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Why We Value Culture

Blog | Building Culture   |   October 31, 2016

“I spend 50% of my time on building culture” says our CE Rachel Ong.

Rachel unapologetically proclaims that she spends more than half of her time building culture. One might think, “is she not supposed to be spending her time minding the business?” It may seem counterintuitive, but when she spends time on culture, she is building one of the most important aspects of our business.

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“The smartest leaders I’ve seen have quit creating plans that are longer than 3 to 6 months. Instead, they’ve put their energy into building a great team and a sustainable culture,” says William Vanderbloemen in the article Strategic Planning is Dead. “When the focus is on team, rather than a plan, 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.”

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 read comments about the CEO as part of their core research. It also helps them compare competitors.”

It has become clear that culture is necessary for long-term survival and growth. But for us at ROHEI, it is more than just an essential element of business.

Why do we at ROHEI think culture is important?

1. Culture is about people; and people are the most important part of your organization.

2. Culture is the unseen force that guides decisions, relationships, responses; determines how your organization will live out its mission.

3. Culture expresses the heart of a company and communicates even stronger than any external branding initiative can. Behind a strong brand and a business built to last is a strong culture.

Culture is about people; and people are the most important part of your organization. Click To Tweet

One example of a company that built a remarkable culture is Pixar. In the book Creativity, Inc., President of Pixar Animation Ed Catmull tells Pixar’s story, the long and arduous yet incredibly inspiring journey of building the right creative culture for the company. You’ve probably seen many of Pixar’s movies. They are wonderfully original, and each story manages to engage, entertain, and connect with every viewer. It is no accident—it’s the product of great leadership, an assembly of great talent and a culture nurtured and protected by leaders who understand its value. Here is an excerpt from the book’s introduction:

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.

It has always been my goal to create a culture at Pixar that will outlast its founding leaders—Steve (Jobs), John Lasseter, and me. But it is also my goal to share our underlying philosophies with other leaders and, frankly, with anyone who wrestles with the competing but necessarily complementary—forces of art and commerce.

My aim at Pixar—and at Disney Animation, which my longtime partner John Lasseter and I have also led since the Walt Disney Company acquired Pixar in 2006—has been to enable our people to do their best work. We start from the presumption that our people are talented and want to contribute. We accept that, without meaning to, our company is stifling that talent in myriad unseen ways. Finally, we try to identify those impediments and fix them.

My job as a manager is to create a fertile environment, keep it healthy, and watch for the things that undermine it. I believe, to my core, that everybody has the potential to be creative—whatever form that creativity takes—and that to encourage such development is a noble thing. More interesting to me, though, are the blocks that get in the way, often without us noticing, and hinder the creativity that resides within any thriving company.

The pursuit of culture is behind the success of great organizations. It’s about creating the best environment for your people to thrive. And when your people flourish, the organization soars.

Though the book is about an animation studio, the hurdles they faced and how they discovered unexpected roots of problems and issues, and the solutions they discovered, are applicable in any industry.

What are some ways that you, as a business leader or manager, can deliberately spend time on, to invest in culture?

1. Make time for it. Be intentional about scheduling for culture—assign time and a budget. But first you must agree with fellow leaders and teams about the importance of culture.

Example: At ROHEI, we spend two hours every Monday morning – this translates into a lot of man-hours, but it is not lost time. It is the reason we are able to give our best each week. It is a sacrifice that eventually multiplies what we do after that.

2. Ask questions. Talk to staff about what they are struggling with; while doing this you can already begin creating a culture of openness—tell them to be as open and candid without fear of judgment. You must also be prepared to hear things you don’t want to hear. Building culture takes courage. Have the courage to start difficult conversations.

Suggestion: Create an environment that is open and safe. For example you can invite a staff member for coffee, or just have a casual conversation in the hall. Start by voicing out your own struggles, demonstrating that it is safe to open up. Make it clear that the purpose of getting feedback is to make things better, allow them to share and contribute to your goal of constant improvement. Decide in advance how you will respond when you hear things you don’t like. Recognize that all emotions and opinions, good or bad, are valid. What’s important is how you respond to them and how they are dealt with. A helpful guide in handling difficult situations is Courageous Conversations, a 10-step process for working out difficult issues—whether in family or work relationships. The online course can be found here.

3. Focus on trust. Trust is built by creating relationships through an atmosphere of openness. To start with this you have to communicate that you trust your staff and that they are valued. Start by building relationships. Your staff need to know and feel that they can open up to you about difficult things; and that things that matter to them are important to you. And that you trust them.

Suggestion: Learn the Real8ability Factors (See me, Hear me, Understand me, Care for me, Appreciate me, Encourage me, Challenge me, Support me) You can study them more in-depth through this course. Apply them at the workplace. Take time to know what your staff members’ strengths are and give them more opportunities to take charge of certain projects or issues in ways that empower and encourage them.

We hope these suggestions will help you in your organization’s journey of building culture. If you need help or would like to sit down for a consultation on building culture for your organization, please contact us through this form here.

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