Changing a current culture, or forging a new one requires hard work, but once you know what kind of culture you want in your business — the key to actually making it effective in the long term is consistency.
Dictionary.com offers two definitions of consistency, both of which encapsulate what it stands for in the circumstance of culture.1. Steadfast adherence to the same principles, course, form. 2. The condition of cohering or holding together and retaining form; solidity or firmness.
When creating your culture you need to start by figuring out what you as an organisation stand for and value and then you need to stand by it all the time. Do not compromise on it — ever.
Southwest Airlines purpose is “To connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.” Southwest stick to this and use it as a yardstick against which they measure their decisions. As an example, they do not charge extra for checked baggage — ‘bags fly free’. Why? There is a huge income opportunity that they are missing but Southwest remain steadfast in their adherence to their commitment of ‘low-cost air travel’. Their purpose statement creates a company-wide, decision-making guideline that everyone uses in their day-to-day actions at work. Their consistency in adhering to their purpose is a key element of what holds the culture of the company together.
To say that culture does not create itself is wrong. A culture will form whether intentional or not. The only way you’ll get the kind of culture you want is through deliberate and consistent action. If you chose to build a culture that values transparency — you need to be consistently transparent, even when it gets uncomfortable. By no means does transparency have to go as far as sharing everyone’s salary information, define what transparency means and looks like in your business and then stick to it, consistently.
As an example: A digital agency I work with wanted to sell their business in order to become part of a larger network. Management chose to have their first meeting with the deal broker in their offices, in the glass boardroom right in the centre, in full view of their staff. After the meeting the MD sent a mail to the whole staff:
“Hey guys we’d like to introduce you to Larry, for those of you who have seen him at the office, please note that you will continue to see him. If you feel like it, you should say hi. He’s quite a nice guy. The reason why Larry will be at the office is because Larry is a deal broker. His life revolves around helping businesses like ours sell to larger networks. So in case you haven’t figured it out yet — the reason we are having these meetings with Larry is because we are considering a deal with one of the bigger agencies. Here’s how these things work out…”
Throughout the 18-month journey of selling the business they kept up the communication, the staff always knew what was happening because management chose to be transparent about it and bring them along for the journey. The result being that when a deal was finally concluded the entire company took part in the celebrations, no one was left with that “wtf just happened” feeling.
How far up the ladder does your purpose hold weight? Where does accountability to upholding the purpose end? And could you stick to your purpose when a senior manager, perhaps even the CEO transgresses them? How often do you hear of the MD giving the CEO a HR Warning? Not often, but exactly that happened in the same digital agency as previously mentioned. In a moment of weakness, the CEO tweeted about a client who was being particularly difficult. Their ethos, being a digital agency, is that you may never bring a client into disrepute on social media — ever. This is such an important value for them that the MD did not hesitate to set the extreme example right at the top. What rounds this out perfectly is that, as mentioned their culture is one that values transparency and meaningful communication, thus the MD and CEO chose to share what had happened with the whole company to show how no-one is exempt from upholding the values. There are few ways more effective at showing how important your organisational values are.
Thus, the key to ‘keeping your culture together’ is to be unwavering. Act on your purpose consistently. Whether you think something is too small or insignificant, or when it seems like too much effort — that is precisely when to take actions, it will be worth it in the long term. Be uncompromising on your commitments to your purpose — it is this consistency will hold your culture together.