Company culture is kind of like a fingerprint—every business has one, and no two are exactly alike. And while no company culture is inherently good or bad—as Erica Cohen points out in this blog post—there are certain cultural characteristics that are common to the world’s most productive and successful businesses. Here’s a list of five culture must-haves:

1. Collaboration. Nothing destroys a team faster than cutthroat competition among teammates. If you can cut the tension in your office with a knife, it’s time for a major overhaul. Often, this type of inter-office rivalry results from lack of acknowledgment or validation from the leadership. So make it a point to recognize each one of your employees for what they bring to the table (we’ll talk more about recognition later). When employees know you value them, they’ll feel less inclined to throw punches in a fight for your approval.

Another key to fostering collaboration among employees is getting everyone to buy in to your business and its overall mission. As John A. Woods writes in The Quality Yearbook, in this type of cultural atmosphere, “people feel they are part of something bigger than themselves…[they identify] their personal success on the job with that something.” It’s easy to get bogged down by the day-to-day grind—so every once in a while, try to remind everyone in your practice of how meaningful their work truly is. After all, it’s pretty darn gratifying to say you dedicate each day to improving quality of life. 

 

2. Hands-off Management. Sure, every ship needs a captain, but nobody likes a leader who barks orders, scrutinizes every action, or publicly reprimands his or her crew. If your employees fear you, they’ll hesitate to take ownership of any task or project, no matter how small it is. That, in turn, puts more work—and stress—on your plate, thus propagating the vicious cycle. On the flipside, if you hire the right people, you should be able to trust them to perform at the level you expect—no micromanagement required. When you empower your staff to tackle their own projects, make their own decisions, and solve their own problems—all while providing them with the support and resources they need to be successful—the entire practice benefits (and you maintain your sanity). As this 7 Geese article explains, “Your job is to provide [employees] guidelines on how you want your business to be run. Ensure that your employees are making decisions with your company’s core values in mind. Self-management is like giving the key to your business to your employees.”

 This type of structure—what business gurus often call “flat hierarchy”—allows your staff to feel totally invested in your practice (which goes back to the “buy-in” concept discussed in #1). As Woods points out, managers and directors who present themselves as colleagues rather than superiors tend to bring out the best in their employees. If you come off as approachable, your employees will feel comfortable coming to you with their ideas and concerns. And when the lines of communication are open, you prevent employee frustration or dissatisfaction from festering and infecting the entire office.

3. Rejection of Perfection. Peyton Manning is one of the best quarterbacks in pro football (go Broncos!), but he still throws the occasional interception. Nobody is perfect, and as a leader, you certainly shouldn’t expect your team to be flawless 100% of the time. If your employees are afraid to make mistakes—or admit to them—then they’re more likely to point fingers, pass bucks, and make excuses. And none of those things are conducive to productivity. So encourage your staff to own up to their “oopses.” That way, everyone learns from these missteps, thus promoting overall efficiency by preventing the same errors from popping up time and time again. And if history does end up repeating itself, at least they’ll know exactly what to do to right the ship. As the above-cited 7 Geese article advises, “You will encounter many employees who will blame the failure of their projects on external factors. The ones you want to keep in your organization are the ones [who] admit to the failure, know what they did wrong, understand how they can avoid the same mistakes, and are ready to take on a new project or repair the old one.”

4. Recognition. Don’t be that boss who takes all the credit when things go well (and none of the blame when they don’t). In the study cited in this infographic, lack of recognition was the second most common reason (at 48.3%) that employees were leaving their employers. It’s easy to see why; recognition signifies appreciation. And if you don’t feel like your manager appreciates or values you as an employee, then what’s the point of putting forth the effort to do exemplary work? Remember how great it felt when your coach commended you on a game well played? Or when your mom framed a piece of your artwork because it was just that good? It probably inspired you to play even harder in the next game or draw even more rainbows in your next masterpiece. But while many bosses focus on rewards for measurable success—the number of new patients a therapist brings in, for example—you shouldn’t limit your criteria for recognition to quantifiable business metrics. This also is an opportunity to reinforce your cultural values by shining a spotlight on the employees who best represent them. In fact, in the study mentioned above, 79% of employees said that value-based recognition gave them a stronger sense of the company’s goals and objectives.

5. Transparency. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to paste last month’s payroll to the wall above the water cooler (although some companies, like this one, make salary information public). But if your staff is completely in the dark when it comes to your practice’s financial situation, compensation policies, or future plans, it breeds anxiety, uncertainty, and resentment. Plus, it prevents your employees from aligning their goals to the company’s direction, which in the end could prove detrimental to your business. Creating an environment where there are no secrets, on the other hand, allows employees to do their jobs in the most informed way possible. As Woods writes, “Each of us uses information to help us understand the current state of affairs in our companies. This information provides direction for what we will do next and, more importantly, direction for how to improve.”

 

As I mentioned in the intro, no two cultures are exactly the same—nor should they be. These five must-haves merely represent a sampling of values that successful businesses often incorporate in their individual cultures. Have you introduced any of the above concepts in your practice? Do you think it made a difference? Share your story in the comment section below.