When Culture Walks Beyond Your Walls


Last week, I found myself immersed in an organizational culture so strong it speaks for itself. In every word, deed and way the company values came across loud and clear. From the minute I checked in to the 3-day meeting to the day I drove away, it was crystal clear what the organization stands for and has stood for for the last 96 years. But there are many companies who "walk the walk," right? So many, in fact, that Entrepreneur magazine partners with CultureIQ annually to recognize more than 150 of them. So what was so newsworthy to the seat I found myself in last week? I am not an employee of this company. I'm not professionally employed or involved in any way with this company.

Full disclosure, maybe I paid more attention to how the culture was walking beyond the walls of the organization and its employees because culture is what I do! Maybe I noticed more that I too (just a spouse) was being brought into the fold because I've read enough business case studies to know that's not the norm. But those potential biases aside, from an outside perspective, I am completely blown away by how I was included and spoken to as an integral part of my spouse's firm's success!

In my experience, it is far too easy to give lip service to organizational values, slap them on the wall of your office, include them in an employee orientation presentation and never bring them up again. And let's be honest, while helpful, organizational values alone do not translate into a strong and evergreen company culture. Culture is one of those intangible things that's hard to talk about and consequently, even harder to get right. According to an August 2017 article from The Balance"Company culture is the personality of a company. It defines the environment in which employees work. Company culture includes a variety of elements, including work environment, company mission, value, ethics, expectations, and goals." The common denominator of this definition is the company - and for the most part, even when companies "get culture right," they do so within the four walls of their organization.

From a purely financial perspective, why wouldn't they? It doesn't make sense on a P&L to invest in building strong culture with individuals who aren't contributing to your company's performance. Legally, you can't "control" what non-employees say and do to reflect on your company. Markets are competitive and companies must be lean and prudent about spending company resources on "soft" things like culture, right? Wrong. As Dale Partridge writes in his Wall Street Journal Best Seller People Over Profit"The honest era is a time of people over profit." And let's be clear. If your culture is so strong and attractive to people who don't even work for you that they are recruiting and marketing on your behalf (remember, you don't have to pay them!), that is an ROI that's hard to beat!

So, what can you take away from my experience last week? Reconsider who your audience is when you're building strong organizational culture. See your employees as spouses and parents and friends and community members and walk your walk...walk it right out the door of your company! Or as the top partner in this company so eloquently put it in his address to the spouses at last week's meeting, "Make sure your video matches your audio!"