How To Create a Great Company Culture

Why Company Culture Matters

Why cultural change?

Changing the culture of an organization is like fertilizing the soil in which a plant lives. You’re making positive changes at the root – the very context that the whole system is inside of – to create positive results in every part of the plant. If you had the choice to apply fertilizer to the soil or spray it onto the leaves, you’d probably choose the soil, right? Because it’s more likely to create a deeper, more systemic change, even though it might take longer. Changes at the root will flow to everything else, but the leaves are just the symptoms. They’re the end of the line, so changes there are likely to be temporary and not the best use of your resources.

Just about any business problem has a root-level cultural cause: lack of employee buy-in, poor accountability, customer service issues, quality problems, resistance to change, and more. It can be difficult to see how the dots connect, but if you look hard enough with the right eyes, you’ll see it. That’s the bad news: in some way you’re causing your own problems. The good news is when you refound an organization via cultural change, you’re using a long lever where a little goes a long way. Cultural change is the most powerful tool a manager has.

What does cultural alignment mean?

Cultural alignment in an organization means employees consciously choose to express the business’ clearly defined values because it’s personally meaningful to them. The result that employees get to enjoy their roles as a means of self-expression, experience a better work-life balance, and embrace change because they see how it’s in their best interest. Everyone is on the same page at the level of values. That creates employee buy-in, which turns into hard work and great results.

What does culture alignment have to do with work/life balance?

When you have culture alignment, work doesn’t feel as much like “work” because employees feel more at home. The somewhat artificial line between work and life (because it’s actually all life!) softens because employees can be themselves. This means they don’t have to expend energy being someone they’re not. The result is they get more done with less effort and are more likely to take ownership and pass their joy onto improving the customer’s and their co-workers’ experience. When work feels more like life than work, employees automatically have a better work/life balance.

What’s important to know about company values?

Company values must be clearly defined and lived, not just talked about. It’s better to have no stated company values than a set that is vague or not embodied by leadership. Writing and distributing values to employees when they can see that leadership is not living them sends a catastrophic cultural message that creates resentment and an ‘us versus them’ dynamic: “Do as I say, not as a do.”

Few leaders define their company values and the ones that do rarely make a project out of looking for where they don’t embody their company values so they can create cultural change. That’s the hard work that makes defining company values work that really pays off and is not just an exercise. When you refound your organization, you don’t just define your values, you actively work to embody them. That’s what creates cultural change.

What does cultural change have to do with improving customer service and customer experience?

Everything. You can’t expect your employees to provide great customer experiences if their experience as an employee isn’t at the same level. Improving customer service begins by giving employees the experience themselves of what being listened to, respected, and well-served feels like. Then they can pass on that experience to the customer. The alternative is employees who are expected to create a better experience for someone else than they themselves are having, which creates reasonable resentment in the employee and is inevitably feelable by the customers.

How does culture alignment create accountability in the workplace?

Culture alignment does more than just create accountability, it eliminates the need for supervision. Supervision is making sure people do what they already know they should do. It’s a waste of management resources, and employees don’t like managers looking over their shoulders. Culture alignment creates employee buy-in, buy-in creates ownership, and employees who own their responsibilities simply don’t need supervision. This frees managers to support rather than supervise, develop rather than discipline, and work on their own projects rather than having to closely monitor someone else’s.

How does cultural change help employees grow?

Try asking instead, “How is my existing culture inhibiting the growth of my employees?” This can be difficult to see at first, but it’s almost always happening. A healthy culture supports people to stretch, grow, take appropriate risks and meet greater challenges in both the company’s and their own self-interest. Cultural change that results in cultural alignment means employees can be more themselves at work, so they can use their role as a means of becoming more the kind of professional they want to be.

How to Create a Great Company Culture

What is Cultural Listening?

Cultural Listening has two components:

  1. Self-management: How you listen to and lead yourself.
  2. Mentoring: How you listen to and lead others.

Of course, the two are intertwined. How you lead yourself is how you lead others. Many people are shocked to discover they’re treating themselves worse than anyone they’ve ever managed: taking on too much, not organizing projects, beating themselves up for mistakes. If it’s true that we treat others the way we treat ourselves, then the place to start is being good to yourself to make sure you’re getting what you need.

