The 4 essential aspects of your culture

In the last article we introduced the concept of a “Culture Code”, a way of codifying your culture into a meaningful and useful set of guiderails for everyone in the organisation. Let’s now take a look at how the Culture Code actually represents your culture in action.

At its heart, the culture code represents four essential aspects of your culture and how your organisation operates:

  1. It’s your core philosophy
  2. It’s the “how”
  3. It’s the experience
  4. It’s your identity

Core Philosophy
The philosophy of the organisation represents the deeply held purpose, beliefs, values and ambition that make the organisation unique. The culture code brings these attributes together into a coherent and meaningful story for employees and customers alike.

  • The purpose is the persistent reason for the organisation to exist, independent of any products, services or market strategy it may follow at a particular point in time.
  • The ambition of the organisation provides the “North Star” direction for people to follow. It doesn’t define how to get there, but creates a shared aspiration and a rallying call.
  • The beliefs are the things that members of the organisation hold true, influenced by their own personal experiences and expectations. Aligning beliefs, particularly at Leadership Team levels is one of the great challenges faced by organisational leaders.
  • The values unite the organisation. They are aspirational, describing a future state of desired culture, acting as a behavioural “compass” for the organisation. They are used to create the “character” of the organisation, reflecting what the organisation believes is its unique character and personality.

It’s the “how”
This is the biggest difference that a culture code has compared to a set of posters on the wall that list your values (the most common way that organisations describe their culture!). The culture code defines the “ways of working principles” that bring the philosophy to life, aligning the mindset and behaviours of the organisation.

These principles are the missing link that bring culture to life and enable teams to operate with more autonomy & self-management, without the need for layers of corporate process. They provide the common language about “how we do things around here” in a positive sense, enabling challenges to be made if teams or individuals are not representing the desired behaviours. They also allow flexibility in the way that problems are solved, interactions take place and customers are served.

One example is Metro Bank in the UK which has built a customer centric culture through embedding its values into performance reviews and ensuring they are reflected in day to day customer interactions, resulting in very high Net Promoter Scores.

Another well known example is Whole Foods, now part of Amazon, who built a business on self managing store teams who are free to define the way that customer relationships are managed and how behaviours in the teams are regulated.

It’s the experience

The culture code also sets the parameters for what it’s like to engage with the organisation, internally and externally. Importantly, the principles guiding the employee experience need to reflect the experience that customers and partners have. In this sense the culture code is not just about internal culture, it’s also about how the internal behaviours impact the way the organisation interacts with the outside world.

In 2015, Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi found that there is a tight correlation between the “total motivation” of employees and corresponding organisational performance measures such as customer satisfaction and revenue generation. They found that cultures that focused on play, potential and purpose, whilst minimising emotional pressure, economic pressure and inertia (when people don’t know why they are doing what they are doing) were generating better performance outcomes.

It’s your identity
In the same way that the culture code informs the experience, it also shapes the brand image that is portrayed internally and externally. Internal value statements are meaningless unless they are backed up with automatic actions in everything that the organisation does on a daily basis.

The gap between values and actions became clear during the recent financial market problems, for example during the LIBOR scandal, with banks focusing their actions on short term gains and financial profit above their stated values of integrity and customer service.

A more positive example can be found at LinkedIn who have built the company around their values. According to Jeff Weiner, CEO: “ Ten years ago, had you asked me about culture and values I would have rolled my eyes and recited a line from Dilbert. But when I started as CEO I began to appreciate just how important they were. Culture and values provide the foundation upon which everything else is built. They are arguably our most important competitive advantage, and something that has grown to define us”

In the next article we will take a look at “why you need a culture code”, exploring how it can help the performance of your organisation and set the guidelines for everyone associated with your brand.

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.

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