DALLAS — We were recently fortunate enough to host a conference for other cleaners around the U.S. at our Minneapolis cleaning lab. During our meetings one of the topics that came up repeatedly was culture.

Over and over the question was asked, “How do we as owners build a culture among our staff that lasts long after we go home for the day.”

In talking with other owners one thing that was both surprising and encouraging was how clear most owners were about the type of culture they wanted. The desired cultures varied dramatically from top-down military-like hierarchies to competitive sales-driven teams to employee-ownership cultures.

While we all knew what we wanted, we quickly realized that much of it was in our mind, and had not been shared with our staff in a meaningful, ongoing way. What became clear to all of us in those meetings is that we needed to start living our culture out loud.

What do I mean by living our culture out loud?

I mean integrating your culture in every person, place and activity in your business, so that it’s not just an ephemeral concept in your mind, but a concrete set of symbols, values, language, and actions that every person at your company understands and buys into.

I can imagine that many of you might be rolling your eyes right now, saying, “Dan, I would love to spend time on my company culture, but I’ve got more important things to do right now like get these last few orders out the door.”

Believe me I get it. I’ve been there where you are so buried in the immediate you forget the important.

However, I promise you that if you take the extra time to build your culture, then you won’t have the immediate problems to worry about because your team will have solved them long before they get to you.

COMPONENTS OF CULTURE

To effectively begin living your culture out loud you need to first define what your culture is going to be. I like to think of culture as having four main things:

1. Your Mission

What is your company’s ultimate goal? To be the highest rated dry cleaner in Denver? To make $100,000 per year? To be the largest company in the world? Whatever the answer, you and your team need to be aware of it and in agreement that that is what you’re trying to pursue.

2. Your Values

What are the values that will guide you in your quest to reach your goal? Are you about speed and competition? Honesty and quality? Let whatever you choose to emphasize with your staff, guide their behavior.

3. Your Metrics

How will you measure your success? The metrics that you choose to measure say as much about your culture as your mission and values. For example, if all you measure everyday is the piece count, but your number one value is quality, what does that say about your commitment to your values.

4. Your Symbols

People respond to symbols as much as they do to words. What are the symbols of your culture? In the U.S. we have amazing cultural symbols nearly every American under- stands, from the American Flag, to the bald eagle, to the Constitution. What symbols can your staff rely on when they think of what your culture means? One big symbol is our wood hangers, because we believe it symbolizes a higher-level drycleaning experience.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion.