Before software began to eat the world, before the great speed-up, and before remote work was the norm, business was easier to predict. Productivity was high, turnover was low, and managers kept employees happy by simply paying more at every annual review. A title bump is on its way if you keep working harder. Back then, the rule of the ladder was simple: climb straight up and you’ll succeed. Any other route was perilous. Change of career? Start over. Having a baby? Try again. Spend too much time with family? Do not pass go. This linear thinking was prevalent in the larger market, too.
Back then the enterprise’s mantra was “beat the competition by any means necessary,” and the equation was simple: advertise more, charge more, sell more, win. And it worked. After all, empires were built on overpriced printer ink.
Fast-forward to today. Hyper-connectivity and hyperactivity mean that an unhappy customer armed with only a YouTube channel and a respectable following can flap his wings in China and cause a PR hurricane in Chicago. In this climate, culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage businesses have. And purposefully designing it is the only way to survive the knockabout, drag-down world of business. From here on out culture rules, and it is everyone’s job.
Regardless if your title is chief executive officer, senior manager, associate, or contractor, every choice you make affects your organization’s culture. Mastery will require not just assigning one person to be responsible for the care and upkeep, but a team dedicated to the task of its support and implementation. Culture isn’t a problem to be solved—it’s a business function to be supported, evaluated, and applied.
Firms can no longer solely rely on the competitive advantages that are de rigueur in a business directory. Suing to protect intellectual property? By the time you lawyer up, the next algorithm is already doing it better. Business has changed so radically, even the war for the best and the brightest isn’t one you can win—at least not with dollars and donuts.
As corporate life cycles and markets accelerate, leaders must grapple with how to create an ecosystem of intrinsically motivated employees who work together for the benefit of the company, their team, and each other. Business leaders now know that they need an outstanding company culture to find, keep, and engage the best employees. What they don’t know is how.
What will it take to be a place where people not only want to work, but love to work? A persistent and consistent commitment to designing culture. Persistent because culture is a core business capability. If it’s simply thought of as this year’s priority, it will inevitably be usurped by the next SEO Services business imperative that comes along. Consistent because the best solutions come from constraints. Design is messy. Imagining, creating, and implementing something new is hard, particularly in business. (Just ask any executive who has attempted to build an innovation team.) But by having a consistent system in which to work, the tasks become much more understandable. And doable.