Purpose-Driven Company Culture Starts With The Board

valuesAs shock and disgust build along with the #metoo movement, women and men from all walks of life are sharing more and more disclosures of sexual harassment and uninvited advances. In light of this, companies large and small should take this as a wakeup call and ask themselves how could this happen? And could it happen here?

There is likely a mission statement and an “our company values” description at the Weinstein Company, NBCUniversal’s values statement publicly states “We champion an inclusive culture and strive to attract and develop a diverse, talented workforce to create and deliver a spectrum of content reflecting the current and changing face of the world” so how were corporate values so brutally abused? In simplest terms, there are two types of corporate cultures: self-centric and purpose-driven.

Self-centric cultures evolve over time and celebrate individual achievements. In these cultural environments, executives place emphasis on employees meeting their numbers at any cost. As a result, these cultures grow like a fungus. Lists of rules are generally ignored as employees minimize their relevance in order to do whatever it takes to make the sale, make their numbers, and get recognition from their superiors.

“Culture needs to be designed based on your values and practiced on a regular basis by all members of your team.”

On the other hand, there is purpose-driven culture where the organization focuses on creating value among their people in a meaningful way. Companies with purpose-driven cultures maintain a core values system of which employees are proud. This type of culture evolves based on employees’ own moral compasses and introduces an ethical or meaningful dimension to KPI. It becomes more about “what I want to do” vs. “what I have to do.”

The former was and, unfortunately, still is the leading culture in many organizations. Despite all the values statements on the walls of those corporate offices, their reality is very different. Those values are being chipped away through daily compromises and winks to “superstar” executives, indicating to them that those values don’t necessarily apply to them, especially after they’ve brought that huge deal. Such was the case with the Weinstein Company. Harvey Weinstein’s scandals were said to have been the worst-kept secret in Hollywood. People knew and joked them about for years, but nothing was ever done until the situation became a PR fiasco. The company then severed ties with him in a cynical exploitation of culture.

It boils down to the simple truth that given the choice between making their numbers or living their values, most companies will focus on making the numbers at the expense of their values. As such, culture is not central to what they do and how they get things done. Instead, companies should be living by their values and acting on them. But how do you know whether your company is self-centric or purpose-driven?

  • Willing to Say “No” – Ask yourself what you’ll say “no” to or what deals you’ll turn down because of your company’s culture. Would you refuse business based on the fact that your culture would not support it?
  • Sharing Pride – Are your people proud to be part of your culture and share your values?
  • Participating in Training – Does your organization conduct training as an obligation or as a celebration of who you are and what you do?
  • Demonstrating Buy-In – Do your employees act in a way that shows that they are bought-in to your organization’s culture?
  • Celebrating Culture – How often do you celebrate your culture, if at all? Culture and values should be celebrated every year or as often as making numbers is

I propose that culture ought to be integral to the way we do business. It is not merely a “nice to have” HR initiative. The moment you compromise on your values and cut corners for the sake of your “superstars,” you fundamentally give those “superstars” permission to do whatever they want and thereby miss the boat on culture.

Culture needs to be designed based on your values and practiced on a regular basis by all members of your team. Most of all, it needs to be litmus tested to ensure that decisions will be made by the cultural guidelines that have been established within your organization. Culture must affect decisions to be real, and in turn, the decision you make will impact your culture. And when your purpose is at the center of your culture, you can communicate to your investors precisely who you are and what you stand for.