CULTURE IS THE NEW CURRENCY
"When strategy competes with culture, culture wins—every time."
Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother's Hands
Welcome back! Did you miss Week 1; catch up here.
This week is about culture, what it is and how we begin to create it. We'll reference this lesson over the next 11 weeks of the miniMBA to determine how to build our vision and grow our business. Culture and how we operationalize our values is a fundamental difference between this program and others. It is my all-time favorite lesson to teach. And this week, we'll look at some of the examples I used with my RISD students to preview the potential for expressing culture in our business. We'll learn from leaders outside of traditional corporate literature, such as Resmaa Menakem and Robin Wall Kimmerer, about how to think about culture in ways we're likely unfamiliar with. They'll help us understand this idea of congruency that I spoke of in Week 1—how to match our external messaging with our internal actions. They'll help us see a different approach to capitalism, one we've likely been blind to if we believe that capitalism is a necessary evil. They'll help us open our eyes to what's possible when we actually use our values to guide our actions.
Once we’ve taken the time to reflect on what’s happened in our company history, it’s time to dig into what we’re creating. And that starts with what lies at the core of everything we do: Our Company Culture.
Company culture is often misunderstood as perks like a pool table or company happy hour. It’s not that perks aren’t part of your culture, but they are not the totality of it.
Our company culture is the environment within which our business operates. Culture is a feeling, or as Beyonce said a vibe. It’s a collaborative experience created by you, the founder, and whomever you work with: employees, vendors, contractors, etc. Because it's a collaborative experience, it cannot be fixed. Culture is dynamic.
Our culture is created by our beliefs—Purpose—and actions—Values. As the field of economics is becoming increasingly focused on the specialty known as Behavioral Economics, it's no surprise that the way we behave within our companies is becoming more focused as a priority for growth.
PURPOSE = BELIEFS = WHY
Let’s start with our beliefs. Our Purpose statement tells us *why* our business exists. Simon Sinek is probably most well known for this idea. It's become a bit catchy to say things like "know your why" or "start with why." But purpose is so much more than a statement. It is your core motivation for launching and operating your business.
When I ask this question in class, the two most common answers I get are money and freedom. Which are great, and who doesn't want those things? But we have to dig deeper and know what your core motivations are beyond money and freedom because our purpose must be something that our employees and our customers can connect with and see themselves in as well. It must bring a sense of belonging.
I encourage you to use the "three levels of why" to get deep down to the bottom. Always ask yourself "why" three times after making a statement and see what is at the root of that statement. What we are trying to understand is why you are *the* person to bring this business into the world. What is so personal to you and your lived experience that makes this business unique?
Suppose we’re not thinking about *why* we do what we do. In that case, it’s easy to lose our way, to engage in extractive forms of capitalism, and find ourselves years into our entrepreneurial journey wondering how we ended up here. Our purpose will serve as a guiding light, a moral compass, and a mantra for regeneration—something of increasing importance as the entrepreneurship landscape rapidly evolves.
VALUES = ACTIONS = HOW
Now let’s talk about actions. Values tell us *how* we will behave within our business. If we’re clear on our motivation (Purpose), then we need to define the actions we prioritize to make that motivation a reality for us, our employees, and our customers.
There are no hard and fast rules about creating values; the more personal expression, the better. Some may be one word or phrases like at Daly, and yesterday, at RISD, I had a student want to write them in the form of questions and inquisitive statements. And I quite like how Rebecca Atwood wrote hers in the form of tensions.
One question that comes up when we start to define values is how do we keep our values from sounding trite? It’s simple. First, never let anyone define your values for you. Values and culture come from within. Truly meaningful cultures come from a willingness to sit with the unknown of the Self instead of seeking certainty outside of yourself. It's not to say a copywriter can't help to polish things up, but only you can know your truest values. Stay away from buzzwords. If you're picking words you think will resonate with a market, you will miss the opportunity for depth and genuine connection. Second, dig deep through your personal history and find the values that have been common threads throughout your life. This can be an inspiring and life-affirming exercise to know yourself on a deeper level and how you work. But then we must be clear. You are not your business; your business is a personal expression of your lived experience. We must know how to take those values and put them into the context of our business as a way for others to connect with us. Third, reflect on your creative process and where you find meaning. This can be an easy space for us to reflect on what actions we are already prioritizing in our daily work. And finally, consider the larger context of your business: what impact do you want to create in the world? Values are all about actions, and actions create impact. If we know what we want that impact to be we can backward engineer what value can make that a reality.
