I have had a number of business owners tell me that they’re intentionally adopting a hands-off attitude, when it comes to shaping their corporate culture because they want their employees to define it. Yikes!
Yes, I think that employees have to shape the day-to-day aspects of culture. At Zappos, CEO Tony Hsieh didn’t stand up and tell everyone to start doing parades through the hallways. Southwest Airlines didn’t tell Flight Attendants to rap the safety message to passengers. The employees came up with those quirky culture pieces on their own and leadership simply supported them.
But those are NOT examples of shaping culture, they’re examples of culture playing out based on careful strategy. Shaping culture comes strategically from the top down. It takes a deep understanding of your philosophy, how you are going to treat your people, and how your people are expected to treat your customers. Those philosophies then shape your recruiting, promoting, and evaluation of employees. Those philosophies shape everything you do from the top down.
Southwest Airlines didn’t just wake up one day and realize that the employees were happy, courteous, and willing to do anything to create a great experience for their customers. Zappos didn’t just look around with amazement over the fact that their employees loved coming to work, and as a result went above and beyond to wow their customers. The leaders of those organizations knew what their philosophies were, and they worked hard to create processes and procedures that were aligned with them, spreading that message to their customers and drilling those philosophies into the heads of their employees every single day. They lived those philosophies.
So while the best companies out there have made it look easy to have a great culture, don’t be fooled. What we see on the outside only happened because of years of hard work and because the leaders of those organizations knew the power of culture.