building company culture

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Recently, I was intrigued by a video on YouTube entitled ‘Ant Death Circle’—thousands of tiny army ants marching in an endless circle to their demise. They moved like a storm on a weather forecast.

Wait. What? How this could possibly happen?

Apparently, army ants are blind. They rely heavily upon each other’s scent to find food. As an ant walks, it leaves behind a trail of pheromones, which allows for other ants to follow. These ants had managed to encircle their trail pheromones and the result was mass suicide.

Are we this way? Us. Humans. Are we more like army ants than we’d like to admit?

If culture is brought about by the trail breaking of a few and the repetition by the many—how does one change culture?

I can’t tell you how many times I heard friends, associates, neighbors and their dogs complain bitterly about both major candidates in the last election—and yet I know millions voted for both.

Why?

Without taking a political stance toward either persuasion, I’d like point out other historical instances, which have also baffled me, as they relate to cultural influence. Consider Nazi German during the holocaust. Consider the People’s Temple. Consider the bellbottom craze of the 70s, or last year’s epidemic of Pokémon Go. Who suddenly decided it was okay for grown men and women to pull over on the freeway and catch graphic images of Japanese cartoons?

The answer: culture.

Culture dictates to the masses what is cool, what is acceptable and what is fashion suicide. To change culture is to change behavior. As society decides on the cultural norm, the masses will soon begin to reflect those values. This is as important to a company as it is to a sports team, a Facebook group or an entire nation.

Unfortunately, building or changing culture is easier said than done—but here are some things to consider.

Power in the Trendsetter

To change a culture you must first have a spark. A groundbreaker. Someone who’ll decide what’s what. These trendsetters are the individuals with whom the masses take great interest. These are the LeBron James and the Oprah Winfreys of the world. Some acquire this influence through prestige, eloquence, reputation or a history of success. Others acquire it by more practical means.

A boss, for example, naturally becomes a trendsetter, as he or she is the one most directly influential on the potential rise or fall of an employee. This doesn’t guarantee any kind of control—but only the most promising potential for change, either for good or bad.

All real, sustainable influence must be earned.

Understanding the Masses

Nick Woodman, the founder of GoPro, did not become a billionaire sensation over night. He first had to understand the needs and desires of those he sought influence. While surfing in Australia, he noticed a slew of surfer/photographers who were seeking to capture high-quality photographs of their expeditions. The cameras were big, impractical and, once wet, permanently damaged. Once he understood the surfers’ needs, he was generated an idea that rocked the world of videography.

Understanding the people is the first step to acquiring their influence.

Of one, Abraham Lincoln once said, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”

Aligning the interests of the people and the company

The free market ideals with which this country was built, originated from a simple idea of mutual interest. What’s good for you might also be good for me. Lawyers did not become lawyers to read Latin. Doctors did not become doctors to be woken up at 3:30 a.m. to perform surgery. There is always a motive behind every employee and behind every employee’s chosen path.

You may be surprised to find that these core motives not only align with that of the company’s, but once realized, will do more for success and change in culture than anything else.

Find them. Magnify them.

Time

Remember that culture is not a racecar that can stop and turn on a dime. It’s a ship. It must be driven with constant care and patience. Thousands of ants did not die because they just decided to walk in an endless circle.

They died because they were just following the leader. Thoughtlessly.

By tim brown
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