When culture goes wrong, it can bring your company down, as reddit knows all too well. reddit recently fired Victoria Taylor, who was the head of the extremely popular “Ask Me Anything” forum. They followed that unpopular move with another – making the “Ask Me Anything” community private. Both moves violated the very foundation of what reddit had been built upon – an open, community-driven conversation. The resulting resignation of reddit CEO Ellen Pao demonstrates one thing clearly: culture matters. That has been made even more clear by the recent New York Times article about working at Amazon.

Culture is the foundation of your organization. It’s what holds everything together – the living, breathing organism that keeps your employees working and thriving as one unit.

Culture Helps You Attract, Retain, and Elevate

Baby boomers are retiring in record numbers and millennials are taking over. To attract the best people, you need to ensure they understand the culture of your organization. Today, millennials represent a strong majority of the workforce, and by 2020 they will make up 50 percent of the total adult working population in the United States. This is the reason that companies like Zappos are shifting toward Holacracy. It is the reason that Google is a campus, not a corporate tower, and why Netflix offers one year paid family leave.

To retain the best people, you need to recognize how many hours they spend at work every day – how much of their lives revolve around work – and give them what they need to make it not just worth being there but also a place they look forward to being.

Better culture can help you manage B players and elevate them into A teams. “A healthy and successful corporate culture is centered on how people are expected to treat other people — no assembly required,” explains Frank Kalman, senior editor at Talent Management.

Great Stories Create Great Culture

Maria McHugh, a world-class strategist, explains the steps every leader must take to create organizational culture:

  1. Construct the Story

Make your organization the hero in this story. To construct the story we must ask, what is your corporation’s heroic purpose or mission? And, who is its enemy?

Enemies make stories interesting. They raise the stakes. They introduce risk and intrigue. The enemy doesn’t have to literally be a competitor. It can be what the competitor represents, or what the status quo represents. For example, in 1984, in the iconic Super Bowl commercial launching the Macintosh, Apple didn’t take on the IBM PC directly, but a far more menacing foe: the totalitarian groupthink it represented.

Then, askwhat core values and principles govern your corporation in its pursuit of its purpose?

What are you prepared to do, and what are you not prepared to do to achieve it?

What is the moral of the story?

What positive impact do we hope to have on the lives of society, our community, our customers, and our employees by pursuing our purpose?

  1. Communicate the Story

Once the story is composed, it needs to be communicated and lived within the organization.

Tell your story in an engaging way, e.g. in a storybook or ebook, on the walls or floors of your offices, in a short film, through the anecdotes of employees on your employee intranet, etc.

  1. Live Your Story

Introduce rituals or customs that help to reinforce your story.  Zappos is passionate about its mission to deliver happiness. This follows through in cultural rituals that include toga parties, the annual Sole Search (where associates can design a shoe for sale on Zappos.com), and funerals for old ideas.

Integrate your story into the employee recruitment and onboarding processes, training and development programs, and reward and recognition programs.

Infuse your story into all aspects of the customer experience. Your employees are actually participants in your story, helping to drive it forward, and evolve it through their interactions with suppliers, customers, and end consumers.

At times, we get away from paying attention to culture; we let it languish, forget that it matters, and forget to hold it sacred. Culture is something that must be tended to, so that the people in your organization live, feel, and breathe it. As leaders, we are the stewards of our organization’s culture. It is our responsibility to keep it thriving, attend to it, and share it with everyone.

Go out and tell your story today.


As the CEO & Founder of East Tenth Group, Michelle leverages 25 years of business and experience as a strategic advisor and executive coach to help drive actionable people solutions and provide practical insights on business strategy to senior leaders. she and her team and are fiercely committed to the development and growth of people and companies because we believe that when people thrive, business thrives.

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