Buying Into Company Culture

October 4, 2022 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

Over the last seven months, we’ve shared our thoughts here on the seven foundational elements needed to build a lasting and meaningful company culture and why we believe they are so important. There’s little question safety, vulnerability, purpose, belonging, creativity, connection, and North Star leadership are crucial to creating the kind of company culture that attracts and keeps top level talent. Just look at any of the hundreds of articles about last year’s “Great Resignation.” As you’ve no doubt read, 25 percent of the American workforce changed jobs last year. Another 70 percent were thinking about it. That’s cultural.

When you consider your career, there’s what you do and there’s where you do it. Both can be affected by company culture. But for the sake of this discussion, we’re looking more at the environment and personal interactions that define company culture. Nobody buys into an abstract idea.

How do you get your team to buy into and help curate your company culture? You give them something to believe in.

It starts with meaning.

In a 2019 Forbes article about purpose at work, author Samantha Todd-Ryan noted that over our careers, we spend roughly 90,000 hours at work. That’s 9x the amount of time required to achieve mastery of something according to the 1973 American Scientist paper by researchers Herbert Simon and William Chase, later echoed by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers.” Ten thousand hours is a lot of time. Ninety thousand is a lifetime and that’s just time we spend on the job. Here’s the rub – according to a HubSpot study Todd-Ryan quotes, “9 in 10 workers would take a pay cut if it meant having the opportunity to participate in more purposeful work.” That certainly sheds some light on “the Great Resignation.”

Study after study after study shows people want to feel the work they are doing is meaningful. And, that they want to spend their careers in a place that values both who they are and the work they provide. Again, that’s cultural. Too often, companies trot out open floor plans with gourmet taco bars and chair massages on Friday and rave about how great their company culture is. But that’s their definition of great company culture. Not their employees’.

Let’s get real.

A company culture that fails to deliver a sense of purpose (or safety, or vulnerability, or belonging, connection, creativity, or clear leadership) is hollow at best and toxic at worst. Just as challenger brands have to start with a core, authentic brand truth, companies that want to leverage their culture to get ahead have to build on genuine, inclusive, and supportive pillars rather than on what’s cool or trendy.

It’s not that ping pong tables and 24/7 kegerators don’t have their place. They’re clearly more fun than vulnerability and safety. The key is balance and not just relying on fun to keep your staff engaged. Truthfully, that’s not really what they want either. We’re running businesses, not kindergartens. At the end of the day, we all have work that needs to get done and done well.

A positive, unified company culture is the catalyst that adds meaning to work and gives us all a belief that we’re working toward something bigger than ourselves.

Great company cultures matter. The big question, is how do we get everyone to buy in?

5 Steps to company culture buy in.

One of the most quoted examples in Jim Collins’ seminal book on excellence, Good To Great, concerns the importance of “getting the right people on the bus” and then “getting those people in the right seats.” That’s crucially important. But to continue the metaphor, so is figuring out what the bus should look and feel like, determining where it’s ultimately going, and making sure everyone on the bus is excited about going there. It’s not always easy to get everyone rowing in the same direction culturally. But when it comes to building and curating your company culture, it’s crucial you do. Here are five ways to help make that easier:

1. Include your team in the process

Yes, you’re a leader. But that doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers. Company culture works best when everyone is involved. For starters, company culture is fluid. In addition to its normal ebbing and flowing, you also have employees constantly entering or exiting your culture which affects it as well. Giving your team the opportunity to make suggestions, call out what’s not working, and hold each other accountable is far more effective than dictating a culture that has to be followed. Empower your people to be builders and then watch what they build.

2. Congruence

Congruence is the great key to building trust. If what you say and what you do perfectly align, people will learn to trust you. Nowhere is this truer than in a company culture. There are plenty of companies that talk a good game. And if that’s all it is, their culture is destined to fall apart. When you make good on the things you promise – even when things get hard – people buy in. They’re more understanding. And in our experience, they work harder to make things better.

3. Pay extra attention to newbies

When you’ve had a thriving company culture for years or even decades, it’s easy to forget that not everyone has been there for the entire ride. Company cultures have their own institutional knowledge and for new employees, an established company culture can be a bit intimidating. Intentionally, or not, companies develop a shorthand. Many of us have years of shared experiences newer employees simply don’t have. One of the keys to a great company culture is remembering to pay extra attention to employees who are first joining you for as much as the first year. Connection and belonging are foundational elements for building a great company culture and this is often where their greatest opportunities lie.

4. Constant review

If you want your team to buy into your company culture it cannot be an afterthought. It can’t be something you discuss once a year. And it cannot be something addressed with passive communication.

Building a transcendent company culture requires that it be an organic part of your ecosystem.

At LOOMIS, we hold quarterly “blueprint meetings” and have for 20 years. In them, we discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly (mostly good) and that always includes a discussion around our company culture. How are people feeling? Is there anything we feel needs addressing? We reiterate our purpose. Leadership opens ourselves up for questions. We actively look for ways to connect. We do the same in abbreviated in person “around the rail” meetings every Wednesday morning. Great cultures are ever present. That’s how good things become great, and little issues are fixed before they grow out of control.

5. Embrace evolution

Finally, it’s important to remember your company culture is going to change. Not necessarily for better, or for worse. From time to time, it will just be different, and that’s a good thing. Evolution is normal and positive. When a company culture becomes more inclusive, that’s good. When a company culture becomes more diverse, that’s also good. Your company culture has to be a living, breathing part of your organization. The Dead Sea is dead because the Jordan River flows into it and stops. Every company culture needs a fresh stream flowing through it at all times. New perspectives. New ideas. Leaders at every level taking the time and energy to look at your company, your work, your clients, your culture, and yes, your leadership, with both the permission and encouragement to raise their hands and suggest something better. That’s company culture at its best. If we’re going to spend 90,000 hours together, as leaders, it’s imperative we make that the very best experience possible.

MIKE SULLIVAN is president and CEO at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising, and marketing, leadership, culture, and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

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Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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