How to Create A Company Culture That Represents You - Common Sense Living Newsletter
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How to Create A Company Culture That Represents You

Sep 26, 2014


In a rebranding exercise for our family business I once said to my brother, "We need to be more 'edgy' you know... more 'with it'." I was enamoured with the supercool, funky new ventures I was seeing everywhere.

But my brother shook his head at me. "I'm not 'with it'. Nor are you. Nor is dad."

"If we are true to ourselves, our company will be what we are. And what we are is ethically conscious, dependable, and classic."

Does our company have to be what we are, I wondered? Or can it be whatever we 'decide' it will be. And how do we translate this decision into a culture? Is it by talking about it? Is it by demonstrating it in our behaviours?

One successful CEO I know believes that the process of culture formation is an automatic extension of the values of its leader. You wake up one day and find that your company has a culture, and it has become a lot like you.

Another believes that a leader must consciously choose to demonstrate in his actions the culture he hopes to spread to his people. This leader is constantly striving to influence the company he leads.

But in all my conversations I learned this one thing everyone agrees on:

To be a successful company, the company culture must uniquely represent the values of its leader.

You, as a person, are unique. There is no one else on earth like you. If you are true to your values, the company you build will be a unique representation of you. If you try to adopt values of other people, other leaders, and other companies, you cannot become a unique success.

If you want your company to be trustworthy, then be trustworthy like you, not like Tata. If you want the culture to be innovative, then be your own special brand of innovative, not Steve Jobs' brand.

To be really successful, a company must be the unique values of the founder painted on a larger canvas. What you truly are, that your company will become.

Source: Gustavo Frazao/Shutterstock

The good news is, realizing this means you can dig around your own core and find the values, your values, that you want your company to embody.

Once you do that, then you work to make sure that this culture seeps into the fiber of your company.

To Do This: Use Your Words

David Ogilvy the advertising genius, believes in telling everybody repeatedly what he believes. In fact in the document where he lays down the company culture of Ogilvy & Mather, he includes 9 obiter dicta, his own sayings that he repeated so many times that they became incorporated in the culture. Sayings such as: 'You cannot bore people into buying your product; you can only interest them in buying it.' And, 'We sell - or else.'

Create a mission statement that lays out your vision as a founder, the purpose for the company, and the values that represent you. This statement will serve as a core around which the company culture forms.

A simple, yet well-defined mission statement answers the all-important question, why are you in business? And that answer will keep the company on course, even as it grows, and lasts long after the original founder is gone.

This is harder to do than it seems. To state your purpose... your reason for existing... in a few simple words. You have to boil all your hopes and aspirations for your business down to its most basic elements... and in just a few words set yourself apart from everyone else out there.

But it has to be unique. If you are devoted to customer service you can't just say, 'I want to provide the best customer service in the world.' Who doesn't? There must be something specifically 'you' in your statement.

One example of a core statement I love is the motto of the Ritz-Carlton hotels:

We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen

This statement was dreamt up by the COO of the Ritz Carlton when he was only fourteen years old. It is uniquely him. And this reflects in the stellar service of the company.

Alternatively, another example is the clearly purposeful statement of Microsoft:

A computer on every desk and in every home, all running Microsoft software

Let your mission statement be a brief, specific memorable mantra that every person in your company can understand, quote and eventually practice.

...And Also, Use Your Actions

When my cousin bought his first business, a franchise of Dunkin Donuts, he assumed that the prevalent culture of Dunkin Donuts would automatically be his. How can you change the culture of an enormous corporate body?

But he did what he did best - focus on his customers, because that was what he personally stood for. And as his business rapidly grew and he began acquiring more stores, his emphasis on good customer experience became the culture prevalent in all his stores.

"We're not in the coffee and donut business," his people would say. "We're in the people business," echoing him.

People drove past other Dunkin Donuts to come to one of his, because they liked the service and ambience of friendliness. His stores had their own distinct identity, a culture that was centered around his values - reflected in his shops, in his staff, and in the smiles of his customers. And all he did, was be himself.

The actions of a leader codify the conduct of the company. They filter down through time and space and become 'the way we do things here'.

Things you display in your actions - how you correct mistakes, even how you deal with little blunders, become amplified into a culture. If you let little mistakes pass, your people will let increasingly big mistakes slip, until they start blundering and hurting the company with a sab chalta hai attitude.

Instead, if you are firm but fair, that will set the tone. If you treat your staff with respect, your staff will treat each other with respect. As you grow, the idea of respect will become connected with the name of your company, and the behaviour of your employees.

So the way you behave, the way you react, the things you value... Everyone around you looks to you for direction, consciously and subconsciously. Your attitude trickles down the ranks and takes on a life of its own, becoming a company that goes on to represent what you stand for. As the practical preacher Ralph Sockman said:

What makes greatness is starting something that lives on after you

With a little care, you can raise a company that represents the best of you - the values you embody, the meaning you imbue and the goodwill you generate. When these seep into the psyche of your company, you will have built something great.


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6 Responses to "How to Create A Company Culture That Represents You"

Sandeep Antani

06 Feb, 2015

Really worth to place the things in order for creating value ,culture , spirit for a company... Thanks for giving this..


28 Sep, 2014

Excellent ! eye opener, Combination of 'I' 'You' We' is set as a companies Goal, unique ideas to discover as me as a founder of company determine to change of world 'BUSINESS AS CONCERN FOR MY VALUED CLIENT' Growth is reward to my sincere thinking as we are one. Fine combination of I,YOU AND WE TOO. Thanks !


27 Sep, 2014

CC. Hi CSL, Even the very concept is a very innovative and creative one. As you shared, God has given everyone creative abilities because we are created by the Creator Himself. We are all His unique trophies. As His Precious creations, we inherit His great creative potential. When we share these creative gifts, the creativity of us explodes to infinite times. Those were the days when creativity was thought of as a secret, patents, trade marks, restrictive trade practices etc. Only when we share with others, our creativity reaches a much higher realm. A flowing river is much cleaner than a stinking reservoir. We are called to be channels of God's Blessings. When we have our unique values, ideas and incorporate them into business then we put our own stamp of God's Gifts into it. The business is nourished, we become wealthy and become a source of real Blessing to others. Great article. Great thought. Great execution is needed.


27 Sep, 2014

Really nice Anisha...Feeling good to read you.


27 Sep, 2014

Superb.. Thanks Anisa ..It was really helpful

Prasad Nageshkar

26 Sep, 2014

Fabulous article !! You have really simplified it.


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