Herb Dew

Organizational Culture: Defining Your Why

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What Takes a Company’s Culture From Good to Great?

Companies often like to have a “mission statement” or “vision statement” or “statement of purpose.” Usually, this is a phrase put together by the sales and marketing team that serves the purpose of being a visible sign of what the company represents. It’s a way of showcasing the company’s culture. But often has little or nothing to do with the perception employees have about why they exist nor emotionally connects them to the company’s long-term plans.

There’s nothing wrong with this. However, I had an experience several years ago that shifted my view and led me to a course of action that yielded much more powerful results. Rob Johnson, my training manager, approached me one day when he knew I was struggling with how to connect the sudden growth in the company and what I perceived to be our existing family culture. At the time, we had a vision and mission statement. They sounded good in our materials, but weren’t something the average employee could connect to or show tremendous pride about. How could we maintain the intimacy of a small company, yet experience the benefits of our recent, rapid growth? He said, “Herb, will you give me 20 minutes to watch something? And then we’ll talk about it.” Rob had me watch Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk “Start With Why.”

One of the most important videos I’ve watched in the last 10 years.

What Simon essentially says is companies rally together when they serve a greater purpose. He uses Apple in his example. Everyone knows Apple is a superb technology company, but in his video Simon talks about how Apple set their “purpose” or their “why” at a very high level. By clearly defining this, and leading with it, it transcended day end, yearend decision making. I recommend all leaders, especially early stage entrepreneurs, take the time to watch this as they’re working through how to set up a business plan and develop their company’s culture.

For HTI, it drastically changed how we think and operate today. We evolved from a company with a flat vision of providing “great people with good quality at reasonable prices” to an organization with depth. Our why developed into

“We believe that we are a family, made up of our employees, our clients and our community. We believe that everyone who touches us can be and should be more successful.”

So, all of a sudden when we make a decision within our leadership team, or even down through our staff, we constantly keep in front of us our why. Is the decision we’re making, regardless of financials, enhancing the people we’re touching? Whether that’s a client, or the community, or an employee? Now, in place of a watered-down mission statement solely usable in marketing materials, we have a dual purpose guiding principle. It serves to energize the entire company, and also hold leadership accountable for their decision making.

The greater purpose the company serves defines the company’s culture. A company’s culture starts at the top. Leadership models the way by demonstrating their willingness to embrace that purpose by being steadfast in both easy, daily operations decisions, and difficult, effectual decisions.

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