January 31

4 Keys to Being an Effective Architect of Your Organization’s Culture By Richard Tyson



James L. Heskett, professor at the Harvard Business School, states that a company’s culture “can account for 20-30% of the differential in performance when compared with ‘culturally unremarkable’ competitors.” Understanding this, CEOs, business owners, and entrepreneurs should make culture development an essential part of their leadership responsibility.

At CEObuilder, we have found that those who became successful architects of high-performance cultures employed these four keys:

  1. Recognize that your company’s culture begins with YOU. You will create it intentionally—or you will create it unintentionally!


How do you define success? What do you most value? Do you have what author Simon Sinek calls a Just Cause? He defines a Just Cause as:


  • For something, in affirmative and optimistic terms
  • Inclusive, open to all who would like to contribute to it
  • Service-oriented, for the primary benefit of others
  • Resilient, able to endure political, technological, and cultural change
  • Idealistic, big, bold and ultimately unachievable


Your Just Cause comprises your WHY. It provides a compelling sense of your organization’s values, expectations, and the environment that comprises your culture.


  1. Recognize that your customers will never love your company until your employees love it first. In that regard, consider ways to make it both a heliotropic and multiplier


By definition, heliotropism is the directional growth of plants toward sunlight. In business, heliotropism is a similarly attractive force. Professor Kim Cameron of the University of Michigan has defined heliotropism as the tendency of employees to engage in highly productive work as the result of leaders who deliberately focus on improving their relationships with them.


Heliotropic leadership is the embodiment of the Golden Rule: your actions show that you care about people. You are kind, compassionate, and forgiving. You smile more, and you frown less. You are optimistic in spite of the challenges that inevitably come your way. You establish this as a key element of your culture—and it creates the sunny environment that attracts high contribution on the part of your team members!


Richard Branson has said, “There’s no formula for a great company culture. Just treat people the way you would like to be treated.”

Author and executive coach, Harry Cohen adds, “Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”


Kindness without a focus on results and accountability, however, is insufficient to create a high-performance culture. The challenge is to do this in ways that enhance the heliotropic effect, not diminish it. That’s where being a multiplier comes in.


To be a multiplier, author Liz Wiseman suggests that you liberate employees to do their best work while relentlessly challenging them to do so, that you encourage rigorous debate regarding issues and opportunities, and that you invest in forward-thinking and new ideas. Multiplier companies set high goals and standards; they are intensely engaged in achieving organizational outcomes as well as employee growth and development, while avoiding the stress and burnout typical of what Liz calls diminisher companies.


  1. Reinforce your culture by documenting and sharing the unique stories that define it.


Marshall Ganz, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, has made a study of the “power of narrative.” His research shows that stories are a powerful source of creating a compelling culture. Some CEOs, like Tony Hsieh of Zappos, have gone so far as to create a Culture Book which contains stories from employees regarding the company’s unique culture. This is valuable in defining their culture, as well as helping them attract and retain the right talent for their teams. When a newcomer reads their Culture Book, they undoubtedly know whether they fit!


  1. Your culture must CONNECT and INFECT your people. You are the CIO, the Chief Influence Officer in your company!


The aforementioned Tony Hsieh, has said, “We believe that it is really important to come up with core values that you can commit to. And by commit, we mean that you hire and fire based on them. If you are willing to do that, then you’re well on your way to building a company culture that is in line with the brand you want to build.”


William Wang, founder of Vizio observes, “Everyone on the team has an essential role. My role is to create the wave and everyone on the team keeps the wave going.”


Recognize that, at the end of the day, your culture is simply a shared way of doing business with a passion! It is that passion that will be the measure of your success as the architect of your company’s culture.


Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses.

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Rich Tyson

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