Is there a perfect or ideal culture? Is there a culture that is better than others? Specifically, in the business realm is there one target blueprint culture we should all aim towards? Is there one culture that people thrive in and another where they will wither and disengage?
Leaving Culture to Outside Pressures is a Mistake
I, unfortunately, have been in many work cultures that were toxic to my soul. These cultures were trying to push forward some specific norms and behaviors. I can remember being in one of my first work experiences and there was this fog of shame and blame that hovered over the work environment. It was a marketing agency, and we had no processes set up and we were just supposed to get things right every time. When things went wrong the blame guns came out blazing. There was a witch hunt to find out who did it and then the shaming and recriminations would begin. This was partly due to the high stakes back then as most marketing was in print and to make a mistake would cost you dearly financially. So, the pressure and the absence of processes built this culture. This culture was not thoughtfully cultivated it just was. It was miserable. It was one of the cultures I vowed I would never create, and yet I know that I have replicated pieces of it myself in many of the organizations I have lead from that point forward because I didn’t really have an ideal blueprint for creating culture, I thought I just had to be nice and hip and all would go well.
Yes, there is an ideal core culture blueprint
So is there an ideal culture that that first marketing business should have conformed to? Definitely. While diversity abounds around the fringes of culture the core should contain foundational elements that will make it a place where people thrive. Culture is defined by the norms (things you do) and the values (the things you believe) that are held in common by a group. So there are things common among people that will cause us to function well together. And while many businesses are focused on cultivating fringe cultural attributes like “innovation” and “fighting spirit” they are not the foundation, they need a foundation to be built on. Core human values are being distorted by putting our norms and values in the wrong order.
3 Foundations of the Ideal Culture
First, Have a Blueprint
So many companies, in fact, most don’t have an ideal culture blueprint prior to heading out to build it. They invite consultants in, take webinars, tack on a book here, and the culture starts to look like a pieced together hodge-podge of concepts. The problem is people can’t identify the foundation, or parts of the culture that are fringe add on v. the main building. It leads to chaos and not a well-constructed culture. We have constructed blueprints at the Ultimate Why that serve as your guiding plan that will build the core of a strong culture. It is a framework where all other cultural elements are organized and properly tuned to the ideal.
Second, Build on the Deepest Values
When you build on a lesser value like “speed of innovation” you can easily create a culture that puts this first. This can lead to mistreatment of people, as a manager tries to “launch” as their top value and might compromise safety, like the Challenger O rings, or consume people in the process and lose key talent like the company that thought Elon Musk wasn’t CEO quality. Our research points to the deepest Cultural value being human connection, or dare we say loving connection. When you put all of the people on your teams and those you serve first. We find that “speed of innovation” follows without damaging the core of your business. The lesser value is built on its foundation of the weightier value, the highest of which is love. Building your values in the right order is the first imperative of building the ideal organizational culture.
Third, Build with the Right People
Building teams of people cannot be done with a powerful decree from on high. You need to have a bottom-up and top-down approach. Bottom-up meaning each person needs to be empowered and given cultural coaching from front line leaders to front line workers. Meaning a few top-down pronouncements won’t do it. 70-90% of culture is built from the bottom up, with front line leaders. In fact, research shows more variation from internal team to team than from company to company. So, the froth line is very critical. Top-down is essential too. If the top leaders are not all in on the plan and living it out, that message becomes loud and clear to the rest of the team.
Yes, there is a lot more to building a great culture that helps your teams to thrive. But these are some of the big issues that are often overlooked when building that ideal corporate culture. It starts with recognizing that there are very important universal principals that make up the ideal blueprint for every culture. Starting with that blueprint will make all the difference between success and failure.