When it comes to business, you hear a ton about revenue, ROI (return on investment) and key metrics like user growth and head count. One thing you rarely hear discussed is the value of culture. Having recently attended The Culture Conference, one of the best conferences for entrepreneurs, executives and social leaders interested in expanding the impact that culture has within their organizations, there's no question in my mind that culture matters immensely.
Employees and teams who feel empowered work better, faster and more creatively. Airbnb and Indiegogo both know this. So do Asana and Pixar. When a team feels trusted and safe, they're more inclined to come up with and share new ideas that can move the bottom line. Yet for many organizations and leaders, culture is an afterthought.
In an effort to better understand this dynamic,I interviewed several of the speakers while at the conference. Here's their best advice on how to take advantage of the benefits that result from an outstanding company culture.
Understand what culture is
Before you can build great company culture, you need to understand what it is. David Hassell, founder and CEO of 15Five, narrowed culture down to its essence: "A culture is not just the company's mission, vision and values...It is the entirety of the experience of how people relate with each other and how they coordinate and collaborate to get work done."
Hassell, an expert in company culture, explained that in order to create a thriving culture, you need to live out the values you have for yourself and your business. He recommended Simon Sinek's TEDx talk on the importance of finding and understanding your "why." Use this video to help define your core values, then integrate them into every facet of your business, from product development to hiring.
The new generation of tech titans (Google, Airbnb, etc.) see the value of multiple perspectives and make diversity a matter of importance. Not only is it the right thing to do, it also benefits the bottom-line.
I interviewed Rachel Williams, Head of Corporate Recruiting and Diversity and Inclusion at Yelp, to get a better understanding of how smart companies address diversity. "The temptation for companies is to focus solely on KPIs (key performance indicators) like filling seats, sales and user acquisition. When you do this, you completely miss the value of innovation and creativity that comes from a diversified workforce that feels included and empowered."
Williams encourages you to make diversity as important as any other business priority.
Treat culture like a product
Many businesses draft a mission statement or set of core values, but few put as much emphasis on culture as they do on product.
Justin Rosenstein, co-founder and head of product at Asana, advises leaders to shift their thinking: "At Asana, we treat culture as a product. When we identify problems, we design solutions, establish roadmaps for implementing them, create measurable goals, and continue iterating until we ensure we're achieving our aspirations for how we want to work together."
When you invest in culture, you elevate every aspect of an organization.
Set the tone
If you don't intentionally create a culture, one will be created for you (and sometimes in spite of you). That is not a good thing.
Anese Cavanaugh, author of Contagious Culture, was clear on this point. "Leaders don't realize how much their own energy and presence affect others," said Cavanaugh. "You must be conscious about your intentions and the energy you bring into the room each and every day. Your presence is your impact."
How much fun do you have on a daily basis? I'm talking spontaneous, laughter-inducing fun.
I interviewed Betsy Crouch and Zoe Galvez, co-founders of ImprovHQ and experts in using improvisation theater as an interactive mindfulness practice. "When you have fun at work, you feel more connected with your team," said Crouch and Galvez. "You become more positive, as laughter and joy ease tension and stress. This leads to more creativity and innovation because people are less inhibited. Fun and productivity are not mutually exclusive."
A safe culture is rooted in trust and non-judgment. It creates a place where employees can be vulnerable and expressive.
Ashanti Branch, founder of The Ever Forward Club, offers this advice: "It's so important that your team has a safe space in which they can be honest, whether they're struggling or not. If you have trust and safety, your team can come to you without fear. That's when you can truly solve problems."
Building great culture may boost your ROI, but more importantly, it will result in empowered employees who feel good about themselves and their work. Such people positively contribute to the company, as well as to their families, friends and society as a whole. A great company culture is truly a win-win situation for everyone.