Discover the unique competitive advantage of “great” organisations

What is it that distinguishes the “great” organisations from the crowd? It might be great products or service, it might be great operational performance or it might be that it’s a great place to work.

However, in order to achieve any of these outcomes, there is one thing that is unique to the organisation and acts as the catalyst for all of them. This is the culture of the organisation, often overlooked and often seen as intangible or put onto the “too hard” to work on list.

Organisations with an engaged culture demonstrate 65% greater share price increase, 26% less employee turnover and 30% greater customer satisfaction.
Review of 10 years of employee surveys and company results; Queen’s University Centre for Business Venturing, 2014

In this series of articles we’ll look at how leaders can create a “culture code” to act as a focal point for the organisation and get everyone aligned on actively leading and developing their culture.

By creating this focus on culture and making it tangible and manageable, leadership teams have the opportunity to set the organisation up for sustainable growth, attract and retain the talent they need in the 21st century marketplace and create the most useful tool they could ever have to let them do what they are supposed to be doing — leading the organisation.

“Overall, department culture was found to consistently predict higher subsequent levels of customer satisfaction ratings and vehicle sales”
6 year study of 95 vehicle retailers: Journal of Organizational Behavior, 2015

Defining and leading culture is a complex topic, so how do you get started?

A great way of doing this is to work with everyone in the organisation to bring together their beliefs, values, stories and ways of working into a common, shared and accessible format that sets the tone and provides the guiderails for life in the organisation.

Great organisations know how to “live” their cultures; Yin Yang

Some organisations call this their “culture code”, others call it their manifesto, their constitution or their principles. Whatever you choose to call yours, it is the essential link between the mindset and the behaviours of the organisation. This is the tangible manifestation of your culture and gives you the opportunity to rally everyone around a common story and shared sense of belonging. These are not examples to be copied — your culture code has to be your own, but they do provide inspiration and ideas to work with.

Valve Corporation

A well known example of such a culture code is Valve Corporation. They describe their working principles in a very human, accessible form, with a handbook for all new employees, which is still useful during ongoing employment.

The aim of the handbook is to demonstrate the authenticity of the leaders and explain the beliefs of the company, rather than being the traditional “rule book” of policies that many companies hand out on induction.

Southwest Airines Co.

Southwest Airlines take a different approach, being renowned for a culture that is evident through the behaviours of their employees.

They use the “Southwest Way” values as a test for the suitability and fit of new employees, both during recruitment and then during ongoing performance evaluation. Southwest also create a link between employee behaviours and customer feedback, with a high visibility employee recognition programme that highlights employees who have been recognised by their customers.

Whilst Zappos are renowned for their forward looking approaches to organisational structures and techniques, they also put a lot of focus onto bringing their culture to life. Zappos bring their values to life by referring to the company as the “Family” and supporting this with the language that describes what people do and how they work together. These values are applied in a “Culture Fit” interview for all new recruits.

Zappos Inc.

All new employees undergo four weeks of training on the company strategy, the culture and the customer service philosophy, followed by two weeks in the call centre. Performance reviews are 50% based on whether employees are living and inspiring the Zappos culture in others. All of this is supported by the publication of an open “Culture Book” where everyone can write their thoughts about working at the company.

A final example worth mentioning is the ING “Orange Code”, which aims to “put integrity above all” and ensure that ING stays true to it’s purpose of “Empowering people to stay a step ahead in life and in business”.

ING Bank

The Code consists of a set of values and behaviours that are now reflected in the performance management approach for all staff. It was developed from the Bankers Oath, which 96% of Netherlands employees took in 2015.

Each of these represent great examples of leadership teams who have taken the initiative to work with their colleagues across the organisation and jointly define the character of their organisation and the guidelines for how it should operate. In each case, the performance outcomes are clear to see, either in great customer service, organisational agility or business growth over and above what is possible through relying on rules and processes.

In the next article we’ll look at how to go about defining your organisation’s own unique culture code.

At Yin Yang, our purpose is the creation of future fit organisations and our goal is to create admired, effective and adaptive cultures — changing both the experience and performance of 21st century organisations. Contact us to find out more about culture codes and how we can help your leadership teams to discover their unique performance advantage by leveraging the organisation’s culture.