Ground Roots Culture

By Valentina Borbone as published in the ADMA blog.

As Zuni celebrates its 4th birthday, I’m reflecting on where we’ve come from and looking forward to where we’re headed. The main thing that has changed is the people. This made me think about each individual, their personal motivation levers and their contribution to the culture of our business.

What IS culture exactly?

The more I read about culture, the more confused I am about what it really is. I’ve always been a ‘culture-creator’, so it interests me to see developments in culture. A quick Wiki check reveals Culture is a word for people’s ‘way of life’, meaning the way groups do things. Different groups of people may have different cultures. It got me thinking, and reading. So I started with 6 tips for improving your culture. Check. Better still, these 9 critical steps to successful culture change confirmed that perhaps I’m not too far away from the end goal. (Highly recommend the 9 critical steps read, it’s peppered throughout this post.) In the very early days we were clear about what we wanted to be and what we DIDN’T want to be. We wanted to work hard, but not to the sacrifice of families; we wanted collaboration but not death by committee; we wanted to work autonomously, but not in silos. We knew what we wanted the culture to be, but we had to find a way to express that.

Do you need a documented culture?

As a small business, culture is one of the key things I’ve got to attract and retain talent. Sure, the work is pretty important, but if the culture is toxic then staff motivation will not be high. I wanted to dissect it and make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make this a great culture to be part of.  I should stipulate that I’m writing as a business owner, but I’ve also been an employee of many a business so I do understand both sides of the coin. When we started our business, we tried a moderated take on culture from Netflix. We liked what they said, perhaps just didn’t agree with the way it was said. Let’s face it, if it could transform culture in an organisation as big as Netflix, then as a team of 7, we’d be sweet. Right? After presenting our watered-down Netflix-esque version to the team a few years back, the feedback was consistent – something along the lines of: “sounds like your job is always on the line.”   My immediate thought? Perhaps it was the way it was said. I thought I was clear in explaining the behaviours that demonstrated the culture but it turned out that certain individuals saw these as a threat. It appeared as a threat because there was no buy-in from the beginning, and there was no opportunity to shape the behaviours the team were being expected to demonstrate. Culture is Collaborative If culture is the way we do things around here, then culture is intrinsically tied to company values and your team need to not only be part of the definition and in agreement with those values, but also be held accountable for their embodiment.  I’m quite happy to admit to my mistakes, as I want to learn from them, so admitting my first mistake:  our cultural values were created in isolation from the team; it was a management directive and it was the wrong approach. I don’t profess to get it right every time and it’s a constant work in progress. Like a baby, culture grows and develops over time. If your group/team changes, then you can expect the culture to change with it if the expected behaviours, benefits and ramifications aren’t clear. Culture is Empowerment It’s common knowledge that with collaboration, there is ownership.  In turn, ownership drives empowerment.  Upon reflection, I’ve decided to workshop our cultural values rather than roll out the original ones. I want to hear from our team about what they value day to day and marry this to what the company values represent. Culture is Action If you want the best culture for your business, then yes, there are some things you can do, (don’t forget I’m writing as a business owner). Most people will tell you that the culture is created by the boss/management team, but it’s not, they simply have a role to play. You need to listen to your team, and I don’t mean just nodding along. If your team don’t feel valued, appreciated or trusted, respected, supported or secure, or if the work they are doing is meaningless or fruitless, their culture contribution will be cancerous. Once you’ve listened, you need to also act and lead by example. Culture is created, maintained and evolved by the people living and breathing the way things are done. So if you don’t like the culture of where you’re at, perhaps you need to ask yourself if you contributed to that culture, and more importantly, what are you, as an individual, going to do about it? And that’s for both sides of the fence – business owners, managers and even office juniors – we are all contributing to the culture and we’re accountable for it, because that’s the way we do things around here, remember? Does this resonate with you in any way? Or perhaps you do things differently and are seeing great results? Tell me, tell me, tell me! Image credit to ADMA –


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