I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference where highly respected CEOs were interviewed by one of my all-time favorite business leaders and community stewards.

During the Q&A session that followed, I asked them how they maintained such a strong company culture. One responded, "A foosball table and free Diet Cokes will only get you so far."

Their responses hit the nail on the head. They each explained that company culture must be based on more than superficial rewards such as free games and drinks. Culture is based on what they believe — their mission, vision and values. As a result, their employees follow them. Success follows them, too.

If you can create and maintain a strong company culture, it will make a world of difference for your company, business or idea. According to Kotter International's article on Forbes.com, companies with "performance enhancing cultures" outperform competitors by a staggering margin. Their research indicated a 900 percent equity appreciation value for those companies, compared to a 75 percent appreciation value in companies without such a strong culture. In their words, this gap "highlights the significance of this often-overlooked issue."

But how do you create that strong culture? And how do you keep it vibrant over time? By following these four foundational steps, you will establish a culture that is strong, dynamic and empowering to each person in the company.

Establish your values and mission

The first obvious step to maintaining effective company culture is to create one. But that isn’t as easy as it sounds, in no small part, because defining company culture can be tricky.

Listen to this broad definition, given by Chris Cancialosi in Forbes:

"At its core, culture is just a collectively agreed-upon way of doing things that develops over time as people in the organization learn what works and what doesn’t.”

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Find what works. Sure.

But arriving at that agreed-upon system doesn’t have to be completely arbitrary. The best companies establish a foundational ethos for themselves early on, based on their values and goals. And for any company in the world, including yours, that foundation will boil down to a single question: Why does this company exist?

Simon Senek has done amazing research into what makes companies successful. In his famous TED talk, "How great leaders inspire action," he explains that you need to know why your company exists.

"Very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do," he said. "And by 'Why?' I don't mean 'to make a profit.' That's a result. It's always a result. By 'Why?' I mean 'What's your purpose? What's your cause? What's your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?'"

Finding your true purpose as a company is Step 1 in creating your core values, your mission — your culture. And as you know, culture is everything.

Hire people who fit your culture

What happens if you establish a great culture but ruin it with bad hires? You could undo everything.

Senek also had this to say about hiring the right people:

"The goal is not just to hire people who need a job — it's to hire people who believe what you believe," he said. "I always say that, you know, if you hire people just because they can do a job, they'll work for your money, but if they believe what you believe, they'll work for you with blood and sweat and tears."

If your employees believe in the "Why?" of your company, you will have no need to motivate them; they will be as invested as you are. Who doesn't want that level of commitment from employees?

Remember that good ideas can come from anywhere

Good employees don’t want to be an unrecognized part of a machine. They want to have a voice and a meaningful impact on the company and its direction. They crave the opportunity to create something good for the company without the need for management approval.

For example, Google News was created by a research scientist at Google named Krishna Bharat. According to an interview with Mark Glaser of Media Shift, Bharat invented Google News to solve a problem he was having: "It was in response to September 11 [terrorist attacks]. I was reading news from a bunch of papers all over the web. And I discovered that there was no efficient way to find coverage of the same topic from different sources."

Having encountered this problem, Bharat decided to solve it of his own volition, not at the prodding of managers.

An amazing thing happens when employees are able to invest in their jobs this way: they work harder, and the company is more successful. Knowing that good decisions can come from anywhere is a cornerstone for attracting talented individuals who will strengthen your culture.

Promote team spirit among employees

Ever notice how many CEOs refer to their employees as a "team?" This is part of their culture-building philosophy, and they know that helping their employees feel like a team will help them be happier and more productive.

As an avid sports fan, I am attentive to how well teams function. Good teams work together, and the unsung heroes are as much a part of success as the stars. True teammates encourage each other and communicate regularly and in a positive way, even if they are on the bench.

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Company teams work best when everyone is on board, buying into the same values and mission.

Strong company culture is well worth the effort

Don’t spare any effort when shaping — or reshaping — your company culture. Creating a company that is based on your values is the only way to experience real success. If you invest in establishing your values and mission, hire people who opt in and bolster your culture, value those hires by giving them a voice and create room for a team spirit, your company will grow and grow, without depending on a foosball table and free Diet Cokes. Any one who knows me, knows I love Diet Coke.

Curtis Blair is the CEO of Froghair.com and Principal at Hoodoo Capital. Email curtis@froghair.com.

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