Opinion: 5 steps to creating a company culture that suits your brand

by External21 Mar 2016
Does your brand match what goes on behind the scenes with your people? Mark McDonald outlines why there needs to be alignment between external perceptions and internal reality.

A powerful brand can be the most valuable asset a company has. Apple has built a monopoly around its brand and even companies like Exxon benefit greatly from powerful brand as they get access to the top deals around world.

Your brand, however, is your people – the way they represent the values your brand stands for makes a difference between plain talk and what your company really is. No matter how appealing your brand values and mission statement sound, if your employees couldn’t care less about it, then that’s all that outsiders see.

The most successful companies are not the ones that market differently; they’re the ones that care more about their customers, about their mission, about their people.

In other words, it all starts with your company culture, and once you decide what that it is, it’s important for you to work hard and maintain it.

Build a culture that’s congruent
Congruence is when what you believe, what you say and what you do are aligned. Zappos is a great example of such a case. In 2004, Tony Hsieh asked all employees to write 100-500 words on what they liked about the company’s culture and what made it different from other workplaces. This was then summed up and codified into the 10 Commandments of Zappos – the core values that influence everything from hiring to daily decisions to firing.

Hire for culture fit, train for skills
An ideal candidate is high on the required skills scale and represents a great culture fit. But unless you’re Apple or Facebook, you rarely get to interview candidates that fit the both requirements. Usually it’s either skills or culture fit.

When it comes to hiring, I believe that most companies make a big mistake when they opt to go with skills. Successful companies go with culture fit because you can train for skills but you can’t change people.

Avoid brilliant jerks
Prof. Robert Sutton of Stanford University coined it the No-Asshole rule. It’s about zero tolerance for people who turn out to be consistently dishonest, negative or manipulative. There are numerous studies proving that keeping such people around will decrease team’s productivity, stifle communication, increase employee turnover and lower employee self-esteem and health. The negatives of keeping a high-performing jerk by far outweigh all the potential benefits.

As a leader, it’s your job to protect your company’s culture and working environment. That means letting go of people who don’t respect your values, no matter how brilliant they are.
Execute, communicate and foster
Great ideas without execution are just a fantasy. Likewise, even the most appealing values and principles are worthless if you’re not actively acting on them. A leader must communicate those values and culture explicitly and continuously, both internally and externally.

Just as Jeff Bezos considers his main job to “maintain the culture,” it’s your responsibility to ensure employees understand your culture and its importance; and make sure it translates into your hiring decisions and employee recognition.

Behaviour breeds behaviour
There’s a simple concept called “Betari Box” that explains the leading by example concept well. The essence of it is that your attitude and how you act as a leader affects the behaviour of your colleagues, and that in turn affects your overall company attitude and behaviour. So the first step in building a congruent company culture is to start with your own actions.

About the author
Mark McDonald is the co-founder and co-CEO of Appster, a leading mobile app and product development company with offices in Melbourne and San Francisco.