3 Elements of a Winning Culture
By John Addison

Your company’s culture is something you have to live every day and build every day. Your culture should be consistent from the top leadership all the way down. And it should stay at the forefront of your thinking because it’s a yardstick against which you measure your decisions. You should constantly be asking yourself: Does this fit with our culture?

The problem is, here’s how I see most companies approach culture: They start by creating a value statement. Then maybe they write some bullet points about what they believe in, such as inclusivity and excellence. They basically end up with a lot of slogans. And they brush their hands off and say, “There. We’ve defined our culture.”

There is a massive difference between a slogan, a catchphrase, or a value statement and a culture.

Defining these things is fine, but that’s not the same thing as developing a strong culture within your organization. Here are three elements to develop the right culture for growth:

  1. People want to have fun. Listen, business is business. Yes, you should always take what you do incredibly seriously. You should expect to get things right and to make things happen. But you also need to understand that for most of us, the jobs we do aren’t life and death. There were a number of times in my years of running Primerica when people would go, “We have a crisis!” Well the truth is, we didn’t have a crisis because crises involve a plane crash or a terrorist attack. They usually involve somebody dying. One person in accounting messing up or a print piece going out with a typo in it is not a crisis. So have some fun while you’re at work. Build excitement into what people do. Don’t treat it like everybody is in the galley of a ship rowing.
  1. People want to be part of something successful. Empowering people to participate and excel is one part of this. But the part that most companies overlook is the shared reward.

When we got Primerica public out of Citigroup, it was at the height of the financial crisis. Most of the people involved in the organization had lost significant amounts of their net worth, their 401Ks, everything because of the collapse. So when we told them we wanted to create an equity program where the people at corporate and in our salesforce had some ownership in the company, it was very controversial. A lot of people didn’t like the idea. But we went ahead with it. We created a program where, depending on performance, people could earn equity in the company. And you know what? That stock has gone from $19 a share at closing on the day it went public to, as of this writing, $120 a share. That’s a lot of shared reward.

Now those people don’t just feel like owners; they are owners. And that inspires them to think differently. When it’s not just the people at the top making a bunch of money, the entire organization has a chance to achieve success in a greater way.

  1. People need a purpose. They need to feel that they’re part of something greater than themselves. If you’re a huge football fan, you go to the game and see all the people dressed up in the crazy outfits or wearing jerseys or hats for the team. And when the game’s over, they say, “We won!” The truth is “we” didn’t do anything. The team did. We were just fans. So why do people get so involved in that, way beyond the entertainment value? Because people want to be part of something connected to winning and success—something larger than themselves.

It’s the same thing in a company. People don’t just want a job. People want to feel like they’re a part of something great happening. This is easier in the early days of a company when everything’s exciting. But as the business matures, you’ve got to work hard to make sure the culture doesn’t just become a poster in the break room. You have to stay very focused on the questions of: Who are we? What makes us unique? And why are we a great team? You have to keep talking about those things with your team, so they can focus on them too and continue to feel part of something that’s larger than themselves.

If you create an atmosphere where people can have fun once in a while, where they enjoy success right alongside the leadership of the company, and where they feel like they’re part of something larger, that makes for a winning culture.

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