Core Values that Create Positive Cultures
Think of a time when you experienced the magic feeling of being a satisfied customer. Where were you? Where did that feeling come from? Was it a really smooth online experience? The engaging smile, conversation or vocal tone of an employee? Was it the sight, sound and smell of the venue?
As a customer, I have enjoyed the experience of literally feeling the vibe of a special company culture. It’s the satisfaction of receiving value beyond a product. A feeling of complete, synchronized energy directed toward me and culminating in my pleasant surprise.
For all the times I’ve experienced special company cultures, I haven’t often slowed down to think about how those companies bring all the pieces together to make the magic occur.
This week I read a great book with a section about culture. It helped me to see it better.
Culture As An Unfair Advantage
The book I read is entitled “The Family Edge“ by Gibb Dyer, PhD. The idea of the book is that families can leverage an “unfair” advantage in social, emotional and financial capital to create and grow successful businesses. I think the same structure that applies to culture in a family business applies even when leaders and employees aren’t members of the same family.
A chapter in Dyer’s book discusses “Cultural Patterns.” Let’s look at the components of culture that can encourage or undermine the success of a company.
What is Culture?
Edgar Schein, a former professor at MIT, argued that culture develops as a group tries to manage two basic problems of human existence: 1) adapting to the environment to survive and thrive, and 2) learning how to work cooperatively to achieve the groups goals.
“In general, culture can be defined as socially acquired and shared rules of conduct that are manifested in a [company’s] artifacts, perspectives, values and assumptions.”
I like these definitions. They help us see culture as A WAY to thrive and work cooperatively to achieve goals. It is also helpful to look beyond the mysterious magic that creates a cultural vibe and understand the distinctions that make up the parts of the culture we experience.
Dyer suggests that “Artifacts” are the overt manifestations of culture. They come in three flavors:
First, there are Physical artifacts like clothing or uniforms. Also, rooms or office setup or implements used in work to create product or deliver service. Vehicles that say “Geek Squad” on the side are physical artifacts in the Best Buy culture.
Verbal artifacts are the language and stories shared by a group. ‘Freaky Fast” is a verbal artifact of Jimmy Johns’ culture.
Behavioral artifacts are found in rituals and common behavior patterns. One example is the way they throw fish at the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. Another is the way guests at Texas Roadhouse are invited to jump in the saddle while the wait staff sings happy birthday.
“Situation-specific rules of conduct that are deemed appropriate.” This is the description Dyer gives for Cultural perspectives. Depending on the situation, the culture may call for different types of greetings. For example they range from waves and nods to handshakes, high-fives, and hugs & kisses. Depending on which team I’m with, some of these greetings may be inappropriate.
Cultural Values and Assumptions
These are defined by Dyer as more general, trans-situational rules. These rules are reflected in the perspectives and artifacts discussed above. Importantly, I think these get to the heart of the Core Values we usually talk about. But Dyer adds an interesting distinction. It is that six different assumptions influence the core values of an individual and a company working cooperatively to achieve group goals.
- Assumptions about human nature. Are people basically good or evil or neither? In other words, how can people inside and outside the organization be trusted?
- Assumptions about relationships. Is there a strong hierarchical authority structure or is there a flatter, more collateral relationship structure? Or are players all more individualistic?
- Assumptions about the environment. Can it be tamed and shaped by us or are we victims of a world we cant change. Are we supposed to harmonize with the environment?
- Assumptions about truth. Do we learn truth from external sources or do we learn truth through testing and experimentations?
- Assumptions about the nature of human activity. Do we assume people are objects to be valued for what we can get out of them? Or do we see them as individuals with unlimited potential to be developed in their own right?
- Assumptions about time. Should we focus primarily on lessons from the past, living in the present, or preparing for the future?
The way your group answers these questions is the way your core values will be formed. Interestingly, the assumptions reflected in your Core Values are actually predictive of the success or failure of your organization.
Assumptions in Your Core Values
I’ve identified what I think are the assumptions represented in a few of Google’s Core Values. Look below at a small sample of core values from other recognized companies. What assumptions, perspectives and artifacts do you see represented?
- Focus on the user and all else will follow. (assumptions about relationships)
- Fast is better than slow. (assumptions about time)
- Great just isn’t good enough. (assumptions about truth and human activity)
The Container Store
- 1 Great Person = 3 Good People
- Communication IS Leadership
- Intuition does not come to an unprepared mind. You need to train before it happens.
- Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.
- Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other.
- Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.
- Customer Obsession. Leaders start with the customer and work backwards…
- Ownership. Leaders are owners. …
- Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit
As you consider the Core Values of your company, what assumptions, perspectives and artifacts do you see? Are your core values aligned with your Core Focus? Do they describe the rules, or “The Way”? In other words, how does your team come together as a group to survive, thrive and achieve goals?
Making your Core Values Magic
I hope the distinctions of Core Value assumptions, perspectives, and artifacts will help you the way they did me! I now have a better understanding of the components that make up my Core Values. Clarity about the distinctive features of your Core Values can make it much easier to accurately articulate your vision for the organization. Once you know the Core Values that enable your team to survive, thrive, and achieve “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” you can then step into the realm of creating a special – even magical – cultural vibe for your company!
Now, armed with your powerful Core Values, go and create magical experiences for your customers! They will experience your unique physical, verbal and behavioral artifacts. They’ll feel the power of your positive perspectives and assumptions. You will help your customers feel the satisfaction and surprise of receiving value beyond the product or service your company is selling!
Be great this week!