Culture is something we talk about quite frequently here at GYM HQ. When we founded the company, it was very important to us that we always remain a place our employees looked forward to working — a place where they felt appreciated, supported and invested in. We wanted them to see our vision and care about the mission we were on a much as we did. Over the last several years, as our client portfolio has expanded, we’ve seen our team grow from 5 to 40 (with new team members being added monthly)! The growth has been exciting and challenging. It’s brought with it all the standard pain points growing businesses face: thinking through systems, upgrading tech, and honing in strategy. But one that caught us a bit off-guard, was the need to actively focus on our culture. When you have a small team, it’s easy to ensure everyone is on the same page, understands where you’re headed, and feels like an integral part of the mission. When you grow, that message can get muffle, diluted, or lost completely! It takes a clear and ongoing effort to shape your culture. In the absence of any meaningful or focused discussion on culture, mission, or core values, an unintended culture will install itself.
So how does a company go about working on its culture? First, you must truly believe that working on culture is an important endeavor. It must come from a place of authenticity and an understanding that change can happen and is important. Once you’ve cleared the thought hurdle, get to work! Sometimes the hardest part is just getting started. Below are a few key steps to help you through the process.
Who are we right now? Start with an audit of where your organization currently stands. What culture has devolved organically? An easy way to do this is to simply ask your staff! Take time to ask them leading questions about who they are, what their career objectives they have, and how they’re fitting into their role with your company. Starting the conversation with them as the focus makes it much easier to transition into questions about their perceptions of the company’s mission, work environment and vision. Ask about the business’s current strengths and weaknesses. What are you as a leadership team doing well and where do you need work? You’ll walk away from this exercise with plenty of insights for not only your culture project but several process improvement projects!
What do we want to be? If you could snap your fingers and have the perfect culture, what would it be? Culture is like a personality. It is made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a group of people. If you take the pure dictionary definition, culture is “the manifestation of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively”. It’s the culmination of all your team’s effort boiled down to its essence.
Take the time to list out your core values. Here are a few from GYM HQ to help you brainstorm.
RESPECT: We treat our customers and each other with respect. We keep the golden rule front and center.
COMPETENCE: We are the professionals who know back-office work. We built trust in our clients by demonstrating competence every day.
CONSISTENCY: Once we decide on a process, we follow it every time.
PASSIONATE: Love what you do, otherwise do something else.
ONE TEAM: Everyone has an important role. Understand your role and how you fit into the larger picture.
CREATE YOUR HAPPINESS: Personally, and professionally, you control your own destiny. No victims. Your thoughts create your reality.
Find the disconnect. If there a big gap between who you want to be and who you currently are, what needs to change to fill the void? What tools are you missing? Are there systems in place that nurture you core values? For example, if one of your core values is consistency (as it is here at GYM HQ) and you don’t have clearly documented policies which guide your daily operations, you’re not going to be very successful in getting that value to take root. It’s okay for core values to be somewhat aspirational, but moving from dream to goal takes action! It’s one thing to proclaim you care about your member experience and value your team, it’s another to roll up your sleeves and make it happen if you aren’t quite hitting the mark. As the old adage says, actions speak loader than words.
Work at it daily. A great culture isn’t magic. Realizing this is empowering in and of itself. Each day you and your team have a new chance to define what the “culture of the day” will be. String enough great days together and a cultural pattern starts to take shape. Have a stressful few weeks and take your eye off the ball you need only hop back in and get back on track. Nothing in business is ever perfect, what matters is planning and effort.
Make sure that all team members realize their impact. A change starts with one person in one department and it spreads. While your leadership team may be at the helm of the ship, it’s the crew members who provide the momentum. Get buy in and acknowledge good examples of team members who exhibit the culture you want for your entire team!
Make it authentic. There are some great examples of companies who do culture very well. A quick Google search will yield, well, Google! While taking inspirations from companies like Google, Zappos or Southwest Airlines is smart, your culture should be yours. Maybe free lunches, pajama Friday and open work spaces work for you, but probably not! Culture can’t be copy and paste.
Finally, it’s important to remember that just because a business is big and successful doesn’t mean it isn’t struggling with a crisis of culture. Uber, the top riding sharing service in the US, enjoyed a valuation of nearly $70 billion as recently as February of this year. However, issues with bad press and struggles with identity and culture have diminished their value over the last several months (with some putting them down $20 billion). On June 5th, Uber brought on Frances Frei, Senior Associate Dean for Executive Education at Harvard Business School, as senior vice president of leadership and strategy. Her entire role focuses on shifting their company culture (including a perception of sexism) and working with the leadership team on strategy and management training. The takeaway is that you’re never too big to have to start over on culture or put in a concerted effort. Luckily, it should be much easier to shift the culture within the four walls of our fitness clubs vs. across a remote network of thousands of independent contractors.
Happy strategizing! Feel free to shoot me your ideas. I’m eager to hear about the values that your brand holds near and dear.