By Restoring the Soul of Business Archives
Cover image for  article: Culture

It has been written that culture eats strategy for breakfast and that culture is a great differentiator among companies. If you query Google on "What is a good company culture?" you will get billions of results (6,250,000,000!) and if you click on the links of the results on the first page you will have a list of over 100 different keys to culture. Purpose, values, mission, respect, freedom, quality of leadership, great compensation, high growth, flexibility, diversity, multi-stakeholder capitalism and on and on the list goes.

Today as firms struggle with attracting and retaining workers they worry about culture. A reason to get people back to the office is to make sure that there is no loss of "culture." But what exactly makes for a good company culture?

Study firm after firm and analysis after analysis and if one looks carefully there are four keys to culture:

  1. A commitment to excellence
  2. A growth mindset
  3. Clarity of communication
  4. Connectedness

A Commitment to excellence

Successful companies are committed to excelling in three areas above all:

  1. Superior products and services
  2. Industry beating financial results on an enduring basis
  3. World class talent

These three are both inputs and outcomes of superior cultures and are deeply interconnected. Great people often create superior products and services that delight clients and customers, driving amazing financial results. Superior financial results allow one to create benefit packages that hire the best people and create great products and services. Excellent products and services, success in attracting world class talent and financial results are what defines every leading company that makes the list of companies that are the best places to work for or are known for their culture.

A focus on excellence makes for excellent cultures -- not the other way around.

A Growth Mindset

One of the key reasons that Microsoft came out of a decade long slumber in the five years that Satya Nadella took over as CEO was his insistence that the company evolve from "a know-it-all mindset" to a "growth mindset" inspired by Carol Dweck's book "Growth Mindset." The keys to a growth mindset are a focus on setting goals and learning by adapting from setbacks and progress towards the goals, working to improve oneself versus blaming others, a focus on the outside and not just the inside (e.g., stop looking at the world through "Windows").

Companies that invest in education, learning and continuous improvement tend to rapidly iterate and adapt to market conditions.

To grow a company, one must grow minds. Growth of skill sets, and future career potential are also key to attracting and retaining talent.

Clarity of Communication

Companies that thrive ensure that their employees, customers and in some cases other stakeholders are constantly aware and apprised of the answer to three questions:

  1. Where are we going? This is ensuring that everyone understands the strategy and vision of the company.
  1. What just happened? Transparency about both good and bad happenings so that people feel fully informed of the current situation.
  1. What now? Gossip and rumor love a vacuum and more information even if it is "we are figuring it out." Ensure that people are as informed as possible.

Trust is at the heart of many cultures, but trust is earned by clearness of intent and transparency. Intent is being clear of what the company, team or individual is trying to do, and transparency is explaining how one is trying to do the thing.

This way people can question and interrogate or disagree and therefore improve what one is trying to do or by knowing how one is trying to achieve the outcome individuals can suggest ways to do it better. If one does not share intention or fail to be transparent about the path to achieving the intention, people may become suspicious or feel disrespected about not being informed or asked for input.


In great company cultures one finds connectedness:

Connectedness of collaboration between units and teams. This is usually achieved by constant communication of what each unit does and trying to find common language, creating opportunities to build relationships and importantly incentive systems that reward how a team or country do versus an individual or unit.

Connectedness to reality/facts/truth. Great companies can run into trouble when people fail to call out the "turd on the table," deliver bad news quickly and get people to recognize shifts in industry dynamics and trends. "If-you-speak-up-you-will-be-punished" environments cause companies to miss warning signals due to integrity issues or new competition or dissatisfied clients.

Connectedness to something greater than the company. Some call this purpose or a belief in multi-stakeholder capitalism or ESG. The key is that companies cannot succeed in the long run without profits but also profits are not enough and everything from a dedication to the long-term well-being of their community and the ups and downs of life and talent matter.

Connectedness is not just about getting along but diversity of voices and not just faces, connecting multiple goals and combining skill sets.

Excellence. Growth mindset. Clarity of communication. Connectedness.

You do not have to run a unit or a group or a company to have an impact on its culture. Even if your team is just you and two other folks, you can improve your micro-culture by focusing on excellence, learning, communication and connection. Your firm is nothing but a re-aggregation of the micro-cultures, so why not drive your company culture by upgrading the culture you have an influence on?

After all, the future comes from the slime and not the heavens.

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