There are questions we hear, usually from companies larger than a couple of hundred people, posing the problem of “how do you enable teams to be high performing, self-organizing, -disciplined, -managed, and yet have these teams be able to represent one single company?”

The underlying fear is one of the teams running amok creating their own set of values different from those of the mothership.

The first step: really think about your culture

And I don’t mean by making a purple A0-sized poster with “Integrity, Communication, Excellence and Respect” (Enron’s values) written on it with hopes that the poster seeps into everyone’s brains by osmosis.

Netflix is a great example of how if you focus on culture, you can truly turn a company around. Back in 2009, Reed Hastings of Netflix released a powerpoint deck about their culture and it went viral. Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook was quoted as saying “it’s the most important document to ever come out of the valley.” What makes it special is the commitment of Netflix executive team to creating a great culture, keep the culture thriving, and their obvious belief in their success through people. There is no one-size-fits all when developing a healthy, sustainable culture that results in higher performance and a competitive advantage.

Netflix is a very secure organization that has a clear understanding of their DNA, and even in 2009 they knew where they were headed and had a plan to get there. This plan included a very attractive culture to work and thrive. In effect, the Netflix execs ditched the concept that humans are resources and embraced the idea that their employees are all one-of-a-kind human beings that, when treated as such, will respond with remarkable performance. You can find the original Netflix culture document here.

Netflix Culture Code deck is almost like a constitution – they’ve made small changes to it over the years, and want it to reflect what they are.

The effort of creating a culture code allows teams to come together as a group and figure out what values they want to live by as a team on a day-to-day basis. This exposes the cultural values you think currently exist within your company, those that don’t, the changes that need to be made, the kind of employees you want in the organization, and what values they should embody.

If you’re interested in creating your own Culture Code, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Be authentic. Don’t copy.
  • Don’t be overly aspirational.
  • Capture the actual company values which is shown by who gets rewarded, promoted or let go, as opposed to the nice-sounding values like Enron’s or you risk capturing a culture incongruity. It should be a true reflection of how you operate and behave.
  • Get feedback from those living the culture at all levels in the company
  • Retrospect: do your values help employees make decisions and help connect your services with your customers? If not, what needs to change?
  • Incorporate the feedback

When you get the culture right, all things are possible.

For more examples, view culture codes from Spotify, Ideo, and dozens more.

Photo by ManilaRyce (AP Photo/Michael Stravato) and MTSOfan via Flickr, CC Licence Info