I loved this story from AirBnB co-founder Brian Chesky about the importance of organisational culture. He describes a visit from Peter Thiel just after they'd closed their Series C funding round in 2012 in which Thiel invested $150m in the fledgling business. When Chesky asked him what was the single most important piece of advice he had for them, Thiel replied 'Don't f**k up the culture'.
Thiel somewhat cyncially (but perhaps not unreasonably) believed that the early stage culture would be destroyed as they scaled. So Chesky and his co-founders decided that culture would be one of things they focused on above all else. And for good reason:
“The stronger the culture, the less 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.”
Culture, he says, is "simply a shared way of doing something with passion…By upholding our core values in everything we do. Culture is a thousand things, a thousand times." It is far more than lots of well-meaning words that then are not lived or evident in the environment in which people work every day, which somehow seems to happen so often. It's a difference summed up nicely in this quote (via Undercurrent) from Jason Fried:
"You don’t create a culture. Culture happens. It’s the by-product of consistent behavior. If you encourage people to share, and you give them the freedom to share, then sharing will be built into your culture. If you reward trust then trust will be built into your culture. Artificial cultures are instant. They’re big bangs made of mission statements, declarations, and rules. They are obvious, ugly, and plastic. Artificial culture is paint. Real cultures are built over time. They’re the result of action, reaction, and truth. They are nuanced, beautiful, and authentic. Real culture is patina. Don’t think about how to create a culture, just do the right things for you, your customers, and your team and it’ll happen."