To me, getting culture right is significantly more important than getting the strategy, talent, capital, product, brand or anything else right. Competitors can replicate anything from strategy to product, but culture cannot be replicated.
Culture is often regarded as a fluffy word. In fact, when you ask people to describe what culture is, they would often associate ping pong tables, free snacks, happy hours with the representation of their culture. Fundamentally, culture is the very DNA of a company and the way things get done. It’s what you do when no one is watching. So, as a leader in the organization, it’s important to get culture right from the beginning and constantly focus on it as the company grows. Here are 5 ways CEOs can design, develop and lead company culture:
- Involve everyone at the company to define the company culture. When people feel that they have a say or a part in defining what the company culture is, it’s much easier to get buy-ins. We have a company-wide annual offsite where we discuss our culture the entire day. If we believe that certain cultural values do not resonate anymore, we will review them and come up with a new set of values as a team.
- When making hiring, promotion, or termination decisions, put the company culture at the center. Talent development from hiring to firing is one of the most important jobs of managers. However, this can often introduce subjectivity and scrutiny from other team members. This is where culture can play an important role. At Wonolo, for every recruiting interview, we conduct a Tao interview where each member from different functions join and assess candidates’ cultural fit. This is not about whether we like candidates or not, but rather, whether we believe candidates’ values would align with our cultural values.
- Make the company culture ubiquitous. In a fast-paced working environment with constant changes, it’s difficult to remember each specific detail of the company culture. When things are moving quickly, it’s important to talk about culture constantly at all-hands meetings or make the cultural values visible across the office. In our office, all of our values are visible on the walls. We made an effort to have them around every corner in the office so that people can see them and remember them subconsciously. We also talk about each value every week during one of our daily standups.
- Be a role model of the company culture. As a manager or an executive of an organization, you will be constantly put on a situation where your judgment and decisions are tested. Your team will look to see whether you abide by the company culture first. This is where the company culture can help make the right decision. Recently, I was in a position to make a hiring decision of a candidate who was regarded as a rock star performer who can help address one of our deficiencies. However, the candidate did not meet one of our cultural values. We were so dire to fill that position that there was tremendous pressure to make the hire. At the end, we made the decision not to hire the candidate. When we explained the rationale to the rest of the team, it was concrete to use our cultural values as a framework.
- Apply 1% improvement daily. When companies face cultural issues, managers or executives believe in making drastic changes. However, changes to the company culture can take a very long time — often months or years. Instead, focus on a small, incremental change daily. At Wonolo, we talk about the notion of 1% improvement every day. It can be as simple as being on time for meetings, adding “thank you and please” to emails, and engaging in conversations that are deeper than just “how are you?” with each other. This way, when something is off with our culture, it’s easier to adjust quickly.
Culture can be both a powerful weapon and shield through tough times, so developing and maintaining a positive and healthy culture is critical for a company’s success.
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