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Posted on February 17, 2016

When business leaders think about company culture, the focus typically starts from the top down. Entrepreneurs have the luxury of having blank slates, so they can be very altruistic and visionary about the type of company they want to build and the people they want to attract. But leaders of existing business have to regularly assess the reality of the current culture, compared to the desired culture and build the bridges to evolve over time. These conversations typically start within the leadership team about the kind of cultural evolution management envisions and, once the principals for building that foundation are crafted, they are then shared with the company.   I think this approach is a bit backwards and should include feedback from the bottom up.

One thing I’ve learned from inheriting a company from a successful entrepreneur is that it’s critical to understand what truly motivates your current team. In order to authentically adapt your culture and attract the right talent in the future, you have to evolve the culture into a sustainable, scalable organization.

There are many definitions for company culture, but I like to simply refer to it as the rules of engagement between colleagues. Culture is what we are committing to do ourselves and in turn, what we expect from our peers in order to deliver overall business objectives. Companies are simply mini communities where like-minded people gather to contribute to the micro-society. Within every community, whether it’s a fraternity, a church or a family, the group determines the acceptable consistency (or inconsistency) of behavior. This allows outliers to take note of the group’s expectations and quickly course-correct or seek another society that better matches the individual’s personality. For example, if your company frowns upon bringing electronics into internal meetings, you don’t have to have a big poster with a red slash through a cell phone hanging in the conference room. New team members can simply observe from the actions of others and take the non-verbal hints tossed their way. Alternatively, if a company permits team members to bring their laptops and smartphones into meetings, encouraging people to multi-task during discussions, someone new to the company will have to adjust to that cultural communication personality and not be offended if their peers seem disengaged at times. Culture goes way beyond just the principals articulated in the corporate mission statement. It speaks to the very core of the collective organization.

A solid culture should do two things: support the delivery company of goals and create overall job satisfaction. In researching what motivates my staff regarding the latter, one thing that came through loud and clear was that, while raises and bonuses are always at the top of the list, two things bubbled up as being equally or more important than money: more personal time and recognition for great work. Last year we incorporated something new that checked both boxes and has now become a cornerstone of our culture, called Golden Tickets. Each member of our Leadership Team is given 3 Golden Tickets to use to recognize team members that go above and beyond or whom consistently deliver A+ work. Tickets are redeemable for a paid day off work to use however the recipient desires. Golden Tickets are awarded during company-wide meetings where their contribution is recognized amongst their peers.

This type of insight can only come from having open and regular conversations with your team, from the receptionists to the EVP’s. Next week’s blog will focus on another gem that was uncovered from these very conversations and something that companies will need to fully embrace to attract and retain the top millennial talent: the need for contribution.

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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