What do Southwest, Zappos.com, Nordstrom, Whole Foods, or Costco have in common?
We all enjoy doing business with them. Why? They’re certainly not the least expensive option. We love them because their Culture IS their Brand. In my experience, you can have the most brilliant strategy on the planet; but if the culture can’t or won’t support that strategy, it will fall short – short on revenue, short on profitability, short on sustainability.
At the end of the day, the difference is which company walks the talk when they say, “our most important asset is our people.”
Fast Company posted a terrific article on January 24, 2012 called Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast. There are some great excerpts that I’ve posted below.
Misunderstood and mismanaged
Culture, like brand, is misunderstood and often discounted as a touchy-feely component of business that belongs to HR. It’s not intangible or fluffy, it’s not a vibe or the office décor. It’s one of the most important drivers that has to be set or adjusted to push long-term, sustainable success. It’s not good enough just to have an amazing product and a healthy bank balance. Long-term success is dependent on a culture that is nurtured and alive. Culture is the environment in which your strategy and your brand thrives or dies a slow death.
Think about it like a nurturing habitat for success. Culture cannot be manufactured. It has to be genuinely nurtured by everyone from the CEO down. Ignoring the health of your culture is like letting aquarium water get dirty.
If there’s any doubt about the value of investing time in culture, there are significant benefits that come from a vibrant and alive culture:
Focus: Aligns the entire company towards achieving its vision, mission, and goals.
Motivation: Builds higher employee motivation and loyalty.
Connection: Builds team cohesiveness among the company’s various departments and divisions.
Cohesion: Builds consistency and encourages coordination and control within the company.
Spirit: Shapes employee behavior at work, enabling the organization to be more efficient and alive.
Mobilizing and energizing a culture is predicated on the organization clearly understanding the vision, mission, values, and goals. It’s leadership’s responsibility to involve the entire organization, informing and inspiring them to live out the purpose the organization in the construct of the values.
Culture fuels brand
A vibrant culture provides a cooperative and collaborative environment for a brand to thrive in. Your brand is the single most important asset to differentiate you consistently over time, and it needs to be nurtured, evolved, and invigorated by the people entrusted to keep it true and alive. Without a functional and relevant culture, the money invested in research and development, product differentiation, marketing, and human resources is never maximized and often wasted because it’s not fueled by a sustaining and functional culture.
Uncommon sense for a courageous and vibrant culture
It’s easy to look at companies like Stonyfield Farms, Zappos, Google, Virgin, Whole Foods, or Southwest Airlines and admire them for their passionate, engaged, and active cultures that are on display for the world to see. Building a strong culture takes hard work and true commitment and, while not something you can tick off in boxes, here are some very basic building blocks to consider:
Dynamic and engaged leadership
A vibrant culture is organic and evolving. It is fueled and inspired by leadership that is actively involved and informed about the realities of the business. They genuinely care about the company’s role in the world and are passionately engaged. They are great communicators and motivators who set out a clearly communicated vision, mission, values, and goals and create an environment for them to come alive.
It’s one thing to have beliefs and values spelled out in a frame in the conference room. It’s another thing to have genuine and memorable beliefs that are directional, alive and modeled throughout the organization daily. It’s important that departments and individuals are motivated and measured against the way they model the values. And, if you want a values-driven culture, hire people using the values as a filter. If you want your company to embody the culture, empower people and ensure every department understands what’s expected. Don’t just list your company’s values in PowerPoints; bring them to life in people, products, spaces, at events, and in communication.
Responsibility and accountability
Strong cultures empower their people, they recognize their talents, and give them a very clear role with responsibilities they’re accountable for. It’s amazing how basic this is, but how absent the principle is in many businesses.
Celebrate success and failure
Most companies that run at speed often forget to celebrate their victories both big and small, and they rarely have time or the humility to acknowledge and learn from their failures. Celebrate both your victories and failures in your own unique way, but share them and share them often.