After speaking to hundreds of business leaders, thought leaders, and entrepreneurs at the helm of awesome cultures, I’ve uncovered some common themes in their culture-building successes. To boil these themes down to their most basic expressions: Purpose inspires, values guide, and habits define.
Time and time again, I find these essentials to ring true, regardless of industry. When there’s a great company culture, you’ll find these three things present.
How you, as an entrepreneur or leader, address these elements determines the vision, actions, and success of your organization.
Let’s take a closer look at the fundamental truths you’ll need as you build a great culture of your own:
1. Purpose Inspires
At the heart of any thriving organization is a central purpose that keeps all employees heading in the right direction together. Some leaders call it their “why,” while others call it their “mission.” What remains constant is that there is a central idea known to everyone in the organization, from the most senior leaders to the newest hires.
Every organization — from governments and large corporations to small businesses and nonprofits — needs a foundational purpose to stay the course. Without one, every passing opportunity would be a temptation to veer off the path.
Purpose shouldn’t be confused with business outcomes. “To make profit for shareholders” is not a mission. Rather, purpose is a good that can stand on its own. It is a goal that is worthwhile for its own sake, something intrinsically rewarding. For example, a purpose could be to strive for the perfection of an art, like Apple, or to be an example of how business can be done in a sustainable way, like Nestlé.
To find your own purpose, ask yourself: What is my organization’s reason for being?
2. Values Guide
Your company’s values are taken straight from its purpose and should offer an essential guide for all major decisions your business makes.
All organizations operate according to some kind of values, even if they are never explicitly stated. The question you and your stakeholders will need to ask yourselves is: Are we living the right values?
Many businesses simply put their values on a wall somewhere and check the “values” box off the itinerary. However, the result is that the company says it has one set of values but operates according to another. This is a culture of inauthenticity — one of the worst cultural moves you can make. It only leads to disheartened and cynical employees.
If disengaged employees aren’t enough to encourage you to establish and operate according to a set of clear values, maybe profitability is. When companies don’t follow their values, customers notice. In our information-driven age, news of a single bad decision can spread to millions instantly. If your company doesn’t uphold its own values, people will find out — and profits will be harmed.
So ask yourself: What values guide my organization?
3. Habits Define
From purpose, you derive values. From values, you derive habits.
Habits comprise your organization’s day-to-day operations, crystalizing its values and actualizing its purpose. To quote philosopher Will Durant’s paraphrasing of Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do,” and the things we repeatedly do are our habits. If your business is to have a purpose, uphold its values, and ultimately succeed, then its organizational habits must align with both its purpose and its values.
Take integrity for instance. It’s one of the most common values found across organizations — but how do you make sure you’re living that value? It is impossible to constantly think before each action, “Am I acting with integrity?” This is why you need to define the habits accompanying your values: sets of smaller actions, aligned with a given value, that can be repeatedly put into action by organizational leaders and employees.
So, what habits make up integrity? Owning up to mistakes, delivering on promises, and refusing to gossip are all great starts. The specific habits your organization puts into place will depend, of course, on its unique values.
Ask yourself: What habits define my values?