I’ve always found it interesting that we’ve really only started studying corporate culture in the late 1980’s. Most of us take for granted our understanding of the role culture plays in our own lives. We choose carefully the neighborhoods, schools, and churches we attend. We monitor our children’s friends and (hopefully) want to meet their parents. We instinctively understand that people are highly influenced by their environment. So what are the implications in companies?
Now more than ever, technical skills, products, and even business models are being commoditized. What is the difference between Walmart, Target, and Kmart? What is the difference between Burger King, McDonalds, and Chick-fil-A? I’m sure you can come up with many more contrasts. Look at each of those groups. Are they in the same business? Why are some wildly successful, while others struggle to survive?
Amazon.com yields over 31 thousand results in books about “corporate culture”. Thirty-one thousand! That’s a lot of information on corporate culture. It also shows how important culture is to the success of an organization. In fact, I will contend that it is the number one thing to create sustainability. I’m going to give you five easy to remember keys to creating a positive, productive culture.
1. Be Intentional – This sounds obvious, but can you describe in 3-4 sentences the culture you are trying to cultivate in your organization? Can you list the organization’s core values? If you can great. If not, take a moment to do that. Start with the core values. Write them down. Refine them. Keep them simple so they are easy to remember. As Covey told us, “Begin with the end in mind.” Defining the core values in words allows for better communication of the environment you are creating. Incorporate a culture check-up into your annual planning meetings. (You do have annual planning meetings, right?) Communicate, communicate, communicate! Every member of your organization should be able to recite the core values by heart. These core values need to permeate every aspect of the daily work of the organization. The core values are your foundation. They are also the compass every individual in your organization will use to make both daily and difficult decisions.
2. Hire Wisely – Once you have your culture and values defined, you need to make sure those you add to the team are a good fit. Do they buy-in? I mean, do they REALLY buy-in or do they just need a job? It’s much easier to create a great organization with great people. There are several pre-employment screening tools that can help you do this, but your hiring process also has a lot to do with getting the right team members. What does your hiring process look like? How do you screen out candidates that aren’t going to fit in with your culture and values? What is the decision process for making the hire or pass decision? Answer these questions, and you will be ahead of most of your peers.
3. Care – Value your employees, value your customers, and let it show. I’m not talking about the superficial, marketing “we care”. I’m talking about really caring with your actions. How do you communicate with your employees? How and how often do you listen to your employees? What about your customers? What do your answers tell you about how you value them? People want to be valued. Your people want to know the work they are doing is appreciated and is making a difference. Your customers want to know they are more than just a revenue source. What are you doing to show you care?
4. Have an Assimilation Plan – There are many reasons all military branches have boot camps. Sure they are trying to asses physical ability, weed out the uncommitted, and provide some basic physical training, but the other product that comes out of boot camp is camaraderie, the sense of “team” and belonging that comes with surviving a common experience. How can you apply that to your organization? What do you do to assimilate new-hires into the organizational culture? Do you have regular events to build camaraderie in the organization? Going back to key number one, if you are not intentional about this, you are just hoping that the transfer of your culture and values happens. As the great Vince Lombardi said, “Hope is not a strategy.”
5. Model It – We have a word for people who say one thing and do another. It is “hypocrite.” If you do keys one through four very well, but don’t model them in your organization, that’s exactly what your people will call you. You might as well focus your creative energies on other things if you don’t do this one. Think of a great leader who has inspired you. Odds are they lived out their words. They were the real deal. Our actions are very powerful testimonies to what we truly believe and truly value. I’m not saying you have to be perfect. Even leaders are human. However, if your people see you making an honest effort to strive towards the ideals of the organization, they are likely to forgive you when you fall short and own up to it.
Organizational culture is a very powerful thing. Your company will have one whether it is intentionally created or not. It might as well be something you want. I’m sure there are some valuable nuggets in those thirty-one thousand books, but if you can do these five things you will have an organization your competition can’t touch.