By Stacy Eads
November 1, 2022

Build your culture

Company culture is not an annual survey or once-a-year strategic session, it's the core of any business initiative.

News alert: Your culture is not a marketing task because it requires good communication, wordsmithing, and graphic design. It’s a leadership task.

Each and every one of you plays a part in building your culture, reinforcing good behaviors, and celebrating wins that exude who your organization wants to be day in and day out.

Culture is not an annual survey or once-a-year strategic session. Culture is not a semiannual committee meeting for “features and benefits” of working somewhere. It’s not a wish list of “bells and whistles,” like a new pingpong table or chili cook-off.

A great culture is at the core of any strategic initiative you may consider deploying in 2023. 

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Peter Drucker, Management Consultant, Educator, and Author

Your culture is defined by three things:

  1. Core values – the rules of the game! Tell me what I can and cannot do to play on your team. Be succinct. Be clear. Leave nothing to interpretation.
  2. Core purpose – the real intersection of why you exist as a company and why each employee wants to wake up every day to come to work toward that vision.
  3. The Actions You Live By – reinforce those core values and core purpose each day, week, and month.

Core values are a set of four to six memorable and repeatable words, phrases, or sentences that clearly define what it takes to play on your team. Where are the out-of-bounds white lines? What should I do? What should I not do?

You cannot just list five words on a poster in the office and call it a day. You need to:

  • Find three to seven ways to repeat the importance of the core values from leadership. It starts at the top.
  • Remind people often of the definitions. Start your monthly all-hand agendas by reciting them together. Place them in your email signature line. Go ahead and plop that poster on the wall. Remember to add verbal, visual, and story-based examples all around you as well.
  • Highlight key employee examples year-round in the organization. End your weekly meetings with a shoutout to an employee for exhibiting one of them. Highlight an employee in the newsletter specific to core values.
  • List the values in your recruitment efforts to ensure new hires know what it will be like to work there before they apply. Have character-based interview questions in which you ask them scenarios about each core value. Onboard new employees showing excitement and energy toward the organization’s core values. If you recruit, hire, onboard, train, and create ongoing retention and engagement programs around the core values, you’re really bringing them to life!

“If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal.”

Howard Schultz, Interim CEO at Starbucks

Core purpose for me is a stronger concept than the older vision and mission statements that were separate. They used to be too long and too wordy, and why were there two? Honestly, most frontline workers interacting with your clients every hour could not tell you the difference between the old mission and vision ideas.

A scaling-up core purpose is meant to be so succinct and short that it can be memorized, repeated, graphically illustrated, and brought to life with enthusiasm. Every person in your organization should be able to recite how you make money and why you’re in business.

They should all know what the core customer sees as your main value. If they don’t, what are they waking up for that day? Why are they getting up the first time the alarm rings, smiling in the car on the drive up, and happily greeting people in the morning across the office? 

“Culture is not an initiative. Culture is the enabler of all initiatives.”

Larry Senn, Author and Chairman at Senn Delaney

If your culture isn’t where you want it to be lately, look in these three areas:

  1. When was the last time you took an honest look at your core values? Are they aspirational or really happening within your company? Ask leaders to rate them 1-5 with an example of one person they’d “shout out” for each value. 
  2. Pop quiz: Anyone in the company who can recite the core purpose statement on the spot during a meeting gets a $100 bill with no reading or prompting hints. That will drive engagement to learn, know, and live it!
  3. Then come up with at least three to five ways you want to reinforce the culture you desire with listed “actions to live by.” Examples might include if you have “honest listening” as a core value, you might list an action to live by as conducting a six-month “start, stop, keep” survey where you anonymously allow employees to answer three important questions: 
    • What should we START doing in this company?
    • What should we STOP doing in this company?
    • What should we KEEP doing in this company?

Why six months? Because it gives you time to compile the results within one week, meet with leaders to identify the top five themes you saw in the comments, put together a plan of action, announce how things are going, and see results from program changes.

If you ask for opinions, you MUST have an open culture of listening. You MUST communicate how you’re acting upon the results. (Otherwise, no one wants to be asked their “useless” opinion again before they see you’ve heard their first concerns and acted upon them with proper results.)

Another example for your actions to live by might be reinforcing the core value of “integrity” by creating a Wall of Fame in your office, where employees can nominate a peer once a month. A story in the employee newsletter is written about what they did to deserve the honor. The stories are memorialized in a binder hanging on the Wall of Fame. Every new onboarding employee can thumb through the binder to get a clear picture of what it’s like to play on your team.

“Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with a passion.”

Brian Chesky, Co-Founder and CEO at Airbnb

As we close out 2022 and start to look ahead to 2023, is your company culture achieving the pinnacle results you want? Goals are achieved by PEOPLE. Without the right people on the bus, your strategic roadmap isn’t driven by anyone at the helm of the bus. Without the right people, the 13-week race to execute each quarterly goal could never be achieved.

Ensure you have a culture worth interviewing and working for and a culture worth the best team you can financially afford. Good luck!

“Determine what behaviors and beliefs you value as a company, and have everyone live true to them. These behaviors and beliefs should be so essential to your core that you don’t even think of it as culture.”

 Brittany Forsyth, VP of Human Relations at Shopify

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About Stacy Eads

Edmond native & UCO Alumna, Stacy Eads, is an award-winning “Most Admired CEO” who scaled her company as a Woman in Tech before becoming an International Scaling Up Business Coach. She now empowers other CEOs from $2M to $200M to embrace their leadership potential through quarterly strategic planning. Her talent is in high demand to CEO Coach, Train Teams, and Speak at Events in both the U.S.A. and Canada.

Stacy Eads’ career affiliations include 50 Women Making a Difference award, Circle of Excellence award, Torch Ethics award, Most Admired CEO award, Edmond Chamber & UCO Mentor, Better Business Bureau of Central Oklahoma Board of Directors, TEDx OKC Speaker Coach, and Ambassador Chairwoman for the Greater OKC Chamber of Commerce.