The more you’re able to manage yourself and stay out of overwhelm and anxiety, the more you have the time and space (and the skill) to do that for others via mentoring. The biggest benefit to learning to manage yourself this way is that by reducing the ‘noise’ in your own head, you’ll be that much better at hearing the whispers and other subtle messages that are happening throughout your team or organization.

How can I get employees see the big picture?

The first place to look is at how you’re contributing to your employees not seeing the big picture. How clear is your vision? Is it written down? Is it see-able? Is it a page or two? Or is it a mission-statement filled with business cliché that doesn’t really mean much? For employees to help you put the puzzle pieces together of your business, they need the picture on the box to refer to – often. Then, they need help to find their own reasons, in their self-interest, to help you do it. If there’s not something in it for them (hint: it can’t just be money), they’ll just do the minimum to get by.

How do I get employees to take ownership?

The first step in getting employees to take ownership is to realize that they actually want to. How are you making it difficult for them to own their jobs? Do you reverse delegate (take tasks back from them)? Do you give responsibility without giving the necessary authority to make decisions? Do you change your mind so often they can’t keep up? Do you truly listen to their ideas and help them understand why they do or don’t make sense for the business? Do you ask thought-provoking questions or just give them answers that enable them to not think for themselves? Employees take ownership when they’re well-supported and see their job as a vehicle for their own dreams to come true. And they need help from a manager to see it this way. In a refound business, people want to own their jobs.

How do I help employees deal with change?

Employees can’t deal with change when they feel like it’s coming from the outside and “happening to them.” If a change in a business is good for the business, and an employee sees the growth of the business as good for them, they will embrace that change. But if an employee sees that the growth of the business has nothing to do with them, and they are just a means for someone else to achieve their dreams, they reasonably resist change. Again, it comes back to the principle of self-interest. If an employee sees their job as a means for their own growth, therefore the business as a support system for them, then change inevitably will be seen as a good thing given the right perspective and a little careful thought.

Mentoring Your Employees

What does a mentor do?

Mentors help people get what they want and grow in the process. Many people already realize they are somehow “in their own way.” We all are. A mentor helps you understand exactly how … and more importantly, what to do about it. A big part of this is increasing your awareness of your blind spots – you cannot change what you cannot see – but it includes learning skills and knowledge as well.

Mentors draw upon a number of different skill-sets and abilities, depending on what is needed:

  • Offering honest feedback in constructive ways
  • Giving advice and guidance based on experience and universal principles
  • Supporting people to plan and take healthy risks
  • Reframing problems to facilitate finding solutions
  • Helping people see how unproductive attitudes and beliefs create undesirable results
  • Uncovering the root of current mental models that are holding them back

What is the result of great mentoring?

If you’re alive, you’re growing. We’re all learning from experience constantly, but a mentor helps you find a more direct path between where you are and where you want to arrive. With a mentor, you’re more likely to learn from mistakes the first time or avoid them entirely, because you have the benefit of a trusted advisor who’s walked the path you’re on and can be a guide for familiar territory, or at the very least a sounding board.

Mentoring works the best when it becomes part of the company culture. Mentoring gets employees motivated. Imagine what it would be like if every employee in your organization saw their job as an opportunity to reach their own goals, not only the goals of the business? How invested would they be in excellence? How much responsibility would they own? When you get mentored, you learn how to mentor those who report to you. They, in turn, do the same all the way down the organizational chart. Mentoring is the most powerful way to transform a company.

How does a mentoring meeting work?

The foundation of mentoring is always deep listening that leads to an ongoing and warm respect for where the mentee is. Good guidance isn’t enough – it has to fit for who you are and where you are, so you receive it easily. For that to happen, a mentor must truly be able to enter your world. A mentor earns the right to challenge you from this place, when they in some ways know you better than you do. They’re on your team, listening to your challenges to help you rise to them. And they hold you accountable to doing what’s uncomfortable so you get what you want.

Challenges come when you either overestimate or underestimate yourself. A mentor helps you get more into reality by urging you to take on what you don’t think you can and supporting you to go easy on yourself when you’re beating yourself up. Failure is a part of life and is inevitable, but a mentor can help you work with mistakes so you learn everything you can, pick yourself up, and move forward.

What can a mentor help me do?

