“Culture is the tacit agreement to let the means of subsistence disappear behind the purpose of existence.” Karl Kraus
In a recent edition of the Harvard Business Review, Bill Taylor identified a key aspect of cultural excellence when he referred to Adam Morgan’s notion of having a “lighthouse identity.” He noted that great companies stand out from others in this way:
“Every time you encounter them, however you encounter them, you understand what makes them different, what they’re prepared to do that other companies aren’t, and why what they’re doing is relevant today. That’s why building a great culture starts with intellectual clarity about what your organization stands for and why you expect to win.” (Bill Taylor, “5 Questions to Ask About Corporate Culture to Get Beyond the Usual Meaningless Blather,” HBR, June 1, 2017, p.3)
I think this is a wonderful descriptor of what separates the best from others. We all know of companies and organizations which seem different, because they exude character… the lighthouse of their culture shines like a beacon on a dark, stormy night.
Becoming a Lighthouse Company or Organization
So how do we become one of those companies? It starts with leadership. Ask yourself (and your leaders) the following questions:
- Does each of us have a stated personal leadership philosophy?
- If we’ve written it down, have we shared it with our team?
- Have we asked the team if they agree that we do what we say?
- How do we respond when bad things happen?
- Is there mutual accountability, or just vertical accountability?
If you only answer these questions once, you can expect your team will be skeptical of your sincerity here – sort of like turning the lighthouse on for a few hours, then letting it go dark.
You and your leadership team are the keepers of the flame that is your culture. Your identity is defined by how brightly it shines, every day. Your mission, intent, values, and culture are defined by who you are and what you represent. There are dozens of dead and dying companies out there with noble mission statements, and hollow cultures. Think of Enron.
It’s time to establish your “lighthouse identity.” Develop the right answers to the 5 questions above. Become the keepers of the flame, and make sure it burns brightly in the eyes of everyone in your organization. There are lot of ships out there in these stormy, uncertain times… And they’re counting on you to show them the way.
Enjoy the journey!