“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker
Your culture defines who you are as a company. If you want to build a great company, attract (and retain) rockstar employees, and have a great environment to work in, then developing the right corporate culture is key.
“Culture doesn’t eat strategy for breakfast. Culture is strategy.” – Jim Collins
What is Corporate Culture
Many people see corporate culture like the weather. You get what you get. Sometimes it’s sunny and positive, other times it’s cloudy and stormy.
Smart leaders know otherwise.
Your culture is who you are as an organization. A better metaphor is to think of it like raising a child. It starts with a core, DNA, in the form of the values and behaviours exhibited by the leaders. As the company grows, it’s up to you to raise it and shape it into what it could be.
But like raising a child, it takes work. It takes you, and your company, putting heart and soul into it. Making corrections when it goes off course, and recognizing when it’s doing the right things.
Benefits of a strong corporate culture
There are so many studies that show the benefits of a strong culture:
- Low employee turnover
- High employee engagement
- Ability to recruit the right people
- Less politics and toxicity
- Trust and safety
- More creativity and innovation
- Increased revenue and profitability
- Better company brand
- Happier customers (happy employees create happy customers)
There are so many benefits, but the most important one is this: The people you work with are like your second family (you get to choose this family). Don’t they deserve a work place where everyone feels safe, connected, engaged, and can have more fun?
Key Elements of your Corporate Culture
An inspirational vision and purpose
Everything starts with vision. Vision of who you want to be, where you want to go and what impact you want to make.
One of the big generational shifts that’s been highlighted by the pandemic is that people want to be connected to something bigger.
When the company is driving forward with a cause instead of just giving people a job, it changes the entire culture of the organization.
Alignment to Core Values
Your core values are the DNA of your organization. A handful of simple rules that define what you believe and the behaviours that form your culture.
Getting your core values right is vital. Some great rules for core values include:
- They are alive in your business
- You would fire an offender if they broke them
- You would take a financial hit for them
- They reflect the personality and uniqueness of your business
The leaders must live the desired company culture and values. For example, if your core values are to be human-centric and recognize employees for their achievements, then you would hold company meetings where people share stories about what is going well or how they have helped another person succeed. You might create an awards system that recognizes those who provide exceptional service.
Leadership style is also vital to you culture. Great leaders multiply the genius inside the organization, create safety and give autonomy. Other leaders diminish that genius by micro-managing and expecting people to “just do the work”.
What kind of leader do you want to be?
Recognition is an important part of fostering a sense of belonging in your organization, as it provides validation to the work and effort people put into their jobs. It also builds a culture where other members are more likely to come forward with ideas for improvement. Acknowledge good behaviour by giving public praise.
Some easy ways to increase recognition include:
- Storytelling about how people are living the values at your all-hands meetings
- Quarterly culture or core value awards
- Employee appreciation and recognition systems
- In-the-moment recognition and mini-awards
Psychological safety is vital to creating a healthy culture. When people feel unsafe they can’t think or act freely.
Teams that feel safe have trust and respect for each other as people. They’re more likely to express their thoughts, bring forward new ideas or challenge existing ones because they know they won’t be attacked for doing so.
The right people
According to Jim Collins, the number one metric every great business should monitor is the percentage of right people in the right seats.
When we talk about right people, we consider their fit – culture, specifically how they are aligned to your purpose and values.
If you have a high performer who isn’t aligned to your values, they’re likely doing damage to your organization (Reed Hastings of Netflix calls them “Brilliant Jerks”).
Do not tolerate brilliant jerks. No matter how brilliant, it’s never worth the damage they do to your company culture.
How to change (or improve) your corporate culture
Creating a great corporate culture takes work. Imagine you’re captaining a giant ship in rough seas. Making course corrections takes time and effort.
Understand where you are
The first step is always to understand where your culture truly is. We like using anonymous employee surveys to do this.
One simple question is: Describe your culture using 3 words.
If none of those words aligns with your values, there’s a problem!
Revisit your core values
You have values? GREAT! Are they just words on a wall, or do they truly reflect who you are? Work with key employees to tweak and refine your values so they do. Make sure to define them clearly so there’s no question what they mean.
Educate your company on the values
Come up with a plan to roll out your values throughout the organization and train your team on how they’re lived.
Live the values and behaviours
This is the most important element. The desired culture must be lived by the leadership team first, then cultivated throughout the company.
Recognize the right behaviours
Now that you have people starting to live the values, and the culture starting to take a new direction, start systematically recognizing the right behaviours to reinforce the change.
Many of our clients create simple checklists on how to recognize the company’s values, with specific examples in different areas of the business. It makes it very simple for managers or team members to highlight the right behaviours.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what business you’re in. If you have a team, you’re in the people business. Creating the right culture is one of, if not the most important strategic items to focus on.
Thankfully, your culture isn’t set it stone. With work, you can make the any necessary course corrections, or minor adjustments, to improve it.