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Building a successful company culture

Dayna Steele
Diverse team in coworking space sharing ideas

Wikipedia defines organizational culture as that which “encompasses values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of a business.” In other words, it is not a ball pit, free lunch, designer coffee, and bean bag chairs instead of desks that make a company culture.

As a company leader, you create that culture in everything you do. And, it’s not just the big picture, goals set and met, and the design and layout of your workspace. It is so much more.

It is how you treat people, how you listen to those you work with, changing with the times, and the appreciation you extend to those you work with. It is creating a community people are proud to be a part of in an atmosphere they want to contribute to.

I spent years in rock radio in a culture best described as toxic most days. Constant closed-door meetings, little to no communication, not much guidance when things were not going right, no listening to employees, etc.

Yet there we were on the front lines, answering the request lines, hearing from the listeners, and meeting fans in person day after day. Most decisions happened without any input from those of us who worked directly with the fans. Not to mention pitting people against each other and not being forthcoming or honest with what the job entailed and the expectations that came with it.

I used to joke that I wasn’t doing my job in rock radio if I wasn’t pulled into the general manager’s office at least once a week for a dressing down. But in reality, positive meetings and collaboration with the on-air staff would have gone a long way towards a better culture and higher ratings.

Culture is also a very fluid thing. Cultures change, and a successful leader is willing to change and try new ideas regularly. One of my former and favorite Program Directors was Ed Levine. He listened to all of us and spent time asking for feedback and ideas. Ed always seemed to be genuinely interested in what we had to say and what our thoughts were for success.

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Ed left Houston radio to create Galaxy Media Partners in New York state. Galaxy just celebrated its 30th anniversary. I asked Ed how Galaxy has not only survived but also thrived in an industry that is losing listeners and radio stations across the country:

We actually have significantly changed the culture of Galaxy over the past several years. We are a much looser organization in all ways than we were in the early 2000s. Suits and ties, for instance, are out as we have successfully recruited a new generation of media folks. Hitting a “bonus” now could be an extra day off instead of a cash incentive. I credit the ascension of our COO Carrie Wojtaszek with these changes. She leads the new management team, most members of whom are in their 30’s and very forward-thinking.

When you are representing legacy media as well as “new media,” the last thing you want to do is to look like you are yesterday’s news. Bringing in new folks over the last few years has been crucial. While respecting the 30-year legacy, they did not feel tethered to it, which we may have previously. We combine digital marketing with local radio, event marketing, and sports marketing to be a successful modern media company.

Paying close attention to the culture you create is a crucial ingredient to any company’s success. It is how you attract the best talent and keep the best employees with top productivity. We say it over and over again: Happy people are productive people. People who take pride in their company do their best work.

A thriving culture begins at the top with communication, a sense of community, listening to what your people want and need to do their jobs, implementing ideas from everyone, giving back, and a willingness to change.

How can you tell if your culture is working for you and your business?

Ask your people.

OK – a ball pit with a slide can’t hurt.

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