If you’re interested in the cause of the recent financial crisis, both in the US and abroad, you should check out Michael Lewis’ Boomerang. In many ways the book also relates to topics beyond finance. While reading, a particular sentence caught my eye as I think it has a lot to offer about the importance of fostering a company culture carefully and with integrity.

It’s become a cultural trait,” he said. “The Greek people never learned to pay their taxes. And they never did because no one is punished. No one has ever been punished. It’s a cavalier offense- like a gentleman not opening a door for a lady…In the apparently not-so-rare cases where the tax cheat gets caught, he can simply bribe the tax collector and be done with it. There are, of course, laws against tax collectors accepting bribes, but if you get caught it can take 7 or 8 years to get prosecuted. So in practice no one bothers.”

Basically over the years by not meticulously enforcing their tax rules and allowing a culture of evaders to thrive, Greece has found themselves with $1.2 trillion in debts. This lesson holds some truth for every entrepreneur and manager. It’s not just important to create and record rules, they actually have to be adhered to, to make a difference. If not, your company could appear to be OK from the outside, but end up spiraling downward within, as each thing you let slip by continues to compound your culture. Here are a couple areas within your company you should examine:

  • Values: Everything must stem from your company values. Once you know what you stand for, it’ll be easier to try help foster those qualities in your employees and office environment.
  • Talent: Are you hiring only A players? The minute you hire a B player, and they put forth B work and you let it pass– you’ve set a new lower standard. In addition seeing someone scoot by like this becomes very demotivating to your A players.
  • Work Hours: Make sure you’re rewarding folks who put in the correct number of hours and/or show up on time. If someone shows up late, it’s easy to just let it slide by- but make it a point to spend 5 minutes chatting with them, about what the cause might have been and explaining why it can’t continue going forward.
  • Tone: Is it OK for one of your employees to bash a customer within your office? Even if they’re just venting, you might want to think about nipping it in the bud- as others might become more inclined to express their feelings whenever they’re disgruntled creating a more negative environment.
  • Spending: If you’re wining and dining customers and/or your staff you should make clear the appropriate budgets and stick to them yourself, so that everyone’s on the same page.
  • Communication: What’s the best way to communicate within your office? Do you prefer an environment with open casual dialogue and random encounters? If so, you should limit your use of Skype and instant messenger programs, and stick to stopping by employees’ desks. Each time you ping someone virtually, you’ll be reinforcing the wrong message.

This is not to say that you should spend all your time policing people. Rather you should be aware of the example everyone’s actions and responses set every day– including your own. Since your company policies exist to protect the company and employees, there’s no harm carrying them through as best you can to develop a culture that will help you thrive!

And as it turns out, I’m not the only one stomping my feet about the importance of company culture, catch the founder of TaskRabbit’s take on it here.