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Why good culture matters for your business – and how to get it

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

You can tell if a company has an awesome culture from the second you walk in the door. There's an air of excitement – a 'buzz' if you will. But building a great culture isn't just about the office vibe – the proof is in the profits: Businesses with happy employees outperform the competition by 20 per cent.

I know what it's like to get workplace culture wrong. In the early 1990s, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? was a mess. In desperation, I'd hired to fill vacancies quickly and ended up with disengaged, unmotivated employees – it was so bad I even started to avoid the office. In the end, I had to fire the entire team of 11.

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Today at O2E Brands, we've learned from our hiring mistakes and have made culture a priority, emphasizing transparency, positivity and work-life balance. Here's why we've been named one of the best companies to work for and how you can create a culture that lasts, too.

Make Culture Part of Your Business Plan

Companies that have a vibrant culture didn't get it by accident. It all starts with a set of values and a vision that describes the kind of company you are and what you want to do. Having these hammered down is just as important as having a viable business plan. Then you have to take steps to bring them to life.

When eyewear brand Warby Parker wanted to bring different departments together, it started "lunch roulette". Two random employees were treated to a meal together so they could bond off-campus. At my company, we live the value of transparency with our open-concept layout. That includes me – I've got a desk, not a door, because being accessible keeps me accountable.

Screen for Square Pegs

For me, a potential candidate's cultural fit can trump skillset – you can be the best salesperson in the world, but if you aren't clicking with the team, you're hurting more than you're helping.

That's why we run potential employees through our beer and barbecue test. I'm not talking keg stands and cook-offs. It's a tool that gauges someone's compatibility. Part one asks, "Would I grab a beer with this person?" Part two considers the group dynamic by asking, "Would they get along with the team at a backyard barbecue?" Group interviews are another great test. They allow you to see people in a team setting right away.

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These simple hacks help us avoid trying to fit square pegs into round holes.

Wear Your Culture On Your Sleeve

Our headquarters are covered in quotes and visual representations of our culture. There's a "101 Life Goals" wall where employees post personal goals they've achieved. We also have a Willing to Fail or "WTF" room. It's a space people can use to cook up audacious, risky ideas without having to fear failure.

Visual cues and designated spaces for dreaming big aren't just decoration – we live these values every day. Up to 70 per cent of business strategies fail due to flawed execution, so it's vital to follow through with activities that support the culture you've worked so hard to build.

Good culture needs regular TLC

Culture needs to be defended with vigilance. A few years ago, we moved into a new building and the COO at the time decided to install private offices. It totally went against our mandate of openness, and affected how people saw the company. So we axed the offices (and, eventually, the COO).

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Regularly checking in with your team can also prevent culture erosion. The point is interviewing shouldn't stop once you've hired someone. Regularly asking, "How are we doing?" gives you a chance to see things through your employees' eyes and correct your course (or theirs) if necessary.

Crowdsource and collaborate

Cultural erosion is preventable, but cultural evolution is inevitable. The National Business Research Institute says asking staff for feedback creates a happier, more productive and loyal team. Develop channels to gauge employee sentiment, whether it's through surveys or casual townhalls.

Once you have feedback, act on it. When we were named one of the best places to work, we didn't rest on our laurels. Instead, every employee was asked how we could make the company even better. The number-one request was more vacation; I took that to heart and offered everyone five weeks. It validated our focus on work-life balance and ultimately proved to be an incredible recruitment and retention tool.

In the end, culture isn't a soft concept – it's a foundation for long-term success. It transformed my business into a global organization. One company has grown into four under the O2E Brands umbrella, and we continue to smash revenue records.

That's the power of awesome culture.

Brian Scudamore (@brianscudamore) is the founder and CEO of O2E (Ordinary to Exceptional) Brands, which includes companies like 1-800-GOT-JUNK1-800-GOT-JUNK?, WOW 1 DAY PAINTING, You Move Me and Shack Shine. He helps others grow small to medium businesses and corporate culture.

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