Culture has become cliché Part 3 of 3:
Culture isn’t about what an office looks like… culture is how your office feels.
As we’ve discussed in the previous articles, a healthy culture should promote employee growth and development and it should overflow with empowerment. The environment itself must be in a state of constant and intentional evaluation and evolution. Keeping this in mind, we can begin to understand that culture and environment work hand in hand and actually feed off each other.
Interviewing as an Organizational Strategy
At smadatek, developing awareness about our culture starts at the first Interview. Our hires are very intentional. We look first for people who are going to thrive in and contribute to our culture. Superior technical skills are the secondary component of a good fit..
During the first interview our goal is to learn the important things about the real person, not discuss the skills listed on the resume. Resumes are really tough because people can write pretty much anything. In our business, of course we are looking for smart technical people, but we are also looking for kind, respectful, coachable, and compassionate people. It’s difficult to pull this “soft skill” information from a resume. In most cases, other organizations are looking at the part of the resume that explains transactional prowess rather than for relational information.
We skip over traditional questions and skip straight to thought provoking questions intended to take candidates out of their comfort zone.
It’s been powerful to get an authentic feel for how a candidate might fit in our organization during this interview. Because “outside the box” questions are often unexpected, coaching is provided that helps interviewees understand the nature of the questions.
I’ve noticed that when I ask the question, ”Where do you see yourself in five years?” I most often get a blank stare, as if nobody has ever been asked that before, or as if that deep of a question in the first interview is a surprise.
For me, those blank stares are a sure sign that in the business world at large there’s a significant opportunity to develop employees as better people so we can help them achieve their dreams as they help us achieve ours.
Orientation: Enrolling New Hires Into Company Culture
We can all probably agree that standard employee orientation is mostly pretty boring. A new and excited employee fills out voluminous paperwork, receives credentials, gets a brief tour of the office and facilities and hopefully is introduced to other staff.
At smadatek, orientation is a very intentional first step toward welcoming new hires into our culture. For us, that means their first “experiential exercise.” That’s correct: we do experiential exercises to help promote learning and growth. I believe these exercises help us educate and empower employees and obtain the organization’s full potential.
Each employee is required to read four short books to complete their onboarding. We use a series of books that really speak to our culture, based on a list from Sam Parker at inspireyourpeople.com. These short books contain all these very powerful tools yet condense them into these short books. It’s pretty remarkable.
“Cross the Line,“ “212: The Extra Degree,” “Lead Simply,” and “Smile and Move” do an incredible job of introducing people to concepts regarding choice, the benefits of extra effort, exceeding expectations, leadership, kindness and respect. Each of these explores concepts the employee can use both at the office and at home.
Reading, however, is only the first part. After each book I meet with the new employee to talk about what resonated with them. This is my opportunity to begin to build a relationship with each employee with intention. In most cases we exceed thirty minutes because the discussions go deep quickly. This is the start of each employee’s empowerment journey.
Following the meeting, each new employee signs the inside cover of the book we’ve just discussed. And, inside that cover are signatures of each other employee in the entire organization. This is extraordinarily powerful. These signatures demonstrate the high value we place on alignment with similar ideals and acknowledge that each person signing is a valued member of the team who is committed to our culture.
Encouraging Employee Empowerment and Growth
Creating a dynamic culture of growth requires that leaders engage in constant learning and consistently invite their employees to grow and learn with them.
I have a seminar in which I talk about two important concepts that support growth: mindfulness and mindFILLness. “Mindfulness” describes how we calm the brain through practices like meditation, prayer, yoga, breathing exercises and more.
“MindFILLness” is a concept I learned about from Aubrey Marcus, CEO of Onnit, via podcast. He describes “mindfillness” as what we do in our spare time to fill our mind. This includes what we listen to in the car, in our headphones at the gym, or while sitting at the airport waiting for the next plane.
The concept is that there is a lot of time available to fill our minds on how to be better leaders, parents, better spouses, better parents, better partners, and better people. Since what we learn we get to teach, it’s easy to see that we don’t have to add more to our already busy lives; we simply must fill our minds during the times we already have available. As humans, what we listen to, watch and read is what we learn.
As a CEO, business owner, or manager, we get to be especially conscious and intentional with filling our minds in ways that support us being better leaders and guides in implementing culture in our organizations. Therefore, we must be intentional with growing ourselves first. That starts with having a growth mindset and a desire to learn.
What you learn, you get to teach and share. At smadatek this happens every Friday at 11:30 a.m. Each Friday meeting starts with celebration as each member shares with the team what they are celebrating. Next, each team member identifies something that they learned or something that challenged them.
The purpose of the weekly Friday meeting is to ensure employees practice giving and receiving feedback in a safe, supportive environment, to offer a consistent opportunity to build relationships among team members, and to encourage alignment with the vision, mission and core pillars.
This process allows people to acknowledge their own accomplishments and celebrate with their peers, which leads to a dynamic upward spiral of growth, accomplishment and acknowledgment. And, in my opinion we can’t celebrate enough.
Once we complete the celebrations we implement a strategy we learned from Horst Schulze, cofounder of the Ritz Carlton, and we take turns going around the table reciting our vision, mission and our core pillars.
Understanding of that philosophy and alignment with the mission, vision and core values empowers them to make decisions that are directly aligned, ensuring consistency for customers and leading to customer delight- because simple customer satisfaction just isn’t enough anymore.
Because we rehearse answers to common questions and practice an attitude consistent with our culture, the team’s responses are internally consistent in our marketing and sales conversations as well as during customer service interactions.
Everyone in the organization must be moving together toward the vision for the organization. Just one individual who is not in alignment can have a negative impact that echoes throughout the organization. Customers are hard to attract as it is, and it’s dangerous to believe that new customers are easy to find.
Smadatek believes that “we don’t need new customers if we can’t take care of the ones we have!” Our entire culture is a key strategy in customer retention.
That last part of this meeting ends with our internal operation feedback loop. As we learned in Part II, three simple questions are helpful in creating a growth culture: What worked for our organization this week? What didn’t work? What’s one thing we can improve on? These three questions, used intentionally and consistently, ensure that our culture is continually growing and adapting in ways that move the whole organization toward our visions.
Over the last three weeks I’ve discussed how an intentional and healthy culture can be magnetic. How culture can attract not only good employees but also great customers. How culture provides an incredible sales advantage. How culture ensures incredible customer service and promotes innovation.
Edgar H. Schein said, “If you do not manage culture, it manages you, and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening.” The other part of the quote I like is, “the only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture.”
Business leaders have the opportunity– and arguably the responsibility– to create a culture that fosters personal growth and development whenever possible.
What does your culture feel like?