Don’t Forget About Your Company’s Best Ally: Culture

Do you work for a startup company that is forming its business foundation? A mid-size company experiencing growing pains as they scale-up? Or a large company hoping to make a major organizational shift?  At all levels, you may be focusing on the numbers, the what and the how; but are you remembering to think about the why? At the core of your business lies the company’s mission, values, and culture. Every leader in the company surely knows the why — why did we open, why is what we do important, and the why behind each and every thing that we do.  Too frequently though, this simple why is not a part of a company’s process. This blog will break this down into three simple steps crucial to leading your company through challenges that you may be facing, with culture as your key ally in the process.

Step 1) Align: You – the leader – are facing a dilemma. Before you act, first look at the why. As a leader, you eat, sleep and breathe the mission, values, and strategy of your company, but have you thought about this dilemma in the context of the bigger issues? Too often we approach a micro-problem with a micro-solution, when really, this small problem is an indicator of an opportunity for a macro-solution. Take for example, in the context of a growing startup, an employee who is complaining about not knowing the guy who works across the desk from him. Your knee-jerk solution might involve introducing the two. Consider, however, that this may be an indicator of something more going on;  could it be a micro-example of the growing pains that your small business is experiencing as the culture of the company is changing?  Is this evolving work culture in alignment with your company’s strategy?  Before reacting to this scenario, you have the opportunity to reflect on the challenges of growth that your startup is facing and what cultural implications these may have.

Step 2) Ask: Our earlier example feeds nicely into step two. You need to take inventory of the rest of your employees. How is the growth feeling from their perspectives? What is their perception of the company’s culture?  In fact, from a social constructivist point-of-view, the company’s culture is defined – even created – by the mutual understanding of your company’s social values across employees. You really need to know the culture, inside and out, and employee engagement is fundamental to this understanding.  Don’t forget to find out the good along with the bad; it is all a part of the organizational culture and will be important in our last step.

Step 3) Adapt: The last step is to evaluate and decide how to evolve as a company. If your business is changing, maybe it’s necessary to accept the hard realization that the culture you started with might just need to change too. Or, on the contrary, if your original culture is still key to your company’s mission and values, then maybe you don’t need to change the culture but instead must figure out how to sustain it within your growing company. Whichever direction you go, realize that a company is never static, and neither is its culture. Cultural adaptability could be the missing puzzle piece for how your startup can grow, but to find that piece, you must start from step one.

Now that you understand these three steps, bring them to whatever dilemma your company is facing and view it with a fresh perspective. You have the opportunity to influence your company’s culture in a way that will reinforce your company’s mission, values and strategy. The result? A long-lasting company with a differentiated and ever-evolving organizational culture.

This blog was inspired by a class assignment developed for the Management Individuals and Organizational (MGMT612) course lead by Dr. Reut Livne-Tarandach.

Written by Leah Wheeler

Leah is a 2018 MBA from the Lundquist School of Business at the University of Oregon. Her interest in integrating sustainability into common business practices led her to choose the Center for Sustainable Business Practices, ranked #1 Green MBA. Originally from Washington, she graduated from Whitman College with a degree in Economics then worked in healthcare management for the majority of her career. After her MBA, she plans on combining her work experience in management with her passion for socially and environmentally responsible business practices by working for a company that shares her values.