Most entrepreneurs meticulously build their business plans, organizational charts, and boards of directors and assume that the culture will follow. In reality, it is the reverse. A visionary creates the culture and assembles the company around it. It is an art rather than a science and can be counterintuitive.
Research from the Corporate Executive Board has shown that emotional factors are four times as significant as rational factors when it comes to the amount of effort employees put into their work. The feelings of being “fired up” or “burned out” are emotional states.
So what is culture? Culture is the heart and soul of your vision—it is what you want your baby to grow up to be. And this doesn’t mean how big or how much—it is what your company will mean to the people who work with you. When work has meaning, people have passion, and when people are passionate they become more than “workers”—they become a committed, unstoppable force.
To raise this healthy, happy, productive child, you have to be a parent who nurtures and rewards as often as you set and reinforce rules. This means getting hands-on and devoting an abundance of time to selecting your leadership team, ensuring that each person is not only smarter than you in their area of experience, but is committed to your vision.
To illustrate, consider Abraham Lincoln’s reaction to the suggestion that General Ulysses S. Grant—unpopular and reputedly a heavy drinker—should be removed from command, to which Lincoln replied:
“I can’t spare this man; he fights! If I knew what brand of whiskey he drinks, I would send a barrel or so to some other generals.”
General Grant shared Lincoln’s commitment—win at all costs—and as a results-oriented Commander in Chief, Lincoln was willing to buck both popular opinion and the advice of his aides. Ultimately, he would fire five generals during the Civil War, one of them twice (McClellan), in an effort to find men as passionately committed to his vision as he was. In the end, it won Lincoln the war.
Where Lincoln wasn’t afraid to hire and fire until his winning culture was built, I recommend developing “colonels with potential” as an alternate, more rewarding process.