Culture-building mistakes

4 Culture-Building Mistakes to Avoid

At The Receptionist, we believe a strong culture is crucial to business success. Intentionally building a culture that’s centered on key values allows us to recruit the best people, keep them for the long-term, and make sure they’re doing the best work every day.

Our employees have paved the way for our visitor management software to maintain consistent and sometimes even exponential growth over the years, even through difficult times, and retain one of the top spots in our industry.

But culture-building can be a delicate process. Even a few mistakes can corrupt the culture that you’ve worked hard to cultivate.

Here are mistakes we’ve noticed that managers and other leaders make that prevent them from building a strong culture.

Hiring the wrong people

If you think of a workplace culture as a collection of the words and behaviors that are encouraged in the office, you can imagine that culture-building gets a lot easier when you hire people who already exhibit those behaviors.

As we explained in our post about hiring for cultural fit, we place a high value on a candidate’s ability to work well with others. During the hiring process, each applicant spends an entire day in the office and meets the rest of the people they will be working with. We have each team member rate each job candidate on a scale of one to five on the factors of experience, teamwork, competency, and culture fit.

For us at The Receptionist, a few signs of good culture fit are a positive outlook, a tendency to laugh, and an ability to admit mistakes and apologize for them. If we get through an entire round of hiring without finding people that meet these criteria, we start over with new candidates.

We celebrate diversity of all kinds at The Receptionist, so we’re certainly not looking for a certain “type” of person when it comes to background or identity. Thankfully, we’ve found that the traits we’re looking for to preserve a culture that’s fun and collaborative are common in applicants of all ages, cultures, ethnicities, and ability levels.

For more on how we make sure to hire the right people, check out these resources:

Culture-building mistakes

Neglecting to define values and goals in a clear way

As we wrote in our post What Respect at Work Looks Like at The Receptionist, a big part of culture-building is getting explicit about which values are the most important to your company, and defining what those values look like in action.

The first step is to make a short list of the most important values to your organization, and ideally make them easy for employees to remember. (At The Receptionist, we use the acronym FABRIC to represent our values, which are Fun, Authentic, Bold, Respectful, Innovative, and Collaborative.)

But you can’t stop there. For example, the meaning of the word “respect” may seem clear enough, but in reality it can mean very different things to different people.

For example, some people may see it as respectful to invite everyone to a meeting so that they feel included. But in our workplace culture, inviting people to anything but the most essential meetings is considered disrespectful of their time.

Here are a few other examples of how we clarify what respect looks like in our office so there’s no confusion:

  • We always explain the “why” behind our choices about the software because we respect them enough to share our motivations.
  • We show our customers we respect their time by taking their suggestions and complaints seriously and by using specific protocols to follow up on those suggestions and complaints — even if it takes months or years to address something like a feature request for our software.

Related post: How to Handle Your SaaS Company’s Feature Requests

If you keep your values vague and fail to give employees clear examples of how values should play out, those values aren’t likely to translate to culture-changing behavior.

Neglecting communication standards

At The Receptionist, we’ve had to dedicate extra attention to how our own team communicates with one another because we work partially remotely.

Although we still meet in person regularly, a lot of communication still happens in writing without the benefit of nonverbal communication cues — which can leave extra room for misunderstandings.

Your employees may be doing their best to uphold your company’s values in their communications, but messages can easily be misconstrued if they’re written in a rush or delivered without other subtle cues. This can breed conflict and resentment that can go on to affect the entire culture at your organization.

That’s why at The Receptionist, we always encourage employees to assume the best of each other and give one another the benefit of the doubt.

We try to frame any criticism or disagreement in terms of what’s best for the customer to keep things from getting personal, and use emoticons liberally to clarify a message’s true intent in case there’s ever a chance for doubt.

Ignoring bad behavior

What happens in your office when an employee acts in a way that contradicts company values?

If everyone just ignores other employees’ bad behavior (whether that behavior is name-calling, interrupting yelling, persistent tardiness, or even more subtle things like rolled eyes or negative body language), it doesn’t much matter what your stated values are or how much work you’ve put into summarizing key values with a handy acronym.

Culture is delicate. One person who acts against company values can corrupt the entire culture, and it takes a lot of work and plenty of time to restore balance. If employees see that no one is being held accountable to the values you’ve established, there’s little point in having the values at all.

It can be difficult to know how to respond in the moment when values are violated, but this is where leadership plays a crucial role.

Organizational leaders, starting at the very top, have to buy into the company’s values personally. They have to exhibit the traits they expect their employees to follow. They have to apologize when they act in ways that run counter to the values they’ve established. And they have to remind employees of what values look like in action in the moment.

Organizational leaders, starting at the very top, have to buy into the company’s values personally. Click To Tweet

More on cultivating culture

If you’re interested in learning more about how we cultivate values and culture here at The Receptionist, the original visitor management system, check out the FABRIC Podcast.
In each episode, we explore what it takes to create a healthy, vibrant company culture at scale.

We want to uncover unique and uncommon answers to the question: How do companies of any size create a culture and core values that employees actually live out? Check out the full list of episodes here.

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