A 5 step proces to get it done

How to define your own Cultural Manifesto

The impact culture has on your company's success can be huge. No wonder leading companies put a big focus on capturing their unique culture. By making their cultural values clear and tangible for everyone that is involved. How? By codifying their culture in a Cultural Manifesto: a unique set of clear and actionable behaviors they put at the heart of daily decision making and collaboration.

Cultural Manifesto’s have proven to be powerful tools in the quest of shaping winning cultures. The question is: how do you capture your culture in a Manifesto? How do you write a Manifesto? Which aspects of your culture do you address in it? And how do you give it the unique and personal touch that it needs to have?

Defining a sharp and spot-on Manifesto is something that requires both time and focus. But by following this 5 step approach, it also will prove to be a fun, engaging and valuable journey.

How to NOT write your Manifesto

Before diving in, let’s have a quick look at 5 pitfalls you want to avoid:

  • Don’t believe the hype: the most obvious pitfall to avoid is to look at whoever is successful in their business and copy them outright. Don’t do it. Each culture is unique, and copying and trying to cultivate some smart sounding yet irrelevant values will not get you anywhere.
  • Don’t be generic: intangible, generic or even cliche-sounding cultural values breed cynicism and do more harm than good. Be as specific as possible and find your own words.
  • It’s not a top down order: by definition, any culture is the sum of group behaviour. So don’t treat it like a top down order. Involve cultural ambassadors from across your company. Otherwise it just won't work.
  • It’s not a democratic vote either: although it should be written together with cultural ambassadors from across your team, they are not a democratic vote either. In the end, the content of any manifesto should be owned by leadership and be guided by the business objectives the company’s leadership has set.
  • Don’t be static: once you have your values defined, don’t just put them on a wall. Put them to practice in daily routines. Learn from how they are (or aren't) embraced in practical use. And improve as you go.

5 steps towards a compelling Cultural Manifesto

#1: Start at Culture / Business fit

As important as company culture is, it’s key to always be aware: a company culture is not the end, it’s the means. The goal of any company or team is to get to the objective it has set for itself. The role of the culture is to enable the company or team to get there. Regardless of personal preferences, every truly strong culture is always strong because it is aligned with the bigger goal. So before you dive in, get your team together and start drafting your first manifesto, ask yourself one key question:

What is the goal we as a company are trying to achieve and what type of cultural behaviors are going to help us get there?

#2: Get inspired

Copy-pasting is not the way to go. But getting inspired definitely is! There are many compelling Cultural Manifesto’s out there. So find examples you love and ask yourself: why do they appeal to you? And ask yourself how the business goal of that company aligns with your company goals? 

#3: Find your words, write like ‘behaviors’

In a way, cultures are not unique at all. Because each and every cultural manifesto in the world addresses the same themes. What do we find most important? How do we collaborate? How do we weigh creative freedom vs process and efficiency? How do we define personal responsibility? 

Yet, Cultural Manifesto’s are not just about what they say. It’s also about how they say it. 

The strongest cultural manifesto’s are entirely unique and personal in the way they’re written. They use typical, catchy, sometimes even corny wording that might even seem strange or cringy to outsiders. And they are written like active behaviours that can actually be put to practice in daily interactions.

#4: Put it to practice

Once you & your team have drafted the first version of your Manifesto: start putting it to practice. Just putting your freshly baked Cultural Manifesto on the wall won’t do it. Instead, find ways to empower your people to really apply the cultural values in daily decision making. Think about hiring decisions, ways you onboard new talent and how your team gathers feedback. 

#5: Test & iterate

Cultures are living things. And so are Manifesto’s. Take them for a spin and circle back with your team to see how your manifesto resonates across your organisation. Get feedback, learn from it and sharpen your Manifesto as you go. Make sure you involve ambassadors from across your organization in this ongoing process: being continuously involved in shaping your culture will only breed even more ownership.

Go get 'm!

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