Every company has a culture. Is yours the one you want? Think of your prevailing workplace environment as a plot of land. It can be a beautiful garden or a noxious weed patch or something in between. It all depends on what you intend, and how you tend it.
You may think you're too busy or your company is too new or small to bother with something as esoteric as workplace culture. But whether you do the work of encouraging a particular work environment, or not, one will emerge anyway. And it matters. Your workplace atmosphere is where and how your company goals will be achieved; it's where your employees will thrive, or not.
Culture can make or break your company. My co-founder was a venture capitalist before we started Angie's List back in 1995. He attributed the success and failure of many small businesses to their cultures. That's why we've been purposeful at Angie's List about determining ours. Inevitably, those that grow up on their own are about as attractive as a vacant lot left to its own devices.
Here's what I've learned about creating an effective company culture:
1. Determine what you want to be, and make it clear to everyone.
Are you sure of your values and vision? If so, translate them into a set of simple guidelines. Angie's List maintains a set of core principles meant to guide every employee. They include being honest, having fun and being creative.
2. Set up practices that encourage the desired atmosphere.
We embrace an entrepreneurial attitude. We test a lot of things and have a high tolerance for failure, since it's often the seed of future success. Remaining open to new ideas is part of our culture.
There's nothing pompous about Angie's List. Every day is Casual Friday. The buildings we occupy had been vacated and forgotten when we moved to the near-East side of Indianapolis about a dozen years ago. Over time, as we've grown to 2 million paid households and more than 1,000 employees, we've created a unique campus that includes a converted firehouse, former warehouses and old houses. And maybe it won't surprise you to learn that we have an employee garden, as well as a few chickens, on the premises.
3. Tend to your culture.
Keep your company philosophy front and center. Talk often about your principles. Stay connected with employees. One of my favorite ways to stay in touch is to pass out baby books to our new parents.
Most importantly, lead by example. I don't have a fancy office or an executive restroom. I have a small office with mismatched furniture that I share with another person, but my preferred seat is a cube in the corner of the marketing department.
This is how we do it at Angie's List. Your culture will be unique to you and your company. And if you're intentional about cultivating the environment you want, and persistent in tending it, you just might end up with a blooming business.
Angie Hicks is founder and chief marketing officer of Angie's List. Follow Angie on Twitter @Angie_Hicks.