When we discuss company culture, at its core, we are talking about people. I believe that it is always people that make or break a company. This translates across every industry. Zappos did not break a billion dollars in sales in just a decade because they sell shoes. Tons of companies sell shoes. Zappos has exceled because they built their brand around a culture of people that provide great customer experience. Zappos lives by the “belief…that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff – like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers – will happen naturally on its own.”
“Talent is rare. Management’s job is not to prevent risk but to build the capability to recover when failures occur. It must be safe to tell the truth. We must constantly challenge all of our assumptions and search for the flaws that could destroy our culture.” I love this quote from Ed Catmull of Pixar Studios. Above all else – he understands that preserving the talent is what holds together the Pixar culture and how they continue to make successful films year after year. Building an environment where people feel safe to succeed and fail is key to a company’s culture – and cuts down on turnover, too. It’s a slight twist on Field of Dreams – “build it and they will stay”.
Building culture into the core of your company worked for Zappos and Pixar, and it will work for your company too. But Zappos and Pixar both started with the culture baked into their philosophies from the start. So how do you drive that forward now if you are already one, five or fifty years in? It’s not an overnight change, but here are some steps to help you get there:
Start With You
Whether you are the CEO or the intern – culture starts with you. You have to bring people together that are true collaborators, with a vested interest in a shared success. But you also have to want that for yourself. The first step is to decide if the company goals align with your own and then march forward. If they do not, then march on and find a place that does.
Walk Not Just Talk
Talking about culture is great, but it does not create culture. It creates conversation. To build culture in your company – you have to live it everyday. If you want your people to be bold, then be bold in your actions. If you want your people to be relentless, then be relentless in your pursuit of your goals. People want to be a part of something bigger, but they need to be brought together. Culture is led from within and will only grow through constant and authentic efforts – not mandates.
Don’t Stop Growing
Things can grow stagnant. You need to be constantly learning and always evolving. This should be part of the culture, or your culture will grow stagnant, too. It should evolve with growth and new people, but stay true to its core at the very heart. When it comes to culture, Tony Hsieh says, “It's a five-to-lifetime commitment; it's not a two-year execution and you're done. If you want to take it on, you've got to be willing to put that type of time into it."
Seek and You Shall Find
You will have people that rise to the top in your culture – evangelists, advocates and believers. These are the people that will help you build a great culture. Seek them out. Recognize them. Reward them. You will also have those that go against the grain. They are the people that do not move your company or your culture forward. Find them and help them find the door.
Great company culture can help shape a great company. Empower the people that can help you. It will take work and dedication to get it right, but like Hsieh, says, "…if you get the culture right, then most of the other stuff follows”.
photo credit: about.zappos.com
1 From Upstart To $1 Billion Behemoth, Zappos Marks 10 Years
2 How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity
3 Your Culture Is Your Brand
4 Zappos' Tony Hsieh Says Creating A Great Culture Is A 'Five-To-Lifetime Commitment'
5 The Zappos Way of Managing