We had the opportunity to attend Techtoberfest in Kitchener last week, where we heard from a number of interesting speakers. One of the most interesting, from an HR perspective, was Robert Richman, who talked about how to create an amazing, self-sustaining culture, based on his experience as an intrapreneur within Zappos.com.
What is Culture
He began by asking us “what is culture?” and fielding some typical responses (beliefs, values, how people behave in an organization, systems and processes, the way things are done, etc.). He quickly categorized the flurry of responses as symptoms of culture. Culture, on the other hand, he defined as “The feeling you get in the first five minutes of talking to people in an organization”. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, culture is already happening in your organization and you can’t turn it off.
Values = Organizational DNA
One thread that Richman revisited throughout the presentation was the notion that culture is co-created, beginning with organizational values that everyone believes in and can support. He described values as the DNA of an organization as well as the programming language of experiences within that organization. He shared Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues (values) as one example of the guidance that clear values provide when creating your culture.
Zappos Culture of Service
He also shared the values that underpin the exceptional service culture Zappos.com is known for, and which led to the creation of Zappos Insights, the Zappos Family company he built to help businesses with their cultures.
The first Zappos core value is “Deliver WOW Through Service”. Note that it does not say “Deliver WOW Through Customer Service”. That’s because the award winning Zappos culture is based on providing awesome service to everyone involved in the business: customer, employees, suppliers, etc.—not just customers. This first core value provides a clear and unequivocal touchstone for everyone in the organization and is the foundation of their culture. Zappos.com clearly provided fertile ground for Richman in his quest to identify and translate the essentials required to design and cultivate culture.
Here are some key takeaways from the presentation that will help build the culture you want for your organization:
- Make sure that defining your values is a joint venture. Everyone needs to be involved in co-creating them if they are to be embraced and inspire your culture.
- Confirm which values are “core”: to be reflected in all interactions, every day.
- Share values broadly and frequently—make them a consistent workplace focus.
- Visibly make values-based decisions and encourage everyone to do the same.
- Incorporate your values into the hiring process (ask questions that reveal whether the candidate shares your company values).
- Tie values to recognition and performance feedback (How did a particular action reflect specific company values?).
- Culture is a feeling that springs from what we believe and do every day, so ritualize what’s important until it becomes habit.
- (Leaders) How you walk into a room can shift a culture. People are watching your every move and judging.
The Culture Blueprint
There was enough meat in Richman’s presentation to warrant purchasing a copy of his book (The Culture Blueprint), on the way out. I suspect it will be featured here in a future blog post. While the audience at Techtoberfest was primarily startups, The Culture Blueprint promises to help both newly established organizations and those currently immersed in dysfunctional cultures. It proposes to help the latter by showing them how to create a new, self-sustaining culture rather than trying to fix what’s broken. Richman uses the words of Buckminster Fuller (inventor, visionary and generally fascinating guy) to support this approach: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”.
I’m looking forward to finding out more.