“I want to have a culture like Google!” I’ve heard this type of statement more than once from potential clients. Usually it’s from tech entrepreneurs that want to emulate a well-known brand. The last time I heard it was from the founder of an industrial lighting company of all places.
Too their chagrin I informed them that they couldn’t have Google’s culture. Their essence will always be uniquely theirs. Just as Home Depot’s culture will always be theirs, Southwest Airlines’ culture will always be theirs, and Pete’s Body Shop and Sushi will always be theirs.
While there is usually a furrowed brow for a few seconds when I tell prospects this, I get a smile when I explain that they can have something better. That “something better” is something uniquely their own.
A culture is the sum of a few key elements including the people that comprise the organization, their attitudes and personalities, and what the leadership will continually reinforce. Even if you recruited employees from Google they wouldn’t have the same environment and wouldn’t have the exact same culture guidance.
While there may be a few elements you would like to mimic, steal, borrow, or copy from cultures of other businesses it would be just that. Much like I tell credit unions and banks when they tell me “I want to implement a sales culture,” wouldn’t you like to build your own distinctive culture that works uniquely for your business rather than try to stamp another organization’s process or set of principles on your company as if it were a sticker?
In the continuum of brand, culture, and strategy alignment — what I call B + C + S formula — it is often the “C” which is the most elusive and the hardest to figure out. This is particularly important as it is the culture that supports the brand and allows it to flourish. It is also the culture that allows for proper implementation of the strategy. A dysfunctional culture will only tarnish the brand and place speed bumps, or even brick walls, on the road to strategy execution.
So how do you build a unique and aligned culture? Here are a few critical first steps:
- Define your company values. The values are one of five organization drivers of the B + C + S formula. Much like the mission statement is the “why we are in business” and the vision statement is the “where we’re going” the values are the “who we are.” These are the non-negotiables that we need to exemplify on a daily basis that provide the foundation to our culture. For example, maybe you want to create a laid back atmosphere but also one of respect for each other. In that instance you may decide to not have “professional appearance” as one of the values as you want people to dress comfortably without a dress code. However, you may adopt a value of “timeliness.” While people can dress however they want, you still want to make sure each employee respects each others’ time by being on time.
- Work with the entire team to develop service standards. Service standards are the fifth element of the aforementioned organization drivers. They are the “how we are going to live our values every day.” It’s critical that you illicit the opinions, guidance, and help of your team in this process. Doing so creates instant buy in and develops a “We’re all in this together” feeling within the culture. Keeping with the example introduced above, you would ask staff what “timeliness” means to them and ask them to define it into a standard for your business. The staff may then develop service standards such as “We will arrive to meetings five minutes prior to their start times” and “We will provide proposals to clients a day earlier than promised.”
- Reinforce the heck out of both the values and service standards. Celebrate what you have created together. Put the values and service standards on laminated cards, on posters in the lunch room, on the company intranet, etc. Use the language of the values and service standards during meetings, one-on-ones, reviews, mentoring sessions, reprimands, and coffee breaks. Remember that employees are your first customers. Like customers and prospects they need to see a message multiple times before they truly “get it.” So when you feel like you have reinforced the values and service standards too much go ahead and reinforce them again.
Following these steps may not create a culture like Google within your business but you may find that you are creating something better. That “something better” may also be just what you need to guide your team to greatness. And, by the way, if you ever do come across a Pete’s Body Shop and Sushi franchise please let me know.