How To Create A Company Culture That Kicks Ass (Or Fix One That Doesn’t)

For the most part, companies spend a lot of time and energy focused on developing and executing their business strategy. But for many, company culture is just something they hope to get right, often waiting to address it until it’s broken and the consequences become too costly to keep ignoring.

Business visionary and author, Peter Drucker, famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

His tasty quote couldn’t be more on the money.

The most critical mistake an organization can make is to overlook the importance of culture and simply leave it up to chance. Culture is less visible and tangible on the surface than things like sales numbers, which makes it easy to slip down the ladder of priority. But make no mistake: the negative impact and aftermath of poor company culture is as destructive as a tornado ripping through your organization.

Except unlike a tornado, hiding from it is your worst move.

hiding from culture

Culture impacts so many aspects of business that hit the bottom line; employee engagement, job performance, turnover, quality control, and customer experience, just to name a few.

Let's get real. I don't know if you've noticed, but everyone is losing their minds trying to understand Millennials in the workplace these days. This 2016 Gallup poll sheds some relevant light:

“60% of Millennials left their company in less than three years and the primary indicator of whether they stay at a company is if there is a “good cultural fit.” (Forbes)

 

Gallup estimates that millennial turnover costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually. That’s billion, with a ‘b’. A multi-billion dollar tornado.


The fact is that even though companies are waking up to this reality, toxic work culture is still rampant. We have all either experienced it, left a job because of it, or know someone who's life is currently miserable due to it.

 

Creating and actively maintaining a healthy company culture is vital to business success.

 

While things like great compensation go a long way to move the needle and improve workplace environment, it’s not enough to just throw money at people and stick a ping pong table in the break room.

 

The hard truth is that you can’t pay someone enough to stay at a job they hate. Flat out, culture matters more.

poor culture fit

So yes, it’s important. The $30 billion dollar question is how can you actually create and effectively drive culture in an organization?

There is a way. Just know this with absolute certainty: hanging a poster in the lobby expressing your company’s core values does nothing to actually impact culture. As you may have heard, the values displayed in the lobby of Enron -- that was bankrupted by fraud and whose leaders went to jail -- were Integrity, Communication, Respect, and Excellence. So there’s that.

The actual answer here is simple and indisputable:

 

You must treat culture as a strategic priority.


You've got to create a plan.

No company in the world leaves anything critical to the business up to chance. When faced with having to successfully market a brand, we develop a sophisticated marketing strategy. We define an executable plan based on desired outcomes and then put that plan into action. We don’t rely on hope for great sales results, we make sales a strategic priority. Same with finance, operations, IT, etc.

For the love of all that’s good in the world, do not risk banking your company culture on hope.

We have to approach culture the same we approach anything we want to be successful at; define it, create an action plan, and execute it.

culture strategy

To create and drive an awesome culture you've got to ask the right questions and be clear on the answers.


Here are five critical points you need to dive into and get specific on:

 

1) What’s your organization’s driving story? Why are you in business?

2) Define your values and don't just name them. Lay down what those values look like in action.

3) Establish traditions. Identify what systems, extra steps, and rituals you'll implement.

4) Define what success looks like and how you'll measure it.

define success

5) Determine how you’ll hold each other accountable. What is everyone committed to, what’s expected of us, what consequences exist for bad behavior?

 

Completing these will cover a ton of ground. For the full meal deal, we here at Shift Yes created a detailed template with more critical questions to answer that we share with clients as a tool for them to create their own fully defined strategic culture plan. Click here to view and download it for free.


If you insist on leaving workplace culture up to chance, we won’t judge you for rubbing power crystals together or whatever rituals you do for the culture gods to smile on your teams and keep the tornadoes at bay. We also won’t hold our breath for you, though, since we’re not big on using hope as a strategy to bring results.

 

Here’s a helpful list of additional resources to inspire you in your journey, including this brilliant strategic culture plan created by the city of Liverpool:

Netflix “Freedom & Responsibility” Culture deck

Our “Yes, And” Culture here at Shift Yes (our core work is about delivering this to organizations).

Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” TED talk


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