There is a lot of talk these days about your WHY.  As a case in point, Simon Sinek’s now infamous TED Talk about how great leaders inspire action, which popularized the notion of “starting with why” and cemented it within modern management lexicon, has over 32 million views on TED.com.

There is good reason for this. Research from Intentional Change Theory points to a personal vision, founded in one’s understanding of their ideal self, as a driver of sustainable, desired change. Likewise, a shared vision for teams, organizations and larger social systems can fill us with hope and inspire new possibilities, sustaining change. Our why is clearly important. Have you ever watched JFK’s, “We choose to go to the moon” speech? JFK united America with a bold and daring shared vision and on July 20th, 1969 we won the space race.

But this post is not really about your WHY.  We know how important this is. It’s a non-starter today. Without it we can’t differentiate ourselves, attract high-caliber people to our causes nor align collective energy in a focused direction. We get it. Thank you, Simon.

This post is really a challenge to our community, including Roam, to ask and answer the questions, what are we actually doing to take our inspiration (our WHY) and design and manifest it in our businesses? Are we living out the values – the values we say make our company great and our product or service amazing – in our everyday systems and processes? I might discuss the value of collaboration in every team meeting, but do our rewards systems foster competition instead? 

The purpose of organizational culture is to support the end you have in mind for your company. It’s not free lunch and unlimited vacation days, it’s how things are done, by and between human beings, day in and day out, in support of your business strategy. This is the value of culture. It’s not an expense line. It’s not overhead. It’s not a “nice to have.” It’s not Google. It’s high functioning practices, processes and systems built around your values, brand and strategy that help manifest your WHY. This is where the real work gets done in organizations. This is where your personal values are called into question and get tested every day. This is the combat of business. Organizational culture is the battlefield.

At Roam one of our core values is personalized service. Personalized Service, or any value for that matter, is just a platitude if it is not designed and operationalized into our business operations. It should serve our strategy. It should help differentiate our brand. It should help us select between two candidates fighting for the same job opening. We can talk about it all day long, but what we do with Personalized Service is what becomes of our culture and whether or not it helps or hinders our business goals.

As an example of this value being lived out at Roam, one our recruiting and hiring practices is to respond with dignity, honor and respect to every job candidate that makes an earnest effort to apply to Roam. It’s a principle and process we will scale no matter how big we get. A lot of us have been there: unemployed or unhappy, searching for our dream job like it’s a full-time job. Applying to companies we admire, yet never hearing from anyone in the HR department, even after spending half-a-day completing their application. I call it the application black hole. I probably have 50 applications floating in outer space still from past employment searches. What a lousy and dehumanizing experience. So at Roam, applicants are going to get a response with personal touch. At the very least we can say thank you for the effort. Does this practice generate more revenue for Roam? I don’t know, but it does move us closer to our WHY, to renew and inspire how the world does business. I do know our members, guests, team members and talented recruits are intelligent and capable enough of discerning whether we’re being authentic or not as a brand, and will choose Roam accordingly.

As a Roam member, there is a good chance that you are an entrepreneur building a new business or a leader scaling up an organization. In either case, you have a unique, competitive advantage that your slower, bigger, incumbent competitors do not: designing and creating the future that you want to see from the ground up. So where does that leave you? Try the simple exercise below and let the outcome dictate you and your team’s action steps. Begin with the end you have in mind – your why – then design it into every process and system in your business – where the rubber meets the road on organizational culture.

EXERCISE

Close your eyes.

Picture in your mind an experience you’ve had with a successful company that you admire for their organizational culture.

What is it about the company and their influence on you that made you choose them?

Now right down the qualities or characteristics of this company.

What narrative is emerging about it? What insights are coming up about how their culture has enabled their success?

Write down these attributes and share with your team.

Discuss with your team, what applies to your context and what are you going to do about it?

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Blake Shubert

Senior Director of People & Culture, Roam

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