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Center a Lasting Corporate Culture Around Positive Core Values

October 13, 2017

Positive corporate culture

Business leaders may think that a great corporate culture is more of a nice-to-have than a must-have. But Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks, points out that every company has a culture anyway, whether the leadership knows what it is or not. The job of leaders is to make sure their culture is designed to last.

“The question is whether [the culture is] is defined or not and whether it is becoming what the organization wants it to become, including the leadership,” said Behar in a podcast with AMA Edgewise.

Behar believes that culture is an essential factor in corporate success. “The key here is being aware of where you are and being focused on what you want to become as an organization, and only leadership can drive that,” said Behar, who helped Starbucks grow from 28 stores to more than 15,000 during his tenure at the company. He is the author of The Magic Cup: A Business Parable About a Leader, a Team, and the Power of Putting People and Values First (Center Street, 2017).

Positive values, healthy culture

In his interview with AMA, Behar offers these pointers on developing the culture of a company or team:

Culture reflects values. Just as every family has a culture—even if the parents have not defined it—every company has a culture that represents its values. “If you don’t define any values, or if you define the wrong ones, then you get an unhealthy culture,” Behar said.

A culture must be about more than winning. A lasting culture is not one focused solely on getting big fast or making money. According to Behar, a corporate culture needs to incorporate “all the same things that make up a fulfilling human life.”

He suggests that leaders identify the core values that have meaning for them—for example, treating people with dignity and respect or having an honest culture. To define these values, write down what each of them looks like in action. The core values, along with a purpose statement, should be given to your team for their input.

“Slowly but surely, the team starts to come together and coalesce around a common set of values that you hold each other accountable for and a common purpose,” said Behar.

Leaders must model their values. It’s a simple truth that people will copy what you do, not what you say. His advice to new managers is to think about how their own actions inform the actions of those they work with.

As Behar said, “Culture matters, and how you live it and how you bring it about in your organization makes a difference. There’s no way around it.”

Listen to the podcast with Howard Behar.

For insights on other topics, visit AMA Edgewise.

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