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Building a Culture - Keeping it Simple

Written by Gino Wickman on July 24, 2012

Clarity Break Thought

There is a lot coming up about culture in sessions this quarterly planning season. I'm often concerned about how much mental energy most leaders put into "building their culture"-i.e., trying to be overly creative with countless ideas like putting core values on banners, laminated cards, coffee mugs, and computer screens.

I'm truly not knocking these things. These actions will actually get some results, but they are the icing on the cake, not the cake. Most leaders who are doing these things are putting more effort and energy into these many inconsistent, less effective, time- and energy-draining ideas, instead of a handful of simple, powerful, impactful, and timeless disciplines (the cake).

My urging is to put your energy into the cake, and if there is extra time and capacity, then do the icing. I recently heard Jim Collins say five of the most powerful words. He said, "Mediocrity stems from chronic inconsistency." The above icing is typically an inconsistent spattering of ideas that will typically feel "flavor-of-the-monthish" to most employees. What I'd like to suggest to you is three disciplines that, if you remain absolutely consistent with them, will help you achieve 80 percent of the battle when building a culture. One or two years from now, if you stay the course, you will have a thriving culture. They are as follows:

  1. Hire everyone around your core values - Hone your core values speech.Your job in the interview is to scare people away. Deliver it in such a way that conveys "Let me prepare you for what you are about to get yourself into if you join forces with us; we are...," and share each core value with passion. The candidates that don't have your core values will self-select out, or at least you will see it on their faces. The ones that have your core values will light up.
  2. Review everyone on core values at least once a year - Every performance review should include the People Analyzer (which will force a conversation around core values), and the manager should be open and honest about how his or her direct report is truly doing living them. I strongly recommend a One Page Performance Review. If your direct report is not living up to the company's minimum core values standards and you have done everything in your power to help him or her, you must fire that person. Your people must know that core values are an important aspect of performance. This discipline will make that clear.
  3. Do a quarterly state-of-the-company - Every quarter, you must communicate to all employees:
    • Where you've been
    • Where you currently are, and
    • Where you are going

Under the topic of where you are going, this is an opportunity to share the company vision and plan-the V/TO. This is an opportunity to reinforce and remind everyone of the company core values. At a minimum, share one real-world story from last quarter for each core value as to how someone has exhibited them.

These three simple disciplines will keep your culture strong, and if you choose to throw some icing on the cake, that will only help. You must stay consistent. Your people need to hear something seven times before they hear it for the first time. If you continue this consistency through good times, bad times, high and lows, you will look up one day to find a thriving culture.

Stay focused,


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