How to Create a Culture that Elevates Your Company and Employees

April 5, 2021

Analyzing the 3 Stages and 18 ideas of Culture Renovation by Kevin Oakes

In February 2021, I attended a virtual Scaling Up+ Summit hosted by Verne Harnish. One of the speakers was Kevin Oakes, the Co-founder and CEO of the Institute for Corporate Productivity. Also known as i4cp, his company works with businesses and HR Executives on people practices that drive high performance.

He’s also the author of a book entitled, Culture Renovation: 18 Leadership Actions to Build an Unshakeable Company. Released in January 2021, the book has received substantial support. Tom Rath wrote the forward, and notable thought leaders like Dan Pink and Marshall Goldsmith are really supportive of the effort. Additionally, Oakes was on Brené Brown’s podcast on January 11, 2021 to discuss the book, and she fully endorsed it.

In part one of a three-part series, I will explore the various nooks and crannies of Cultural Renovation to help you better understand how to improve your company culture and grow your business.

From Best to Next Practices

Culture Renovation hits at a very transformative time in our society and aligns with the extensive human capital research conducted by i4cp. The organization uses a business-centric lens to learn what high-performing organizations are doing differently with their people practices versus low-performing ones.

Oakes defines high-performance companies by their superior revenue growth, market share, profitability, and customer satisfaction over a five-year time horizon compared to competitors. His analytics team examines not only what those high performers do differently, but also which practices correlate to bottom-line business impact and market performance.  

While i4cp identifies best practices from current businesses, what the company truly hangs its hat on are next practices. They define the concept as the exercises and operations that directly relate to bottom-line business impact. Since most companies have yet to implement such efforts, Oakes and his people pursue what companies should do in the future to drive growth.

And for many of these forward-thinking businesses, it started with addressing culture in fresh, new ways.

The Importance of Workplace Culture

The business community is finally talking about culture with the depth and urgency it deserves. One obvious reason is the COVID-19 pandemic and how, beginning in March of last year, the way we work was utterly changed. We now have over a year of news stories, data, and thought leadership content about how the cultures of various organizations have suffered, changed, or thrived because of the pandemic.

Think about it from your business’s perspective. Your company changed during the pandemic whether you liked it or not, especially if you weren’t prepared for remote work. I’ve helped clients face questions such as:

·       How did remote work affect the company at large?

·       How have you been passive and just reacted to what's happened?

·       How can you proactively shape the culture you want for the future?

Many top organizations have taken the proactive approach, often at the insistence of a board and/or other stakeholders. Boards have adopted an increased interest in organizational culture over the last few years, partly because of recommendations from The National Association of Corporate Directors. The NACD released a report in 2017 called Culture as A Corporate Asset. It stated that oversight of corporate culture should be among the top governance imperatives for every board.

Building upon that report, Oakes personally talked to several chairs of boards and directors on public company boards. Nearly all of them said they have much more interest in workplace culture today than at any time in the past.

Some of this attention is the result of boards just trying to better understand the culture. Why? Because most boards used to view the culture of the company they govern exclusively through the eyes of the CEO. Thankfully, that disturbing habit is on a downward trend.

Today, they're looking for more independent measures and enhanced metrics around culture overall. They want to make sure the organization is prepared for the future, but they're also doing it from a risk mitigation standpoint.

Workplace Culture Case Studies and Other Examples

Corporate scandals about awful workplaces have become very visible – which I view as a good thing. The Boeing 737 Max situation, which the House of Representatives said was the result of a culture of concealment, is one very prominent news story. Additionally, Wells Fargo had a sales department with a very aggressive culture that crossed many ethical boundaries. WeWork is also another example where the toxic culture inside the organization contributed to reductions in their valuation.

The boards of directors of today want to know what’s happening in their workplaces so they can nip poor culture in the bud early. Jamie Gorelick, who sits on Amazon’s board and a couple other public boards, said the following:

“Corporate boards want to know if they’re sitting on quicksand. They want to know how well their companies are run, and what the spirit of the people in the company is…many board members said to themselves, ‘I had no idea that was the kind of community that we were supposedly overseeing.’”

A Deeper Dive into Company Culture at Microsoft

Oakes provided excellent examples throughout his book of how culture translates to performance, and Microsoft is a perfect example. He is particularly fascinated by Microsoft, as he believes Satya Nadella has done a marvelous job at changing the culture of the organization. Nadella is one of only three CEOs in the company’s history, and his perspective is a little different from the others.

The fact that he came up through the ranks of the organization is not lost on his employees. Right from the start, Nadella talked openly about the importance of culture. In his very first shareholder meeting, he said,

“Our ability to change our culture is the leading indicator of our future success.”

I love that quote. I believe culture is critical to the overall performance of any organization. According to Oakes, Nadella rallied Microsoft’s culture very early on around a very simple concept: “growth mindset.” Originally from Mindset by Carol Dweck, it's the idea that you have to always be learning. Skills and capabilities are not innate. They can be learned, and you have to learn from your mistakes.

Oakes states Nadella does a marvelous job of that as Microsoft’s leader. Anytime there is a mistake, the company uses it as a learning opportunity. Nadella is famous for saying,

“I want a company of “learn-it-alls, not know-it-alls.”

Far too often, know-it-alls fetishize the accumulation of knowledge and wield it as a powerful bludgeon instead of wisely sharing knowledge so everyone can succeed. He wants his company to believe that knowledge sharing is power.  

From the day Nadella was named CEO to today, he has built Microsoft into one of the most valuable companies in the world. He will tell you in no uncertain terms that culture is a big reason for that growth and increase in performance. I tend to agree with him, and Kevin Oakes does, too.

Are you interested in learning more about the power of company culture? Do you need tools for diagnosing what’s currently happening so you can make better decisions and change the future of your business? Contact me today for a free consultation. I want to help you create a positive culture that changes your life, the lives of your people, and how you run your company.