Culture is a company's most important weapon. And this is one piece of your company you can't delegate. It requires YOUR leadership and vision.
"Culture eats strategy for breakfast," wrote the business sage Peter Drucker.
A lot of leaders don't like to hear that. They think of strategy as something concrete that they can devise, that they can track, and that they can tweak for optimal effectiveness. Culture, by contrast, is amorphous: something that just sort of happens. Hire the right people and--fingers crossed--you'll get the culture you want.
That's wrong. Culture is every bit as much the leader's job as strategy. And you, the leader can create culture and control it.
And you must. As my good friend Ari Weinzweig, the co-founder of Zingerman's Community of Businesses puts it, today's biggest energy crisis is the human energy crisis in our workplaces. According to Gallup, two-thirds of workers are not engaged in their jobs and close to 20% are actively disengaged. Want to improve your bottom line? Figure out how to flip the engagement switch in your team and you can flip the Gallup numbers. You really can.
Every year, I lead hundreds of culture tours of Menlo Innovations for other companies that are interested in how we work. I'm proud, obviously. But I'm also gratified for what it says about our visitors. These people are getting on planes and traveling sometimes thousands of miles because they recognize that they are responsible for change. Often they come with their teams. I imagine the conversations when they get back to their offices are much livelier and more likely to result in real change because everyone has observed the same things.
When I was an executive at a large software company, I might have brought my team to a place like Menlo, but in my old mindset I would have been focused on how to get my team to change, not me. Back then I bought into the de facto practices of micromanaging and motivating through fear. I learned these practices through mimicry. Since those early managerial days I've come to learn how much capacity a leader has to create a healthy, energized, effective culture. It required that I change. If you are wondering what must change in your company, the first place to look may be in the mirror.
The leader's first job is to envision what the culture should look like. Although that decision will be influenced by such factors as industry, geography, and the leader's own goals, there exist many sources of ideas and inspiration. Among the people and organizations offering excellent books and/or classes in this area are Patrick Lencioni, Frans Johannson, Stan Slap, VitalSmarts, Zingermans, Arbinger, WorldBlu, and The Center for Positive Organizations. (I have provided a more exhaustive list at the back of my own book, Joy, Inc.) Also, seek out leaders you admire and find out what they are reading.
Once you have mentally designed the best possible version of your business, then lead your people to create it. That means everything--everything--you do in your business must be intentionally focused on your cultural goals. The good news is that once it's working your job as leader becomes much easier. The cultural engine begins running the company faster than you could ever run it by your own individual efforts.
At Menlo, our mission is to "end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology." To achieve that, I envisioned a culture where we produce joy in the world with the work of our hearts, hands and minds. All aspects of the business were designed to deliver that: our workspace, our bosslessness (a strong culture can reduce the need for hierarchy and layers of management), our processes, our marketing message, our workflow, our performance evaluations, our pay structure, and our hiring practice. Even my own job is customized to suit our culture: from where I sit to how I interact with my team and the world.
Finally, the leader must not only communicate the vision but also ensure that everyone else communicates it too, all the time and in every direction. Our tours are a wonderful mechanism for that. Every day, our staff overhears myself or another tour leader explaining our culture, which reinforces it to them. Visitors walk out the door and tell others what they've learned. Obviously most companies won't run culture tours. But if you find some way to both embody and espouse the vision for your culture every day, then both you and your workforce will be accountable.
By doing these things, you will re-ignite your passion for building a great team. Cultures are born, but they are better when made. Make yours with vision; with intentional design, and with communication. Lead. Your team is counting on you.