Different Strokes for Different Folks

Those of you who have been around since the good ol’ Great Plains days have experienced firsthand how different two company cultures can be.

Under the leadership of Doug Burgum (now Governor of North Dakota), the culture at Great Plains was community-minded…and a little quirky.  Leadership fostered an environment where employees and Partners all felt part of the team. That culture permeated throughout Great Plains – from job roles to events like Stampede. And who can forget Doug’s Q&As? You never knew what Doug might talk about – bee colonies, Lewis and Clark, or what it’s like to hitchhike in Alaska – but you knew that as much as the story might twist and wander, it always came back to a central theme of community and a shared mission.

Microsoft’s culture is vastly different. As one of the world’s largest companies, Microsoft must be more structured and less hands-on than Great Plains was.  The transition from Great Plains to Microsoft was a culture shock for employees and Partners alike. Microsoft’s culture serves its mission.

How do you cultivate your company culture?

Growing businesses typically take on the personality of the leaders. However, not all businesses are run by people with larger-than-life personalities or even a strongly defined mission. Many companies have multiple leaders, each with their own leadership style, mission, and values. How do you get everyone on the same page so you can create a cohesive culture and brand message?

When I lead a strategic workshop, I often have the leadership team find their company values by ranking their company in these areas that polarize their views and force them to decide who they are and what they care about:

Conservative                           Weird/Quirky

Intense                                    Laid-back

Serious                                   Fun

Process-oriented                     Creative

Modest                                    Flashy

Thorough                                Fast

Independent                            Collaborative

Technology-focused                People-focused

Work hard, play hard               Gentle and balanced

Traditional                               Modern

Out of this conversation, you’ll come up with examples and terms that resonate with your team. These values serve as one of the foundational pieces on how you nurture your company culture.

Within the technology sector alone, we see a wide variety of company cultures. Some companies have Ping-Pong tables, beer Fridays, birthday celebrations, and a relaxed atmosphere where people go home at 5:00 p.m. every day. Others have 80-hour work weeks, and employees who are constantly on the road. Neither are right or wrong, but who you attract as customers and employees is going to depend on how you have defined your company culture.

What are the pillars of your culture? 

Focus on identifying these five things to build your company culture. You must have:

A vision that creates a shared mission – What’s your strong WHY? How will your business change the world around you? Your vision creates a sense of purpose. Disney’s vision is to be “the happiest place on Earth.” Disney can’t sustain that mission with disgruntled, disengaged employees. A vision helps people feel like they’re part of something larger than themselves, and it sparks that intrinsic motivation for people to pitch in and contribute towards the cause.

Clear values – Are you all about reaching sales goals? Or coming up with unique solutions? Use the exercise above to clarify your company values. HEB, one of Texas’s largest supermarkets, prides itself on serving its communities. When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, HEB had many of its stores open within hours. People joked that they were open before the Red Cross showed up. That commitment takes planning, money, and the dedication of an entire team to commit to that shared vision.

When it comes to identifying your values, be sure to find areas that differentiate you from your competition. If everyone says the same thing, for example, “we’re honest,” you’re not different.

Habits, rituals, and expected behaviors – How do your vision and values show up in the way your business is run?  Picture anyone in the U.S. Marines. You expect them to be in shape, on time, shoes shined, proud, and patriotic. They are trained to walk into danger and pledge to leave no man behind. They became Marines through rigorous training.

Now think of Southwest Airlines. They foster individuality. The boring takeoff safety message is frequently infused with personality – maybe even delivered in song.

Your business also has habits and rituals. New employees typically look around and do what others are
doing. If others are working hard, staying late, and going the extra mile, new employees will as well.

You can also introduce new rituals that showcase your values. For example, a religious-oriented company might lead each meeting with a prayer. A growth-oriented company might start posting the latest sales wins in a central location. What habits can you create that serve your company culture?

An aligned environment – I once worked for a data virtualization company that had more file cabinets than I could count!  They were not living their brand message at all. It’s not surprising that they had employee retention issues and are out of business today.

In many ways, your environment shapes your culture. Little things matter – like having candy versus fruit in the break room. So, do big things. Do people wear suits or jeans? Is your physical space outdated or disorganized? Are your shared directories accessible and useful? Do you provide the right communication and support for remote employees?  Do you need a Ping-Pong table, a company retreat, or more meeting spaces to foster better office relationships?

People –  Of course, you need to hire people who are aligned with your culture. The Marine will not thrive in a wildly creative or disorganized environment. A creative, sensitive soul usually isn’t interested in joining the Marines.  Find employees whose personalities and attitudes align with the culture you’re creating. Those employees will stay longer, be happier, and help you further your company mission.

Why does marketing care about company culture?

Marketing cares about culture because a strong company culture creates a strong brand. Everything you do in marketing comes from who you are as a company:

Your brand colors

The music you select on your videos

The words you use

The types of social media posts you create and share

The stories you tell

Cultivating a company culture helps people find their passion. It inspires people to do their best. It attracts a tribe of committed customers who value your work. Stop looking at the competition. Be you!  

For help identifying, creating, and nurturing your company culture, reach out to Adrianne at Adrianne@tornado-marketing.com.

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