It’s time to identify and reset your company culture

One of my clients, Shawn, is about to celebrate his company’s tenth anniversary. He started his social impact investment company with a mission to transform the way investors think about sustainability and we were reflecting – truly in awe – at what the team has achieved.

As we were discussing his plans for a 10 year celebration, he told me he wanted to think about culture. He and his leadership team had never fully defined their culture, and that led to hiring mistakes and some misalignment within the company. He realized that codifying the culture would be important to lead the company into its future.

When you’re building your company, department, or even your small group into a larger organization, you might think you have a lot of time to define the culture. However, as an executive coach who works with startup founders and C-suite executives, I’ve seen firsthand how deferring defining your culture until a while in the future causes problems. Your culture begins to emerge and settle around you, so the moment you approach it, you’re not really creating your culture, you’re digging it. If you like what you see, great. But, more often than not, you’ll see that there are certain things you need to adjust.

So, wherever you are in the lifecycle of your business or department, it’s a good time to reflect on your current culture and how you would like to lead it in the future. Here are three steps to achieve this.

Who has the right material?

First, think about your best employees. Who are the top performers, who you can always rely on, and who you would fight for if they left? Do they also make others better? Articulate the common traits they share.

I asked Shawn to name his top 5 employees, which he did easily. When I asked him about their common traits, he said “spark”. I asked him what he meant, and he said “they bring creativity to their work and they energize others”. Magnificent. Spark could be a major cultural value.

We discussed the additional traits his best employees shared, and created a list of what they were, how they expressed themselves, and why they were important. It’s a good start when you want to define your culture.

Ask the Experts

Don’t just rely on your own point of view. Your employees are keen observers of life inside your company and they have a lot of knowledge to add. In addition to getting their ideas, you’ll need to engage them if you want to formalize the culture, and when you seek their input, you’ll also get their buy-in.

So it’s a good investment of time to investigate your culture to understand how your people perceive it. Survey them. You may want to start with your management team and then bring groups of employees together. Invite them with questions like these:

· Who are the people here who do you think are the most successful?

· What qualities make them successful?

· What do you like most about this company?

· What have been your best experiences here?

· What have you experienced in past companies that you are relieved not to have to deal with here?

· What kind of people would not fit here, and why?

· What three words would you use to describe our company?

Remember that the purpose of these discussions is to collect data. Once you’ve sifted through all the words and ideas from the discussions, you’ll understand the air your business breathes – what the current culture is like.

think about the future

Once you’ve figured out what the culture is like today, it’s a good time to think about how your organization will win in the future. What got you here won’t get you there, and just as people have to adapt, so too do businesses. And as your business grows, you need to expand your culture to allow new people to come in, take root, and add value.

In Shawn’s case, we agreed that he wanted to double the “spark” cultural value. Bringing in more dynamic people would add tremendous value. At the same time, one of the other values ​​he identified was “high pain tolerance”. The employees who built this company had the ability to stick with something long after others quit. Since they were blazing new trails, everything they did was tailor-made for each client they had. This was essential to get the original products up and running, but it needed people who could create repeatable processes to work at scale. He realized he needed to find people who were much more systematic in their approach, so we added “methodical” to tilt the culture more towards scale.

Now, when Shawn discusses culture in his small group and all-meetings, he can start talking about the need to be more methodical and bring in methodical leaders. And then everyone can adopt this new profile of employees.

This might be a good time for you to reflect on your culture. Use these ideas to help you identify the culture you have now and the culture you will need to take you into the future.