STARTING FROM WITHIN & CREATING CONGRUENCY
Why do we start with culture? Without conviction in our culture, it is almost impossible to create a consistent environment within our company and a nuanced plan for growth in our future. Our culture will be the lens through which we build our vision, our goals, our financial plan, our customer base, our marketing messaging, our marketing & sales planning, and all of our internal operations. With each aspect of planning, we want to know if it aligns with our values and if it creates the impact we desire. Some real-world lessons can help us understand what we mean by creating congruency and how we do it. It all starts with operationalizing, and not just stating, our values. Below are two examples I used with my RISD students to show how we might think about the difference between stating a value and actually operationalizing it. Consider these a preview for our work ahead.
Example #1: Land Acknowledgments versus Operating by the Principles of The Honorable Harvest
Recently, I have noticed an uptick in land acknowledgments with businesses. When I see this, I wonder how they operate internally based on this information. This is the key to congruency—what we preach externally in what might be known as our brand messaging is actually how we show up in our business—our company culture. To do this, we must operationalize our values. For land acknowledgments, I would imagine they fall under values like equity, inclusion, or sustainability. So how might we operationalize values such as those? We can begin by considering the Honorable Harvest guidelines written about by Robin Wall Kimmerer in Braiding Sweetgrass.
Some of these include:
- Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them. And sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever. In these statements, she may be referring to the land and plants and animals. In business, it's often easy for us to translate that into our own material resources. But, if you have employees, consider how you see them as the ones that take care of you, and you take care of them. Do you provide clear job descriptions, detailed training, above a living wage, and healthcare? We can expand our definition of what is to be cared for in the ecosystem of our business. (More on this in Week 6.)
- Take only what you need. This principle reminds me of Kate Raworth's teaching of Doughnut Economics. Doughnut Economics is a system for prioritizing regeneration over extraction. Again, we often immediately think of our material resources. But do you have a clear vision for what you are creating to know what needs to be done in production and sales to avoid extractive ways of working? It's not just about that sustainable raw material, it's about the whole process of how your business comes into the world. (More on this in Week 4.) Do you execute meticulous financial planning to understand what is "enough" money? Have you applied your values to your finances? In an era of growth at all costs and unicorns, we have lost a grounded sense of what it means as individuals to have enough. (More on this in Week 5.)
Example #2: Making a Statement About Anti-Racism versus Creating Culture Change
This is another particular area that is popular in messaging, but its values of it are rarely operationalized internally within companies. Anti-racism might be a value, and so might dignity and respect. How might we operationalize values such as those? Resmaa Menakem, the author of My Grandmother's Hands, writes profoundly about the importance of culture over strategy and calls out the essential aspects of creating culture. If you find yourself messaging about supporting anti-racism movements or holding some of those values I listed, think of Resmaa's guidelines and if your company is actually taking these actions. If so, you have created congruency and operationalized your values.
Some of these statements from Menakem include:
- (Have) clear roles, positions, titles, and ways of giving authority to leaders. Here again, we want to reflect if we are building out personnel tools like detailed job descriptions and clear organizational charts with clear growth pathways for development. Do we take the time to onboard people thoroughly and integrate them respectfully into the team? Why does that matter and how is it a foundational practice toward equity and inclusion? (More on this in Week 6.)
- Developing and uplifting elders (and eldership). And Creating a system for mentoring people. This builds off of the foundation we laid by building our tools. As founders, our role will always be to mentor our team, especially our leaders. I can appreciate Resmaa's reverence for elders and leadership in culture change. What does our company look like and feel like when leadership isn't designated by a title, but by an experience of growth? (More on this next week.)
- Culture Change takes place through consistency and repetition. Culture doesn't just happen. As I mentioned in the beginning, culture is dynamic and ever-evolving, and it needs attention and nurturing to evolve healthily. This happens through culture initiatives. Culture initiatives are often thought of as team-building events. But they are more than that. They are times outside of our day-to-day work when our team can come together and participate in an activity centered around our values. And if we're a solopreneur, we must be disciplined to do them ourselves. We might think team happy hour is enough to build culture, but it's just socialization. Culture initiatives expand our learning and understanding of the culture we want to build as a team. (More on this in Week 7.)
