This blog post is inspired by “Don’t Fuck Up the Culture” written by Airbnb Co-founder & CEO Brian Chesky. “Why is culture so important to a business? Here is a simple way to frame it. The stronger the culture, the less corporate process a company needs. When the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing. People can be independent and autonomous. They can be entrepreneurial.
And if we have a company that is entrepreneurial in spirit, we will be able to take our next “(wo)man on the moon” leap. Ever notice how families or tribes don’t require much process? That is because there is such a strong trust and culture that it supersedes any process. In organizations (or even in a society) where culture is weak, you need an abundance of heavy, precise rules and processes.” This type of culture is healthy & brings with it an amazing capacity to scale.
Culture equals scale & workforce agility
During a recent interview with a highly respected & successful business leader, and now CEO coach, I heard how it was hard for him to accept that culture is “everything”. After all, he’d seen toxic cultures become very big & successful companies. You don’t need to look any further than Apple, and the infamous stories that have come to the surface about their culture at times.
Reflecting on personal experience, and the reference made by Peter Theil in the original “Don’t Fuck Up the Culture” post, indeed culture may not be the end-all to be-all IF your company is the exception to the rule & you have the strongest command & control process driven company on the planet. Which by the way, is a culture in itself, just not a healthy one!
The Starfish and the Spider
My good & respected friend Rod Beckstrom co-authored The Starfish and the Spider, and in it he describes the Starfish vs Spider model of leadership in business & society. The most simple analogy is that the spider has a head and eight legs. Cut off one and then two legs, the spider survives, but moves wobbly and not as fast. Cut off a few more legs & the spider becomes motionless. Cut off it’s head & it dies. Command & control culture is a spider, and the CEO is typically the head. The starfish on the other hand has no head, but rather a decentralized neural structure permitting regeneration. Cut off a limb and the spider grows that limb back. Better yet, the cut-off limb eventually regenerates a whole new starfish. The only way to kill the starfish is to cut it’s central ring, it’s core ideology that feeds & nurtures it’s extremities. Extremities which are independent and autonomous, just like healthy families and tribes that don’t require much process to scale & succeed.
Starfish = healthy decentralized culture where it’s extremities feed off of & buy into a core ideology.
Spider = slow, vulnerable wait for one person to make a decision & then “force” it’s will upon it’s extremities.
Culture isn’t everything, and yet it is
Yes, a company can survive without a healthy & vibrant company culture. But it will be the 1-in-a-million, whereas a healthy company culture will have a far greater likelihood of succeeding, attracting & retaining top talent while moving with greater speed and agility toward success.
Call to Action
What type of culture do you have? Is it being lived? Is it alive or still aspirational? What can you do this week to nail your company culture & start the process of getting everyone to buy-in & on the same page?