By Linda Case Shared values attract people and hold them together as a group. If that group consists of employees, they're largely attracted or repelled by the culture that comes from the owner's personality. For better or worse, this is true in all companies. As one remodeler once said to me, "Walt Disney has more influence on his company than most of us do on ours -- and he is flat dead!"

There are few magic bullets in the consulting business, but this is one of them: You need to take the positive atmosphere you've developed in your company and the solid values you insist your staff work by and turn them into a system that will catapult you to the top.

In their book, Corporate Culture and Performance, John Kotter and James Heskett define two levels of company culture. The deeper level "refers to the values that are shared by the people in a group and that tend to persist over time, even when group membership changes." At the more visible level, "culture represents the behavior patterns or style of an organization that new employees are automatically encouraged to follow by their fellow employees."

You, as the owner of your company, imprint your values on the business. If you're generous and open-minded, those who work for you will follow suit. If you're meanspirited and a penny pincher, that will be reflected in the way you treat employees and the way employees treat clients. You can't fake it. You may try to pretend to adhere to values that aren't your own through words, but your actions will exhibit your true beliefs.

Think of companies that embody a positive culture: Nordstrom, Ben and Jerry's, Tom's of Maine, The Body Shop. We, as customers, feel whatever spirit animates those organizations. We may even buy from them for that reason. Their culture plays a big part in their marketplace success.

If you already have a great company culture, take the next step and put it on paper. Your staff will help you define what the company believes. This is a never-ending but extremely powerful project. You must be committed to it. Here are a few reasons why it will help you be a better company:

  • Employees will be judged and reviewed not only on results but on behavior and attitudes consistent with the company values. You, as owner, will commit to rid the company of those who don't buy in.
  • Selling will be focused on clients whose behavior is congruent with company values. If there is no fit, there is no sale.
  • You will be willing to have your behavior as owner held up against standards set down on paper. If found wanting, you'll welcome rethinking what you've done or how you've done it.
  • Hiring will focus not only on skills and experience but on the value fit a new hire brings.
  • Staff will be trusted to work with clients, subs, suppliers, and co-workers in a manner consistent with company values. This is true empowerment.
  • Clients will be attracted to and retained by your company because it has strongly held beliefs and lives those beliefs.
  • I would go even further to say that I am convinced that to be a world class company over the long term you must foster a positive culture that is magnified by being committed to paper, referred to constantly, employed in every situation, and lived every single day by each member of your company.

    --Linda Case, CRA, is founder of Remodelers Advantage Inc. in Fulton, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. (301) 490-5620;;