A company culture is just a mirror of its owner. The clearer an owner is on what they stand for (and what they won’t stand for) the stronger the company culture they establish will be. In Forbes online, Stanford MBA graduate Kevon Saber gives us the following questions that he used to build the culture at his online wellness app company:
1. When have you felt most alive?
Kevon discovered that he felt most alive when he was self-actualizing and working with others who were excited by doing the same so this is a core element of Fig’s culture. Look at your past experiences and successes that made you feel most alive and ask “why” at least five times. This will help you to get to the heart of the values that are underlying those experiences.
2. What provokes you?
Understanding the things that irk you can also provide clarity on the values that should form the foundation of your culture. I get annoyed when I see people “posing” – pretending to be something they’re not rather than being authentic with who they are and where they and their business are at. While I do understand the need to be confident and present oneself professionally, a core value we model in all of our training and coaching is that we have to work at these things too. We need to constantly make the effort to practice what we preach.
3. Are there any morals from literature to help you?
Don’t underestimate the power of a good book to inspire you. Whether it is fiction or non-fiction, the morals in a book can resonate very deeply with people. Kevon found The Torah and The Prince to be two very helpful texts – one a positive force and one a cautionary tale. A recent favorite of mine is Anything You Want, by Derek Sivers. I love his commitment to the purpose of his business rather than the profit factor.
In the case of Kevon’s company, it is easy to see that the values he has infused throughout the company are creating a healthy company culture. Unfortunately, while clarity of values and strength of conviction from the owner will always build a strong and distinctive culture, the reflection it creates may not always be a healthy one. Entrepreneurs who value profit and achievement above else will create a company culture that does as well. This might lead to overwork, unethical behaviour, and even competition and conflict.
When working with entrepreneurs to build company cultures that are both strong and healthy, we follow these steps:
1. Identify the owner’s or leader’s values. If they have employees, the employees can be involved in this process as well, but we always encourage the owner or leader to do this process on their own at first. The leader of a team will always most influence their team based on their own natural core values so it is essential that they are aware of them.
2. The next step is to think through the actions, decisions and behaviour that these values would lead to. If achievement is a value, for example, how would this roll out in the workplace?
3. Once you have identified the actions that the values you have outlined would naturally lead to, question whether there would be negative consequences of these values if taken to the extreme. If there are, you may want to add other values to your core values to create a more balanced mix. This will preserve the positive essence of the culture by keeping any one value from being overly emphasized.
4. Finally, test your values and values alignment statements in real life and work situations. If they lead to choices that you are proud of and that get the results you want, you are on the right track. If not, go back to the drawing board and modify them.