I have worked with several large organisations who sustain their growth due to a clear set of values that run deep in the company and employees. There is one company that in its creation and early development had a religious style culture ( in a good way ) due to excellent recruitment and the authentic, cool and eccentric behaviour of its founder. The organisation thrived as did the employees. Many of the leaders went on to carve out unique careers in other organisations and new businesses integrating the philosophy. The organisation was Morgans Hotel Group which emerged from Schrager Hotels and is now SBE.
#1 . AN ICONIC FIGURE/S FUSED WITH THE HISTORY
For a kick off there is always a person/s who started the culture that the current employees consistently talk about sharing stories with vigour and passion. Some stories are elaborated through natural enthusiasm and others toned down for legal reasons whichever … these stories are the blood that runs through the veins of the company culture. The stories are the DNA that make the value system. Having a great personality in the history makes for easy decision making for all … faced with a challenge of what to do in any context you just ask the question “what would Walt / Ian / Steve / Bill do?” the answer should come easily if your aligned to the cultural values and know the leader well. Iconic leaders legacies are always there either living or not.
Ian Schrager ( KING OF COOL )
#2 . A SIMPLE SET OF WORDS
The value system will be made up of words usually abstract nouns that can be observed in the culture through behaviours. The words should be chosen carefully and fit the hero’s and history of the culture. Each word would have criteria ( other words and concepts that support it ) and understanding this criteria fitting it to the people and business is vital. Historically organisations thought the more words in their value statements the better. Currently the smart thinking is less is more if telegraphed to the employees in a way that makes sense and supports the future landscape. These words are useless without historical stories to back them up. Its not as simple as just choosing some words that sound and feel right. The words should run deep in the pivotal points of the company story.
Here are a few words that have been used in some profitable, influential and iconic cultures.
PASSIONATE – CURIOUS – SINCERE – EMPATHETIC – SOCIAL – ENTREPRNTEURIAL – AUTHENTIC – FUN – SAFE – PROFESSIONAL – INNOVATIVE – RESPECTFUL – COMMITTED – FRUGAL – CREATIVE – HOSPITABLE – COOL – DISRUPTIVE – HONEST – FAIR – COMMUNITY – ADVENTUROUS – OPEN – TRANSPARENT – POSITIVE – HUMBLE – LEARNING – PRIDE – RESULTS FOCUSSED – WEIRD – WORLD CLASS – BEST – SIMPLE – COLLABORATION – SIGNIFICANCE – ECOLOGICAL – ACCOUNTABLE – INTEGRITY – DIVERSE – QUALITY – CONSISTENT – HEALTHY
#3 . A TRIBE ADDICTED TO LIVING THE VALUES
The most important factor to drive the culture is the people. This is down to recruiting and developing the right individuals. They maybe don’t have the full qualifications for a role but if they have the fit for the culture training and developing the individuals will be the difference that makes the difference. I know of one hospitality group who would spot individuals outside their environment during their day to day life. This could be a waiter in a cafe, a member of cabin crew on a flight and I know of one individual who was spotted working in a car hire firm in Los Angeles. The head of HR of a cool hospitality firm was waiting for the keys to a hire car at one of LA’s leading rental companies when a storm started. The queue of people waiting stacked up as the runners ( the guys who took keys to the car and delivered it to the customer ) took shelter due to the rain. There was one employee who still ran to the cars and brought them to the clients waiting. He repeatedly ran through the rain to the huge car park and saw that the customers (his customers) were not held up due to the weather. The head of HR gave him the number of one of her hotels in LA and told him to call. He said “do they need runners ?” she said “No … they need people like you”. Long story short … he called … they asked what his dream job would be. He said he would love working with numbers but his English was not so good. They put him through school and he was in a few years head of accounts for the hotel. He was a fit … where there is a fit there is a person who needs to be involved in that culture. In good cultures that are driven by values these type of story are common place.