Have you seen the movie Brittany Runs a Marathon? It’s incorrectly categorized as a comedy. It is more a drama with comedic moments that keep us watching during the awkwardness of people working on life. It is also about a woman who is struggling with her life and her health. She decides to run a marathon, believing the finish line of the marathon is the solution to her problems. She fails on her first attempt, unable to even run the marathon she has trained so hard for. Her second attempt has a different result. I want spoil the movie if you haven’t watched it.
In December, I ran my second marathon, 20 years after my first. The first was not a great experience. I didn’t train well. I had poor running form. I had an injury that made the last six miles painful. I finished the marathon and then quit running. Three years ago, I started running again. I’m a bit wiser and a heck of a lot older. I trained better. I learned how to improve the mechanics of my running. I trained with a partner (who is faster but values our relationship more than speed). I missed my time goal by 8 minutes but I finished and finished healthy, even walking over 2 miles back to my hotel. Like Brittany, I’ve needed to adopt a different mindset, train smarter not harder, and not go solo.
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What is company culture?
Building a company and successfully executing every quarter, every year is much like training for and running successive marathons–as a team! We need to experiment, run sprints, and assess at benchmarks, all with the goal of completing the next marathon (.e.g, product launch, market expansion, or customer growth).
Your business success is partially determined by variables outside your control (2020-21 has certainly made that clear) just as running a marathon successfully can be dependent on things like race conditions or a surprise illness. Yet, you do control or influence many of the variables.
One key variable is your work culture. What is company culture? Here is my definition for this discussion: Work culture is the mindset of the people. This mindset determines how the team operates every single day, whether it is a great day for the company or a challenging or ugly day.
Get ready to define your corporate values
The first step in building a strong and health company culture is to identify your core operating values. The values are the building blocks of the culture and help define what’s important, set the standard for how we work, and facilitate execution against goals. They are the backbone of everything from hiring to management to building and selling products. These operating values and your culture are the foundation upon which your success is built.
When we begin training for a marathon, we can follow tried-and-true recommendations to help us successfully stick to training. For example, for me, putting on my running clothes early, even if I won’t run until I finish two Zoom calls, is critical.
In the same way, these four recommendations help you dive into defining your corporate values with the right mind-set, and help set you and your team up for success. You’ll find more in the Conscious Culture Workbook: Defining Your Values.
You need all teams represented as you work on your culture playbook. Small companies (<50 people) can usually include everyone in the conversation. Larger companies may want to have ambassadors from each team participate. Additionally, seek out diversity in ambassadors. Your ambassadors should represent everyone–genders, personalities, organizational levels, roles, time with company, geographies, and more.
Determine your team’s logistics.
How will your team work together on your values? Whatever communication and project management tools you have in place should be used for your culture work. You’ll want to consider giving homework and leaving space for asynchronous input. These tactics can ensure people have time and space to be thoughtful and all voices are heard.
Make this work a priority and set a time schedule.
What gets measured gets done because we make space in the day. This culture work is worthy of a strategic objective across your teams.
Embrace active listening, communication, and healthy conflict.
Building a good company culture is a process, be prepared for disagreements and conflicts to arise during your conversations.
Connecting Corporate Values in a Conscious Way
If your company wants to be a Conscious Culture company, then use the foundational Conscious Culture values to center your core operating values. This will help you “sanity check” your values as you define or re-assess them. In the future, new team can learn your corporate values in a more wholistic or contextual way.
Think of the Conscious Culture foundational values as similar to proven running maxims like intervals, sprints, and rest days that help build a solid training plan. You should interact with the Conscious Culture values, translating them in your own team’s words, just as your rest day might not be exactly the same as my rest day, even though we both keep to the spirit of a “rest day.”
Some very experienced runners know all the secrets and have internalized the mind-set, maxims, and path to get them to the finish line every time. I think they are rare as unicorns though. I need shared wisdom, reminders, and training plans from the wider running community to get to the finish line.
Building your company culture differs in one significant way from my running. Culture work is always a team sport. Even if you are the unicorn of work culture, I’m willing to bet my new Altra trainers that the rest of your team is not. To get your values right and then build from there into a larger playbook that your team uses to practice your culture daily requires time and effort. To help you, here is a free culture workbook to help your team define your operating values, centered on Conscious Culture values. It will also walk you through how to do this work well across your team, how to connect your values to your corporate mission and vision.
A strong culture enables the ability to weather the inevitable storms that threaten every business. It’s worth it but it’s work. If you use this workbook, I’d love to hear about your experience. Share your story with the community and help other teams. We can always improve our culture practices so that we all are successful in our next work marathons. I’ll see you at the next finish line to celebrate. Maybe we can watch Brittany Runs a Marathon.