A culture is what makes a company unique. It is all about what, why and how a group of people or an organization does things. It also is about the language, mindset, traditions and values — which don’t cost much money, but there needs to be a structure that supports and maintains all these elements.
Many companies I have visited want a great culture and try to do things they’ve seen successful companies have done for their culture, but found they didn’t work. The reason is they have just implemented things they took from another company’s culture and tried to plug them into their own culture, but nothing aligned with what they were delivering, creating or offering.
Five key structures create a culture:
Create a vision statement that lets everyone know “this is what we do.” If it is grand enough, it will attract top talent who want to help create the vision. Make sure the vision isn’t transaction-based — it needs to be experience-based in order to truly attract employees.
Once the employees are on board and know the what, all thoughts, decisions and actions can be aligned to it. This will be the guiding light to help them create, re-invent and deliver the vision, and will be crucial for the employees to find the best way to do things, but it needs to evolve over time.
Everyone needs a purpose in their life, and this is just as true in businesses. The purpose is the why of doing something. If a company’s purpose is only about making money, employees won’t stand behind it for long. If the purpose is compelling enough and gives them a great reason to work at the company, it will attract and retain passionate employees who want to fulfill the company’s purpose. Make sure the purpose complements the company’s vision and is in alignment with it. And make sure both purpose and vision are short, memorable and repeatable.
The Information Age has opened up many more possibilities and opportunities for employees to choose who they work for and even where they work, not discounting working remotely or for themselves. So companies must provide a compelling company purpose if they are going to attract and retain top talent.
I’ve been involved with a recruiting company in San Francisco for the last couple of years, and helped them make it to INC’s list of America’s fastest-growing companies. We have more than 200,000 candidates in our database, and the No. 1 reason given for leaving their current company is lack of purpose. Sure, some would like a shorter commute or need to move to another state for personal reasons and some want a bit more money, but lack of purpose trumps them all.
The lifespan of an S&P company a generation ago was 50 years. Today, the lifespan of an S&P company is 25 years and shrinking. Companies are dying at an unprecedented rate, and many times it has to do with the business model not evolving with the times.
Not too long ago, in the Industrial Age, customers were tethered by distance and location. Companies were company-centric, thinking only about themselves and how much money they could make. They took advantage of poor business models, with high prices, up-selling and long contracts simply because there were not a lot of choices for customers, who had nowhere else to go.
We now live in the information Age, where news travels fast and the choices of where people can buy things are abundant and worldwide. The companies that are thriving today are in alignment with the wants, needs and demands of customers. They give the customers the freedom of choice, price and value. It doesn’t mean a company always has to give the lowest price, but if it doesn’t, it needs to make sure that there is a lot of added value.
Consider: Does your company treat people like they matter and do everything it can to create a great experience, prompting customers to come back again and again? Is there tangible added value for your customers to be loyal to your company? Or is your company still company-centric, doing everything it can to squeeze the last dime from every customer?
The ‘Wow’ Factor
Having or creating unique/WOW factors may be the single most important thing for companies in business today. Companies need to determine why someone would want to work for it or buy from it, and play that up. What is unique or WOW about it? Does what it sells or delivers stand out from the rest?
Create unique/WOW factors that set the company apart, make it unique or make it WOW the customers. There are any number of things to choose from: quality, value, price, service, delivery; the list goes on.
Create some meaningful values — whether a few or a lot. Make sure the values will help empower the employees and help them reach their full potential. If the values are all company-centric, they will attract no one. A good idea is to have the employees come up with the values to begin with, as they are the ones who will be living in the culture with the values that are created. This leads to much less resistance than telling employees which values they are going to be living by at the company.
These five key structures — aligned with the wants, needs and demands of employees and customers, and the Information Age — will frame a company’s own unique culture. Once the structure is set, the people part of the organization can help create the culture, and, over time, it will become part of the company’s DNA. The culture will then be the blueprint of what, why and how a company does things — now and long into the future, helping employees and company reach their full potential.
The Zappos story
I worked with Zappos.com from 2005 to 2010. I was recruited to be the coach, empowering the employees and helping create the culture for the company. In addition to providing leadership training to everyone in management, I was charged with working with individuals, teams and departments regarding relationships, communication, goal-setting and reinvention, while creating a common language — all helping to create and drive the culture. Zappos has now garnered worldwide attention for its culture and has elevated its standing on Fortune’s “Best Places to Work” from No. 23 in 2009 to No. 15 in 2010 to No. 6 in 2011.
I started by creating relationship. I met with all the employees for at least a half-hour, getting to know them on a personal level, as a person and not an employee, because I cared — we all cared at Zappos. Empowering people doesn’t only mean empowering them at the professional level, but empowering them at the personal level. Because if people aren’t empowered at the personal level, the professional level not only doesn’t matter, it doesn’t work.
David “Doc” Vik, D.C., author of The Culture Secret: How to Empower People and Companies No Matter What You Sell, is founder and CEO of The Culture Secret, through which he promotes his vision “to empower people and companies” with culture techniques and strategies that yield net results in diverse business sectors.