers leadership training after hours to people who want to get involved. He also notes: “Good people make mistakes, bad customers can turn into raving fans, life and people change. You will limit your potential if you don’t consider new information to assess a situation.”

As workplace culture flourishes, businesses grow—but to get there, a different kind of growth needs to happen first. “Developing a growth mindset is about permitting new information to enter your brain and allow it to be processed and using it to make an informed decision with new information,” Biava says. “This is vital for running successful businesses and making important decisions throughout your life.”

Lou Carlozo

Posted In: Management

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