“I’ve always believed you hire character and train skill.” — Lori Greiner, American inventor, entrepreneur, and Shark Tank panelist.
The culture of your workplace is critical, even if it might be hard to define.
In 2014, Merriam Webster stated that “culture” was the most popular word of the year. When building a business or brand, culture can make or break long-term success.
Research shows that culture, engagement and employee retention are top challenges facing business leaders today. More than half of leaders asked in a Forbes survey rated culture as “urgent”—up from around 20% last year.
A strong organizational culture can help you find and retain top people. But you might need to do some things differently to promote your company’s culture, says Chris Cancialosi, PhD, managing partner and founder at gothamCulture.
Many women business leaders know that when you make the culture of your business priority No. 1, you cultivate the right talent—not the other way around.
How to Establish Culture
Putting culture front and center involves risk. For example: Netflix went from a DVD-by-mail business to one that’s transformed how people watch TV and movies—all because its chief talent officer Patty McCord helped turn the idea of company culture on its head.
With co-founder Reed Hastings, McCord, who’s now a consultant to companies on leadership and culture, told Fast Company that she decided to approach team building by listing what the company valued, what mattered to them, and what they expected in their people.
How did she do it? Partly by tuning out what other companies were doing. Instead of trying to cater to new talent, the company’s self-sufficiency culture encouraged employees who pledged responsibility to the mission above salary and perks. McCord says putting culture first forced them to “take risks with the people stuff, just like we took risks with the business.”
A company’s culture should address some main questions: What’s our mission? What’s most vital to our mission? How do we achieve that mission? Who can best help us achieve our mission?
Making Culture Priority #1
Letting go of a “hero-complex” is part of putting your organization’s culture front and center.
Herrin started WeddingChannel.com in her early 20s and later sold it to The Knot. She admitted she had a lot to learn about putting culture above profits: “I was a terrible leader back then, a 24-year-old kid under extreme pressure. I didn’t have the emotional intelligence to realize that [leaders need] to be at their best under pressure, not their worst.” Herrin says her focus was more on her own performance versus how the company grew. “I got that out of my system early.”
Use That ‘Nurture’ Instinct
Looking for employees who bring the traits you want your company culture to embody is the quickest way to growth, Herrin says. “The challenge is to be fierce about your hiring filters. You have to commit to caring for the culture more than the quarter.”
Some things to remember:
Don’t overlook the introverts. They might not be loud, but they’re usually the ones with the good ideas. According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, 70% of the world’s leading CEOs are introverts. The key is to draw them out. Ask what their passions are other than their careers; you might be surprised to find a budding entrepreneur or closet artist who could bloom into a real asset to your organization.
Work for a cause, not for applause. Today’s young employees value loyalty to one company FAR less than their older-generation predecessors. Working for a well-run company is important, but how big and/or profitable the company is matters much less to Millennials. What earns their loyalty? Your company’s outlook: what it contributes to society as a whole and how it sees its place in the world.
What Should You Ask?
Herrin offered insights on how she selects people who represent Stella & Dot’s business culture.
- Dig deeper: “I ask them about how they grew up, what was influential in their life and what they’re really passionate about.”
- Find out what their goals are: “What do you want to be known for, what mark do you want to leave? I also ask them what their superpower is.”
- Discover what drives them: “It’s really about, do you care about the mission, do you have a work ethic, do you care about winning as a company? That’s what I try to tease out.”
- Learn how they work: “Find people who… see opportunities more than obstacles. If you offer them constructive criticism, they’re open-minded instead of defensive.”