Culture is a journey, not a destination. You can’t buy it in a do-it-yourself box, and you can’t install it in an afternoon. It’s all about the road being travelled, and that’s all about the attitude, or mind-set, of the leaders of the brand.
As I studied the habits of great (and not-so-great) cultures, interviewed people leading brands, and spoke to the teams in the trenches, the one constant that kept arising over and over again was mind-set. Mind-set was either the catalyst to a magical culture or it was the culture killer. The desire to build magical culture isn’t enough. The brands that succeeded in building authentic cultures had leaders with distinctive philosophies, approaches, and mind-sets.
The following list of healthy culture mind-sets showed up consistently in the leaders of successful cultures. I ask that you pause and reflect on each of these. If your current mind-set to building culture mirrors these, congratulations. If you recognize an opportunity to adopt one or more of these to give your culture journey a boost, please feel free to do so.
1: Treat Perks as Perks
Healthy culture is not beanbag chairs, ping pong tables, air hockey tables and beer Fridays.
Many leaders actually think these are key to building a great culture. In fact, they place so much emphasis on these perks that they make them the focus in their recruitment strategies, in photos of their brand, and in the stories they tell to the world. It’s not that these frills aren’t nice-to-haves for some types of businesses: they are and they can contribute to overall morale. What I am saying is that they should not be the only foundation on which to build culture.
These nice-to-haves are what I like to refer to as masks. If you have to put so much emphasis on these frills, thinking no one will notice all the other things going wrong, you’ve already lost the culture game. Leaders of brands with healthy cultures recognize this and treat these perks with the respect they deserve: nice-to-have frills, and not the foundational elements of culture. (Oh, and one more thing: my experience with air hockey tables is a six-month shelf life at best. Bad investment.)
2: Design Over Default
Great cultures do not just happen. Don’t think that one day you will come into work and, wow, there it is! A great culture greets you at the front door! I am here to tell you this is not, and never ever will be, the case. Sadly, many leaders think that their culture will materialize by default, and they fail to put the effort in.
Great cultures are methodically, meticulously and patiently designed. As much emphasis must be placed on building culture as you put into the overall strategy of your business.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast, remember? Great leaders understand and adopt this mind-set and put the appropriate amount of emphasis and effort into designing culture.
Every day you walk into your business, you will be greeted by your culture. The question is: what kind of culture will that be? One that is designed? Or one that just happens, by default? You’ll know it in your gut when you see it. And I know you’ll feel better with a culture by design.
Great cultures know the value of focusing on character as much as, or more than, skill. Many cultures focus their energy only on skill when hiring or selling. True, skill is very important, and if you do not have skill, people will not do business with you nor will they want to work for you.
Emphasizing the character side of your brand helps establish an emotional hook: the hook that will ultimately attract customers, future employees, media, and awards. It is the common ground of character that provides the basis for every type of relationship. If we do not even like each other, we have no foundation.
Let me illustrate this.
When I was at Nurse Next Door™, we posted our purpose and core values on the main entrance wall. I used to make potential hires and vendors sit and look at them, and then I would ask if they could live them. Of course they said yes. What else could they say? However, I would then ask them to provide examples showing how they have lived each of them in their personal and professional lives. If they could not easily answer these questions, I knew they might not be a fit. This approach can get interesting when you are looking to bring on a new client. You want the business, the money. Money is good, but if you do not have a strong character alignment with them from the very start and set the expectations up front, no amount of money can compensate for the time and effort you’ll spend trying to force alignment, and you will actually end up losing money on them.
The moral of the story is to spend as much time evaluating character as you do skill. The net result is a much happier culture based on values.