I learned a long time ago that culture comes first in a business. When it works, it is apparent to employees and customers alike, and when it doesn’t, it is painful for everyone. Organizational culture can provide inspiration or drudgery; it can build character or cause insecurity; it can serve its employees or take from them; and it can carry a company through challenging times, or kill one even when it is thriving financially.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” -Peter Drucker
Business guru Peter Drucker observed many years ago, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” For a long time, people saw this statement as shocking. But now I see this phrase everywhere. Finally, companies are embracing the need to work on culture just as much, or more, than working on their business.
When I first met with Tim Enwall, Head of Misty Robotics, about joining the company, he shared his vision and passion for fostering culture. We talked about how to create a great culture, knowing that a great culture would drive a great product and eventually a great company — a company of people we sought out to do a job, not just any job, but the job of putting a personal robot into the world. This is no small task, one that before now has only lived in people’s dreams.
It would be critical, Tim said, that a culture was created that espoused accountability, courageous communication, hard work, and fun with an obsession for customer engagement and satisfaction. During my days as a consultant I saw posters on the walls of many companies stating their mission and values; yet not often have I found that the employees can share the mission, or name the ways in which the values are active in the culture. To me, it isn’t a company value, if employees cannot see it demonstrated in the actions of their colleagues and in their leaders’ decision-making. For me, joining Misty meant taking on the task of building a culture where the posters speak the truth.
This is no easy task, and it doesn’t always look pretty along the way. Sometimes companies have to feel some pain before they will do the work to make a change. From the beginning, Misty Robotics has been taking culture seriously and working proactively to create the culture we want.
At Misty we aspire every day to live by a set of four core values:
- Passion — For our mission, for robotics, for learning, for supporting each other, and for contributing meaningful results each day.
- Teamwork — We work together to solve problems, communicate when our work is behind schedule, share both the challenges and successes as we go, support team members to remove blocks, and bring our ideas and solutions out in the open. As Andrew Carnegie said about teamwork, “It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”
- Getting Shit Done — We work to achieve a result, keep working until it is done, don’t hesitate or procrastinate, and always focus on the work that makes the biggest difference.
- Fun — Finally, we enjoy ourselves along the way, take a break, have a laugh at lunch, take a walk, and play games to let off steam.
Each of these work well together, because fun mixed with hard work creates balance, teamwork without passion can be very routine, and getting shit done in isolation can go awry.
Values are at the root of a company culture because they are the source of the actions taken, the decisions made, the rules created, and the people hired. Values support effective communication and collaboration. They create conflict when they clash, and they inspire when utilized effectively. A company’s culture is made up of how its values show up in its behavior each day. To create a great culture, there must be consistent attention to the following principles:
- We give others permission to behave in specific ways, by allowing/encouraging a behavior or doing it ourselves. This works for us and against us. We have to be diligent about encouraging and modeling the behavior we want and speaking up when we see behavior that isn’t aligned with the cultural values we say we want.
- People are driven by the values they believe are important. Learning about what matters to others makes communication, collaboration, and production more effective.
- People lack the skills for effective listening and communicating. Yes, people can listen, and they can talk. However, ensuring you really know what someone is saying requires a desire to truly understand someone’s point of view. And, most people talk with little intention to be heard. Speaking with a commitment to be heard causes greater attention and focus on the part of the people listening.
- Values can be demonstrated in a culture without awareness of the impact they are having. We must be proactive in observing our culture, to be aware of the values that are driving the culture. We must also actively work to demonstrate the values we want to see.
Most of us want to be a part of something: A loving family, a winning sports team (even a losing one, if the bond is strong), a movement, a cause, a community of like-minded people, a club, or a company with a mission we care about. We want to belong; we want to contribute; we want to be of value. Each of us is driven by the importance we place on things, people, interactions, and circumstances. We put our attention on what matters to us, and we make decisions all day long based on those values.
Yet we often find ourselves in situations where compromising one or more of our values is necessary to being employed. We might not expect to ever find something that has it all. And, many of us drive our decision-making through a single value: “Is the money enough?” It happens all the time:
- Example 1: The money is good, but the position is one I’ve done before.
- Example 2: The company is amazing, but my boss is overbearing.
- Example 3: NYC has so much to offer, but I have no family there, the outdoor fitness options are limited, and wow, the cost of living is very high.
- Example 4: I prefer living with my wife, but my wife just got an amazing career-changing job in another state, and I have a great job here with an aging mother who needs me.
In these cases, values are in conflict, and without resolution the conflicts will linger on and on.
“Only three things happen naturally in an organization: friction, confusion, and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.”
— Peter Drucker
At Misty, we recognize that conflicted values can hurt employees and the business. So we work consciously to create an atmosphere where we can all do our best. We think that requires a workplace where:
- The company mission aligns with the individual’s mission
- We think highly of open communication
- Working with focus and diligence is ingrained in the daily culture
- Having fun is embraced
- Contributions are appreciated in some tangible way
- We value learning and growing
- AND employees receive a good paycheck
Without conscious leadership, culture creates itself, and the result may not be desirable. Misty has important work to do. We are leading a change in the world that will have a significant impact on people of all ages, on families, on businesses, and beyond. We are reaching to the edge of what has been known, so we must speak openly about the challenges, listen carefully with the intention to act, deal with the confusion and frustration, and work to create more joy, connection, creativity, and positive impact.