What is Culture?

Marissa Levin
Marissa Levin
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Have you ever wondered why your employees stay? Or why they leave? I know that I do.  I ask my employees this question often.  They are the reason Information Experts has won more than 75 national and international awards, why we can service more than 15 federal agencies and leading Fortune 500 firms, and why Information Experts has been named to the Inc 500/5000 three times in a row.  It’s all about the team, and I’m accountable to them to create an organizational culture that is healthy, fun, and safe.

In terms of an organization, what does the word “culture” mean? Does it mean behaviors, expectations, values, leadership, and vision? Yes – it means all of these. Does it mean brand, strategy, mentorship, accountability, mentorship, community, risk, and fun? Absolutely. These are just a few of the facets that define an organization’s culture.

Culture is basically the energy an employee feels when he or she spends 8 hours at work, or the “vibe” felt when he or she visits the office for the first time.

Here at Successful Culture, I’ll share with you my strategies for building a culture that will inspire your employees to give 110%, and stay committed to you through thick and thin.  I’ll also share with you some advice I’ve received along the way from some of the great culture experts and entrepreneurs of our time.

One of my favorite culture inspirers is Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. Zappos is legendary for its company culture, and even gives public tours so visitors can see how happy Zappos employees are.  Harvard Business Review posted an excellent blog about the Zappos culture (http://blogs.hbr.org/tjan/2010/07/four-lessons-on-culture-and-cu.html). I’ll summarize the three main points here.

1: Company culture needs to be started early and engrained often.  The holy grail of corporate culture is to create an organization so desirable that employees would work there for free – for the sheer enjoyment of it – if they could afford to do so. “”Take making money out as part of the motivation or equation, and then it’s all about working with people that you would enjoy hanging out with even if you weren’t working together,” said Hsieh.

At Information Experts, I’m proud to know that one of the most common factors behind employee happiness is the people. To quote a veteran employee, “The people I interact with on a daily basis truly make my job fun to come to everyday. Not only do I love working with these people, I love them as humans! For every challenging period I’ve experienced at Information Experts over the past 7 years, it’s these people that make it really difficult for me to make the decision to leave Information Experts behind. That just speaks well for Information Expert’s ability to attract/hire really top notch people.”

2: Core values, when established collectively, are an essential tool for organizational growth and success. The core values define the human experience of the organization – how people interact, what they can expect from one another, and how they will work together to fulfill the mission and vision of the organization.

3: Ultimately, it all boils down to the employees and the values they attach to themselves.  Zappos offers its new hires $2,000 to quit after the first week. The organization seeks to weed out people whose motivation is strictly financial, and to keep employees who value an exceptional work environment.

There must be an alignment between the organizational value system and an employee’s personal value system. An employee who is looking for a hard-charging, around-the-clock culture won’t appreciate or thrive in an organization that values work-life integration. One of our previous employees who came from a large management consulting firm known for 14-hour workdays actually brought a cot to the office for really late nights. When I saw that, I was a little unnerved. I explained to him that we don’t sleep at the office. It frustrated him that the work day ended no later than 6:00 PM, and started no earlier than 8:00 AM. He didn’t stay long at Information Experts.

What are your organization’s cultural traits? Is it hard-charging and intense? Or more laid back? Does your company value continuous learning? Encourage community service and philanthropy? Please share with us!

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