Company culture is who you are beyond what you do. It's how you see yourself as a company.
It is a strong company culture that has enabled Nor-Cal Controls to grow and thrive as we serve the renewables industry. We asked our Chief HR Officer Lisa Bear to share her insights on how to build a successful company culture. Lisa holds an SPHR-SCP certification and has over 30 years of experience in HR leadership.
1. Why is company culture so important?
A company's culture is what gives it its unique flavor. You can have as many ingredients as your competitors do, but it's your own "secret sauce" that sets you apart. Without robust culture, a company will be bland and lifeless. At worst it will be toxic.
Culture must never be taken for granted. It needs to be consciously identified, protected and reinforced so employees know what the culture is and will know their part in contributing and growing.
2. What are the core values that underpin Nor-Cal's company culture? How do they impact business decisions?
Nor-Cal's core values guide our intentions and behaviors and are central to preserving our culture. They are:
Family – We treat everyone like our family. We are supportive, respectful and accepting.
Trust – We do what is right. We are honest, transparent and ethical.
Hard Work – We perform to the best of our abilities. We are problem solvers who will do whatever it takes to get the job done right.
Dependability – We are customer-focused, responsive, adaptive and flexible. You can count on us when you need us the most.
Knowledge – We promote a culture of learning. We empower our customers to take ownership, but are always here if you need us.
These core values have been evident from the beginning of the company. It was obvious to me from my first day that everyone was to be treated with graciousness and respect, whether that person was a customer, employee, candidate, or delivery driver.
Our co-founders modeled this. Bob Lopez always showed patience when helping plant operators with their controls issues—sometimes for hours on end. Carolyn Lopez demonstrated graciousness in the way she took such care in making our offices homey and inviting, and in how she would offer a cold beverage to the mail carrier or even to someone who just stopped in to ask for directions.
Even though we had these core values from the start, it wasn't until the ownership team articulated and memorialized them that we started consciously referring back to them in our decision-making. You began to hear "but that's not who we are" or "that's who we are" when making business decisions.
For example, because of our values, we don't like to poach employees from our competitors, and we don't overcharge for certain services even though we could get away with it.
Identifying and holding one another accountable to your company's core values early on is just as important as your business plan. In fact, it's likely more important.
3. How does culture come into play when hiring new employees?
When hiring, it's important to look beyond the resume and find out who the candidate is as a person. What's important to them? Do your core values resonate with them? If your company culture isn't something they're looking for, they won't contribute to it—worse, they may even detract from it.
It's never too early to start establishing company culture. It's not enough to talk about your culture with candidates. Show them, starting with the very first contact. Be considerate and responsive, and let them know what's happening in the process. Be gracious when they come into the office to interview. Make sure HR and the hiring manager continue this respect and care through the onboarding process and beyond.
4. What is a mistake you've made as a company when it comes to culture and how did you learn from that mistake?
When I started with Nor-Cal eight years ago, we had only 12 employees—and when you're a young company like that, often you're in survival mode and not thinking about your culture.
A mistake we made early on was focusing so much on skills and experience when hiring that we sometimes overlooked signs that the candidate wasn't the best cultural fit. We'd go ahead and hire, only to discover later that their values didn't match the organization's values. It's difficult to coach people out of ingrained behaviors, so sometimes we'd end up having to part ways.
Now, we have a robust hiring process to make sure that a candidate is the right fit for the role and for the company culture.
5. How do you recommend instilling company culture in new hires and long term employees? Is it the same strategy for both?
You must first consciously identify what's important to you and what you want your culture to be. At Nor-Cal, we have our core values on the building walls, in every job description, and in every performance review.
HR has an important role in driving policies and practices that are consistent with the culture, but HR can't hold the culture together alone. It has to start at the top and filter down, and everyone in the company has to buy in and contribute.
You absolutely cannot "talk" one culture and "walk" another. This is where holding everyone accountable is imperative. Otherwise, your espoused culture will feel to people like a big joke. If something is going on that isn't in alignment with the company's core values, everyone needs to remind each other. Longer term employees can be your biggest advocates and culture-keepers.
At Nor-Cal, we also have a culture committee which meets twice per month. It's comprised of a representative from each major function of the company, plus HR, and is tasked with keeping the company culture-conscious. The committee plans team activities and discusses ways to enhance morale. It's one of the most important meetings we hold because it keeps our finger on the pulse of how our employees are feeling and what matters to them.
6. What does Nor-Cal's culture mean to you in your own words?
It means everything to me. Otherwise, it would just be a difficult job. When I attend an all-staff meeting and I look out at all the faces, I often feel emotional because I care about all of them so much. They are such good, fine, hard-working, caring people—and it makes me want to work harder and not let them down.
To me, that's the best culture you can have.
Learn more about Nor-Cal Controls.
Nor-Cal Controls is able to offer engineering excellence, custom solar solutions and unparalleled customer support thanks to a dedicated team of people who all share the same core values. Every project begins with a simple question—"What approach or products will best serve the customer?"