“I spend 50% of my time on building culture,” says ROHEI’s Chief Executive Rachel Ong.
This may strike most organisational leaders as a large proportion of their precious time, but in this age of disruption, culture is a more pressing need than ever. Culture can shed light on where a business is going, better than a 5-year plan can.
“The smartest leaders … put their energy into building a great team and a sustainable culture,” says William Vanderbloemen in the Forbes article Strategic Planning is Dead.
“When the focus is on team…. it becomes much easier to adapt at a moment’s notice to the ever-shifting technology landscape. Finding people who are creative and capable in multiple roles and capacities means you don’t have to stress over the structure of your business. By hiring for culture and capability, you free yourself up to change the structure of your company as things continue to change. The structure of your company can always be whatever is most effective for the current market. Agile people make up a capable company,” Vanderbloemen explained.
Josh Bersin, in the article Culture: why it’s the hot topic today, says “People now believe that culture has a direct impact on financial performance. I just talked with two industry analysts who read Glassdoor comments before they publish analyst reports. Both told me they use this data to understand employee sentiment and read comments about the CEO as part of their core research. It also helps them compare competitors.”
The book Creativity Inc. tells the story of Pixar’s long and arduous journey through flops and creative disasters, toward blockbuster successes. President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation Ed Catmull—the book’s author—shares, “My desire to protect Pixar from the forces that ruin so many businesses gave me renewed focus. I began to see my role as a leader more clearly. I would devote myself to learning how to build not just a successful company but a sustainable creative culture.”
Culture is key to long-term survival and growth—in every industry. From tech to finance, to creative. Every CEO recognises the need for a great company culture, to survive and thrive.
And there is no single formula for a great culture. Some organisations lean towards being highly creative (Pixar, Adobe) innovative (Google, Microsoft), while some are highly disciplined, focusing on quality and excellence (Salesforce, Intuit). What do all these great company cultures have in common?
High Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety, an article by Harvard Business Review, concludes that “the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety, the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake. Studies show that psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off — just the types of behavior that lead to market breakthroughs.”
Psychological safety is created by building trust. Adobe, Google, Salesforce, Intuit—these companies have been repeatedly listed in the annual Great Place to Worklist of Best Workplaces, which measures a company’s trust index as one of three major criteria for assessment of company culture.
Trust is the key ingredient
“There’s no team without trust,” says Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google, as quoted in High Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety.
The article’s author Laura Delizonna explains, “When the workplace feels challenging but not threatening, teams can sustain the broaden-and-build mode. Oxytocin levels in our brains rise, eliciting trust and trust-making behavior. This is a huge factor in team success, as Santagata attests: ‘In Google’s fast-paced, highly demanding environment, our success hinges on the ability to take risks and be vulnerable in front of peers.’”
Global management consulting firm McKinsey shares similar conclusions in their piece on Leadership and Innovation at Mckinsey.com, advising leaders to “take explicit steps to foster an innovation culture based on trust among employees. In such a culture, people understand that their ideas are valued, trust that it is safe to express those ideas, and oversee risk collectively, together with their managers. Such an environment can be more effective than monetary incentives in sustaining innovation.”
Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi does more than talk about trust. He demonstrates it. The Inc article, In Just 8 Words, Uber's New CEO Gave a Master Class in Leadership, says: “By admitting to his understandable terror with eight simple words—I have to tell you I am scared—Khosrowshahi expresses just the sort of vulnerability that kills shame and allows a team to trust that if they also experience failure and fear..., their leader will understand and support them.”
C-suite Coach Mark Lefko quotes Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff in his book Global Sustainability. In response to “why Salesforce thinks that building trust with its employees matters,” Benioff said: "This is our culture. That is, we are a company that’s committed to four things: One—trust, the trust with our customers, employees, and partners. Two—growth, because in the tech industry, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. Three—innovation; because we’re a technology company, we’re constantly innovating and delivering next-generation capability. And four—equality; we believe in equality for all, and we’re willing to dedicate part of our time to our mission to help those who are less fortunate than we are."
“Employees who feel secure in their jobs, who feel respected and trusted, will go to surprising lengths to earn and keep their employers’ respect. In short, happy employees are more productive employees,” Lefko says in Why Trust and Equality are the Pillars of Sustainable Business.
“Trust has to be the highest value in your company,” Marc Beinoff was quoted in a panel discussion hosted by the World Economic Forum. “What is the most important thing in your company – is it trust or is it growth? If anything trumps trust, we are in trouble...You have to choose what is really important to you. We are in a new world... and trust better be number one.”