6 Attributes of a Future Proof Company Culture
Create a difficult-to-copy, sustainable competitive advantage using habit design: your company culture.
Your future success will be won or lost on your ability to change your habits, influence others to do the same and create the conditions for habit change to stick within your organization.
The thinking, habits and structures that once served your company are probably making it difficult for you to compete, adapt and stay ahead of the game. Your people and leaders struggle to keep pace with the emerging skills needed for the work of today and tomorrow.
You realize that change is necessary.
They typically end up wasting time and money, decreasing trust between leadership and employees, and they distract everyone from their core work.
If everyone agrees that an evolution is crucial for staying competitive in today’s business environment, then why is it so rarely successful?
If company culture is simply a summation of all habits (ways of thinking, behaving and working), and strong company culture is a source of competitive advantage, then we must cultivate a new set of habits for work and life.
In support, companies must evolve the nature of work (and the workplace itself) to create conditions conducive to the habits that they’d like their people to practice.
That makes it sound simple, right? But we know better.
Culture design isn’t a silver bullet solution. It requires small experiments and changes over time to maintain momentum, minimize distraction, gain buy-in, and support sustainable habit change.
Building a new set of desired habits means evolving or designing a new company culture, which requires that many levers be pulled simultaneously:
→ Executive leadership must be the change, walk the walk and visibly demonstrate the new ways of thinking and acting they desire from their people.
→ Managers must be committed to owning the change, communicating its importance and modeling it within their teams, even when the daily pressures of work and life get in the way.
→ Employees must be empowered to create the change and understand how their habits impact the success of the business in a real, tangible way.
→ Most importantly, the conditions of the company must evolve in order to support employees in this change. If the policies and procedures, physical environment, team structures and employee development programs present barriers to change in any way, it will cause tension and frustration, resulting in abandonment of the initiative, a loss in trust, disengagement, and skepticism for future change projects.
Companies cannot expect their people to do things differently if the company itself does not create the proper conditions for change.
6 Attributes of Future Proof Company Cultures
At Habits at Work, we believe that Future Proof companies have 6 core attributes that allow them to stand apart from the pack — today and tomorrow.
Future Proof company cultures build individual employee capacity for self-awareness, self-care and self-regulation habits through personal and professional development. They encourage exploration, learning and connection.
Aware company cultures are also situationally aware, meaning that the organization itself has an awareness of its realistic position in the marketplace so it can sense future opportunities and avoid threats.
A large part of this awareness is understanding and laying bare the underlying motivations of achieving success from a collective point of view.
Aware companies not only share their larger vision with the world — they make a point to share their reason for achieving it, which is typically some driving force or underlying motivation.
The organization as a whole recognizes that it has blindspots and its leadership encourages openness and transparency throughout the company.
Difficult conversations, purposeful debate and challenging the status quo happen frequently at an Aware company.
Lastly, an Aware company understands its place within larger society, including the impact its operations and brand have on all of its stakeholders, including employees, shareholders, investors, various communities, and the earth.
Aware company example: Patagonia
As evidenced in Patagonia’s mission statement, “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis,” the company is aware of its impact on the world and the environment. This awareness drives business decisions, influencing sourcing, the supply chain and messaging.
Employee self-awareness is also empowered at Patagonia. In Let My People Go Surfing, founder/owner Yvon Chouinard wrote about a common thread for all Patagonia employees:
“ a passion for something outside themselves, whether for surfing or opera, climbing or gardening, skiing or community activism.”
Future Proof company cultures create the proper conditions for employees to effortlessly practice the habits necessary for integrity, honesty, open communication and accountability, inside and outside of the company.
Trustworthy company cultures demonstrate a high level of commitment and integrity at the individual, team, department and organization level. Only when trust is present within a company culture can it be generated externally with customers.
Trustworthy company example: Chipotle
Chipotle is a company committed to delivering “Food with Integrity.” They are transparent and practice open communication at the individual location level about their sourcing and sustainability practices and the quality of ingredients that are on offer each day.
Unlike many other quick service restaurants, the food preparation process is visibleand customers can see how their food is made.
Even during a misstep, Chipotle actively builds trust and integrity by being honest, taking extra steps to improve food safety and communicate with their customers.
Future Proof company cultures clearly articulate their reason for existingand they paint a picture of how the world will be different and better if they are successful in achieving their vision.
