In my previous article, I mentioned that there is a very strong correlation between a firm’s financial performance and the work culture it fosters. Those firms that reward personal development, innovation, and hard work and that have a clear growth path in place, are the ones that outperform the market.

If you are in the early stages of building a studio, then now is the time to get clear about what is important to you. What are the principles that you stand for in life and in business? These attitudes will affect the atmosphere within your practice whether or not you realise it. Ultimately, a firm’s culture is the result of many variables, but everything, and I really mean everything, stems from those fundamental attitudes. It doesn’t matter how big or how small the firm is.

But what happens if your studio has been around for some time, and you know that things need to change? A full cultural overhaul is far from easy, and it may mean making some difficult decisions. But, it is certainly possible if you are committed to making positive change, and you approach this change in the right way.

Renovating a Good Culture from the Ground Up

Changing a firm’s culture is much like renovating a building. On one hand, you could just knock the whole structure down and start all over again from scratch. But such an approach is not only extremely costly, it’s risky. Without a guiding structure and system in place, you could just end up building something that, while different, doesn’t address the problems you were originally trying to solve. Instead, you can end up creating new problems that were not there before. It’s also wasteful, since some of the building’s original features may have actually been valuable and useful.

When you renovate a property, on the other hand, you can then focus on the good qualities that already exist within a space and seek to enhance them, while at same time trying to minimise the unpleasant things.

The bottom line is that the best way to change an established firm’s culture is to introduce small, deliberate, incremental changes to the way the firm currently operates while seeking to enhance the things that are already working.

Where Do You Start?

While every firm is different and will need to create custom solutions, there are, however, some general areas that any firm can focus on in order to improve the work culture.

Re-evaluate and communicate your values, mission, and vision.  What is your mission that you broadcast to the world and what are those values that drive your firm’s internal focus? As I hinted to above, if you really want to positively change your culture, then start with your mission statement. These few sentences guide a company’s values and provide it with a purpose. That purpose, in turn, orients every decision employee’s make- from serving clients to treating colleagues, and upholding professional standards.

Once you are clear about your firm’s purpose, then you need to start regularly reinforcing these values whenever you engage with your employees, clients, and partners. Even the physical layout and aesthetics of your workspace can greatly enhance and help to promote your business culture.

Develop systems that strengthen and enhance your mission.  Of course values and purpose will mean little if they are not ingrained into the way the firm is organised and operates. At this stage you want to pick areas for change that are easy to implement, yet have the greatest impact.

How do you figure this out?

Start by speaking to your employees and clients. Get their feedback on their level of satisfaction with the firm, their roles, and on the changes they would like to see. If you do this process properly, then you should start to see patterns that will clearly point to where change needs to be made.

Get your team right.  Behind every great business are the great people who nurture it, build it, and sustain it from within. While this may start with the leaders, it really extends down to just about every level and division. Part of the reason why so many hiring decisions don’t work out is that cultural fit is either under-emphasised or left out of the equation completely.

From here on out, you need to hire for culture first. Is the candidate aligned with your firm’s vision and culture? If the answer is “no,” then this person should not be working in your studio.

Sponsor engaging company-wide events.  Make it a policy to hold a few symbolic and meaningful events that will help generate excitement around your firm’s mission and success. Though you certainly can conduct many mini-events throughout the year, most of your resources should go into one or two main events that will be meaningful to your employees and other stakeholders. Use these events as a time to highlight and reward successes and to communicate the firm’s goals for the upcoming months. Make these events fun, inspirational, and directional.

Little by little, such efforts will turn around even the most challenged and toxic of work environments- as long as they are made sincerely. Over time, your firm will be reborn.