Culture is a system of shared knowledge, beliefs, procedures, attitudes and artifacts that exists among a group of humans. This occurs in families, in countries, and definitely in companies. Worldwide.
The idea of co-creating a WOW culture was most formally coined by Zappos, the American online retailer who took an ordinary business and made it extraordinary. While their core operation is a call center, which is not necessarily sexy or exciting, they’ve done something really special there by building a culture that WOWs from the inside out. But, what does it mean to WOW?
To illustrate the value of WOW culture, I will begin with a story about my Lyft driver.
This morning, I took a Lyft and my driver told me about his life. He comes from the northeast African country Eritrea and he was a pilot there for 7 years. During the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the plane industry was shut down and he was forced to look for work elsewhere. After applying for Visas in 7 different countries, the United States was the only country that accepted his application.
Though he was a Commander and top ranked pilot at his former company, in the U.S., he has to start from the bottom because he will be flying a different plane.
The process to become a pilot involves the pilot-in-training to pay $250,000 and spend 2-3 years in school. He also cannot leave the country to visit his family because his green card hasn’t been approved due to restrictions from the U.S. government. He hasn’t seen his family in 4 years.
He then told me of a friend who works for another airline company outside the U.S. This company pays their pilots-in-training while they train, it provides health benefits including generous maternity leave and on-site day care, it houses its employees when they’re in between moves. From the CEO to the custodian, everyone is paid not just a living wage but a thriving wage. No company is perfect but generally the people love to come to work everyday.
Despite this alternative offer, Noah chose to stay in the U.S. with this airline so that one day he can bring his family here. Despite the odds he believes in the American dream and wants his family to have access to better opportunities. The last thing he said to me when I got out of the car, “Always follow your dream.”
You can see that the concept of culture lives everywhere and that it can have both meaningful and sometimes detrimental effects on people’s lives. The culture of a country and its policies. The culture of a company and the way it treats its people. Noah’s cultural value of family.
If our culture is a set of beliefs, values, norms, and behaviors then nearly everything we see and touch lives within one sense of culture or another.
And now as business owners, leaders, directors, and employees at every level but even more so as human beings, we have an opportunity to intentionally shape the cultures we live in.
After defining WHAT you do (the mission), ask yourself WHY you do it (the purpose), then HOW you will do it (the values). As you look at the HOW think about what a WOW might feel like:
What’s helpful is to know what your people value. Don’t just guess, ask them!
You can start small by striking up a conversation with a colleague or hosting a Culture Discovery lunch gathering/meeting for your team to ask these questions:
Try something medium scale.
Or do something larger scale like bringing in some coaching or consulting support to:
From what I’ve learned about culture after 5 years working for DH and 8 years in the consulting world is that it’s all about learning and growing together. How do we do that? By asking, listening, and sensing into what’s real and true in your organization. When it comes to culture, there is no one size fits all design. Every organization has its own unique cultural DNA.
A few examples of how other organizations build WOW in their culture:
But WOWing one another doesn’t always have to cost money. Meaningful recognition goes a long way, like hearing someone’s story (maybe the story of your next Lyft driver). And no one knows your business better than the people who work there. Ask them, “how might we create a culture where people feel highly engaged and valued? How do we WOW?”
Your people will recognize your sincerity and thank you for it!