By Alexander Westgarth, CEO and Founder of Westgarth Wines.
If you want your brightest employees to do their best work, change the culture of your business. Change what you can by recognizing your own resistance to change. Recognize, too, that it does not matter what you want if you do not know who you are. How can you, after all, champion what you oppose? How can you celebrate freedom when you cannot suppress your urge to control everything involving your business? How can you have a workplace that nurtures creativity when you are the prisoner, to a degree, of the nature of your personality?
The answer is not to remake yourself but to rethink your hiring process. For example: If you want unconventional thinkers, do not fill your office with workers too afraid to issue an original thought. If you want them to think outside the box, stop putting them inside the same box. Put aside unity for the unusual, because there can be no reason for distinction unless there is room for disagreement. Put the counterculture ahead of your culture. I have employees anonymously submit their ideas from a common email account. A little anonymity goes a long way toward unleashing the creative impulses of your workers.
Celebrate the rogues -- the freethinkers behind a brand like Virgin, for instance -- the people like Richard Branson in your own company. The contrarians in your midst are agents of change. They have the will to innovate and the personal initiative to invent the future. Identifying these people starts with getting to know them. How, after all, can you know someone if you do at least have a conversation with that person?
Celebrate the people who speak truth to power. Celebrate the ones who take risks, not because they are careless but because they could care less what their critics think. They care more about the excellence of their work than being exemplary workers.
I do not mean to suggest a shift in culture requires near-constant upheaval or seemingly endless strife, because there is a big difference between anarchy and controlled chaos. No company can survive if it tolerates the former, while no business can thrive without a dose of the latter.
Direct people without being too dictatorial or democratic. Encourage failure without simply accepting it, because there is no such thing as success without a stumble here or a misstep there without an error in judgment or the suspension of judgment altogether, without an arrogation of power or the arrogance of the powerful.
Failure is a precursor to success. It is not, however, a guarantee that every business will succeed. But every successful company does have something in common when it comes to culture: each is an outlier, each is a case study in experimentation, each has a deserved reputation for innovation.
The culture you desire will emerge to the extent you allow it to do so. It may exact plenty of toil. It may tax your patience and be a trial of your soul. Let it test your resolve, as long as you refuse to weaken or tire and you never surrender.
Aware of the struggles you may face and ready to bear the burdens of leadership and pay the price of success, move forward with your plans to change your culture.
Alexander Westgarth is CEO and Founder of Westgarth Wines, a fine wine and spirit merchant specialized in investment grade wines.