Don’t let your culture be an accident.

Look, it’s not rocket science. If you need me to convince you that having clearly defined values is an important part of being a successful business then we’re already off to a rough start.
The debate isn’t about whether values matter, or whether you need a culture to survive. Sure, you could likely get by without paying specific attention to these things for a period of time. But given the rapid shift in the workforce as millennial now make up the largest segment of the working population, and buyer behavior that’s changing faster than ever before as a result of new technology, you absolutely need a cultural strategy if you hope to survive and thrive in the long run of today’s competitive landscape.
Your company has values and culture, whether or not you’ve taken the time to formally engage with them. The enacted values show up in the way things get happen in your business. Do you have a command and control environment where people have become dependent on a top-down sense of direction and approval? Are your players bound by directive to follow the letter of the law and leave the thinking to the top brass? If so, then maybe your company values obedience, or perhaps you as a leader value strength, dominance, or even fear. Do your teams struggle with deadlines and accomplishment, working in an environment of overly permissive autonomy that leaves them acting confused and rudderless most of the time? Sounds like maybe your enacted values are independence, unaccountability and conflict-avoidance.
These probably don’t sound like the warm, fluffy ideals that we generally associate with “vision statements” or the cute little corporate recruiting video on your website. And they’re probably not the strong, results-oriented ideas you hold about yourself or how you want your organization to behave. But the fact is, if no one is taking the time to craft and implement your desired values, then they are going to be defined purely by the side-effects of your daily practices. Sounds like a bummer, right? But wait – there’s more. The bigger trap is when companies do take the time and money to spell out their ideas and ideals, talk them up at staff meetings, emblazon them on the walls, boast about them in the corporate newsletter… but never actually do anything to make them true for the people who do the work day in and day out. And if you’re thinking that it shouldn’t matter what the grunts in the trenches think as long as you’re able to maximize production and crank out products or services to your clients, you’ve got another thing coming. If your teams can feel the gap between what you preach and what you practice, then you can bet that it will show up in your client relationships as well.
As with anything that has a lot of buzz and “sounds like something we should really take care of around here,” there can be a tendency to look at values and culture as boxes to be checked. Let’s just workshop it and move on, figure out what our words are so we can get back to business. The problem with this line of thinking is that in some cases it can be more dangerous to pay lip service to values-based culture than to do nothing at all. Take for instance the current situation over at Wells Fargo – thousands of employees fired, millions of dollars in fines, and untold reputational damage because the claimed values of “trust” and “ethics” were undermined by internal pressures to live up to the operational values of greed and high-pressure sales targets.
External values: trust, integrity
Internal values: hit your numbers, no matter what it takes!
The point is that you can’t just slap a few words in a Powerpoint deck and call it a day when it comes to culture and values. Neither can you purely dictate them from the top down. You can define the values that you hope to embody, but culture is collaborative in nature. Leveraged effectively, it is a guidepost by which to navigate and it represents the most effective fusion of your aspirations for the company with the best qualities of your talented people. Because in case you weren’t aware, your people have values too, and they will usually look to first and those of the company second. This is particularly true of millennials.
deloitte millennial values
*Deloitte 2016 Millennial Survey
Culture will inform the types of decisions that get made in your business, and the level of engagement you get from your staff. And for better or worse, if there’s a problem with the culture inside the office, it’s going to reveal itself to the client in one form or another over time. So the real question isn’t “why do I need to worry about the soft stuff like culture and values,” it’s “how much longer can you afford to wait before you develop a cultural strategy?”

Also published on Medium.