I went to a networking event held by a partner of ours last night. In addition to meeting some interesting people and getting to know some of the people we work with on a regular basis on a more personal note, I came away really impressed. Not just by the people themselves, we partnered with them because of the great people in the organization. I came away impressed by the strength of their corporate culture. Over the course of the event I had an opportunity to talk to people in different roles in the organization, from sales guys to engineers to executives, and I kept hearing the same message from each of them. Not in the sort of pre-programmed way that you might hear from a team that has been given a set of talking points to stick to, but in a very genuine way that bubbled up naturally in conversation. In the case of this organization, the thing that kept coming through was how deeply they really believed not only in the value of their product but that what they were doing was helping their customers. The conversation was never about how to get customers to buy, but always on how to get them to see how much value they can get from the product. The stories that were being told were about the hurdles they had crossed on the path to getting a customer to value. As a person who believes that culture drives performance, it was interesting to watch in action and recognize the effect it was having on me. It made me want to be a part of their success, to share their sense of mission and to bring the same value they were talking about to my clients. It re-affirmed my own belief in our partnership and it also made me think a bit about the things that drive this type of positive common culture.
From here forward, I’m going to break away from the story of how our partner company drives culture and talk about what I think drives corporate culture.
- A sense of mission: The purpose of your organization must be bigger than just the bottom line. For the partner above, it is delivering software that delivers results for its clients. Notice the client focus. Their tagline is “Lets talk about results.” Most normal people are concerned about money because it is a key factor in keeping a roof over their head and food on the table. Businesses are no different and attention to the bottom line is critical to staying in business, however I don’t think it is necessarily a great driver of corporate culture. This isn’t to say that it can’t be a driver of culture. I’m sure that some of the recent economic turmoil we’ve witnessed can be directly attributable to an over-emphasis on the bottom line as the driver of corporate culture. Most people want to be a part of a team that is contributing to something positive, because they want to see themselves and the work they do in a positive light. Connecting the dots between the positive effects your business or organization has for its stakeholders and how that positively effects your organization and the people in it is critical.
- Realization of value: I mean realization in two ways. First way is in the sense that the organization should be producing something of value. It has to be tough to get up and go to work everyday and feel like what you are doing doesn’t matter. Sometimes, particularly in large organizations with many levels, the people at the bottom of the pyramid can get disconnected from the value being delivered. Allowing this to happen is a big mistake for the leadership of these organizations. If it is important enough to pay someone to do it, it should have value to the organization and you should be helping connect the dots for those that are doing the doing. Trust me, you will get better results from people who feel like what they do matters. Secondly, it is almost always worth investing in understanding the value you are producing. Performance management isn’t just about measuring in order to steer the ship, it can also be a tool to communicate progress and re-enforce value.
- An abundance of role models: This may be the most important factor of all and it comes down to finding the right people, getting them to stay the course, and helping them to continue to improve by reinforcing your organizational values. To say you have a culture is to say that you have a highly prevalent set of beliefs, attitudes, and habits towards your work and the people you work with within the organization. Ensuring adoption of these as you bring people onboard and sustaining them as your organization grows or changes is difficult unless you have some shining examples to point to as role models. I am a big believer in the power of positive reinforcement to not only encourage people to sustain the good work they are doing but to get others to follow their example. I believe people need praise to thrive in the same way they need food to survive. Don’t miss any opportunities to compliment someone you work with when they exhibit the behaviors you are trying to encourage across your organization.
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