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We’re kind of crazy about culture at my company.  We know that happy employees make happy customers make happy shareholders.  Plus, it’s just a lot more fun to go to work when you enjoy the environment, your co-workers and the company’s mission.  We make it a point to study great cultures—Disney, Zappos and NetFlix are on our list- and we’re huge followers of Jim Collins’ work regarding culture building.  We even have a staff position dedicated to running the company’s culture.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that creating a great culture almost always boils down to the management-employee relationship.  The natural wedges that typically drive apart management and employees must be attacked constantly.  The complete list of those wedges is massive, but I’ve found they all generally fall into one of five big categories.  If you’re serious about creating a great corporate culture, here are the five areas in which you need to assess your company:

Hiding the numbers – Does everyone in your company know where the company stands financially?  Along with the usual financial suspects – revenues, expenses, profit, cashflow – ensure that employees know the key drivers of performance metrics. And make sure they know how the company’s doing with them?  The more you share, the more people can make a difference.

Hoarding the decision-making – It’s easy to keep decision-making authority restricted to one person or a small group. But by empowering front-line employees – regardless of their title – to solve problems, you allow them to grow. People generally live up to the decision-making power they’re granted.

Withholding praise –  In Marcus Buckingham’s book, “First Break all the Rules,” he suggests people need specific positive feedback on their job performance AT LEAST every seven days.  Are you doing this with your direct reports?  If not, their fire may be dying.  Catch them doing something good.  Some managers believe people shouldn’t be praised because they are paid to perform.  Other managers know people perform better when they are praised.  The former managers rarely create anything great, leaving a wake of resentful employees in their path.

Bottling up the strategy –  Is your strategy plan clearly articulated, written out and shared with the company or stuck in the recesses of your mind?  An un-articulated strategy is almost certain to fail… especially if you’ve got more than an employee or two.

Talking down to employees – Too many in the labor pool are made to feel like second class citizens. Intelligence and good ideas are hardly confined to owners and managers. At the heart of great cultures, you’ll find leaders who love working with others, leaders who want to “partner” with employees to create a great company.  Too many people say they want to create a great culture, but don’t want to overcome the one, fundamental barrier to culture building: Ego. If you’re not willing to see your employees as equals, stop saying you want to build a great culture, because it won’t happen.

Clate Mask is co-author of the New York Times bestseller Conquer the Chaos and CEO of Infusionsoft.

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