Whatever you’re struggling to do yourself, or wish you could do sooner, better, or more easily. Wouldn’t it be great if you never made the same mistake twice, or didn’t make the mistake in the first place? Mentors can’t rescue you from inevitable mistakes, but they can help you minimize them.

Even if you feel like you’re on track to your goals, wouldn’t you want to know you’re doing everything you can to get there? The best athletes in the world have support teams they can trust they’re getting the very best out of themselves. How important is that to you?

The most fundamental thing a mentor does is help you to clarify and embody your values so you can create a values-driven business that is an expression of the best aspects of you. Authentically lived company values then become the basis for an embodied, alive, and successful brand.

What qualifications do you need to be a mentor?

While there is no piece of paper that certifies someone a mentor, there are qualities a mentor must have. A mentor is someone who cares deeply about people, supporting change, making the world a better place, embracing discomfort, walking one’s talk, listening, learning and more. A mentor also needs to have enough breadth of experience so they can have a good sense of what it’s like to be you and in your situation.

Mentors must be committed to their own growth as well and seek appropriate supervision and ongoing training, so they model these same professional values they teach. Mentors need to be successful to earn the right to lead others, but they need to have experienced big failures, as well. Finally, a mentor must have dreams they are pursuing just like you are.

How is mentoring different than coaching or consulting?

This is an important and complex question, but here’s the short answer: Consulting is about using expertise to tell people what they should do. Coaching leans more toward the other side of the spectrum, helping the client discover their own answers. Mentoring is in between. A mentor recognizes the importance of a client owning their own process of discovery, but also has wisdom and experience they use to guide the person they’re trying to help..

When a mentor sees the best practice or course of action, they can determine the best way to deliver it to you. Sometimes you need to discover something yourself. Sometimes you’d be better served to have it handed to you. The art of mentoring is knowing how and when.

Managing Yourself First

What is Self-Management?

Self-Management is about becoming confidently well-organized, efficient, and clear-headed so you have space to lead others. Leadership is in part about meeting other people’s needs, and you won’t have room to do that if your needs aren’t yet. A great self-manager has control over their time and tasks, doesn’t get lost in overwhelm, and has a healthy work/life balance.

There are tools and techniques you can use to attain this, but it’s fundamentally a way of thinking that requires self-awareness of your own choice mechanisms and a greater sense of responsibility. Self-management is an almost spiritual practice, because it’s fundamentally about how you relate to yourself and your world, and you can work on it for your entire life.

How do I become a better Self-Manager?

The best way is to get mentored by someone who already knows the ropes and can help you apply the universal principles to build methods that work for you. A good mentor templates self-management for another person so that one day the mentor isn’t needed. You could say that self-management is kind of like learning to mentor yourself.

What do I need to know before learning the Art of Cultural Listening?

Not much, that’s the cool thing. Many people think they need clear goals to get started, but we can help with that. All you need is a feeling that things should be a lot better, a hunger to get there, and a willingness to be uncomfortable along the way to get what you want. That’s it.

Do you need a business plan or a marketing plan? No, you’ll learn about these tools along the way and how to use them in ways that truly work for you.

Changing the conversation in your business happens one person at a time, and that begins with you. As long as you’re truly open to looking at your contribution to how things are now, you have the ability to make it different.

Can a manager be a mentor?

Absolutely. A manager should be a good self-manager first, though. A manager who isn’t self-managing often ends up being more of a supervisor and doesn’t have the space to develop people.

We feel that great managers are mentors. Ideally, an employee does their work while they consciously grow as professionals. This requires mentoring. A good manager supports an employee to feel like they’re working for themselves, in the larger context of the business. Managers who mentor are the cornerstone of a refound business, and instrumental in creating cultural change.

What should I look for in a mentor?

A good mentor sees your strengths as well as your weaknesses, and helps you see how they’re intertwined. The challenging feedback you get from a mentor should make you uncomfortable yet inspired to grow, not burdened or overwhelmed. It’s also important that you can sense that your mentor is walking their talk, living the values they’re trying to teach you, and has relevant experience with the challenges you face. A mentor should have a strong personal brand if they’re going to help you with yours and your company values. Above all, you should feel that your mentor has a deep care and curiosity about who you are and what matters to you, and listens closely to you from this place.

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