I’ve studied hundreds of organizations and between this research, my own experiences, and the work I’ve done with clients, I believe there are 3 characteristics of an incredibly great culture.
Great cultures are fueled by change. Thomas Edison once said, “We cannot solve the problems of today with the same thinking we used to create them”. This is why continuous growth, learning and transformation are critical to move forward. As leaders in our organizations we all have different education, experiences, values and beliefs. This influences where we are on the spectrum of leadership capabilities and capacity. Great leaders are constantly developing themselves.
And this is just as true when it comes to culture. Many leaders settle for cultures that allow for financial stability, the ability to create relationships with our suppliers, employees and customers, and have institutionalized processes and policies. In a great culture, the table stakes are raised. Continuous learning, innovation, agility, and collaboration are the bare necessities not something to strive for. Transformation and growth are a normal part of business. They are constantly asking not how their business can be better but how their culture can be better.
Great cultures focus out instead of focusing in. Just like Maslow’s hierarchy of personal needs, organization’s also have a hierarchy of development. At one end of the continuum is our focus is to survive, to make enough money to meet payroll and pay our vendors. At the other end, an organization is focused on service to humanity and the planet. And in the middle, an organization is holding on to transformation, continually trying to be better.
But as I like to say, you can’t save the planet if you don’t have the financial resources to be viable. Unlike Malsow’s hierarchy where one level builds on another, to be successful, organization’s need to operate throughout the continuum of development. If an organization gets caught up into looking inwards all the time, they risk losing perspective, people, and profits.
Companies stagnant when they focus inwards on financial stability, employee satisfaction, and process improvements. Don’t get me wrong, these are all important. However, great cultures see these as the cost of entry. Great cultures have established themselves in all these areas and in addition they are focused on purpose, employee fulfillment, and strategic alliances and partnerships. They have grown past the inward focus of what’s in it for me, and are now operating with a what’s in it for you mindset.
Organizations are looking for leaders who have a higher level of consciousness that can improve the culture. Because with great culture comes great performance.
Great cultures have an unwavering core. It’s true the culture of an organization may need to shift depending on the cycle of the business. After all, what is needed during a start-up phase may be different when facing a multi-national expansion. However, the central heartbeat of a great organization pulses strongly. That value is constantly communicated and demonstrated throughout the company. It is pervasive and always present. And in a great culture, it is an unconscious lens for all activities.
David Caputo, former CEO at Sandvine, made it pervasive by actually naming the culture The Sandvine Way. In a recent chat with me he explained “The Sandvine way is on the back of my name badge, there’s posters up on the wall, and it’s very unusual that an initiative or a project is kicked off that the first or second slide isn’t the Sandvine way slide”.
He passionately goes on to say “At our quarterly all hands meeting I’ll receive 5-10 nominations for people or teams who are embodying the Sandvine way. We’ll try to create that into an educational training story to capture the attention of the whole company, about someone or some team that has done something amazing. Its incredible reinforcement, no prizes given away, just recognition to the entire company that someone is making Sandvine a better place to hang out”.
Which characteristic do you need more of?
Ask your employees to describe their workplace. Do words like adaptability, innovation, and continuous learning pop up? What about collaboration, partnerships, customer experience? Do the behaviors that are most critical to the success of your organization get mentioned over and over again? In today’s challenging times, a culture fueled by change, that focuses out, and has an unwavering core is where you need to be in order to be successful.