Most companies in today’s business environment spend some amount of time discussing culture. A newly formed company may contemplate the desired culture of the new venture. An existing firm may desire a better or different culture. An underperforming business may suppose that a shift in culture will be the catalyst to a healthier bottom-line or an improved customer experience. Maybe work just use to be more fun and the boss longs for the good old days when she was excited to go to work. Or even more likely, one of the company execs just read the latest book on the value of a great company culture and that has sparked a recent effort to be more culturally aware within the workplace.
Whatever the reason, it is likely that the culture topic has bubbled to the surface within close proximity of you recently. I find culture to be a commonly discussed topic among senior executives in many organizations, but mainly in a somewhat ambiguous context. Culture can be a very elusive target for most of us. It can appear hard to define and it can seem even more difficult to understand how to promote the desired culture…and forget about measuring its impact. Culture can be a riddle of sorts.
Q: “How would you describe your culture?”
A: “We have a really…good culture, most people like working here.”
Q: “What does clean look like?”
A: “Well, it’s…it’s clean. I can’t explain it, but I know it when I see it!”
These types of nebulous responses are more common than not when it comes to things which we have not properly contemplated or objectified. Jim Collins, renowned author of “Good to Great” states that, “Companies with strong, well-aligned cultures are 6X more successful than their competitors.” So shouldn’t something that is seemingly so important to organizational success be easier to define and quantify? Mom never said life would be easy, but she did say it would be worth it. The same can be said of a great culture – it may not be easy to navigate, but man is it worth it when you get it right!
There are some companies that have absolutely nailed this culture thing. Zappos is revered for their company culture. So much so that they have developed a business unit (Zappos Insights) that markets the culture and sells it as a tangible product for our purchase. They allow “outsiders” (individuals and companies) to view and experience the culture internally in numerous ways (tours, Q&A, on-site training, access to Zappos Leadership Team), and they have designed training and services (coaching, key note speakers, on-going member resources) to assist others in creating their desired organizational culture, empowering team members, WOW-ing customers…all with the Zappos model in a starring role.
“We discovered when employees are happier in their personal lives or professional lives that they all overlap and help feed each other.”
– Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.
So why does Zappos want to share the wealth with other entrepreneurs and businesses? Stated simply, they do it because one of their core values is “Pursue Growth and Learning”. That is Core Value #5 in their list of 10 Core Values. Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos) believes that one of their corporate responsibilities is to promote their success and assist others in being more successful, thus furthering their commitment to growth and learning through teaching.
Zappos is just as dedicated to Core Value #5 with the members of the Zappos Team. In 2004 they experimented with offering Zappos staff limited access to a life coach on an as need basis. The life coach could assist with any topic that a team member viewed as helpful to their professional or personal life. As you might imagine, the post-experiment feedback from the team was a resounding “Awesome!” Based on the results of the experiment, Zappos hired a full-time life coach for the team and this program is still an important part of their culture today. Forty-four percent of all team members coached between 2010 and 2011 achieved progression or promotion within the Zappos Family. Hmmm, sounds like there is more to this culture stuff than just rainbows and butterflies…that would appear to be a culture related ROI. “We discovered when employees are happier in their personal lives or professional lives that they all overlap and help feed each other”, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.
The culture-centric environment at Zappos is obviously working for them. Their business continues to grow and thrive, they enjoy a great customer following, they are recognized for their outstanding customer service, their people love the work environment, and they continue to spread the gospel about the benefits of great company culture.
So how do we mere mortals become culture stars? Do we have to employ a life coach to create the great culture that we want? Do we need an on-site sushi chef every Thursday to show our appreciation for work well done? Although it might be nice, the answers are no, and no – and even if we did those things that is not enough to produce a great company culture.
Some key steps can help us define the path for the future-state culture that we desire. DISCLAIMER - These steps are not the end all/be all in our effort to accomplish our desired culture and this is not a checklist that once completed we magically have the culture we are looking for…check, check, and check. The development of a desired culture requires a very intentional approach and continuous consciousness to produce the culture that we desire.
1. Define The Destination
Everyone understands that beginning the journey without understanding the destination is the equivalent of boarding a bus and riding aimlessly as a passenger until the driver stops the bus and tells us the ride is over. All members of the team must know what we want to achieve with the culture, they must understand how their actions will positively influence the journey and they must visualize the environment that will be revealed once we arrive.
2. Establish Core Values
Core Values are just as important to our company as they are to our person. Core Values serve as the “rudder” for the company, the brand, the culture and provide a measuring stick in the day-to-day decisions that will impact the way our employees and our customers will ultimately view the company. Well conceived Core Values effectively communicated across the company provide the path to the destination. There are alternate paths to the same destination, so chart your preferred course with your Core Values.
3. Choose People Wisely
People are the means to progress the culture. The RIGHT people will be a key part of the continuation of the desired culture and the force that will promote improvement and enhancement to the existing culture. The reverse is also true. The WRONG people will produce fractures within a young developing culture that can prove to be detrimental to early growth and, depending on the stage of the culture, cause great harm in the process. Hiring people based on their alignment with our established Core Values is a key to greater success in hiring the RIGHT people.
4. Walk The Walk
Do what we say we will do. Walk the walk. The old adage, “do as I say, not as I do” could not be any further off course here. Leadership must provide the example for the organization, in large ways and small ways alike. How we make decisions, why we make the decisions we make, how we communicate with people, whether we actively pursue feedback, how we offer feedback…everything we do matters. People must see the Core Values exemplified by leadership in all of the day-to-day goings on of the company. Core Values should direct behaviors and decisions.
5. Create the Proper Environment
Surround the team with those people, resources, tools, support and physical environment that promote the achievement of desired results. Build an environment that looks, feels and smells like we imagine it when we close our eyes. The environment should speak to the Core Values as much as is physically possible and should be a physical representation of the feel/vibe that we want to create for our customers and our team. This does not have to break the bank to accomplish the desired effect, but should be part of the planning involved in culture design. Promote an environment that will assist the team in having success.
6. Share The Good
We should continually tell the stories that represent the behaviors that we aspire to or re-tell the stories that helped form the company and our culture. When someone knocks the cover off of the ball, let everyone know what just happened. Public commendations for a job well done, achievement of goals, assisting peers without being asked, great customer service, presenting an idea to improve a process or result, community involvement/volunteerism, etc. allow others to SEE those things that are important to the company and the types of behaviors that we want to see duplicated. Keep the company history alive by recounting experiences or people that are part of company lore. The things that had historical significance in defining the company we are, should live on in the stories that we tell. Stories can add color to the page for someone struggling to grasp who we are.
These basic steps are a good start to launching desired culture, but there are lots of moving parts in the process. Many small to mid-sized organizations may not be fully equipped to chart this course alone. There are some great resources to assist in the successful navigation of this important part of a company’s life cycle. The resources to define, promote, measure, edit and refine company culture are much more prominent than even 10 years ago. Metis Management would be honored to have the opportunity to discuss your current needs in the quest for “Your Perfect Culture” and assist in any way possible. Thankfully we have been part of cultural successes in the past and we want others to enjoy the great benefit of that same experience. We would love to help you realize “Your Perfect Culture”.