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Culture is Deliberate

Culture is an important component of your Employer Brand. Culture is also intentional. It is constructed; created, if you will, even if inadvertently. It’s not something that just manifests by itself. 

For a companion video to this blog post, click here.

Surely culture is an organic thing which appears and develops independently of any deliberate direction as people interact, as stories happen, as legends are created and recounted, right?

To an extent, yes, that is true, but we argue that this organic development can and should happen inside deliberate parameters that you, as company leaders, set.

We believe that culture can be an intentional product of Employer Brand activities. But how can that be achieved?

It’s easy to think that that culture is undirected because that’s how it seems in most companies, especially larger ones. We may get a certain “vibe” from certain parts of the company - certain departments or geographies for example - but culture can feel ambiguous and unplanned, or just not present as something that has been deliberately created. 

Ultimately culture is always present, and will grow and develop hyper-locally if it is not deliberately nurtured within parameters. So what is the best way to approach the development of your company culture?

The first step is to decide what kind of culture you want to create. Roll forward in your mind and think about what you would like to experience from a culture perspective in the future. Culture can sometimes feel vague when you express it, but that’s OK, because culture relies a lot on sentiment - how people feel about the company - and that always feels vague, even though it isn’t.

Once you’ve figured out what you want your culture to be, break it down into concrete, implementable elements and then come up with a plan of action to make each element real. You may need a few iterations of breaking down each “vague” part of culture to get to a set of element that you can think about implementing, but don’t worry; you’ll get there.

Let’s take a few examples we’ve come across in the past as examples to illustrate what we mean. The following are statements about the kind of culture a company wants, and some thoughts which will help break those statements down. 

I want us to feel like a family

We come across this quite often. But what does “feel like a family” actually mean? The sense of family is different for everybody, sometimes positive and sometimes negative, but always deeply felt. We need to dig into this and figure out what it might mean for the company in question. 

How about relying on each other? Always having each others’ backs? Always being there for each other when needed, even when the going is tough? You can see that themes around reliability, support, and teamwork - all of which can be implemented - start to emerge when you think of family as a supportive unit of individuals.

What about celebrating anniversaries? Creating special moments? Praising for success and overcoming challenges? Maybe the thoughts around family could go in this direction too. 

There will be more interpretations of “feel like a family” that you think of, and those will likely also be specific and implementable if you break them down. You can see that a vague sentiment can be crafted into implementable realities if you consider what you actually mean by the sentiment.

I want a dynamic, forward-thinking company culture

We see this culture aspiration a lot in start-ups who want to maintain their dynamic, fast-paced company attitude as they scale up.

But what does “dynamic” and “forward-thinking” really mean?

It could be that individuals are empowered to take decisions quickly without getting immediate agreement from their managers. Maybe they are encouraged to identify and seize the initiative when opportunities are encountered.

It could be that risk taking is encouraged within certain parameters with no blame associated with mistakes.

It could be that innovation is celebrated and that people are given the space to come up with new ideas. 

There are likely a million different interpretations of “dynamic” and “forward-thinking”, but if this was your company, you would undoubtedly come up with a definition that is true to your culture and also implementable.

I want a people-centric culture that strives for excellence

We won’t talk too much more about this as you’re very likely to be getting the idea!

So to break this down, there has got to be people focus - maybe treating your people like you do customers, perhaps.

How can the culture be one of striving for excellence? You would need to define what excellence means to you and then perhaps offer extensive training and support to your team to make sure that they understand your framework for excellence and have the tools to achieve it, and also be able to measure where they are on the journey to excellence so they know when they have reached it.

Implementation of course will be different depending on what you decide are the actionable parts of your desired culture.

We’ll talk another time about how to implement culture in a distributed company environment, but for today, just think about how you want your culture to manifest in your company, then break it down into actionable components and see what you get!