There are a lot of words spoken, ink spilled and brain cycles expended on the concept of culture in a business. The topic is important because, as we all know, culture trumps procedures every time. It doesn’t matter what the Policy and Procedure manuals say, people do what is expected by and acceptable in the culture. Recently, I came across this quotation:
“Building a great company means, creating something that is slightly more than a business and slightly less than a religion.” — Greig Clark
Let’s parse that a bit.
Slightly less than a religion
Most religions have a fairly well defined and “fixed” view of the world. If that view changes at all, it changes at an extremely slow pace. Of course, that cannot be allowed in business — especially today. We have to have our people thinking for themselves, making fast thoughtful decisions, moving us forward and learning from the results. Approaching and/or trying to solve problems in a dogmatic way will be a disservice to the organization.
Like a religion, we want our corporate vision and values to be the ground on which those decisions are made. In the beginning, those values and vision are those of the founder. As the business grows, there must be a concerted effort to manage the culture. There must be clarity that decisions are made based on values rather than “prescriptions” and a solid belief that the vision is the right vision (for all stakeholders). There is a conviction that the values, if lived, are the best way to reach the vision.
More than a business implies that there are things that are just as important as the numbers. Sure, the numbers are important since, without a healthy company, the vision cannot be achieved. Yet, in a great business, we aren’t willing to win at all costs but rather consider how we win to be just as important.
Remembering that, as Simon Sinek put it, people buy WHY we do what we do, NOT WHAT we do. And making the shareholders rich is not a WHY that is of interest to anyone other than the shareholders. Paying attention to the economics of the business at the expense of other considerations is NOT what great companies do. The stakeholders are interested in the triple bottom line (Economic, Environmental, Social).
As of this writing there are some 20 States in the U.S. that have set up the legal entity known as a “B” corporation (Benefit Corporation). This entity is the same in most respects to that of a normal for-profit “C” corporation with the difference that the charter (or articles of incorporation) allows for the company to use assets for the benefit of the community and not solely for increasing shareholder value. Traditionally, as long as a company stayed private and closely held, there were no issues in attending to the community. But once a corporation goes public, the fiduciary responsibility of the board is to maximize shareholder value. That narrow view of what a corporation is supposed to be is what keeps some companies from achieving greatness.
A larger vision
Businesses will be facing many interesting and challenging decisions as time goes on. From how much to automate and displace worker/consumers to determining what business they actually are in. Do they provide healthcare or is that not part of their core business? Do they hire full time workers or is it better for everyone involved to use independent contractors in order to quickly respond to market changes? Is it effective to have large offices or should they move to a more “virtual” workforce, or perhaps a time-shared work-space?