This piece originally appeared on Millennial.
Many people think that company culture means perks, like lunches, great health benefits, games and a fun office environment. But none of that matters if your actual culture—which is the health of your company—isn’t strong. If a company is a machine, then culture is the grease that keeps it running smoothly. A machine that’s poorly greased will grind to a halt.
The first step as a CEO is to believe that company culture is important. That means believing that it drives results, even if the ROI is hard to measure. There are stacks of studies about how happy, engaged and loyal people produce better work. We’ve all seen them, but we often take it for granted or forget to do anything about it. To truly believe that your company’s culture is important means letting it have a seat at the table at all times.
Here are six steps to help you treat your company culture like a product:
1. Define and guide your company principles
This is like a mission statement for your product. It’s important to have your core values in place from the beginning, especially when you grow and when your employees no longer sit in the same room. You need a way to consistently communicate what’s important. Every employee—new and old—should know them by heart.
2. Hire better
This may seem like an obvious action, but it also ties into the culture as a product theme. This doesn’t only mean hiring the best and brightest—it’s also important to hire someone who can get along with others. Every interview should be used to identify any potential red flags. Ask everyone the exact same interview question, and you will be able to learn a bit more about who they are and how they’ll work with others based on their answer.
3. Collect feedback
You should constantly be collecting feedback from your employees about your culture, just as you would for any product. You will eventually have a bug that “breaks” something. It could be an individual causing problems or a broken process, but you need to have mechanisms for collecting feedback so people feel comfortable letting you know what’s wrong.
Consider running two major culture surveys per year and smaller surveys when you feel they’re needed. Quarterly “fireside chats” to give people one-on-one time are another great option to build solid company culture, which allow your employees to really voice their concerns. Make sure your “People” (HR) Department checks in with new employees after they start to hear how things are going.
Culture will turn sour if you don’t nurture and evolve it–the same way an unattended product will go stale and no longer meet its customers’ needs.
4. Address problems quickly
When a person is causing problems, you need to give them direct feedback to fix their behavior. If they don’t fix it immediately, you have to make the difficult decision to part ways. It doesn’t matter how smart they are if they can’t play nice with the team.
Much of addressing a problem means really listening. Host weekly team meetings with the entire company where everyone can share the good, the bad and the ugly. Talk about everything, whether it’s feedback from your surveys or your revenue. Give an update on where you are compared to the previous week, and what you are going to do in the upcoming week to improve upon any important milestones.
5. Take immediate action
You must address problems head-on and take action to support the health of your culture. For example, you may learn that there is frustration around your hiring process.
Before a job is be posted, a hiring manager must complete documentation that details not only the required technical skills, but also the soft skills and personality you are looking for. Once this is approved, every person participating in the interview process submits questions they will ask. This is visible to everyone involved at all times. After the interview, everyone gives the potential employee a score. If anyone has given a low score and the hiring manager wants to make an offer, they must talk with the person and get their feedback and/or buy-in before making an offer.
6. Keep company culture top of mind
Treating your culture as a product is a mindset. It’s something CEOs should be constantly building, investing in and improving. There must be accountability from the CEO down that allows employees to discuss problems and work towards solutions.
It’s important that everyone at your company feels they have ownership and a stake in the business. Expect your leaders to show that they’re committed to the business by caring about their people and treating everyone as equals.
Company culture is not just about talking the talk. It’s about walking the walk.