Your Mission Statement Is Not Your Company Culture
If you see something off-culture and ignore it, you’ve created a new culture
When I first founded a company, one called LoudCloud, I sought advice from CEOs and industry leaders. They all told me, “Pay attention to your culture. Culture is the most important thing.”
But when I asked these leaders, “What exactly is culture, and how can I affect mine?” they became extremely vague. I spent the next 18 years trying to figure this question out. Is culture dogs at work and yoga in the break room? No, those are perks. Is it your corporate values? No, those are aspirations. Is it the personality and priorities of the CEO? That helps shape the culture, but it is far from the thing itself.
When I was the CEO of LoudCloud, I figured that our company culture would be just a reflection of my values, behaviors, and personality. So I focused all my energy on “leading by example.” To my bewilderment and horror, that method did not scale as the company grew and diversified. Our culture became a hodgepodge of different cultures fostered under different managers, and most of these cultures were unintentional. Some managers were screamers who intimidated their people, others neglected to give any feedback, some didn’t bother returning emails — it was a big mess.
The culture that works for Apple would never work for Amazon.
I had a middle manager — I’ll call him Thorston — who I thought was pretty good. He worked in marketing and was a great storyteller (an essential marketing skill). I was shocked to find out, from overhearing casual conversations, that he was taking storytelling to another level by constantly lying about everything. Thorston was soon working elsewhere, but I knew I had to deal with a much deeper problem: Because it had taken me years to find out that he was a compulsive liar, during which time he’d been promoted, it had become culturally okay to lie at LoudCloud. The object lesson had been learned. It did not matter that I never endorsed it: His getting away with it made it seem okay. How could I undo that lesson and restore our culture? I hadn’t the first clue.