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4 Essential Pillars of Company Culture

Posted on July 24, 2015

I’ve been asked by several team members to revisit some of the principals that have guided my professional philosophy over the past 25+ years. These practices have ultimately helped shape our company here at Brand Connections. This will be the first in a series of blogs and will focus on culture.

Simply said, culture is the collective beliefs and principles that guide and define the personality of a company. These values impact expectations, habits, language, assumptions, and processes and are the foundation for driving the company vision.

While we don’t have a giant poster in our lobby touting our mission statement, we have long embraced a culture that is embodied by our 4 Pillars of Conduct: Accountability, Consistency, Effectiveness and Harmony. When these simple principles are practiced diligently, both professionally and in life, communities work more effectively together and, in general, are happier in their environment.

Accountability: Do your job and take responsibility for moving work in a positive direction, even when it isn’t your job. Never “check the box” completely until you know the project is done. Simply forwarding the email onto the next person shouldn’t mean your responsibility has ended. Sometimes following up on a project will enlighten you about the obstacles that occurred after your hand-off that might inspire you to alter the way you manage tasks in the future. Other times, you might realize that you had done too much work that wasn’t adding value in the end. These lessons make you smarter, faster, better. When mistakes happen, and they SHOULD happen if you are lucky enough to be in a job that challenges you, the first question you should ask yourself is: “What could I have done differently to have delivered a better outcome?” Even when the circumstances are completely out of your control, there is always a moment when you can step in, take charge, and drive the direction of a situation towards a positive solution. Top performers will always be much more critical of themselves when they make a mistake. They will feel that frustration far more intensely than how they feel when their manager evaluates the situation postmortem. It’s that feeling of frustration that epitomizes the concept of Accountability and can be the strongest motivator you’ll ever have when applying the learnings from your mistakes.

Consistency: Give it your best effort, every time. I encourage managers to always ask these questions when a team member seeks advice or shares a work product: “Is this your best work?” Or, “How do YOU think we should solve this problem?” Too often people rely on feedback from their manager to course-correct a project at various intervals, so they never really have to take responsibility for the task. Understanding if something is someone’s “best work” before engaging is a good barometer on how far along they are in their growth. In addition, by requiring people to be prepared with solutions versus communicating problems, it forces them not only to think the situation through, but requires them to articulate the problem, solution and the rationale for the solution. This in itself is a reflection of someone’s skill set. In order to provide a learning environment, we need to empower our team to take ownership, and the only way to do that is to “cut the cord”. Once someone is consistently producing work that at least 80% of the time is within the acceptable range of quality the company demands, managers need to pull the safety net and let the work stand for itself. It’s that 20% of the time when the work isn’t good enough that we tend to learn the most. If we are Accountable to our own growth, these “failures” are what make us smarter. Performance “peaks and valleys” are catastrophic because there is no predictability to the quality of work, as well as exhausting to both team members and the organization that must scramble to fill in the gaps. People who struggle to climb a steep learning curve, then coast down to the valley once they feel comfortable, burn a lot of energy when they crash at the bottom. Having to start that painful uphill climb again after a major problem can take its toll. I advise people that it’s better to be consistently average than both wonderful and awful. If you’re someone interested in advancing your career, your “average” should be an ever moving target as you raise your own expectations over time.

Effectiveness: You could be highly accountable and very consistent, but if you can’t deliver on the goals and objectives of your role, it’s going to be a problem. If you’re in sales and you can’t hit your revenue goal, or if you’re a copywriter whose clients consistently reject your work as missing the mark, you might not be in the right role. Managers can provide support to help close gaps that could improve over time, but if you’re a bad fit for the role, it will become evident to you, your peers and your clients. This can be especially challenging with middle management roles if people are hired or promoted into roles that they’re not equipped to master. This can leave their junior staff struggling with inadequate or inconsistent direction. It can leave senior management in a quandary about when to empower the struggling manager to learn (quickly) on their own, or when to step in and potentially undermine an aspiring leader. To be fair, in a growth culture, we are all striving to hit the mark at least 80% of the time, so even the most talented people, including managers, need room to make and learn from mistakes. We need to cut our teammates some slack and give them room to grow, too. But a solid employee, even in the wrong role, can be redeployed in the organization if, in addition to the first two Pillars, they embrace this last one.

Harmony: It doesn’t matter how great you are at your job, how much money you make the company or how much your clients like you. If you are unharmonious internally, you’ve got to go. The “one bad apple” theory has a significant impact in a teamwork environment. There’s a difference between being demanding and being difficult. Expecting your team to be Accountable, Consistent and Effective will keep the pressure on even top performers; but attitude is everything. Negativity, gossiping, undermining, and finger-pointing are not only highly contagious, but have a significant negative impact on overall job satisfaction and employee retention, and simply can’t be tolerated. While we all have moments of frustration when we vent in unproductive ways, an organization that rejects these values as a whole will help keep everyone in check to prevent us from going down those dark rabbit holes that never deliver productive solutions. Sure, there will always be some other company that offers “perks” that your company doesn’t, but choosing to focus on the positive is a powerful mindset within our own control that has a direct impact on our own happiness. This requires us to continually self-monitor not only our word choices (because WORDS MATTER), but our non-verbal reactions too.

These 4 Pillars of Conduct are the very same expectations most people have in their personal relationships as well and are a simple, but worthy, philosophy to live by.

Sherry Orel

Sherry Orel is the CEO of Brand Connections, an independent global media and marketing company that specializes in Making Marketing Easier for Marketers™, providing tailored solutions that link critical marketing disciplines to help marketers connect the dots to deliver a better business outcome. She has 25 years experience in working with Fortune 500 brands to develop strategic, multi-channel solutions, integrating disciplines from out-of-home, digital, mobile, social, promotion, sponsorship, experiential, CRM and retail activation.

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