The best leaders and the best companies make culture their number-one priority. You must know your own core purpose and that of your organization. You must know the core values of your team and organization, and you must set a bold goal that lets people see the future they’re driving towards. This ensures that your team members have clarity to make excellent long-term-growth decisions on a daily basis. If you have a team who believe in the core values, love the environment and culture that they’re a part of, and are clear on where the organization is going, you will have a high-performing team for whatever you set out to do.
Of course, I wasn’t fully aware of all this when I started my first company. In our early years, a strong culture was something that was implied but not always clear or front and centre among our priorities. We thought it would just happen. Soon, we started growing very quickly, from four to eighty people in a short period of time, and in turn, we were making a lot of hiring mistakes. I finally asked my team why they thought we were making those mistakes. The reasons came back: because we’re hiring a lot of people at once, because we’re going a million miles an hour, because there are not a lot of talented people around. I said, ‘Those are all good reasons, but why do you think we hired someone in a development role, who had all the skills we needed, but it was still a mistake? What is the mistake we made?’
We finally came up with the reason. The person we had employed wasn’t a good fit for the team. We had created a strong culture but were not up front and clear about the fact that we were looking, first, for people who fit our culture—people who shared the same core values—and second, for people with the skills required for the position.
To remedy the situation we worked to come up with a clear core purpose and core values for the organization. We got the entire leadership team behind these key elements and then visited all of our offices to make them known. We spent time defining very clearly why we existed and what our core values were. We also prepared for the consequences of our beliefs because, if these are the things we truly believe, we have to be willing to accept a financial loss over them.
The next day, two people resigned. There was one person we had to terminate, but that person understood and was actually relieved. All the discussions we had from that point forward about why we should hire someone, why someone shouldn’t be on the team, or why we should reward someone, centred on our core values and the key elements that defined our company culture. We ensured that we were living our core values every day.