Answering the Critical Question: What Defines Your Company?
Can you say, right this second, that your company is living its core values?
If you said yes, congratulations! You’ve achieved something many organizations strive for, yet constantly come up short in actually doing. If you said no, or you don’t know, that’s okay too. Or, if your organization doesn’t have core values, now might be a good time to consider a few.
Living your company’s values, the set of self-truths that define the organization as a whole, isn’t always easy, and defining exactly what your company culture is can be nebulous. So, how can you take your core values from the page and turn them into reality?
Who are you?
You get together with your management team and hash out a series of values and beliefs, you share them with the organization, you talk about them, reiterate them — but the words don’t mean anything if they aren’t acted upon. A company can’t create a list of values and hope a culture based on those values will suddenly spring to life.
The relationship between values and culture is more complex. The two influence one another and have a certain harmony, or symbiotic existence. Or, ideally they should. Culture can be an unwieldy creature. It constantly evolves and requires a measure of flexibility, or it might break.
You may have drafted ten core values when your company was still in its infancy. Since those first steps, your company has worked to live by those values. But as your company has grown and evolved, bringing on new team members and adopting new methods of operation, the level of cohesiveness you once enjoyed might not be there anymore.
As companies grow, and don’t properly adapt, cracks begin to show. This can manifest itself in a number of ways, including a decline in collaboration among teams and team members, as well as complacency, one of the many killers of productivity.
How do you respond?
Start by putting away the sledgehammer. When cracks appear, don’t smash everything and start over, as tempting as that might be. Respond with finely-tuned adjustments. Ask yourself what needs to happen. Do you need to modify your core values? Or are you simply not living those core values the way they were meant to be lived?
If you developed the perfect list of core values, but if you aren’t doing anything about it, company culture languishes. Culture is built on action. Get yourself and your team living the core values. This doesn’t mean you have to force action (if you do, then there may be a problem with the core values themselves).
Let culture happen.
Action can occur in a few different ways. First, look at how your core values are defined. Remove ambiguity. Core values should be make sense to outsiders and employees alike. Then, when everything is clear and concise, it becomes easier to apply your values to the real world. Team members can recognize and celebrate others within the organization who are living the values and contributing to company culture.
Escalate the celebration of your core values to activities or events. These aren’t necessarily team-building exercises, but are more ways to see company values in action. When your team members are participating in something bigger than themselves, they make real connections. The company’s values, and by extension, its culture, transform into something tangible people can grab onto and take with them.
How these activities or events unfold is dependent on the company and its values. You might organize charitable events where employees can come together for the benefit of their community, and each other. Some companies have regular barbecues or potlucks. Others install game rooms or have an off-the-hook juice bar in the break room. You do what fits.
Or, do what your team members already love doing. Go to them for answers. You’ve already invested in bringing together an amazing group of people, and chances are, if they have workplace chemistry, there’s a common thread (or threads) woven through your organization. Pull that thread and see where it takes you.
Why do any of this?
When you take time to focus on building and driving company culture forward, this culture can end up becoming a major part of who your company is. This, right alongside core values, answers that very important question: who are you? A strong culture is a talking point when people reference your business.
Online shoe and apparel retailer, Zappos, is a prime example of this. The company is known for their methodical hiring process. They get to know the people they’re really interested in, going as far as building a social network all applicants must join to even be considered. They want to be completely sure new hires will fit into the company’s well-defined culture.
Zappos’ approach is the reason their company culture is so cohesive internally and revered externally. They take serious time in getting to know a potential hire. This helps keeps turnover low, averaging less than 20 percent across the company over a seven year period. Lower turnover means less expense hiring and training new team members.
Plus, when you get to know the team you’ve assembled, and team members getting to know one another outside of their respective departments, this can prove critical in developing a company culture.
Company culture really starts to come together when team members are working together, with shared values, toward (or upholding) the mission of the organization. The core values act as guiding lights in the greater endeavor.
What have you done to promote company culture in your own organization? How are you living your company’s core values?