Amateurs talk strategy; the professionals focus on tactics; and superstars concentrate on culture.
Superstars focus on culture because a company’s culture will determine if the company will successfully execute its strategy and tactics. A company’s culture is a statement of its values that influences all actions and every decision associated with the execution of strategies and tactics.
Company culture isn’t group think as much as it is identification of valued behaviors and common beliefs. This identification is informative to every employee -- every day. Many successful business people believe that culture is the basis of everything their employees do.
The recent success of Zappos is a result of the company being defined by its culture and succeeding on the basis of that culture. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, is famous for stating that “if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff — like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers — will happen naturally on its own.”
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Tony clearly believes in a “culture first” approach.
For everyone else who intends to start a business from scratch and succeed, you need to have a handle on culture creation and culture support. If you create the right culture, it can enable you to succeed even when strategies flail and tactics fail. Culture will enable employees to do the right thing.
How do you do this? Define your values clearly, realize that little things can mean a lot, and always reinforce your words with actions.
Define your cultural values and live them
What do you value? What behaviors does your company reward? Would you like employees to help customers or “surprise and delight” them? Is it desirable for employees to work well together and “recognize others”? Defining cultural values is to specifically describe the behavior and/or goals of the organization within a context of broad principles.
Since your cultural values must be useful to employees, they must also be definitive terms. Company values shouldn’t be solely aspirational. Don’t suggest that employees “strive” to do something. Everyone has a different definition of striving for that matter. Your values must be results oriented to be useful.Think “make,” “achieve,” and “deliver” rather than “demonstrate,” “show,” or “lead.” Employees want to do the right thing but in many instances aren’t sure what that right thing is given the circumstances.
Once you have defined your organization’s cultural values; you have created a framework that informs all employees. Your declared company values provide insight during those oh-so-frequent moments when an employee is faced with an unanticipated situation. I recently responded to a Facebook ad that promised a $50 instant credit for a first purchase at Bonobos. I bought a pair of pants and due largely to a credit card snafu was credited twice for the $50. I called Bonobos to rectify the double credit and the customer representative said “Hey, we can’t fix that in our systems, thank you so much for calling, you need to consider the extra $50 a bonus.” (Shout out to Bonobos Ninja, Tim MacGougan ) What?? I suspect that Bonobos informs it employees to “delight” customers rather than “satisfy” them. That cultural bias will win you customers for life as Bonobos did here with me.
Honor employees very publicly and demonstrate when they have values
If you want employees to champion the values; make a point to publicly and materially reward those employees that exhibit the company’s values in their actions. This will benefit all employees. Google is famous for providing six figure bonuses to team members responsible for major innovations. If you value innovation within your culture, reward it generously to foster the desired behavior. If you value delighting customers, reward that behavior when you see it. Positive reinforcement is a strong motivator. Put your money and your recognition behind your values.
Little things mean a lot
mazon uses old doors on sawhorses for desks. It is one thing to say we are a frugal company with a “no frills” work environment and it is another to use old doors for desktops. Amazon doesn’t need to tell employees working from old doors that they should be on the lookout for opportunities to save money. If they don’t see it on the desk in front of them, they won’t get it from any other form of communication.
Honor the culture you create in all you do, big things and small. Don’t allow the culture to push back at any of the fringes with exceptions. Understand that there will be continual resistance to doing certain things in certain ways. Or, in spite of a commitment to give back to the community, that there is a legitimate economic gain for the company NOT giving employees four hours a month to volunteer locally. Cheap hotels are often not as nice as pricier ones and the potential rationales to upgrade will be many and varied. Maintain consistency by being inflexible on the values application to all decisions.
Actions must continually reinforce words
As a leader, you must exemplify the culture and its values. If you punish failure with disapproval, you diminish risk taking. People seek approval and if you aren’t ready to continually recognize people for acting appropriately related to your cultural norms, you aren’t building the culture. In fact, you either support or diminish the culture with each every hiring decision.
You should be careful to hire people that fit within your culture. Zappos is famous for its $2,000 “quit bonus” to new employees. The quit bonus is offered to employees who are completing week one of a four week training program and stands until the end of the fourth week. If an employee isn’t interested in the company or more than a paycheck, they can take the quitting bonus and leave the company. In fact, 1% take the quit bonus. The other 99% want to be there and are committed to the company. As a recult, Zappos doesn’t have an issue of hiring employees who don’t support the company culture.
Ultimately, your company’s culture will influence every element of strategy and every tactic executed by the team on a daily basis. Without a supporting culture, strategy and tactics are somewhat meaningless. Culture doesn’t self define, however, and needs direction attention. Successful business owners envision their company culture from the start. They believe that culture super cedes strategy and tactics. Go ahead and define your organizations’ culture, then follow with strategy and end with tactics… by doing so you can be assured of reasonable execution and informed employees.
Originally published on BusinessInsider on 12-15-10.