Do You Have the Wrong People on the Team?


Teamwork photo by Woodleywonderworks via Flickr

The hardest thing to do…and the one with the most impact in terms of business success is getting the people right.  As a business owner, you’re a ‘hands-on’ type of person – you like to control your own destiny, you’re good at what you do and if long term success just depended on you…you’d be set for life. However successful business growth requires other people.  Ultimately if you’re building something that you’d eventually like to sell…or even just something you’d like to be able to take a vacation from, you need to build the business so it runs without you.

And that requires getting the right people.

And the right people are the ones who share your culture…your values.

Zappos and Culture

Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, knows a little something about culture. In 2005 he recognized that he couldn’t grow his online shoe store without having some way of differentiating from competitors.  That was the point when he actively started building the company and hiring based on core values and their culture.

“Zappos is a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes.”

“At Zappos, our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff — like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers — will happen naturally on its own.

We believe that your company’s culture and your company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin. The brand may lag the culture at first, but eventually it will catch up.  Your culture is your brand.”

Within a few years, the company went from struggling month to month to generating over a $1 Billion in revenue and being very profitable.  Over 75% of their sales are from repeat customers and they are consistently listed as one of the best places to work.  They were purchased by Amazon in 2009 for a lot of money, but Hsieh has stayed on board because of his belief in the culture they’ve created and what can be done with it.

So a well-defined company culture is critical to success…but that assumes that you know what your company culture is.  Typically it’s based on your core values, but that really only applies if you have identified and documented those core values…and if you are actively using them every day to run your business.

What are your Core Values?

Here are a few questions to get you started as you think through your core values and your culture.

  • What do you stand for?  If you asked others (clients, vendors, partners) what are the top 2 or 3 words or phrases they would use to describe you?  (It’s important to think about it this way, because it’s not what you say you stand for…it’s what your actions show that you stand for.)
  • What are you immediately willing to fire someone for?  (This could be an employee or a customer).   What are a couple of things that clearly cross the line for you?  Obviously stealing, murder…that sort of thing, but are there other actions, attitudes, traits that are just unacceptable to you?  That’s usually a good clue that you’re onto something important.
  • When you think about your top 2 or 3 employees, what are the traits, beliefs or consistent actions they have that you wish everyone had?  Remember the goal of a strong company culture is everyone in the company sharing a strong belief in the most important core values – in essence you want to clone your best employees…and they are your best employees because of how they act and what they believe.  They are the ‘right’ people.

As you think through things you’ll probably end up with a pretty big list of candidate values.  Some companies have as many as 10 Core Values (like Zappos and Google) but if possible, I’d try to keep your number between 3 and 7.  It’s important to really focus on what’s MOST important to you.

The other thing about Core Values is that they should reflect some of the personality of your company.  Lots of companies will use things like Integrity or Quality (in fact Coke uses both of these…and so did Enron) but something that bland and cliché can’t be very effective when it comes to really communicating who you are.

Everyone should have their own unique core values, but here are a few more examples that you might find useful as you’re thinking through yours:

Marriot’s Core Values – I especially like their focus on taking care of employees first and embracing change.

Rackspace’s Core Values – They appear to have a very strong culture – centered on the key concept of “Fanatical Support in all we do” – which is a cool sentiment to build from.

37 Signals Core Values – Scroll down the page to find the list.  I love the ideas these guys use to drive their products and their company.  Stuff like:  ‘Long Term Contracts are Obscene’, ‘Clarity is King’ and ‘Useful is Forever’!

This stuff is important!

If you feel like your business is exhausting every day – you have the wrong people.

If you aren’t comfortable that you could take a 2 week vacation (and still have a business to come back to) – you have the wrong people.

If you have high employee turnover…or less than stellar customer service – you have the wrong people.

If you’re not making as much money as you think you should make – you have the wrong people.

The question is…what are you going to do about it?  It’s not going to fix itself and without you as the owner taking an active role to implement and really use your culture, you will continue to struggle.

What’s your culture like? Have you defined it?  Have you used it to evaluate your people?  Do you think it plays into your business success?  We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach