Culture Trumps Money

“‘Cause I don’t care too much for money… money can’t buy me love.”  The Beatles from Can’t Buy Me Love

I think it is fitting to reach out to the Fab Four as we celebrate 50 years of their presence in the USA.  My one wish is that owners reflected on these simple words when they go to construct compensation packages… especially for their startup and emerging growth companies.

Salary, equity, bonus plans – Lord knows that I have had the chance to discuss loads of them with clients and prospects.  And, it seems new schemes are evolving every day.  When I am called in to advise on this type of reward plan, I can’t help but notice that there is usually something missing.  All of the talk is about crafting economic rewards; and very little is on the work environment or culture – the so called softer things.  Well, I am here to tell you, unequivocally, that spending time and effort on the culture you create is not only a best practice, but it can save you money in the long run.  Culture trumps economic reward and becomes a competitive advantage because you can’t create it overnight.  So, when you are fortunate enough to have it, you can win where others lose.

For students of management, I think this began with the famous Hawthorne Studies of Elton Mayo.  He started by installing brighter bulbs at the workbenches and saw productivity improve.  That seemed to make sense until he then lowered the wattage but still got improved productivity.  What Mayo found was that the workers thought that management cared enough to make sure they had the correct lighting – in essence it was the culture of caring and being part of a team that resulted in improved work output.  That simple concept has been taken to new heights by some of the great leaders of companies today.

So, given that culture works, how do you get there?  It is not easy but I think there are a few clues that may help you on your journey; and a good starting point is to realize it is a journey.

First, don’t view culture as a tool to improve productivity but rather as a core value of the environment you want for yourself and your people.  It should be a source of pride and comfort and should never be forced on people.  It has to develop from within your organization and can’t be prescribed.

Next, culture starts from the top and comes from the heart.  You have to be sincere and really want to share your vision of a culture.  A leader’s actions are multiplied a thousand fold when it comes to setting culture.  Your people will see right through you if you are trying to create something you do not truly feel in your heart.  It has to be part of your DNA.

Third, be honest with yourself and your team.  It is fine to have them see your pride when things go well and your disappointment when they don’t.  Please do not use that phony cheerleader routine to keep everyone in a positive state of mind regardless of the circumstances – it is “so over” as the kids would say.

Finally, be careful not to create a cult or sect type culture.  Laying out detailed principles which you drill your people on like thoughts from Mao (remember John Candy as Tom Tuttle from Tacoma Washington in Volunteers) does not a desirable climate make.  You get Stepford Wives behavior and you destroy your chance to develop a positive culture.

So, stick with these basic thoughts and most of all, have the patience to let your culture evolve and soon, you too will be able to share your success with all of us.


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