Leadership Management / Strategy Personal development

Your most important KPI might be your culture

Most business thought leaders will tell you that corporate culture is an important key to your future success.

They’re underselling it. Nothing your organization does will be more important than getting your culture right.

Too many people think culture is some kind of touchy-feely, warm-and-fuzzy concept that has no impact on the bottom line. Think again. According to Jim Collins, organizations that tie their strategy to their purpose and culture outperform their competition by 1,500 percent.

If that doesn’t wake you up, consider this: Your organization’s culture directly impacts how well you recruit, retain, and engage your employees. It also is a key in bridging (or widening) the generational gaps you’re facing.

For sheer impact, no other part of your business can touch culture.

“People are loyal to good culture,” Nathan Christensen, CEO of HR consulting firm Mammoth, told the crowd at the 2016 Sage Summit in Chicago. “Engaging the hearts, minds, and hands of your talent is your most sustainable source of competitive advantage.”

Here’s why: When you’ve got your team’s hearts, minds, hands, and loyalty, they’ll move mountains for you, and you’ll crush your competition in the process.

Christensen says there are four keys to building an amazing culture.

  1. Understand that you are a culture creator. “The key is not to just create a mission statement, but to live it,” Christensen said. Starbucks doesn’t say, “We’re a coffee company.” Its mission statement is, “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.” What’s your mission? Are you living it? Are you encouraging your employees to live it? Think about the little things — your employee handbook, for instance. “It’s not a rulebook,” Christensen said. “It’s a playbook. It should be a map that leads to your culture.”
  2. Everyone on your team is a culture creator, too. Hire for culture first. You can teach new employees the skills they need, but you can’t teach them to be a good cultural fit. And once you hire someone, be sure to empower, involve, and recognize them. If they feel connected to your culture, they’ll be ambassadors of that culture.
  3. Employees are more than their job. According to Gallup, nearly 70 percent of employees are disengaged in their jobs. Imagine how much your organization will grow if you can turn that number around. Connecting employees to your mission, getting to know them individually, and getting them involved in public service projects are all great ways of engaging your team. Which leads us to …
  4. Culture is good for business. “Highly engaged employees perform 20 percent better and are 87 percent less likely to leave,” Christensen said.

All of this really boils down to engagement. Getting your team to give you their discretionary effort — their heads and their hearts — is a huge differentiator for your business.

So how do you do that?

Dan Pink boils it down to three keys — three things that every employee wants. Give your teams these three things, and they’ll work their asses for you.

  • Autonomy: Give your people important work, then let them do it. Get out of the way and give them real control over the work they do and how they do it. Self-direction is a key to meaningful engagement.
  • Mastery: Fast Company editor Robert Safian says the most important skill any of us can possess today is the ability to learn new skills. Help your team learn those new skills. Give them stretch assignments that will push them out of their comfort zone. Once they master those assignments, give them something harder to do, and let them master those skills, too. The idea is to foster improvement, continual mastery, and growth.
  • Purpose: Employees want more than just a job. They want to know that their work makes a difference. If you can connect your team to a higher purpose, you’ll get their best work. And remember: That purpose has to be about more than making money. It has to affect real change in the world.


There’s your secret to business success. Engage your people. Give them important work and room to grow. Connect them to your purpose and mission.

Culture pays. Make it pay for you.


William D. Sheridan