You can tell a lot about a company by its speech and interactions. Lively, social cultures empower team members, encouraging them to think outside of the box. Strict, corporate cultures prefer sticking to what used to work (even if it doesn’t anymore). Where does your company lie in the cultural spectrum? If you don’t know, your communication both inside and outside the organization will tell you.
Why it Matters
From a finance standpoint, great cultures get better margins.
Some companies are content to compete on price. They don’t need to be different. But the brands that ascend beyond price competition are brands that bring meaning. They inspire people who would buy from them.
Even a gas station–something normally seen as a commodity–might prioritize clean bathrooms, making it a much more pleasant stop for people. A fast-food restaurant might pay a little more for great employees, living out their values by being closed on Sunday, to create a friendly experience that transcends anything else in the industry. And we all know about technology companies like Apple, who create an altogether unique experience, differentiating themselves based on how they see the world.
Your success in this area depends on culture. You can say all the right words, but if they don’t push past what the rest of your industry is saying, adding beauty and meaning, you’re just another company that can’t execute at the level of your terminology because you don’t really live it out and believe it.
Let’s look at some simple ways to recognize authenticity.
Awkward Versus Authentic
Awkward, shallow interactions. If you’re convinced of your company’s value, you can add a lot to a conversation about what your company does. And it won’t be empty or awkward. Do you know your company’s background and purpose? Can you provide authentic insight into what it’s like to work for your company? If you’re not convinced enough to inspire others, you might lack depth.
Repeated words and phrases. Do you and your team use words like “revolutionary” or “innovative” over and over again to describe your company? If the same vocabulary is on repeat in conversations, it’s a symptom of a stale culture. And your culture will rack up even more if the culture doesn’t allow people to question the descriptions. In other words, if nobody’s allowed to ask when the last time the company did something innovative, or even what the word “innovative” means, you’ve lost the ability to self-recognize this problem, causing it to become invisible. And it’s hard to solve invisible problems.
How to Fix It
There are two routes you can take to fix a stale, uninspiring culture. You can address the symptoms or you can address the problem. As a leader, you decide.
Know yourself. Organizations lose themselves when people within the organization lose themselves. In other words, when people can’t express their values for fear of being fired or being seen as non-team-players, definitions and values become dumbed-down. You lose your ability to talk about your values.
Talk about your strengths often. Look for ideas for how to build on those strengths, and then look for ways you’re not doing so well in those strengths. Find the holes. This will help you solidify your offering and prioritize shortcomings.
Foster a genuine love for new ideas that challenge your assumptions. If new ideas seem offensive or unsettling to you, you might be trying to hold onto the past a little too tightly.
Turn Your Culture Around
Brands that differentiate and gain margin tend to be brands that maintain a healthy internal dialog about their strengths. And they realize that everything that happens outside first happened inside. Everything above is written to help you build your ability to create meaning and purpose within so that your culture can influence and affect the world on the outside.
Does your company seem empty? Don’t worry. It’s a growing pain most companies face. Talk with us. We eat, sleep, and breath culture. More importantly, we have processes that allow us to help others build their culture. We’d love the opportunity to share them with you.