I recently read a great post by a founder and CEO of a startup that failed. He candidly and skillfully shared his lessons learned from the failure of their venture.
One of his important lessons was the need for a clear and simple articulation of a company culture. He used the term: “culture is your cofounder”.
I think it’s more than that. You are your company’s culture and it is you. Leaders define the culture of their organizations. Their choices, actions, priorities, and values set the tone and example for others to follow. That defines the de facto culture of the company, no matter what is written in the “About us” tab on the corporate website.
Furthermore, creating your company’s culture starts from day 1. It’s not something to be developed by your HR department when the company has grown into a mid-size enterprise. It’s set formally or implicitly by the way you conduct yourself. By how you treat your co-founders and people. By the you engage with your customers and partners. And, by how you deal with your investors.
Make no mistake; your company culture is as important as your IP, and technology. It’s the personality of your company. And like any personality it can be attractive or repellent, and even downright offensive.
Hence, your company culture should help you attract and retain great people, passionate customers, valuable partners and investors. It needs to send the right positive messages about the company and the way it goes about its business.
Companies that have a positive workplace culture typically also perform well. You can find some good examples in the ranking by the Great Place to Work Institute. Among the top performers on the 2013 World’s Best Multinational Companies list are technology companies such as NetApp, SAS, and Google.
On the other hand, you can easily find bad examples everywhere, and most notably on Wall Street.
I personally think that when it comes to articulating and defining your company’s culture less is more. Big words and long lists of values often come across as fake and empty declarations. Rather, I prefer simple, authentic, and short sentences that everyone can understand and remember.
For example: “always do the right thing, and treat everyone in the same manner we want to be treated ourselves”.
Regardless how you decide to phrase your creed, it needs to be consistent with your daily actions, priorities, and values. It should also be timeless.
If I can borrow from Mahatma Gandhi, be the culture that you wish to see in your company.
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