Are We On Track for Building the Six Components of Great Corporate Culture?

View from the wooden covered bridge over the Speed River in Guelph, Ontario

By Don Richardson, Managing Partner, Shared Value Solutions Ltd.

Corporate visions and policies don’t have to be boring!!! In business, we get to create the corporate culture, and we get to live it, every single day. We can create bland, ugly, soul-destroying cubicle corporate culture or we can create remarkable, fun and authentic corporate culture. Culture doesn’t happen – we create it.

In a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, John Coleman describes “Six Components of a Great Corporate Culture”: Vision, Values, Practices, People, Narrative, and Place.

We’re in the midst of drafting our corporate vision and a series of supporting policies. We’re actively creating our corporate culture.

After reading Coleman's ideas, I thought it would be a good exercise to compare our emerging corporate culture to his six components of "great corporate culture". To do this, I draw on our current draft Corporate Vision Statement, crafted by Scott Mackay and Laura Taylor. Scott and Laura have (wonderfully) managed to summarize our thoughts from a series of internal workshops and conversations, and the stories we tell to each other, our families, our friends and our clients.

1. Vision. A great culture starts with a vision or mission statement that orients every decision employees make. Coleman says that “when they are deeply authentic and prominently displayed, good vision statements can even help orient customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders”. Our Mission Statement is: Have Fun - Make Money - Do Good - Do Good Work. Our vision is in our name: We believe shared value is real. In a few short months we have become a recognized leader in Canada for creating shared social, economic, and environmental value - resulting in our involvement in many of the most pivotal Ontario/Canadian development projects and issues of our time. Our vision seems to have connected.

2. Values. Coleman believes that while a vision articulates a company's purpose, “values offer a set of guidelines on the behaviours and mindsets needed to achieve that vision.” We believe we have a funky, flexible, unbounded corporate culture that generates a high level of performance, initiative, job satisfaction, creativity, and loyalty among a group of self-motivated and creative employees. We share in the risks and rewards of our work by partnering or joint venturing with our clients or other parties to advance the interests of our clients, to create shared value, and to advance our own long-term interests in creating a stable, diverse revenue stream. Central to our values is our client-centred approach - a continuous effort to see things from the client's perspective, to understand their organizational and political universe and provide unparalleled responsiveness and flexibility to meet client needs.

3. Practices. The day-to-day things we do and encourage can reinforce or detract from achieving our vision and supporting our values. Coleman says that "values are of little importance unless they are enshrined in a company's practices.” We manage our company in a way which promotes integration, minimizes costs, encourages leanness, adaptivity, and resilience, and enhances performance and affinity amongst our creative, self-motivated employees. We manage our company with the core ethic of Creating Shared Value. We support personal freedom and flexibility, self-motivation, creativity, and initiative within the framework of demonstrating strong performance. We minimize hierarchy and integrate our diverse disciplinary skills for rapid problem-solving and ease of communication. It's not always easy, but it works.

4. People. Coleman says that great firms have great recruiting policies. "People stick with cultures they like, and bringing on the right "culture carriers" reinforces the culture an organization already has.” We look for people who are:

    • Self-aware and expressed; reflective, introspective; able to balance intellect and intuition – living with integrity
    • Positive, welcoming, open, appreciative, kind, curious, empathetic, respectful and willing to help
    • Collaborative, collegial, inspiring people who enable and encourage creative exploration
    • Communicators – able to give and receive constructive feedback; listen, hear and speak up when needed
    • Learning-focused
    • Entrepreneurial and self-motivated and want to play a role in building the business.

We seem to be attracting people with these attributes - that's very helpful as we grow.

5. Narrative. Coleman sees storytelling and celebrating unique stories as key to great corporate culture. We love story telling - multimedia storytelling is core to being a full-service human environment consultancy. It can be challenging to describe what it's like to integrate environmental planning, community engagement, socioeconomics, and program evaluation. As a result, storytelling is woven into the fabric of our culture - our stories about our "ah-ha" moments for creating shared value with our clients and their partners communicate the essence of what we do.

6. Place. According to Coleman, "place shapes culture. Open architecture is more conducive to certain office behaviors, like collaboration. Certain cities and countries have local cultures that may reinforce or contradict the culture a firm is trying to create. Place — whether geography, architecture, or aesthetic design — impacts the values and behaviours of people in a workplace.” We love our place – our funky office space, our downtown Guelph location, our community and the wonderful two-rivers ecosystem that nurtures our souls and bodies.

Vision, Values, Practices, People, Narrative, and Place? I think we’re on the right track. What do you think?


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