How does the US Army persuade Rangers to endure the hottest, coldest, wettest or driest conditions on earth? How do they convince them to tolerate hours of inactivity interlaced with minutes of heart-racing action; or to sacrifice time with their families? And how do they get them to feel honored to do so? It’s not about the glamor, high pay, or perks. It’s about the culture; participating in something larger than oneself, finding camaraderie among coworkers, and working towards a shared goal with common values and ethics. Culture plays a critical role in the success of any organization. How do you foster it within your own?
Take Ownership and Act
The important thing to remember is that a culture is like a reputation: you’re going to get one anyway, so it is best to create and control it rather than leave it in the hands of others. These are the guiding principles of a healthy, productive corporate culture: Culture always starts from the top.
As CEO, you set the tone for the entire organization. People will mirror what their top leaders do, and look to them for guidance. You are responsible for determining the type of culture you want and ensuring that it permeates throughout the organization.
Fit is everything.
If you want to foster a culture of innovation, of fun, of teamwork, then you have to hire people who share your philosophy and vision. Managers might hire employees for their skills, their experience, their expertise or training; but neglect to consider cultural fit. People that don’t fit the company culture actually drag it down, and create more work for the CEO and managers. Time is spent counseling, resolving battle after battle, and tackling issues that arise from these mismatches. Leaders risk burning themselves out and extinguishing the culture they’re trying to create in the first place. It is essential to hire for fit – and fire for it too.
CEOs can get bogged down in winning this deal, finishing this or that project. When they do have a success, they move immediately on to the next goal. These moments of success, though, are opportunities to celebrate or establish traditions. Have a party or on-site lunch for everyone. Take one afternoon a month off and go bowling, or have people ring a giant gong. However you chose to celebrate, honor your people’s efforts, give them a chance to hit the “refresh” button, and establish the idiosyncratic rituals that make your team different and special.
Cultures are built on myths and stories.
Enzo Ferrari loved cars passionately, and the faster the better. He founded Scuderia Ferrari, his racing team, and began manufacturing cars to use in competition. Reluctantly, he began selling them so he could fund his team. This story is emblematic of Ferrari’s fast, sleek image, and it’s been passed down from generation to generation of employee.
“We” are different.
If you’re just like every other company in your industry, if you’re doing the same things, running your company the same way, that’s not a culture. That’s monotony. People have to come into your organizations and be able to tell new hires or folks that hear the elevator pitch why they are with a company that stands out. We are different: we build differently; we operate differently; we deliver, produce, and act differently. Build a culture that employees want to stay a part of and that others want to join.
Culture is often referred to as the way people act when no one is looking. When you proactively create a culture with these principles in mind, your people will be working, helping, growing, solving problems, and taking responsibility when you’re not looking. That’s the type of culture that attracts "A" players and wins games.