What Makes a Great Culture?
There are clear benefits to having a great corporate culture.
For example, a great corporate culture can set the right tone within an organization. If your corporate culture is one that values respect, etiquette, and formality, then the people who work for your company are more likely to treat each other politely, show up on time, and work within a recognized chain of command.
Or if your corporate culture is one that values risk taking and thinking outside of the box, then employees are more likely to develop creative or unconventional solutions for themselves or for customers.
A strong culture also can help with retention. A culture that makes people feel like they belong or that they are part of something special is likely to convince employees to stay with the company for the long term.
In addition, corporate culture can drive sales by enhancing brand identity. In other words, if customers see your company as an enthusiastic, generous group of people, then they may be more attracted to do business with you, simply because of your corporate culture.
These benefits are desirable and easy to see. But what, exactly, makes a great company culture? How does any manager know if he or she has created a great culture? And what can managers do to achieve this?
Great culture happens when people are empowered.
Great leaders create more great leaders. By giving other people the power to lead, you expand your reach. There are four ways to do this.
First, treat others as equals. If you don’t, they’ll suspect they’re not empowered. And they won’t step up in your absence to fill a void.
Second, listen actively. This lets you learn from other people. When your team sees you learning from other people, your team will know that others are truly empowered. They’ll be willing to learn and teach, as well.
Third…share life stories. When you show people that you’re open and vulnerable, they feel empowered to share their stories and uncertainties with you. Resolving uncertainties is a must if you want to empower others to act upon your behalf.
And fourth, articulate a mission. Otherwise, the question is, “Empowered to do what?”
In great cultures, individual contributors — with all of their talent and experience — synchronize and become passionate about a mission. It’s worth whatever effort is necessary to achieve such an aligned environment — including cutting team members who don’t support the mission.
Great cultures allow the person with the best idea to trump the person with the highest pay.
Three words that can kill enthusiasm in a culture: “not invented here.”
When management teams or departments adopt that attitude, they signal to others within a culture that generating or submitting great ideas is futile.
Instead, there’s a word for cultures that inspire great ideas from within. The word is “intrapreneurship.” A phrase often attributed to Steve Jobs, “intrapreneurship” gives people from all walks of a company the opportunity to contribute to the mission — or to alter it with great ideas.
Great cultures are willing to put mission in front of profits.
There’s nothing like purpose for a strong, sustainable, scalable, and meaningful corporate culture. A purpose mobilizes people in a way that pursuing profits, alone, never will. Note that I’m not suggesting corporations ignore profitability — or even that they always put purpose in front of profitability. Rather, I’m suggesting that companies willing to put purpose over profitability are those with successful cultures.
To try this, figure out how to offer a social service while creating economic value. That's the sort of thing employees can get behind and feel proud of within their culture, even as they work toward a common mission that does — ultimately — involve charging fees for a product or service.
Great cultures foster great teams.
Make no mistake. It’s difficult to build teams.
That’s because people bring everything about who they are to teams. This includes opinions, knowledge, values, past experiences, upbringing, educations, goals, aspirations, and a hundred other things likely to conflict with what others bring to the team.
So how do great cultures do it?
Let’s start with how they don’t. They don’t do it by retreating for a couple of days each year. They don't do it with planning sessions, seminars, or team-building activities.
While those may be useful tools, great cultures don’t use gimmicks as substitutes for actual team building!
Instead, great cultures build teams by systematically forming them to solve real work issues…issues with the potential to affect everyone.
When people have something important in common — a mission, goals, something to achieve, something to avoid — people spend their energies on the shared project, rather than devoting too much energy on figuring out how to consolidate their varied backgrounds, values and beliefs.
You show me a culture with great communication, and I’ll show you a great culture.
To see how this last element works to build great teams, all you have to do is watch any great team play any sport. Athletic teams work together, encourage each other, and spend as much time communicating on the sidelines as they do in the game.
If anyone puts herself or himself ahead of the team, coaches deal with that behavior swiftly.
Most of the time, teams perform best when everyone is in the know, when members are feeding and playing off of each other, and when communication is broad enough to enable everyone to succeed.
Put these principles to work, and it won't be long until your company is reaping the benefits of a great corporate culture.