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How does a CEO or founder go about improving — and measuring — company culture?

5 min read


The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council, an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs.The YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and e-mail lessons. Read previous SmartBlogs posts by YEC.

Q. How does a CEO or founder go about improving their company culture? How do you know if it’s working?

1. Seeking feedback regularly

Many of us know that we should get feedback from customers in order to improve our product or service. You should also seek feedback from your employees. Send a survey using Google Forms biweekly or monthly, and ask them how happy they are on a scale of one to 10. Ask what the company should continue doing and what the company could do better. As happiness improves, the ratings will improve. — Bhavin Parikh, Magoosh Test Prep

2. Practicing what you preach

Your company culture is only as strong as you make it. It is not just setting down the bylines of your startup, but living out the culture every day in every decision you make, every meeting that you lead and every conversation that you have. If you see happy, committed employees who share your vision and passion, you know you’re doing something right! — David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services

3. Encouraging employees to develop

A rotten culture reeks of a dying company. If the CEO creates the culture, it will be a top-down model. Among my three different companies, the one constant is encouraging employees to organically develop and adopt ideas. Some things can’t be taught. Culture evolves from the quality of the group and the will to want everyone to improve. It starts on day one. — Matt Ehrlichman, Porch

4. Making the right decisions

Your company culture is developing with or without you, and it isn’t the value statement you post on the wall. The small decisions you and your team make every day (good or bad) are building and reinforcing your culture. As the leader, you should help your team understand why you made decisions. It is more powerful to see someone living out the values and culture than reading an employee handbook. — Eric McGehearty, Globe Runner SEO

5. Creating a meaningful purpose statement

Organizations should have a clear and concise purpose. For example, there’s a furniture company in Phoenix that operated for 40 years without a purpose statement. They interviewed all their customers one year and found out people bought from them because their furniture improved their lives. So instead of selling furniture, which motivated no one, their purpose is now “to change the community.” — Brett Farmiloe, Markitors

6. Implementing core values

Core values are the DNA of your company culture, and after you have defined them, focus on implementing them into everything you do. Everything from having a core values assessment as part of your hiring and review process to having a culture committee, to constantly creating activities around core values and having a yearly ESI to measure progress. It’s all important to your culture. — Ming Chan, The1stMovement

7. Communicating with your employees

First, you need to communicate with your employees. Keeping your employers in the know is the first step to improving and getting together as a team. You can just feel the energy! Getting feedback and being open to feedback is also important. How do you know it is working? Ask yourself: Is my business continually growing? If it is, you are on a great path! — Adam DeGraide, Astonish

8. Understanding what employees want

Determine what each employee is looking to gain from his role and the company as a whole. And when you’re hiring new team members, make them feel that they have just as much ownership over their work as employees who have been with you from the beginning. If it’s working, you will have fewer people calling in sick and leaving early. If you can’t tell what’s working, you shouldn’t be the CEO. — David Politis, BetterCloud

9. Having honest conversations outside the office

Physically leave the office. Take people to lunch, dinner or drinks, and use the casual setting to have honest conversations about how things are going and how they could be better. If you hear the same feedback more than a few times, you’ve probably found an area that needs some attention. If you’re consistent about this, it will be easy to tell if your changes have worked or not. — Robert J. Moore, RJMetrics

10. Using 15Five for evaluations

At DJZ, we use 15Five, which is a very lightweight weekly survey that everyone fills out. It takes 15 minutes or less to complete and enables the CEO to keep close tabs on the pulse of the company — Michael Simpson, DJZ