Creating an Organization That No One Would Ever Want to Leave
I was talking to a small company in upstate New York yesterday about possible culture work, and in the course of the conversation, the executive stated what I think sums up the fundamental desire of leaders who are now turning their attention to culture. They may not know what culture is, exactly, and they’re not sure how much things like perks, parties, or core values matter, but in the end, they are crystal clear on what they want. In the words of this senior manager:
I want this to be a company where no one ever wants to leave.
That’s it. Everyone wants a company with a culture that is literally exceptional—as in, it’s an exception to the rule. It’s palpably better than what people have to suffer through in most organizations. It’s so amazing, that no one would ever want to leave it.
That may seem like a fantasy, but Maddie and I have seen organizations that have achieved this; we wrote about them in When Millennials Take Over. Seriously, in our interviews during the research for that book, multiple employees at several of the organizations we studied all told us a version of “I can’t imagine working anywhere else.” These companies are nailing it, and despite being different sizes, operating in different industries, and having distinctly different cultures, here’s their secret:
Culture is integrated into everything they do.
Culture is not just an idea for them, and it never lives solely in the rituals and artifacts that represent it (though rituals and artifacts do matter). Culture is integrated. It’s deeply infused in the hiring process. It’s in their performance reviews. It’s in their budgeting. It’s in their leadership development approach. It’s in their strategy. It’s in their office design. Their cultures are so strong that when the founder who created the culture leaves the company, the culture doesn’t miss a beat (that actually happened in one of the companies we studied).
That’s what we mean by “integrated,” which is the highest level in our new Culture Management Maturity Model (white paper coming soon!). Culture is not the only thing you need to get right to be an amazing organization, and, for the record, at some point some people will still want to leave (it’s not everyone’s destiny to work for you forever…relax), but please know this truth:
You will not achieve that “amazing” company you have in your head, unless you commit to culture over the long haul.
Culture will become a portion of your work effort as a leader…forever. That will be true for a percentage of your people too. There will probably be a noticeable tech spend related to culture too. If you’re like most organizations, that’s not your reality now. You probably only think of culture periodically, or as a single project. You can survive doing that, and you can even improve doing that, but you won’t become “exceptional” until you commit time and resources on a permanent basis.