“Company culture” is a big buzzword these days. But, whether or not you embrace the jargon, it’s important to realize that your company — and every company — already has a culture.

Company culture comprises things like how people deal with problems, how open you are to innovation, and how managers interact with employees. When these things are aligned with your company’s vision, your company culture is strong.

This has many benefits:

  • You’ll create more connection with your customers.
  • You’ll attract — and retain — better talent who are more in line with your vision.
  • You’ll have a clearer path forward as a company.

The Alternative Board (TAB) recently surveyed business owners to learn what makes a strong company culture and to understand the challenges they face. You can read the results of the survey here.

One of the most interesting findings was that the longer an owner has been in business, the more likely they are to believe that the burden of creating a strong culture falls on their shoulders. In fact, over 47% of those who have been in business for over 20 years hold this belief.

So what can you as a business owner do to create a strong company culture?

The answer to that question lies in the survey results, as well. Respondents identified five areas: demonstrate strong leadership, build personal connections between customers and employees, create greater transparency, increase profitability, and improve the work environment.

Demonstrate strong leadership

As I mentioned, a large number of business owners believe that the responsibility for creating a strong company culture rests on his or her shoulders. Knowing that, it should come as no surprise that the top thing they believed would help improve a company’s culture was to demonstrate strong leadership.

If you want a strong company culture, all the employee handbooks and memos in the world won’t override weak leadership. It’s a clear case where actions definitely speak louder than words.

Good management leads by providing an unwavering example for the rest of your employees. Strong, dedicated leaders can turn a company around. Ineffective and apathetic leaders, on the other hand, will only set the company free from its moorings.

Build a personal connection between customers and employees

The second most popular way for leaders to build a strong company culture is to improve the personal connections between customers and employees.

Keeping the customer or end-user in the forefront helps build a strong company culture because it keeps the mission clear. When employees can clearly see the effect of their job on the customer, they have greater buy-in to the culture of your company.

Creating those bonds is not always easy. Frontline employees who have daily contact with the customer already have this bond, but other employees who are in less visibly customer-oriented positions can lose sight of the customer if they’re not careful.

While it may not be possible or practical to have all of your employees spend a day working directly with customers, circulating customer success stories or case studies to your team is a good surrogate.

Create greater transparency

Trust is a critical component for strong company culture, and transparency throughout management is one of the best ways to build trust.

Be transparent about:

  • goals
  • vision
  • anticipated results
  • expectations
  • periods of change
  • setbacks

Transparency doesn’t have to mean over-sharing — but if you’re more transparent than not, you will earn your employees’ trust in situations where you’re not able to share every detail.

Improving morale

The last two ideas both received smaller percentages of votes by respondents, and they can both be distilled down to the concept of “improving morale.”

Increase profitability: When a company’s fortunes are on the rise, employees are more likely to feel positive. It also can create a sense of openness and experimentation that helps build a strong culture.

Upgrade work environment: Investing the surroundings of your employer is another way to raise morale and create a stronger sense of community.

Take a look at the rest of the survey questions. How would you have responded? Do you feel like your company culture is strong, or could you make improvements?

Read the rest of the survey results here: What Makes a Culture Strong?

Jodie Shaw is the Chief Marketing Officer for The Alternative Board (TAB), a global company providing small to medium sized business leaders help, advice and focus through business advisory boards and coaching.

Originally published at medium.com