Every good leader knows the importance of Company Culture, but yet it seems to be a fuzzy and intangible sort of concept. We know it when we feel it. Yet Culture develops constantly, and is something leaders have a role in actively shaping.
When we launched the OgilvyDMA, Rob Hill and Gavin Levinsohn said my primary objective was to help "geekify" the Ogilvy Cape Town culture and the industry. So, to make sense of Culture in organisations for myself, and to give myself something tangible to work with, I wrote a model for understanding company culture that I’d like to share with you.
The acronym is PARTS, and the thinking behind it is that culture as a broad concept can be managed and worked on by analysing each component (part) and designing a solution to align that component towards where you want to grow your culture. I'm sure this approach will be particularly appealing to coders and engineers.
So, here are the PARTS:
Company values aren’t something that you just write down and forget about, they should be reflected in what behaviours you reward. In who you hire, promote and let go. To shift your culture, identify a group of people who behave in a way that builds the culture you want to develop.
For example, Zappos offers new staff $1000 if they quit in the first two weeks. The thinking is that if they take the offer, they weren't a good fit for the company anyway.
How do the objects and spaces of your company reflect your values. We’re looking here for tangible evidence what what your propound to be your company values. If you say you’re digitally progressive, then do you subsidise staff to get the latest gadgets? If you say you’re green, then do you have bike-racks to encourage alternative transport? if you’re into minimalist design, then do your retail spaces reflect this? What slogans do the t-shirts you give out say? What art do you display? How are employees rewarded - what gifts do they get?
For example, Amazon reminds people of their value of frugality through the use of door-desks throughout the company.
The things a company does regularly become a signal of their culture. The rituals can be small or large, everything from how you on-board staff to how you handle daily meetings.
For example, Ogilvy hosts a regular “How-To Friday” session where people who have done something extraordinary share how they did it. This signals the company’s long-term commitment to innovation.
How do you equip your people to do their work in a way that reflects company culture. If you say you value openness and trust, then do you trust your staff enough to let them have access to social media at work. To quote Marshal McLuhan “We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us”. Access to technology shapes the nature and pace of an organisation’s work, and has a significant impact on culture.
To understand the cultural significance of the software we use, just consider the difference in the kind of interaction you get on dumb-phone vs smartphone, Facebook vs Twitter, Email vs WhatsApp, and consider how each of those changed the way you relate to the people you connect with on those platforms.
Great leaders simplify complex message in a way that they are easy to understand, relate to and apply. Often times a team or a culture are built around a single mythology, parable or anecdote that inspires the team and reflects the company values. Have you got yours, and are you telling it vividly?
I’m a fan of Ogilvy’s Big IdeaL concept: that great brands might have many great ideas, but they should be harmonised by a Big IdeaL. For example, Coca Cola is about Optimism. Nike believes “everyone is an athlete”. Dove wants to women to feel good about themselves. So there’s this big cultural value they promote, and then they tell stories to illustrate that value, rather than just drumming on about the value itself. Also, the stories they tell are simple and clear about their purpose. Stories are persuasive to the extent they can vividly illustrate a concept rather than telling us about it directly, and cultural values are transmitted through great stories.
So there you have it. To understand company culture, understand the PARTS of it.
So I hope this model is useful for you if you're interested in tackling the issue of culture in your company. I've written a longer piece on this focusing on Digital Culture building for an upcoming HR book being published by Knowledge Resources later this year.