Double Down on Culture

iStock_000019717637XSmallI am always on the lookout for organizations that truly understand the power of culture. I read of one such organization in this month’s Fast Company magazine.

Warby Parker is a US-based online and brick-and-mortar eyeglasses retailer . . . with a twist. From the beginning, the company’s purpose was to do good, to change the world, one pair of eyeglasses at a time. For each frame sold, they give away one pair of eyeglasses to someone in need.

Co-CEO Neil Blumenthal was asked by Fast Company to describe his organization’s biggest lesson learned in 2012. He described hiring a really smart, capable employee who had good customer service skills – but wasn’t able to be superfriendly, a trait the company desires. They couldn’t coach this employee to deliver the customer experience Warby Parker required – so, they had to let him go.

Blumenthal describes how this experience helped the leadership team “double down on culture.” The founders realized that with an employee population of over 100, they couldn’t maintain relationships with new hires like they could in the company’s early days. So, they installed new systems and practices to ensure the Warby Parker culture is maintained and deepened each day and each hire.

For example, they organized a culture-interview SWAT team that now does 75% of the interviewing process for new hires. They’ve organized a fun committee that brings in guest speakers to the company’s weekly happy hours. One other cool practice they’ve instituted: on every employee’s second anniversary, the company pays to send the employee to one of their nonprofit partners. They can travel, for example, to Guatemala to see how those partners train entrepreneurs to give eye exams and sell glasses.

Corporate Culture is Your Organization’s Most Important Asset

Corporate culture drives everything that happens in organizations – good or bad. Most senior leaders are unaware of the impact of organizational culture. In fact, most organizations put more thought into their products and services than their culture! Your work environment should not be created “by chance,” which is unfortunately the norm.

If performance is the only standard in your organization AND leaders and employees are held accountable to deliver to performance standards, they will do anything they can to exceed those targets. However, in the absence of values standards, bad behaviors can create a distrusting, “I win, you lose” work environment.

The organizations that thrive in a down economy, that are featured in Fast Company magazine, are those that hold corporate citizenship equally as important as corporate performance.

Senior leaders must create an organizational “constitution,” a document that clearly states performance expectations AND values expectations, and outlines accountability practices for both. With those expectations in place, it’s easy to demonstrate high performance AND high values as well as coach others to both standards.

Join in the conversation about this post/podcast in the comments section below. How does your organization give back to the community? To what extent does your organization have a constitution that outlines valued behaviors?

What is it like to live in your organization’s culture? Complete my new Performance-Values Assessment. Results and analysis are described on my blog site’s research page.

This new research can help you refine your organization’s corporate culture. Contact me to discuss conducting the Performance-Values Assessment in your organization.

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