Brian Chesky, Co-Founder of AirBnB, wrote a great piece on Medium recently entitled “Don’t Fuck Up the Culture” and I really love how he explains and celebrates the importance of culture.
According to Brian, “Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with passion”.
Why’s it important? Because “The stronger the culture, the less corporate process a company needs. When the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing. People can be independent and autonomous. They can be entrepreneurial. And if we have a company that is entrepreneurial in spirit, we will be able to take our next “(wo)man on the moon” leap. Ever notice how families or tribes don’t require much process? That is because there is such a strong trust and culture that it supersedes any process. In organizations (or even in a society) where culture is weak, you need an abundance of heavy, precise rules and processes.”
I coach a lot of entrepreneurs and senior leaders. As we reflect on where their greatest contribution lies, we inevitably come to culture because culture impacts everything: teamwork, accountability, problem solving, you name it. I like to use the phrase “make the implicit explicit” and by that I mean getting super clear on your personal values and then collaborating with your trusted employees (or even key partners and customers) to clarify your collective / team values.
Don’t just write them down; as a team you need to make them super tangible by envisioning the ways you’ll work that brings each value alive. If it’s helpful, talk about the things you will intentionally avoid that can otherwise step on a value. My clients and I tend to explore values through relationships, so for each value think about how your employees might experience / lead via that value amongst themselves, as well as how you’ll express it via customers, partners, and your community.
So then what? Start using this tool via group coaching sessions to look at how you work today compared to your values map. Where are you “green” and where are you “yellow” or hit-n-miss about staying true to those values? Got any clear misses or “red”? Don’t feel bad – these are all opportunities for people to step up and help close that gap via specific changes to the way you work, or to start doing things completely differently. The point of the exercise is the discussion, because it acts as a calibration tool for people’s internal GPS. Really strong values helps people narrow the standard deviation of acceptable / unacceptable behaviour while still allowing people’s preferences, experiences, and style to be brought to bear for maximum impact.
As a team, take on a handful of action items to move things along, and to also celebrate what’s already working super well with your values and culture in action. My old VP of HR at Electronic Arts Rusty Rueff used to tell us “Expect what you inspect” and by that he means that your attention reflects your true intention. Celebrating people’s alignment with your values, or even lessons learned from deviating from them, are superb ways of strengthening values. What’d you learn? Great! Share that with people around the company because the more examples and reflections, the clearer it becomes to people and the more vibrant your culture becomes.
This brings me to my final point, and that’s about authenticity. As Oscar Wilde famously said “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” I believe most leaders are not clear on their values and as a result most organizations do not have truly accurate, defining values that drive the way they work. When you are authentic in your self expression, people who are great matches for you suddenly appear in your life, and you’re more capable of knowing who isn’t a match. Think about your life partner or best friend; chances are they share your values in really significant ways. It allows a flow, or ease, in the way you relate with each other. The same is true of teams; help your future awesome teammates find you by being intentional about your collective purpose and ways of working. You’ll be surprised by how people find you, and the ease by which you work.