Not Tryna Kill Your Buzz(words), But What Does Your Culture Code Really Mean?
Companies such as Netflix and HubSpot have popularized the idea of consolidating their corporate mission and values statements into so called “culture codes.” These culture codes have defined their employees as being anything from “fearless” to “pioneers” to “unfiltered.” Many other companies have started to follow suit in an effort to clearly define who they are and attract like-minded new talent. While the exercise of creating your own internal culture code is certainly valuable, when used or launched incorrectly, a culture code can potentially do more harm than good. Is your code slightly aspirational or does it realistically represent who you are as an organization today? Does your code potentially limit the diversity of people who can thrive in your company, leading to a stifling of innovation? Finally, do you envision your culture code resonating consistently through the inevitable changes that organizations face through growth and shifts in leadership?
Aspiration vs. Reality
Throwing words on a wall or reciting your company’s catchphrases to new hires doesn’t really equate to the reality of what you truly are invested in. As put by executive coach, Dr.Cameron Sepah, the bottom line is that your culture is ultimately who you hire, fire, or promote. If your company openly communicates that it values work/ life balance, but it continuously only promotes employees who clock 70 hour weeks, your employees will quickly catch wind of the hypocrisy. You don’t want to be the company that “values diversity” but has a very homogenous group of people as key influencers. Additionally, make sure that your core values are ones that can actually be quantified and operationalized, instead of resorting to buzzwords that would be better suited for a dating service. When companies claim to be “humble” or “remarkable”, what does that mean in practice?
Organic vs. Calculated
There is a slight irony to the very concept of a “culture” code, as culture is rarely ever dictated from a predetermined set of rules. It usually stems from an organic set of practices that, over time, collectively become the norm. Another trend we see, is “culture fit” interviews throughout the hiring process, which can actually hinder your diversity and be used as a shield for discrimination. While it is clearly important to seek employees that share your own values and practices, too often we are afraid of those who are different. Before quickly dismissing candidates as cultural misfits, it’s worth reflecting on whether race, gender, age, education, or sexual orientation played a role in that judgement. After all, many of the values we choose to include in a culture code stem from environmental factors from our upbringing. Those who are from different backgrounds may actually have similar or even exactly the same values, but express them in different ways.
Preservation vs. Growth
Finally, as we have seen throughout the course of history, culture tends to constantly evolve, which is a great thing! You run the risk of stagnating that evolution when you enforce a set of principles. There is irony in promoting a value such as “disciplined risk taking”, and then limiting your transformation by abiding by a set of concrete rules. It is especially difficult when members of the executive team who are hired do not reflect the corporate culture that is defined in your code, as they are likely to have large influence in shaping the future and mindset of your company. Organizations choose to communicate these rules in an effort to hold on to who they have agreed to be, but the reality is that that these very organizations will most likely be forced to constantly change.
This is not to say that culture codes shouldn’t be written — they absolutely should. They are monumentally useful in helping people find work environments that align with their own values. Companies will see higher levels of engagement and retention from their new hires as a result of this alignment. With a greater percentage of your workforce invested your goals, your employees are likely to stick around longer as will those values that initially attracted them. However, it’s just as crucial that these values are truly embodied at all levels of the hierarchy, integrated into all aspects of decision making, and written to be cognizant of the diversity that organizations should strive to support.