Both RWK and RM show us that values and culture are more than platitudes that live on our site or in our manual. They can help us understand that building culture isn't just good for business; it's good for the greater good of humankind. When you take this approach, you are invited to see capitalism completely differently, as a system. How we behave within that system has everything to do with our choices about how we will actualize our company culture.
But this week, start by defining your company's purpose and values. See the prompts below.
- Why did you start your business in the first place beyond money and freedom?
- Why does your customer care about that motivation?
- What impact do you want your company to have on your employees, vendors, contractors, and customers?
- What actions do you need to prioritize to create that impact?
- What values have been common threads throughout your personal and professional history?
- What values drive your creative life?
- Have you allowed others to define your values and purpose for you?
Head over to the Do section of the Resources page and download the Company Values Audit Worksheet.
Listen to Alex Daly on the pod speak about how Daly integrates values into everything it does.
Check out Stephen Tracy from Keap Candles and me talk about how to know your *why* on the Buffer Podcast: Small Business, Big Lessons.
And if you want to hear me speak more about point of view v. personality and the difference between cults and cultures, you can check out my conversation with Luis Mojica on the Holistic Life Navigation pod.
If you aren't familiar with the lessons of the Honorable Harvest, you can watch this short video from the Bioneers.
The Inward Migration in Apocalyptic Times
Nick Cave on Creativity & Originality
Jeet Kun Do & True Flow Bridging the Gap
Elizabeth Gilbert On Being
Why Read Peter Drucker
Richard Thaler Nobel Prize
Hilma af Klint Beyond the Visible
Simon Sinek TED - Why
Beauty Can Save The World
Good luck! We'll see you back here next Wednesday for Week 3: Leadership. If you have a colleague who should join us, they can sign up here.
LAST DAY TO REGISTER FOR BEYOND THE FEED!
If you're ready to implement a comprehensive marketing plan instead of trying to game an algorithm for growth, join us this fall for Beyond the Feed. It will be in-depth, intense ;), and full of valuable resources & perspectives. BTF launches on September 26th and runs through September 30th! Please see the full schedule and curriculum overview in the 2022 Program Manual. And if you're curious to read more about the program's philosophy and hear from students who have benefited, you can check that out here.
- Day 1 12pm-5:45pmEST
- LECTURE - BUSINESS GOALS - In the first class, we will clarify our business and marketing goals for growth so we ensure all of the strategies we choose build towards achieving our vision.
- GUEST WORKSHOP - Jaime Miller, OMD Worldwide
- STUDY HALL
- Day 2 12pm-5:45pmEST
- LECTURE - VITAL RELATIONSHIPS - This class will help us understand our customers on a deeper level—beyond demographics. We will use the concept of psychographics to identify strategic partners, key network relationships, and opportunities for growth beyond the feed.
- GUEST WORKSHOP - Harling Ross Anton & Matt Little, Nice Thing Going
- STUDY HALL
- Day 3 12pm-5:45pmEST
- LECTURE - CORE COMMUNICATION - Once we understand our customers on a deeper level and know who we need to connect to for growth, we'll discover how to shape our message based on benefits and the role our product or service plays in our customer's life.
- GUEST WORKSHOP - Marc Rabinowitz, Squarespace
- STUDY HALL
- Day 4 12pm-5:45pmEST
- LECTURE - AMPLIFICATION - Now that we know what we're trying to achieve, who we need to connect with, and how we want to communicate, we'll look at where the best place is to meet our customers that both align with our goals and their psychographics. We'll audit our platforms and look at opportunities beyond the feed—both online and IRL—to build our strategies for growth.
- GUEST WORKSHOP - Alex Daly & Hailey Murphy, Daly Communications
- STUDY HALL
- Day 5 12pm-5:45pmEST
- GUEST WORKSHOP - Isabella Giancarlo, Tart Studio
- GUEST WORKSHOP - Emma Grace Moon, Affiliate Marketing Consultant
- CLOSING REMARKS - Wrapping up the week.
- STORY SHOWCASE - The last day will include an opportunity to share your key takeaways with a small group of your peers.
The Standard fee is $1500. All fees are non-refundable. You may also include team members for an additional. $500.
To register, email me! email@example.com
For full details including more history, the benefits of the program, what you'll. take away and FAQs, check out the 2022 Program Manual.
LAST ZOOM BOOKCLUB OF THE YEAR!
This November, we'll read Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by Adrienne Marie Brown. This free event will be hosted on Tuesday, November 29th at 7PMEST via Zoom. Please email me to register.
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