They empower their people to connect the company’s collective purpose and vision to their individual contribution, giving meaning to every employee’s work.
These companies can harness the power of shared values and a collective purpose, while making it tangible and actionable for their people.
What sets apart a purpose-driven company from one that uses a mission statement for marketing purposes? The company must operationalize their purpose into all aspects of their business, including the employee and customer experience, and the way they make business decisions.
Purposeful company example: Olson Engage
PR firm Olson Engage is a purpose-driven company that brings its mission statement to life every day for its employees and customers.
Olson Engage’s mission:
“We exist in order to create meaningful impact for our clients and meaningful opportunities for our people.”
The agency boasts many awards and accolades due to the value and impact it achieves for its clients, and it ranks as one of the PR industry’s top employers of choice. The link between investing in company culture and success for clients is a clear one for Olson Engage.
Future Proof company cultures understand the importance of building strong relationships with their employees, customers, shareholders, communities and competitors. These cultures also empower employees to develop strong ties with their peers, teammates, professional networks, and they give people the space to deepen their personal relationships with friends and family.
People need strong relationships and connection to flourish. There are many studies showing that performance is improved when people have strong connections at work.
The work of today and tomorrow requires speed, creativity and collaboration. When people have strong relationships, they can challenge and question each other while also providing an open environment supportive of new ideas and smart risk taking.
Connected company example: Starbucks
Starbucks, the company famous for creating a “third place” for people to gather outside of home and work, understands the power of connection. It creates value for its employees, customers and communities through many initiatives, including:
- My Starbucks Idea: A way for customers to play a role in shaping their experience by suggesting ideas to improve the business.
- Store-Driven Community Service: The company empowers each of its stores to participate in local community service projects, with a goal of 100% store participation in service globally by 2020.
- Supporting Farmers + Communities: Having invested over $70 million in collaborative farmer programs and activities, Starbucks is improving communities and supporting farms where it sources its coffee beans.
Future Proof company cultures build the capacity to adapt to change through flexibility, long-term thinking, decentralized decision making and autonomy.
Mention “emergence” and many design consultants will ramble on about complex adaptive systems and organizations with more employees than some mid-sized cities.
Here, we simply mean:
- A company-wide ability to change and adapt
- Ability to challenge employees with new roles and projects that change over time
- Strategic in thought, but not overly focused on executing the most perfectstrategies
- Short-term planning for long-term outlook
- Lack of sunk cost fallacy
- Ability to self-organize and self-manage individual and team work
- Experiments and feedback shape direction and execution in real-time
- A focus on continued learning and growth at the individual and organizational level
Emergent company example: Alphabet (formerly Google)
In 2015, Google restructured to create a new parent company: Alphabet. In a letter explaining the move written by Google co-founder Larry Page, he touches on many of the aspects we define as emergent:
“We are excited about…Getting more ambitious things done. Taking the long-term view. Empowering great entrepreneurs and companies to flourish. Investing at the scale of the opportunities and resources we see. Improving the transparency and oversight of what we’re doing. Making Google even better through greater focus. And hopefully… as a result of all this, improving the lives of as many people as we can.”
Future Proof company cultures focus on continued growth and learning to improve capability, which can be defined as competence (or an ability to do something) plus confidence (belief in the ability to do something).
Coined by Peter Senge and his colleagues, the concept of the “learning organization” has been gaining traction in recent years. Learning organizations facilitate continued learning and transformation at the employee level.
Capable company cultures are growth oriented — but not in the Silicon Valley sense. They support their people to master new skills, ways of thinking, behaviors and ways of relating and delivering value to each other, customers and the world.
Capable company cultures empower their people with the autonomy to make decisions and choices. When decision making is decentralized, it is crucial that employees share a set of principles or values and a collective vision so that everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction.
Capable organizations are able to adapt, shift and rise to the occasion much faster than their incapable rivals due to the ability of every employee to make decisions.
Capable company example: Nordstrom
It is rumored that the employee handbook at Nordstrom is printed on a single 3x5" card that reads “Use good judgement in all situations.” At Nordstrom, all employees are empowered to solve problems and serve customers by using their own judgement — an excellent example of decentralized decision making and autonomy. For the 20th year in a row, Nordstrom employees ranked the company as one of the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For.