Your Culture is Your Business
Many MSPs start their businesses by themselves or with one other person who they generally already know and like. They work really hard and divide their time among so many different tasks that it is hard to imagine they are actually doing anything right. Generally speaking, they take immense pride in their successes. But, in spite of all the hard work and determination, many fail for a broad assortment of reasons. That having been said, many also succeed, getting past the embryotic stage to establish strong relationships with a dozen or so customers, hire an employee or two, and continue to work hard at growing the business. Almost nobody thinks about establishing a corporate culture at this stage, but there is no better time to do it.
Here are five steps you can take to get your company, and your culture, off to a great start:
- Before the first hire, decide what you want your company to accomplish over time, how you want your company to be perceived, and what role you want your company to play in your community. In other words, establish your vision of your company as a corporate citizen. Keep it short and to the point – preferably something everyone can easily remember. As you make decisions on a day-to-day basis, make sure the choices you make align with the values you have set for yourself as a corporate citizen.
- As you begin to hire, do several things. First and foremost, let everyone who wants to be involved in the hiring process have some time with the new candidate(s). Ask your team for feedback, and ask them specifically whether they would be proud to work with the potential new hire. Make sure you are the last person to interview the candidate, and after you have introduced the company and learned something about them, ask them “what makes a great company?” See how well their response aligns with your cultural goals. Finally, interview as many candidates as possible, and wherever possible, take your time. Don’t treat this process as another thing to check off the list – after all, you are building the foundation of a great company.
- When you decide to hire someone, make a big deal about it. Before they start, send them a bottle of champagne to congratulate them on joining the company and suggest they celebrate the new job with family and friends. Make certain that you are ready for them when they arrive to work the first day. That means the desk and computer are waiting for them, the business cards are printed, and the phone works. Invite them to lunch in a comfortable, informal setting on the first day and get to know them on a more personal level. Be creative, but make sure before the first day ends that you have shared with the new employee what kind of corporate citizen your company is, what is expected of them, and what opportunities they have to be a contributor to that culture.
- As the company grows, be proactive about the corporate culture. Find opportunities to celebrate your company’s role in the community, as a business, and in the channel at large. Focus on your employee’s contributions in press, blogs, and social media – allow their personal brand to be part of your culture. Your employees will love you for it, and your partners, suppliers, and peers will begin to engage with the company – not just you.
- Don’t ever sacrifice culture for short-term gains. Be ever vigilant about making sure the company acts according to the culture you have created. The shortest route to employee dissatisfaction is poor alignment between their values and the values of the company – if you hired people who fit your culture and then you change the culture on them, they will quickly find a new place to hang their hat.
I was reading about how to train a dogsled team the other day (don’t ask), and I came across some invaluable suggestions that I think work just as well in business as they do in the Iditarod. If you replace dogs and puppies with employees, I think you will see what I mean. Here they are:
- Train one dog at a time and keep the training fun. Lessons should be short and often to ensure your dog remembers everything. Give adequate praise as you train your sled dogs.
- When teaching your puppies to drag, take them to a spot they know well. A good choice is the location you took them to leash-train.
- Most dogs that are bred for sledding will naturally want to pull. If your dog doesn't automatically go, walk next to him and give the rope a few gentle tugs. Never get in front of your dog since he needs to learn to take commands from you while you're behind.
Happy Holidays everyone! I hope these tips help you build a solid and meaningful culture – good luck in 2013.