Believe, Be, Do, Have: Defining Company Culture and Identity
One of my dad’s strengths lies in his ability to condense information and experiences into elegant frameworks. He thinks deeply about a subject and eventually creates acronyms, graphs, charts, or phrases to convey his thinking.
In a recent conversation with him, we spoke about a new project he’s working on. As part of this initiative, he developed a set of four powerful questions executives should ask themselves to guide organizations toward their visions.
At WriteLab, we constantly think about who we are and what we stand for. As an early-stage startup, it’s important that we focus on our identity and company culture, and asking ourselves these questions is a great first step in shaping our organization.
Believe: What Do We Believe In?
In order to guide a company toward its goals, executives must first articulate the principles they follow and the values by which they live and lead.
Leaders can start with thoughtful introspection. They should examine their paths to the present and study the lives of the people who inspire them. Members of the leadership team should also ask themselves what purpose they are serving, as this dictates the spirit with which they will run their teams and move their organizations forward.
At corporations, leaders should focus on fostering innovation, playing to the organization’s strengths, and taking on a growth mindset. Historically, great leaders have aggressively removed barriers from the system and enabled smart, talented, and motivated people to do their best work. They have created cultures characterized by passion and curiosity, not ones of fear and apathy. For example, Howard Schultz of Starbucks and W. Craig Jelinek of Costco have consistently placed high value in happy employees by providing higher-than-typical wages and benefits.
Be: Who Are We and Are WE What We Want to Be?
Next, leaders need to look to their employees. Organizations thrive when employees are united and find their work rewarding and fulfilling.
Company leadership should encourage employees to find success through doing. This includes delivering on commitments, focusing on priorities, and persevering through adversity. At the same time, companies should take care to foster fun through celebration, laughter, and spontaneity.
Management should encourage employees to be curious and keep learning by asking great questions, listening to concerns, and sharing authentically and openly. Employees should feel that they can create without fear. Microsoft’s Garage is a community where employees can work collaborate on projects unrelated to their daily work. Spaces like these challenge teams to think creatively and do what they enjoy, even if it’s not what they were hired for.
The best corporate cultures make it easy for employees to challenge assumptions and take risks, and the most respected companies also emphasize a spirit of support, collaboration, and empowerment.
Do: How Do We Transform Customer Relationships?
Inward-facing changes have limits when it comes to moving a company to vision. Companies need to take another look at how they deal with customers--even if what they’re doing seems to work well. In the digital age, no firm can afford to rest on its laurels and continue business as usual. Our new mobile-first, cloud-first era has made it possible for even the most entrenched companies to lose their footing. We need only look to what Uber has done to traditional taxi services, or how quickly Emirates has become a dominant player in international air travel – an industry long seen as one of the most protected from new players – to see that there are no safe sectors.
Consequently, it has become much more important to search continuously for new revenue streams and to reimagine the end-customer experience. This untiring quest for ways to create and serve new customers has led Google’s research into autonomous vehicles and Amazon’s metamorphosis from an online bookstore to the leading provider of cloud services.
Have: What Value Will We Provide for Investors?
Providing value to shareholders is a priority for any leadership team. However, the time scale of this value changes radically based on the type of company. For a small startup, value for investors means explosive growth without the promise of immediate profitability or low risk. However, for a well-established firm, it means steady, sustainable growth in key areas, coupled with strategic investment in new ventures.
Despite recent criticisms that investors are short-sighted and only look for good quarterly results, sharp-eyed investors consider metrics like employee turnover and satisfaction. Therefore, it is important that companies seek to attract top talent, and becoming a great place to work only comes over the long term.
Conclusion and Takeaways
Answering these critical questions can make the difference between a driven, focused team and a confused, unproductive one.
Leaders should make their direction decisions deliberately and with a diverse group of advisors and stakeholders present. Only with careful consideration about beliefs, employee mindset, customer outcome, and investor value can leaders move their companies toward their visions for the future.