Cultural DNA – A Growth Imperative
By: Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, Northeast Indiana Innovation Center
In graduate school, one of my professors described culture as “the way you are doing things around here.” Her definition stuck with me. As you think of some really great companies (like Zappos, Google, Disney, Ritz-Carlton, Starbucks) a business’ culture is one factor that differentiates each of the companies from the pack. There is a reason cool companies like those mentioned above get a lot of press. They have made it a point to form and maintain distinct corporate cultures. You might set out with initial ideas in mind about what that entails. But how do you maintain said culture through periods of growth? Here are a few best practices:
It starts with robust employee selection. The best employees are ones that select employees and do not hire employees. Engagement studies show that most people go to work each day not engaged and inspired by what they do. Sure, everyone needs to put bread on the table, but you don’t want to attract a type of person who just shows up solely for a paycheck. In your interviewing process (look at Topgrading by Brad Smart), you should include behavioral-based questions, psychometric assessments that get to the core of their intentions so you can weed out candidates that might not be a strategic fit.
It requires constant culture-building and ongoing reinforcement of vision, values, priorities and celebrations of successes. Exceptional companies who do a great job of culture-building work at it. They have discipline, consistency and a working business model around culture. As companies grow and change, measuring employee engagement, celebrating the wins, stretching people and the organization’s capabilities will be critical to ongoing assessment of culture-building activities (a simple tool to do so is the Strength of the Workplace).
It demands strategic investment in your employees (especially your front-line) and alignment of incentives and recognition systems. Professional development (internal and external) is one way to get everyone on the same page when it comes to your vision and goals. The Innovation Center works with clients to help analyze, plan, develop and acquire the talent of the founders and the team. It has many components and can be addressed in many ways. The required talents of the team are also constantly changing based on the phase of venture development. If you are interested in learning more about how NIIC can help you develop and retain talent, contact Mike Fritsch, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, at The NIIC.
Entrepreneurs need to think about culture from day 1. It is an essential component of attracting, engaging talent and differentiating your business model.