Perhaps more than ever, the idea of company or corporate culture has gained traction as a critical aspect of any organization, whether in terms of hiring, mergers & acquisitions, or internal productivity. A quick Google search will bring up pages of articles with titles like “A Look at the Corporate Culture of [XYZ]” or “The Importance of Company Culture.” There is no one definition of company culture, but it is loosely defined by the Business Dictionary as “the values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization.”
But perhaps the biggest influence on corporate culture is the ‘why’ that drives it – specifically, why does the organization exist, what is its purpose, and why should anybody care?
This is a piece of the puzzle that sometimes goes missing because it is easy to get caught up in the trappings of corporate – the basic “what do we do” of the organization. As a mission statement and the encapsulation of an organization, it’s not particularly inspiring, but collections of phrases like this often become the default answer to defining a particular corporate culture because these surface details are the easiest to access and explain, so they are typically what we use. But is that the most effective way to communicate a corporate culture, especially one that will inspire confidence in others, differentiate you from the pack, and allow you to lead in your field?
There is a key flaw in this method of thinking, which Simon Sinek analyzes in his TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” He explains that while most people think in terms of the surface details, great innovators and leaders think from the inside out – that is, they start at the ‘why’ of their organization and build out from there, which presents a much more convincing, worthwhile, and inspiring culture. He cites Apple as a frequent example, saying:
“If Apple were like everyone else, a marketing message from them might sound like this: “We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. Want to buy one?” “Meh.” And that’s how most of us communicate…We say what we do, we say how we’re different or how we’re better, and we expect some sort of a behavior, a purchase, a vote, something like that. “Here’s our new law firm: We have the best lawyers with the biggest clients, we always perform for our clients who do business with us.”….But it’s uninspiring. Here’s how Apple actually communicates: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?” Totally different.”
We all know how successful Apple is and what a loyal following they have; it is due to the time and effort they took to cultivate the identity of their brand, which is indeed based on thinking “outside the box.” In the words of Sinek, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
He goes on to explain the biology of the human brain that drives this, but rather than paraphrasing the entire talk, we definitely suggest you check the entire video yourself. We would only add that as a leader, it’s just as important to think “outside the box” when helping to define and promote a corporate culture, and instead of getting caught up in the “what” of your brand or organization, it is critical to success to address the “why” first.