Before they made headlines this summer, supermarket chain Market Basket and its chief executive weren’t on the radar of many small business owners. But if you’re an entrepreneur, take note of this story, as there are key lessons to be learned about the power of company culture and the importance of being dedicated to your employees.
After Market Basket’s board of directors ousted Demoulas this summer, thousands of the supermarket’s employees risked their jobs to march outside the company’s headquarters in Massachusetts. The protestors weren’t asking for more money, better benefits or additional time off. They just wanted their boss back.
Under Demoulas’s reign, Market Basket was considered a happy and successful company that paid employees well and promoted a positive, employee-centric culture. Six weeks after he was ousted from the family board and replaced by his cousin, Demoulas’s horde of riotous fans made enough noise to get him reinstated.
For leaders hoping to inspire that level of employee loyalty, it all starts by cultivating a strong company culture. A positive culture leads to less employee attrition, improved customer satisfaction and in most cases, higher revenue. In fact, for the past 15 years, stock in Fortune magazine’s list of the Best Companies to Work For has consistently outperformed the S&P 500 and Russell 3000 indices.
You can’t build a Demoulas-esque company culture overnight, but there are several tried-and-true tactics you can implement to start driving business through employee loyalty. Here’s where to start.
You can’t expect relentless commitment from your employees if you don’t demonstrate your commitment to them. For Market Basket, this wasn’t just limited to good pay and benefits (though Market Basket cashiers start at $12 an hour, and managers can easily make six figures). Demoulas is known for the level of care he shows his employees. He once visited a store manager in the hospital to ask what his family needed.
There are some simple, inexpensive ways to prove that you’re dedicated to your employees’ long-term happiness. Remember employees’ birthdays, ask them about their family, or buy their child a small toy on their birthday.
2. Make room in the budget.
Buying people lunch or taking the team out to happy hour on a Friday can certainly add up, but light-hearted, culture-building expenses pay off down the road in more ways than one. Create a line item in your budget for culture-building activities, and add to it as your company grows.
Even when things are tight for your company, think twice before cutting your culture budget. One of the worst things you can do when times are tough is to take away the little things that matter to your employees.
3. Participate in the fun.
Nurturing company culture is everyone’s job, and a leader can’t just sit on the sidelines. If everyone is participating in the Friday-afternoon Twister tournament, show up with a six-pack and get involved. More importantly, bring your other employees along, too. You’ll demonstrate that you’re a part of the team and reaffirm that you’re committed to your company’s values.
If you’d rather let your employees drive your company culture, create a culture committee, and give them the autonomy to organize fun events to keep the spirit of your organization alive.
4. Hold people accountable.
As you’re building your company culture, a few bad apples may start to stick out.
You know the type: He or she is too sour to participate in any sort of “mandatory” fun, always the first one out the door, and has a way of bringing everyone down at the office. If you’re committed to nurturing a positive culture, you must have the courage to get rid of people who aren’t a good fit for the company.
Building a strong company culture takes time, effort, and money, but the loyalty you get in return always pays off. Even if you don’t have a board that could oust you at any moment, you should still work to build a company so strong that your employees would gladly go to the mat on your behalf. Just remember: That can only happen if you’re willing to do the same for them.
Paul Spiegelman is the chief culture officer at Stericycle in Chicago, Ill. and founder and former chief executive of BerylHealth. He co-founded the Small Giants Community with Inc. editor-at-large Bo Burlingham, and he’s an Entrepreneur-in-Residence for Office Depot’s SmallBizClub.com.