by Dennis S. Passovoy
When my mother was a little girl – maybe 6 or 7 years old – her older sister once patted her on the head and said, “That’s okay, Mimi, maybe someday you’ll have a personality!” Thinking back, that was a pretty cruel thing to say to a child.
Of course, everybody has a personality; and so does every company. When we speak of a company’s personality, we are really talking about its culture. The definition of the word “culture” includes “a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs that show people what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior,” according to Talya Bauer and Berrin Erdogan in their book, Organizational Behavior.
A company leader can decide to create and nurture their company’s culture – in their own image – or they can sit back and watch while their employees create one.
Which brings us to the topic at-hand: how do we make sure that the culture we have created authentically represents who we are?
People don’t buy what you sell; they buy why you sell it
According to Simon Sinek, a noted marketing consultant, in his recent book, Start With Why, most companies in their attempt to convince us to buy their goods or services will tell us what they sell. For instance, a recent television ad for Nissan made the point that they are about to market an “all electric car” known as the Leaf.
Sinek goes on to say that some companies take it one step further and tell us how they sell their products. An example here might be Burger King who used to say, “Have it your way,” meaning your food would be cooked fresh-to-order.
But what and how simply provide us with facts and figures, which are not, he says, how we as humans are wired to make decisions. Our brains make lasting decisions only when emotions enter into the decision-making process.
This brings us to what few companies do – tell us why they do what they do. One of the best-known examples of this is Apple. Its founders, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, believed back then that in order to effectively compete in the world of business, a company needed access to computers – something up to that point only large companies could afford. They set out to level the playing field. And without question, they have repeated this mantra over and over again for nearly 35 years.
How do cultures change?
So, now that we’ve decided to change our company’s culture, what does it take to see this through?
As you can see in Figure 1, this is not something we can just ordain or that happens as a result of a single company-wide meeting. First and foremost, it takes a commitment from all levels of the organization. And second, it takes time. Lots of time.
Several years ago, I took over as president of a company that had a long history in its market, but no consistent message of how it approached that market. Each employee, when asked, had a different answer to the question, “What business are you in?” Our brochures said one thing, and our website said another.
After taking the time to craft a company mission statement, value proposition, and our why, we then proceeded to create a new corporate logo and to totally redo all of the marketing materials, website, brochures, and every other piece of collateral the company possessed. This effort took a couple of months.
At this point, most executives would sit back and congratulate themselves at successfully changing the company’s culture. But, truth be told, this is where the real work began. I say this because while the symbols and story may have changed, they were far from internalized by each and every employee.
This last point took several more months of what I call the “drip method,” meaning, a constant reinforcement of the new message over an extended period of time. Eventually, my staff yelled, “Uncle!” and told me they got the message and that it was time to move on.
We were well over six months into our journey together. Only then did I feel we were on our way to a new beginning.
Dennis S. Passovoy is the president of RFG, Inc. (rfg.com), an employee engagement advisory and consultation firm located in Austin, TX, and can be reached at email@example.com.
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