Content was originally published on Inc.com on September 19, 2019.
Creating a company culture that propels your business forward is one of the most worthwhile tasks a business owner can do. If done correctly, your employees will know how to handle tough situations with ease, without you having to micromanage them every step of the way. So today, I wanted to address one of the easiest (but often overlooked) things that you can do as a business owner to set your company culture in the right direction.
Over the past 25 years, I have seen countless business owners who have an idea in their head of how their company culture should be…but in reality, it often falls short of their expectations. One of the main reasons this occurs has to do with the owner themselves.
As a leader, your team looks to you to model the correct behavior.
For instance, let’s say that you want to make punctuality a core value within your business but you often find yourself late to meetings and missing deadlines. This inconsistency between what you say and what you do can really undermine your company culture.
Be on time, all the time. Being on time is a simple behavior that symbolizes to your team that you take your commitments seriously and live with integrity. It is one behavior with a huge return on investment in terms of modeling accountability inside your company. Too many companies implement respect in a hierarchical manner. Your time is not more important than a subordinate’s or a customer’s time in their eyes. Being on time shows respect, and it makes a big difference to the receiver. Of course, you can rationalize why you didn’t meet a stated deadline and no one will challenge you, but they will model the behavior you show them. So model the highest standard.
Make It Easy on Yourself
“But David, I have a million things on my plate….”
Modeling good time behavior can be tricky, but here are a few simple things you can do to make it easier on yourself.
Clarify your commitments in writing at the end of every meeting. One of the biggest reasons things get missed is because they weren’t handed off cleanly to begin with. Many times, the receiving party doesn’t know exactly what they’ve been asked to do, or in fact may not know that they’ve been asked to do anything at all. Not only does a written follow-up ensure that you’ve captured all your action items, it’s also a powerful way to role model how you want your team to behave. Wherever possible, number the commitments so that they are absolutely clear. Also, guide your team to employ this same skill with their staff.
“Close” the accountability loop. It’s one thing to meet your commitments, but it’s another to make sure that the other parties involved realize that you’ve done so. So consistently close the loop.
Avoid “phantom deliverables.” Clearly state what you can’t commit to, so that you don’t lower the accountability bar in your company by missing a “phantom deliverable.” These are things that the other person thinks you committed to, but you didn’t. As a leader, you need to exhibit great communication by making explicit any phantom deliverables you see come out of a meeting. That way, if you can commit to that deliverable, you do so, and if you can’t, you clarify that you are not committing to it.
You’re human and you will mess up. To think otherwise is not realistic. How you address the elephant in the room and own your missed deliverables is incredibly important to the culture you are building. Do you make excuses? Sweep them under the rug? Melodramatically beat yourself up? Don’t! Instead, show your team how mistakes are a part of being in business and often can lead to profitable insights. When you make a mistake, publicly take responsibility, share what you learned and how you’ll apply it, and implement a better solution going forward.