BY DOUG AND POLLY WHITE Special Correspondents
QUESTION: I have a small business. I want to build a positive culture. I think it’s critical to long-term success, but I don’t know how to do it. In fact, I’m not even sure how to define culture. Can you help?
ANSWER: Supreme Court Judge Potter Stewart said of pornography, “It’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it.” Similarly, a great corporate culture can be hard to define, but you know it when you see it. When you walk down the aisles of a company with a great culture, you know. Certainly, when you work on it, you know it.
Defining corporate culture can be a challenge, but for years we’ve been using a pretty simple definition: “Culture is how things are done.” It’s that simple. It’s also so complex. How do you decide how things will be done? One thing is for sure, start at the top. It also starts at the beginning. A company’s culture is not something that is built after having “garnet”. Culture is formed from day one.
The first step in developing a culture is to be deliberate about what you want. Do you want a company where hard work is the norm or do you focus more on reconciling work and family life? Take some time to determine what your values are. Your company will develop a culture, implicitly or explicitly. Explicitly decide what you want and take deliberate steps to achieve it.
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You will create the culture of your company. Your decisions, your reactions, the things you praise, the things you reward, and the discouraging behavior will determine your company’s culture. For example, if you want hard work to be part of your culture, you need to prove it by working hard yourself. Starting the days between 9:30 and 10:00 and going out every day at 4:30 won’t do. You will also have to wait and demand hard work from your people. You will want to praise your people when they go further and shout the vagabonds on the carpet.
Corporate culture is often passed on from an experienced employee to a new hire in the form of stories. Your actions will determine the stories that are told to your business. McKinsey & Company, one of the world’s leading management consulting firms, tells new partners stories of Marvin Bower, the company’s patriarch, who turned down lucrative businesses because he didn’t think the client would implement the recommendations. Marvin didn’t want to accept commissions when he didn’t think the client would benefit; he thought it was essential to put the interest of the customer before the interest of the company. This story took place in the 1930s, a time when the new company could not afford to move away from revenue. It was still being told 60 years later, and we suspect it is still being told today.
Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM, wanted to create a culture that embraced failure and error. He is told, “The way to succeed is to double the error rate.” Although Thomas Watson died in 1956, his legend of embracing failure and error persists. You may have heard the story of a 1940s IBM employee who made a mistake that cost the company about $ 1 million. A million dollars is a lot of money now. It was much more so in the 1940s. Knowing he was about to be fired, the employee wrote his resignation letter and handed it to Watson. Watson replied, “Shall we fire you? I’ve just invested a million dollars in your education, and do you think I’ll fire you?”
Capital One values analytical rigor. Stories abound from the early days when Rich Fairbank and Nigel Morris (CEO and Chief Operating Officer) met with business analysts to make sure the analysis was accurate and to delve into details of the card offerings. credit.
Stories are a powerful way to communicate how things are done: the culture of the place. Sometimes leaders seek to consolidate culture by writing stories. Marvin Bower published a book entitled Perspective on McKinsey. It was given to each new associate, but was never distributed outside the company.
Bill Marriott wrote The Spirit to Serve, Marriott’s Way and put it on the bedside table at every Marriott hotel. None of these authors tried to make money with their book. They were consolidating the culture of a company they loved.
With so many employees working remotely, it’s getting harder and harder to build the culture you want. This is an unresolved issue, but employers will need to find ways to make sure new employees hear the stories they may have heard about the water cooler. Alternatively, we may end up concluding that culture is less important in a world where workers do not interact with each other. Time will tell.
How you define culture and how you communicate; Historically, there is very little in business that is more important than your company’s culture. We may be on the brink of a world where culture matters less, but we don’t believe it.
Doug and Polly White are heavily involved in Gather, a company that designs, builds and operates collaborative workspaces. Polly focuses on human resources, people management, and human systems. Doug’s areas of expertise are business strategy, operations and finance.