Most companies don’t manage culture. They notice it and write it down after it’s already formed.
The organizations best known for their culture, however, didn’t get there by treating it as an afterthought. In employee reviews, Starbucks holds people accountable and measures them by their values. Southwest regularly highlights its culture and points out exemplary employees who embody it. And Zappos provides explicit behaviors and habits that employees can use to embrace and conform to the company culture. All of those behaviors took good organizations and helped to make them great.
As leaders and executives, one of the most important jobs you have is to craft your culture and bring it to life in a way that’s true to the company and drives business. If you don’t know the essence of your company, your culture becomes reactionary to different cultural trends and isn’t true to itself. And if your culture is aspirational instead of accurate, people don't believe it, andyou will fail.
Your company culture has to be totally true to what you are and what matters. Ask yourself: “Who are we on our best days?” That’s the culture you should codify—the culture you support and build. But of course, that’s easier said than done. At Jump, we’ve actively thought about the culture we should have to help us do our work from day one. Though each company’s culture is (and should be) different, there are some replicable actions any company can take to build a culture that’s on-point and real.
Here are 6 steps any company can take to better manage its culture:
1. Know who you are.
The question we mentioned above—“Who are we on our best days?”—is essential. Culture is not something you’ll be able to exemplify every single day with every single last action. It’s something you should strive towards and build for. You can’t manage your culture if you don’t know your culture in the first place.
2. Know how to tell people why to care about culture.Figure out how culture drives your day-to-day business. The most successful leaders in your company should live out your company’s values; you need to prioritize culture above other things as part of your company’s strategy. Prioritizing culture in this way will force you to be better at articulating why it matters.
3. Have an ear to the ground and enroll cultural champions.
Have a temperature gauge to understand what pieces of culture are thriving and which aren’t. Have a network of people who you call upon and recognize as cultural champions. A champion’s job is to help people make meaning of their work and company.
4. Be explicit about behaviors and habits to help people improve.
The culture you define sets general expectations, but likely won’t call for specific actions.
You need to codify and be explicit about the behaviors and habits that people can use to display what would otherwise be a “soft,” subtle culture. This is fundamental to helping them improve and get better at living out the cultural values.
5. Make your culture visible and highlight it regularly. You’ll feel like you sound like a broken record, but it helps people take notice and do the same.
Highlight your culture regularly so that employees take notice of the things around them. The reality is that to have a strong culture, every individual at the company needs to constantly improve the culture in themselves.
6. Measure people against your company’s values.
Nearly every company hires its employees based on their skills and their cultural fit. They should be measured against these standards as well. Hold people accountable! There’s little incentive to follow culture and build upon it if there aren’t clear ways to measure what fits your culture and what doesn’t.
Our experience at Jump has shown us that companies who manage their culture in these ways have more effective employees and a strong community of advocates inside and outside of the company walls. While these steps may not get you 100% of the way there, we certainly think they’ll get you started on the right path.