Back in the day when we started ST6 we knew we wanted to build a company that would be a catalyst for profound positive impact on the world. We knew that the only way to make this happen was to gather great people together.
Soon after starting to look for our first hires we realized that having great people was just not enough. Coming from a fairly large enterprise we knew that "standard" organization methods would not work for our kind of people. We would have to reinvent the ways an organization operates in order to empower those great people.
We needed to build an environment which would allow those people to flourish. We needed to deliberately craft an organizational culture that would reinforce our core values. We needed to make culture our strategy.
Culture as a Product
We have already discussed that culture is a product on its own. Unfortunately very few companies realize this. It is sad to see startups talking primarily about their products and not mentioning a word about their organizational cultures. They are so obsessed with product features and funding that they kind of forget that a company is its people, not its product. In a sense they should strive for People-Culture-Fit over Product-Market-Fit.
On the other side of the spectrum are enterprises that try to enforce "culture" and "values" upon employees without realizing that they have lost any connection with them. C-level execs looking to digitally transform the organization, middle-level managers looking to hit the numbers and employees counting the working hours all floating in the same ship without clear purpose.
Why is it like this? Why do most organizations fail to build strong cultures? Why do very few organizations design their cultures deliberately?
Before answering those questions we need to step back and look at what an organizational culture is at its core.
It starts with Values
In his Understanding Culture post (I highly recommend reading it) Mike McGarr visualizes culture using the following diagram:
Original image from Mike McGarr blog.
Values and core values are what drives and bonds an organization. Values can evolve over time as your organization grows but core values shouldn't change. Core values are the principles that establish purpose and shape the mission of your organization. If they change you are in a different organization now.
Values are usually conceived by the founders and early employees when the organizational culture is incepted. It is critical to get those outlined early on.
Does your organization have values and core values? Have they proven themselves over time?
It's about delivering on your Values
Having values defined is the "easiest part". You need to deliver on those values. You need to act in line with your values. Everything you do, every little interaction, every message, every meeting, every pull request, every process, every tool should be aligned with your values. The same goes for the things you shouldn't do - if something is against your values just don't do it.
For example, Volkswagen has "We take on responsibility for the environment and society" and "We are honest and speak up when something is wrong" as values but they failed miserably to deliver on them - remember Dieselgate.
In order to create a strong culture it is critical for the founders (and early hires) to act in line with the company's core values.
Are you delivering on your core values? Do your organization leaders act according to your values? What are you willing to give up to have a value-driven organization?
Back to the main question: Why do most organizations fail to build strong cultures? I believe we have an answer: they have failed to discover their core values and to deliver them through behavior. It's that simple yet hard to execute. Everything else in your culture is derived from your values and your subsequent behavior.
Stay tuned for our next post when we will share our core values and how we are delivering on them.