I believe we are living through one of the best times in the history of work. Thanks to the advancement in technology and instant access to information, our generation has a greater sense of empathy, ethics, and values. In the past, job seekers would be looking for a place that would pay them well and give them good benefits. Now, job seekers are looking for organizations that have great cultures. Companies need to offer individuals a sense of belonging and a mission to accomplish something remarkable. With no culture, an organization, is not sustainable in the 21st century. I have come up with five elements that are essential to building and sustaining great organizational cultures. Those elements are: purpose, ownership, community, effective communication, and good leadership.
Purpose: Going back to the premise that we have a greater sense of ethics and empathy. We are less selfish, and we want to be a part of solving a problem greater than ourselves. We need to understand the why of what we do. Companies now need to have a strong mission statement where they can share the why with their team members. A great example that comes to mind is SpaceX, a company that builds rockets for space exploration. This is their mission statement: “SpaceX was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.” Now… that’s a mission statement! That’s something bigger than anybody.
Ownership: The second element in building a great organizational culture is ownership. Ownership is about giving people the opportunity to be accountable for their results without being micromanaged. Giving people the autonomy over their time to accomplish their goals. Basecamp is a company that builds software for project management. They are a great example of a company that promotes ownership. They have an office in Chicago, but everyone has the chance to work from wherever they want. The CEO doesn’t know how many hours his employees work. They just set expectations and give people the opportunity to build their own schedules around their projects. But how do you keep people engaged with a sense of purpose? Well, you do that through the third element, community.
Community: Community is that sense of belonging to a group of people that shares the same or similar principles, goals, and values. Community is a place where there is camaraderie. Focus Lab is a branding and design agency that understands community. They have company standards instead of values. Their argument is that you can’t change a person’s values when they walk into your company, but you can uphold everyone to specific standards. Some of their standards are: work to live, ask more questions, and never stop learning. The culture of their company breaths these standards through their work. Building community is something as simple as having lunch and learns, hangout times on Fridays, and company trips. It varies from company to company. Community, is unique to each organization.
Effective Communication: The fourth element in building a great organizational culture is effective communication. Effective communication sounds like common sense, but through my work I have realized it is not common practice. It means consistency in processes and investing time learning the personalities and communication dynamics of team members. Google created a research project called Project Aristotle, where they found that the most collaborative teams are the ones where everyone speaks equally. In many of their engineering teams they have a list with checkmarks to make sure everyone is speaking the same number of times during their meetings.
Good Leadership: I would say this is the backbone of the cultural dynamics of any organization. The leader has to be constantly be pushing the mission, standards, community, and processes of the company. Without effective leadership the other four elements cannot thrive. People want leadership with integrity and compassion. People want authenticity. People want a leader who is clear on expectations. People want to know they have a leader who cares about them.
The elements I just mentioned are not new to people. People have always liked purpose, ownership, community, effective communication, and good leadership. It’s in our own human nature. But now we found words to describe those things to build high performing cultures. I would like to encourage each of you to be intentional about applying these elements, and building great cultures in your organizations.
About the Author:
Andy Cabistan is one of the Co-Founders of Watson Works, a culture development company helping teams communicate and collaborate better. Andy is passionate about helping companies with diverse groups of people build high performing teams. Andy is a Business Economics graduate from Armstrong State University in Savannah, Georgia, and a master’s student in the Professional Communication and Leadership program at Armstrong. In his spare time, Andy travels around the country developing leadership programs with children of military families in partnership with the Department of Defense. Andy is also active in Savannah building the entrepreneurial ecosystem. He believes that entrepreneurship, technology, and a sense of community are key factors to make economies thrive.