14 Key Things Business Owners Should Focus On To Build A Company Culture

Expert Panel® Forbes Coaches Council

To build a strong company culture from the ground up and ensure their employees find satisfaction in their jobs and stick around, many new business owners will consult with a coach to get much-needed guidance. Instilling certain elements in a company culture can help create a healthy, inspiring and supportive working environment.

Here, 14 members of Forbes Coaches Council discuss which areas they would focus on first to help a new business owner foster a workplace culture that will motivate team members to perform at high levels while bringing their whole selves to work.

Featured members share things business owners should focus on to build a company culture.
Forbes Coaches Council members share key things business owners should focus on to build a company culture.

1. Mission, Vision And Core Values

You have to decide on the mission, vision and core values of the company. I have always looked at this as a very active management and leadership tool. You must use those items to be the lighthouse you base all decisions around—everything from hiring to culture to what clients you take on. It all matters, and if it does not align with the mission, vision and core values, it has to go! – Mike Claudio, WinRate Consulting LLC

2. The Reasons Behind Your Specific Vision

The very first thing I start with is the owner’s vision for the company. If they are too focused on the short term or too dreamy, being intentional about the culture is impossible. Get specific about the vision and your reasons for having it, then outline the culture that will best support that vision. Culture can be a strategic asset to help scale up, but only when there is a purpose to the growth. – Kelly Byrnes, Voyage Consulting Group

3. Behaviors That Embody Your Values

I support leaders in creating a “culture manifesto” for their organization, and our first steps are to look at values and behaviors. Specifically, what behaviors do they want the organization to embody to support its values? This exercise moves the values discussion beyond theory and into practice. We explore what “walking the talk” actually looks like by calling out the exact behaviors that define the culture. – Cheryl Czach, Cheryl Czach Coaching and Consulting, LLC

4. Trust, Interconnectedness And Shared Purpose

I would suggest that company culture is more about “becoming” than “building.” At the heart of all people systems is a range of human potential that manifests as trust, interconnectedness, shared purpose and endeavors, then great outcomes. Leadership’s responsibility is to realize these potentialities and overcome the dysfunctions that often get in the way—it’s a ripple effect, from “self” to “system.” – Julian Saipe, Julian Alexander & Associates

5. A Clear Vision Of The Life You Want To Live

Leaders should start with a clear vision of the life they want to live. I would tell them to design their ideal life and create a company culture around it. “Life first” isn’t the typical approach. Leaders become financially successful to the detriment of everything else. That toxicity penetrates company culture and attracts the wrong people. – Shaan Rais, Omni-Solutions Consultation LLC

6. A Top-Down Vision Grounded In Higher Purpose

Building a ground-up culture starts with a top-down vision grounded in a higher purpose. Deep exploration of owner/company values and unique offerings is the first step, with input from employees. It is an exercise of the heart—not just the mind—to move, touch and inspire. Then, the process to role model and cultivate “symbolic” actions, conversations and activities begins to create a cultural DNA. – Kathy Sarafian, Kathy Sarafian Inc.

7. A Foundation Of Personal Core Values

Every person, and therefore every leader, has core values. They become the core values of the business, of course. The leader should explore, declare and define their core values, and then build the business—the vision, mission, goals, customer charter, employee handbook and so on—upon that foundation. – Antonio Garrido, Absolute Sales Development

8. Policies, Procedures And Rewards

You’ll need to consider things such as which policies and procedures will support the desired culture, how to communicate the culture to employees and customers and how to measure and reward behaviors that align with the culture. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it if you can help create a strong, positive culture that helps the business thrive. – Peter Boolkah, The Transition Guy

9. Desired Impact In Your Niche

I would explore the impact the business would want to make in its niche and its communities of reach. Beyond that, we would explore the reasons driving it. Employees need to feel part of the bigger purpose that leads to a tangible impact when joining. It helps to then create the mindset to achieve that impact, resulting in actions that then culminate in the culture. – Arthi Rabikrisson, Prerna Advisory

10. The Truth About What The Culture Is Now

Building a company culture from the ground up means confronting the truth about what the culture is today. What is common across departments and managers? What do the leaders do well? Who are the heroes of the company story? What are the known, but unspoken norms that guide everyone’s work life? Understanding ground truth first will make building the “new culture” more achievable and energizing.  Ben Levitan, Cedalion Partners

11. Internal And External Nonnegotiables

What is not negotiable? This is the promise to your customer, both internal and external. Grounded in your vision of what you want your business to become, the nonnegotiables are laser-focused on keeping you on track. The promise you make to your team (internal customer) is the foundation for your culture, and it is also a great team-builder to get everyone involved in building a shared vision. – Sara Phelan, Evalu8-Evolve Business Coaching

12. How Your Behaviors Are Exhibited And Perceived

What you say and what you do need to be aligned in order to be credible. Think about the behaviors you exhibit and how those are perceived by others. What are you saying with your actions? Then think about which values you can map to those actions and perceptions. Consistency in communication, both verbal and nonverbal, is key to establishing the foundation of a solid company culture. – Michele Cohen, Lead to Growth Coaching

13. Cultural Alignment With The Business Strategy

I would explore and identify how the desired company culture aligns with the overall business strategy. Once that alignment is made, the next step would be to look at every business aspect, from hiring and compensating to promoting and terminating, to ensure they are all aligned to support and further drive the company culture and business strategy. – Dennis Kight, it works! LLC

14. Behaviors You Want To See More Of

As culture is a mirror of leadership, and leadership is how leaders think and behave, step one is to recognize the types of behaviors you want to see more of and those you want to see less of. From there, you can start to formulate a set of values that will become your north star. Values drive behavior, and behavior drives culture. Culture is a mirror of your leadership. – Alex Draper, DX Learning Solutions