Want to Build a Bigger Company, Start With Your Culture
***Originally posted on 5/29/2012
I have heard before that ideas often don’t just come out of the blue, that when you have that AHA moment, that it is the moment when your brain makes a connection between a multitude of different thoughts.
A few months back I had done a field trip to visit Zappos.com’s corporate headquarters and for 3 hours, saw how the right culture can take a small business startup in the most improbable industry, selling footwear online, into a $200 million+ success story. I have seen the same story over and over again in that culture matters, but the AHA moment I had dealt with the problem I was dealing with in that to save my struggling small business in a very highly competitive and changing space, that I needed to redefine our culture so that we could survive and compete.
Unlike other small businesses I have seen, I felt I had done a very good job of defining the culture I wanted in our company before I started it that enabled the company to mimic my personality. Those culture traits were a Passion for results, treating employees with respect, professional processes, and a great place to work. I had done all the right things, I created the culture we wanted early , I communicated it regularly to my team, I made sure the culture was true, and we hired people that we thought fit the culture. We also tweaked the culture when we felt it wasn’t working and we didn’t just put lip service to our culture, we lived it.
Another AHA moment was also when I realized that if we expected to make a comeback, we needed to revisit our culture, see if it needed to be changed and to execute it better. In essence, I was plotting a course for a comeback but this time through lessons we had learned over 10 years of being in the industry.
Now, saying what is the right thing to do and executing it are two different things. I completely realize that not only do we need to pick the right culture that allows us to differentiate ourselves but that I needed the energy to execute it and after a tumultuous 10 years, I honestly feel that my energy might be better served by going into a new business entirely and starting over.
This week, I will probably find out if I am going to sell my company. If it isn’t sold, I will probably go back at this business again, redefine our culture so that our culture helps us compete, and try to do a better job this time around. It’s the most frustrating thing when you know you are doing a lot of the right things but that you still are not succeeding.
The pressure on a small business to succeed comes from so many angles. In my case, I think the lesson I have learned is that having a well-defined culture, and executing that culture, is critical to breaking the barrier from a small to a larger business because in essence, that culture represents something the larger companies can’t emulate.
I always believe that I was doing the right thing in defining our culture and making sure we lived it. It is so frustrating to know when you are doing the right things but are not getting the results. However, I strongly believe that if I hadn’t done this, my company would never have had the success it did have.
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