Establishing a unique culture is fundamental to the success and sustainability of any organization. While the ultimate goal of many companies today are to go from “Good to Great,” to quote the business author Jim Collins, I would argue that companies need to aim to be “Outstanding” in order to achieve sustained success.
Collins defines a “great” company as one that has achieved high growth rates while maintaining high profit margins. But when you examine the most successful brands today, ones that I name “outstanding,” they have a common distinguishing factor that goes beyond numbers— they have a remarkable corporate culture. Google, Zappos and Apple, to name a few outstanding companies, have not only demonstrated undisputed business success, they have made their brand truly special and known in the world. It’s not just because of a great product. Their culture has made the difference.
Our journey to build a distinct culture began in 2010, when we made an important decision to take our company to the next level, and transform ourselves from a single product leader into a provider of a complete platform for intelligent engagement. But in order to successfully scale the company, increase growth rates, and continue to drive innovation, I realized we first needed a major cultural shift.
As a result, our entire company came together for three days to connect face to face, and discuss the values that define who we are in the world. While many ideas were vocalized, it became clear that there were two core values that resonated with the majority of the group—Be an Owner, and Help Others.
Ownership signifies that entrepreneurial ambition and spirit of determination that has driven the success of LivePerson since day one, and has been a shared characteristic in every hire to this day. ‘Helping others’ is a reminder to ourselves that we can only become an outstanding company, and an outstanding community, by working together and helping one another succeed.
I’m not suggesting that every CEO fly in every employee across the world for an in-person workshop (although this wouldn’t hurt) but what I do urge is that you proactively drive the change in your company’s culture: set a dedicated time in which employees have the freedom to engage honestly and openly with one another, and their leaders. Schedule a company-wide conference call, or start a dedicated group blog. The importance lies in initiating and actively encouraging this dialogue. Discuss questions like, why do you come to work everyday? What is the greater mission we are trying to achieve with our products or services? What was a crossroads in your life that led you to where you are today? These kinds of meaningful conversations create deeper understanding of one another, and can help you establish the core values that will act as a compass for employees, old and new, as they interact with one another, the external community, and with your customers on a daily basis.
At LivePerson, our core values help us navigate the day to day, and help shape how we interact with each other, our customers, shareholders and community at large,, while our company mission paints the big picture of what we’re trying to achieve in this world collectively. It aligns our teams and motivates us to innovate and succeed. Our mission is to create meaningful connections in the world, and our technology was developed to help businesses create meaningful connections. Our mission is further reflected in our culture, because we believe that being meaningfully connected to one another promotes a deep level of trust and appreciation, enabling us to execute faster, to achieve the next level of innovation, and to drive our business forward as a team.
Establishing core values and a clear mission is a crucial task for any organization. For large enterprise organizations that have many different departments that interact with customers, it’s even more essential to establish core values, in order to mold a brand experience that is consistent at every customer touch-point.
Our core values have since become a crucial part of our recruitment process, as it helps us to quickly identify people who are a cultural fit. Moreover, it helps our growing team of leaders make the right hiring decisions, since the CEO cannot feasibly be involved in every interview.
There are some important things to remember when beginning this journey. First of all, your company’s core values need to be authentic to every employee. Core values that are decided by upper management and enforced top-down often fail to be adopted because they feel more like corporate policy rather than shared values. So make sure that the formation of core values is as transparent and open of a process as possible.
A natural outcome of establishing our core values and trying to create a more connected culture was to rethink the physical and organizational structure of our company. I felt that our team dynamics, and our physical office space should reflect the values we articulate. So, we decided to eliminate private offices and cubicles entirely, and moved into an open office environment that our own employees helped architect. We also restructured teams to be less hierarchical, both in title and working dynamics. By working in flatter teams and in an open environment, we saw more organic connection, and hence more collaboration and greater opportunity for innovation.
Building a unique culture is an ongoing and ever-evolving process, but an essential practice for any entrepreneur or CEO. The sustainability of your company will depend on something more than great products or services. Developing a strong company culture enables you to provide unique value to the market, in an age where all products and services eventually become commoditized.
How you will establish a strong culture will depend on your company’s unique vision, people, and values, and I challenge you start this conversation today.
Rob LoCascio is the founder and CEO of LivePerson, a leader in intelligent engagement solutions that helps over 8,500 brands around the world connect meaningfully to their consumers online.Rob built his first company in 1991 and went on to found LivePerson in 1995. Rob was recognized for his exemplary leadership in 2010 with a Growth, Innovation and Leadership CEO of the Year Award from Frost & Sullivan. Rob is also deeply committed to connecting with his local community. He is the founder of Feeding NYC, a hunger-relief project that feeds thousands of families in New York City every Thanksgiving.
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