Defining your cultural values: becoming who you are.

Dolly Parton's great advice on Culture

There are plenty of culture guru’s out there. Often they are renowned business leaders and entrepreneurs themselves. And they share their wisdom through bestselling books, TED talks and catchy one liners. Sure, some of them offer valuable advice. But our all time favourite quote about culture does not come from one of these thought-leaders at all. It comes from country singer and all-round superwoman: Dolly Parton.

Dolly’s advice is short and powerful: 

“Find out who you are and then do it on purpose”

Dolly’s advice is great because it focuses on what is most important in life, both on a personal and on a group level. Don't try to be anything you’re not. Instead: be aware of what you’re great at, capture it and make it your key strength.

The answer is already in you

Sure, there are teams out there that have such cultural misalignment that they are beyond help from Dolly’s quote. But if that is the case, no amount of consultancy, manifesto shaping or tooling can save you. Fundamentally rebuilding your team will be the only way to get out of that spot.

But for most teams, the key ingredients of a successful culture are already in place. It’s there, the key behaviours just need to be identified, put to words and amplified. By writing them down and practising them intentionally. 

Step 1: identify Culture carriers:

So when you set out to define your Cultural Manifesto, start by examining what’s already great about your team. By focussing on your best people and their behaviours. 

  • Identify your culture carriers: make a list of the best people in the organization. The ones that are true examples and ambassadors of your culture. The people you would clone if you could. 
  • Then identify what makes them stand out. What are the behaviours that make them so great at what they do? Is it in how they approach their work? How they interact with others? How they prioritize and focus on the right things? How they take responsibility and inspire the ones around them? 

Step 2: identify Culture corrupters

Next up: list the behaviours of your culture corrupters, the ones that actually weaken your culture. It is not so much on naming and shaming individuals. It’s about figuring out what behaviours do and do not shape your culture. These behaviours aren’t necessarily linked to team members that do not perform well. In fact, it might actually be people that do reach their targets, know their craft, and meet their deadlines. But at the same time, hold back the team and how you want your company to operate. 

Step 3: Synthesize the patterns

As a final step, we synthesize both the Culture Carrier behaviours and the Culture Corrupter behaviours. Find the patterns in the qualities and behaviors that belong to your top people and your team’s core cultural values will reveal themselves. Or to use Dolly’s words: it shows who you are” when you’re at your best.

Mapping your cultural values via the behaviours that carry and corrupt your culture

Now put it to practice:

Now that you have identified your core values and wrote your Cultural Manifesto, you are ready to start acting on them. So weave them into how your company makes its people decisions, evaluates performance and includes the whole team in ongoing process of shaping the culture. Four key touch points in which you should make your cultural values front and center in decision making: 

  1. Hiring: “Have your cultural values in place as hiring filters. Explicitly select talent with common values and involve your whole hiring team in assessing cultural fit.
  2. Employee onboarding: put your cultural values at the heart of your onboarding flow for new employees and make them a part of your culture from day one.
  3. Evaluation: Reward people based on performance (hard skills) as well as culture (values). People should be rewarded (with promotions, financially, etc.) for both productivity and for living the company’s values. Get rid of bad culture fits quickly. 
  4. Engagement: Constantly emphasize values day-to-day and over employees a safe and open way to speak their mind and contribute to your culture.

In short: shaping and scaling your culture is all about figuring out which behaviours make your best people stand out.  And then hire, welcome, develop, and reward everybody else with those “Culture carrier” qualities in mind. 

Find out who you already are. Then do it on purpose. 

Make Dolly proud :)

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