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How To Build A Courageous Company Culture

Building a strong company culture takes hard work and true commitment. Here are some basic building blocks that can help.

How To Build A Courageous Company Culture
[Photo: Flickr user Stefano Montagner]

Do you run into your company’s culture every day? Does it inspire you or does it smack you in the face and get in your way, slowly wearing you down? Is your culture overpowering or does it inspire you to overcome challenges?

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It’s important to understand what drives brand culture. Is it power and ego that people react to or a culture of encouragement and empowerment? Is it driven from top-down directives or cross-department collaboration?

To get a taste of an organization’s culture, join an executive meeting or sit in the lunchroom, listen to the conversations, and examine the way decisions are made and how departments cooperate. Take some time out to get a good read on the health of the company culture.

Culture Fuels A Strong Brand

A vibrant culture provides a cooperative and collaborative environment for a brand to thrive. Branding is the single most important asset to differentiate a company consistently over time. It needs to be nurtured, evolved, and invigorated by the people entrusted to keep it true and alive.

Without a functional and relevant culture, the money invested in research and development, product differentiation, marketing, and HR is never maximized and often wasted because it’s not fueled by a sustaining and functional culture.

Consider Zappos, one of the fastest companies to reach $1 billion in recent years, fueled by an electric and eclectic culture, one that’s inclusionary, encouraging, and empowering. It’s well documented, celebrated, and shared willingly with anyone who wants to learn from it.

Now compare that to American Apparel, the controversial and prolific fashion retailer with a well-documented and highly dysfunctional culture. Zappos is thriving and on its way to $2 billion, while American Apparel has been mired in bankruptcy and controversy. Both companies are living out their missions––one is to create happiness and the other is based on self-centered perversity. Authenticity and values in culture always win.

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Building a strong company culture takes hard work and true commitment and, while not something that can be ticked off in boxes, here are some very basic building blocks to consider:

1. Dynamic And Engaged Leadership

A vibrant culture is organic and evolving. It’s fueled and inspired by leadership that is actively involved and informed about the realities of the business. The leaders are passionately engaged and genuinely care about the company’s role in the world. They are great communicators and motivators who set out clear visions, missions, values and goals and create an environment for the brand culture to come alive.

2. Living Values

It’s one thing to have beliefs and values spelled out in a frame in the conference room––it’s another to have genuine and memorable beliefs that are directional, alive, and modeled daily throughout the organization.

It’s important that departments and individuals are motivated and measured against the modeling of the values. And, to create a values-driven culture, hire people using the company values as a filter.

For an organization to embody its culture people must be empowered and every department must understand what’s expected. Don’t just list values in slide shows––bring them to life in people, products, spaces, at events, and in communication.

3. Responsibility And Accountability

Strong cultures empower their people, recognize talents, and offer the framework for very clear roles and responsibility. It’s amazing how basic this principle is, yet how absent it is in many businesses.

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4. Celebrate Success And Failure

Most companies that run at speed often forget to celebrate their victories, both big and small, and they rarely have time or the humility to acknowledge and learn from their failures. Brands can celebrate both victories and failures in their own unique ways, but should share them and share them often.

About the author

Shawn Parr is the Guvner & CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy headquartered in San Diego whose clients and partners have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, American Eagle Outfitters, Ideo, Sony, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, Heineken, Annie’s Homegrown, Kashi, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, The Honest Kitchen, and World Vision.

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