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Is Your Company Culture Killing Your Business?

Your company culture is as important as your business plan. In fact, it should be part of your business plan. Culture becomes your mission statement in action -- the mix of values, practices, and philosophies that both your employees and customers remember when they think of your business.

If you get the culture right, you get your business right. The online retail giant Zappos is the ultimate example. CEO Tony Hsieh focused every aspect of the company -- everything from how he hired new employees to the way that he rewarded them -- on customer service from day one and that's what the company became known for and why it became such a hugely successful online retailer.

As Hsieh writes in his book "Delivering Happiness," employees have almost everything to do with it. They're the face of the business, so the company takes great pains to make sure they're on the same page with the company's philosophy and values before they're even hired.

Have you done enough culture planning? Here are five must-dos (inspired by Zappos) to make sure you get it right the first time.

1. Define why your company does what it does. You got into business because you wanted to do things your way, right? But have you really articulated your values? The whole company should not only know them, but also embody them. I envisioned my company YAS as the "Cheers" of fitness clubs, a place where people not only came for their health, but also to have fun and see friends. I'm no fan of BS, so I also wanted YAS to be down to earth, a place where there's no judgment and where everyone is welcome, no matter who they are or how fit they are. Every one of my employees knows that this is our goal every day.

2. Know your customers' needs -- and then be the best at fulfilling them. What do potential customers expect -- or more importantly want -- from a company like yours? Consider Google. Google's homepage contains literally nothing but search: no distracting bells and whistles, no special offers, no stupid pet tricks, just search. And they're the best in the business at delivering extensive results ordered by relevance. Google knows very well what users want from a search engine and delivers in spades. Do you know what your customers want and expect? If not, ask them.

3. Hire passionate people. The way your employees communicate with customers, vendors, business associates -- even the press -- can say more about your company than any advertising campaign. So hire employees who reflect your business culture, are authentic to it and passionate about it. At YAS, I look for people who understand and appreciate our system and are enthusiastic about working within it, not in spite of it. I'm also on alert for people who can show me they are dedicated to and passionate about a particular cause or sport.

4. Train the heck out of your team. You're infinitely better off training inexperienced but passionate employees and promoting them up, than filling high-level roles with experienced people who are there simply to collect a paycheck. I promote from within.

5. Weed early. Ego is maybe the biggest issue with employees: Some people just don't want to do things any way but their own way. I've had employees like this and allowed them to stay on too long hoping they might get with the program. (They didn't.) Weed out employees who don't fit your culture early, or pay the price. I know of companies that pay employees who are undermining their business to leave. I wouldn't go that far, but I no longer keep them when their egos flare. Zappos tests employees before they even arrive at interviews: The company asks the shuttle drivers who pick up potential hires at the airport how they were treated during the ride. If the candidates behaved badly to the driver, they don't get the job.

How have you shaped your company culture?

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