By: Liz Wilson
Culture envy is a good thing. Who doesn’t want to work for a company that their friends admire? What leader wouldn’t enjoy working somewhere that turnover is minimal and performance is high? I’ve had some great jobs and some not so great jobs. It isn’t the jobs that I loved. It was the environment…the context…the leaders…the CULTURE that made them great jobs.
You could be thinking, “But what does than really mean?” Let’s Google it! Over 68 million hits for “good company culture.” Yikes! How do you know your culture is the cool kid on the block?
The Evidence: Performance:
Strong company cultures can have both negative and positive influences on company performance. Remember the Enron debacle? Company leaders fostered a culture of competition, “winner takes all”, and superiority. Eventually, finances and the law caught up with them. One estimate puts shareholder losses at $11 billion! A company can have written internal policies that “technically” tell people what the appropriate thing to do is, but when the leadership behavior is tainted, that breeds a toxic culture. Enviable cultures perform well and leaders walk the talk.
The Flip Side – Award-Winning Cultures!
An enviable culture produces results. How would you feel about a 682% increase in revenues over 11 years? Kotter & Heskett published information about performance-enhancing cultures compared to non-performance enhancing cultures in 1992. The result was that the “performance cultures” net income growth was 755% higher than the others.[i]
Entrepreneur magazine puts out an annual list of “Top Company Cultures”. Who’s on it? No surprise to see Google, Southwest and Zappos. Newer companies like Warby Parker and SquareSpace are now on the radar. I worked for Disney for over a decade. “The Mouse” isn’t perfect, but our incessant focus on sustaining our culture led to long-term performance and “culture envy”. All of these companies – and more – are successful and enviable in their own way. Enviable cultures are unique. Ain’t no cookie cutters in this kitchen!
Enviable Cultures are Self-Aware.
In Emerging Leader classes, we talk about the importance of self-awareness. This isn’t just for individual leaders. Companies with enviable cultures know who they are. Enviable cultures are clear on WHY they exist. There is a clear purpose, mission and commitment to something special. Processes, products, systems, employment practices…. they all ALIGN with purpose. Whether you work there or are a customer, when you experience what the company does, you FEEL like it fits.
Enviable Cultures are Comfortable with What They are NOT.
We don’t all need to have on-site laundry, free food, and resort-like amenities we hear about from Silicon Valley. At Disney, we loved running into Mickey Mouse – because he reminded us of our purpose and that emotional connection to our brand. Leaders of enviable cultures don’t try to emulate other companies just because they read a blog, heard a friend’s idea, or saw a news story. Sustainable, performing cultures are comfortable with who they are and why they exist. The perks of employment align with that message. Perks are nice to have, but they are not the culture. Be ok with that. If you know who you are and hire people who fit, you don’t need somebody else’s perks to keep them. (Disclaimer…I’m kind of interested in that laundry perk!)
Culture-Envy. Something to strive for. Companies with enviable cultures know who they are and who they aren’t. Leaders…front-line employees…customers…EVERYONE sees evidence of the culture in aligned processes, behaviors, communication, products – EVERYTHING. Be the culture you want to see in your company.
[i] Kotter and Heskett. Corporate Culture and Performance, Free Press 1992 (Reprint 2011)