Organizations are obsessed with the word “culture”, constantly working to build one that will attract talent and produce results. The perceived drivers of culture are team building, social events, monthly meetings and then utilizing a variety of buzzwords to get buy-in. While these tactics can work, the most genuine and successful cultures are developed organically, starting with organizational values, and must be present in all aspects of an operation.
What is Culture?
With respect to organizations, culture is the beliefs and behaviours that impact everything from interpersonal relationships to partnerships to marketing to customer service. It is a set of tenets that dictate every aspect of an organization’s operations, and should act as a beacon attracting talent who intrinsically share the same values.
When Patty McCord served as the Chief Talent Officer at Netflix, she built a corporate culture with no limits on vacation, a five-word expense policy and a belief that employees should be treated as adults. This approach to running a company was enshrined in the “Netflix culture deck,” a document that’s been viewed over 17-million times on Slideshare (Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg described it as “possibly one of the most important documents to come out of the valley.”)
The values that inform culture travels from the top down and are designed to create a positive environment for employees and attract customers. Values tend to run the gamut and some common ones adopted by organizations are creativity, communication, honesty and integrity. They typically reflect the desire to do right by clients and to make a positive impact in the world.
Ultimately, values are just words. The values of companies like Loblaws and Facebook didn’t prevent the bread price fixing scandal or the recent data breach. Words without actions become meaningless, rendering values as hollow.
Building a Sustainable Culture
Evolving words into values and values into a culture can be challenging. We live in an age where culture usually makes headlines for being toxic or for allowing toxic behaviour. You can’t generalize culture, you need to draw a thick line in the proverbial sand and when an employee crosses that line and defies culture, it needs to be dealt with.
Developing culture comes from having an open and collaborative environment where employees feel heard. Ensuring that every employee is aware of the culture and what is expected to meet its standard is key. If your culture is holding people back or not attracting business than immediately re-evaluate.
Hiring managers should be using interviews to investigate if a candidate shares the same values. During this time, candidates can get their first glimpse of your organization’s culture so make sure it is evident in the way your organization is being presented and how the interview is being conducted. Potential employees are gauging your culture and need to know what they are signing up for.
“Sometime you hire somebody to do a job and then they do it and then it’s done. And then you scramble around looking for another job for them to do. And for many companies that’s possible. But for some companies it’s not.”
— Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix
According to McCord, “People don’t work out for a couple of different reasons. One of them is you just made a bad hire. You hired somebody who couldn’t do it or doesn’t love the product, the team or the company. More frequently what happens is the business changes. And that’s something we don’t say often enough. Sometime you hire somebody to do a job and then they do it and then it’s done. And then you scramble around looking for another job for them to do. And for many companies that’s possible. But for some companies it’s not.”
Culture is a work in progress. It takes a clear vision, proper practices and a dogged determination to not only achieve, but more importantly, to sustain.