A Lion, an Oak Tree, and a Dash of Spice
If your organization were an animal, what kind would it be? How about a type of tree or model of car?
Do you think your staff would answer in similar ways as you? Would you be comfortable asking them?
The most important component of an organization is its culture. As a leader, you try every single day to create the kind of environment you want your organization to be for your employees and your clients and partners. But do you know if you are succeeding? And are you prepared to address it if you’re not?
As we began our return to the office over the summer, I wondered these very thoughts. What would our culture be like when everyone came back after being away from each other for so long? Would it be as strong? What might change? What will people care about going forward? What would our new staff and interns, who had yet to even step foot in our office, think and expect?
The concept of culture is often referred to as the glue that keeps an organization together. If your culture is tight around the core values, experts say, it will innately drive everybody’s behaviors. It’s like a shared mental model of responsibility to each other, to the team, and to the environment. And it shows up in everything you do, from your office style and website presence to hiring, recruiting and the service you provide to your clients.
In an effort to cross check the values and behaviors that shape The Council’s culture, we enlisted the help of Kim Jaussi, an associate professor of leadership at Binghamton University and strategic advisor at Advancing Inspiration, an executive coaching and strategic consulting firm. Together, we put in motion an incredibly creative exercise that resulted in a tool beyond my imagination.
Kim asked our entire staff, anonymously, to answer a series of, let’s just say, unconventional questions. If The Council were an animal, what would it be? Flavor of ice cream? Type of flower? A country, a board game, kitchen ingredients you can’t do without? She then took each of the answers and broke them down into individual concepts, grouped the concepts together, and concluded a value. For “lion,” our leading animal exemplar, Kim deduced values such as smart, agile and strong.
The responses were both creative and cohesive. I was amazed at how in sync we all still were even though we hadn’t been together for so long. The beauty of it, in my opinion, was that our employees defined and verbalized the concepts—the interpretation didn’t come from me or our marketing team—and that allowed us to confirm what we deemed our culture to be in a very authentic way. The difference between stated values and living values is that living values help define and differentiate you as an organization. And when your employees believe in them and embrace them, your culture begins to cement itself. That part of the exercise was really powerful to me.
So whether you’re a panda, a Tesla, a rose, or something different altogether, lean into it. There are countless concepts that encompass your organization and, as an extension, all of your stakeholders, including current and future employees and clients. Your living values are what drive your winning spirit. As a leader, it’s worth exploring what they are.