Culture can have a big effect on a company's bottom line--and as such, smart entrepreneurs are constantly evaluating and refining what makes their workplaces unique.
You might say Jim Hart is a culture master. As president and CEO of SennDelaney, a Heidrick & Struggles company, he has been helping global organizations reshape, refine, and create great cultures for nearly two decades.
I recently sat down with Hart, to discuss the challenges--and opportunities--entrepreneurs face when it comes to company culture.
What are the traits of a great company culture?
Great cultures often lead to great and sustainable results over a long period of time. How would you know it?
You can feel it, but it's hard to define it. Let me tell you what we call a "thriving" organizational culture. Those are cultures that have three equal measures: Firstly, they have a clear and compelling sense of purpose for the organizations. They know why they exist and why anyone should care.
Secondly, they encourage a growth and learning mindset at the top and throughout the organization. With this mindset, people are willing to take risks to achieve results. They are the disruptors that are asking the questions.
Third is a sense of optimism, and a view that the glass is half full. You get a general sense of optimism and connect through possibilities. It's not that they live in a Pollyanna-ish world. They have a sense of optimism from the inside out. When you get all three together, you will have a great, high-performing culture.
When do your clients know that a culture shift is needed?
Typically, we talk about reshaping, rather than rapid transformation. The idea that companies are going to do a 180-degree change is not realistic. When do they know? When they keep pedaling the bike harder and harder and the results start getting less or start going backwards. There is a feeling of dragging a sled through the mud--the energy level to make something happen is daunting. When you get to that stage, that is when a cultural shift is needed.
What are the key steps to beginning the process of reshaping a culture that isn't working well?
It starts with the CEO and leaders. It has to start at the top. There are four principles, regardless if you do it yourself or use an organization to support the process. If you adhere to the four principles, the likelihood of success goes up:
1. Purposeful leadership. Having a purpose for the organization and being purposeful to reshape the culture to deliver better results. It needs to be managed by the top leaders or CEO--this is a full-contact sport. By showing up and being involved and not handing the job off to someone else, it will be more likely to be received.
2. Personal change. This is a core principle that many leaders miss. You have to be willing to do things differently based on the situation and the goals. For example, if you take a seasoned leader who is 20 years into his or her career, they need to be open to the idea that what leadership skills and habits have gotten them to where they are today may not be what's needed for the future. They need to be able to create change in themselves so that others follow suit. The most effective way to do that is to mirror it for others. Being able to shift habits is key.
3. Broad energy momentum and mass. At the beginning, it's more heavy lifting, but then it starts to catch on and gains its own momentum. You have to be willing to put a lot of energy and focus in the beginning of the change in order for it to take foot and start working on its own.
4. Focused sustainability. Processes have to be created in order to make the cultural change sustainable. You have to develop all the systems that support the new culture. To make this a seamless shift, you can set up a culture leadership team and assign key leaders who treat the shift as a project that identifies all the areas impacted (i.e. compensation, communications, etc.)
If you were building a new company, what are the critical first steps to creating a great culture from the beginning?
I would go back to the three principles of thriving. Do I have a real purpose besides making money? Steve Jobs built Apple because of a purpose. What I see in young entrepreneurs is that they don't have sense of purpose--rather, they see a market opportunity or niche. I appreciate that, but there's so much power when you have purpose and passion.
Secondly, find people on the customer side that want to do business with you because they believe in what you believe in. I would use that to attract the talent that has a similar belief system. I would also be careful as you grow to get enough diversity. You want diversity--not just gender and race but diversity of thought and people who are willing to speak up.
Keep the environment open to asking the questions rather than having the answers.