Contributed by Aaron Fairchild, CEO of Green Canopy Inc.
According to 2013 research published by Luigi Guiso, Paolo Sapienza and Luigi Zingales, The Value of Corporate Culture, 85% of S&P 500 companies have at least one section of their website dedicated to -- what they call -- “corporate culture” i.e. principals and values that should inform the behavior of the firm’s employees. Values are important to promote and advertise on corporate websites and reports, because it is imperative for companies to manage their image. External stakeholders expect companies to have thought about their values and publicly acknowledge them. The act of creating and promoting values can help assure external and internal stakeholders that the company has a higher degree of integrity and is guided to conduct their business in a way that is consistent with and based on their stated values.
Start with Intention
I recently spoke with the CEO of a publicly traded bank who was extremely proud of his employees for going through the process to create and document their values. They were, “developed by a group of really passionate employees that love this organization and only want the best for the bank, our employees and our customers.” Their guiding philosophy relating to their values are stated as, “Our Core Values encourage us to act in a manner that “wows” others and provide us with the opportunity to guide our actions that allow us to become who we want to be. We take pride in our Core Values and strive to live them each day.” This is an example that provides insight into great intentions and proactive leadership. However, when I asked him, “What does the bank do to ‘strive to live them each day’?” he floundered. Wasn’t it enough to go through the process to create their values and then promote them both externally and internally?
Learn from Employee Perception
This is a great place to start. But organizations that want to leverage the power of corporate culture to increase productivity and returns need to do more.
The Guiso, et al. study also uncovered some additional, interesting facts regarding advertised values. Notably, the value most commonly exploited by the S&P 500 companies was “Innovation” followed by “Integrity” and “Respect”. When the researchers attempted “…to correlate the frequency and prominence of these values to measures of short and long term performance,” they “...fail[ed] to find any significant correlation.” Basically they found that advertised values are not a great indicator of corporate and employee performance. Perhaps that is because it is easy to state your values, so everyone does.
Another point to note in the research is the concept of perceived value. The study found that if the employees of the company perceive management to have a high level of integrity, there was a positive correlation, and good outcomes in terms of higher productivity, profitability, and the ability of the company to attract talent. In other words it isn’t enough to create and promote values, they had to be perceived and held within the employee base of the organization.
So how do we know if a company’s stated values are not just something that they claim to be true, but are indeed perceived and held by the employees of the company?
A few clues to consider in your evaluation process:
I am sure you can think of many more “sniff tests”. The fact that anyone can truth-test stated values should give employees, investors, and customers alike a leg up in identifying if a company is truly anchored by its values (which correlates to performance and profitability) or if their stated values are just the lip service of corporate collateral created in the back halls of the Marketing Department.
Contributed by Krystal Meiners
As we gear up for the November Empower Happy Hour, I am excited to write an article that relates to the topic of Density.
Density is one of those subjects that can be mired in analytics – but it is also a very real phenomena that hits many hearts and can have an extreme impact on the life of a community. It has the capacity to improve or ruin neighborhoods – so it can be especially hard to know if you are doing it right.
One of my most recent and favorite density conversations was this past September at the Built Green Conference. The discussion was focused on enhancing Walkability in the suburbs by increasing the number and quality of connections between where people lived and where the wanted to go. The reason that I loved the conversation so much was because it completely challenged the notion that density does not exist in the suburbs.
Niko Larco, a professor from the University of Oregon and author of the book Site Design for Multifamily Housing: Creating Livable, Connected Neighborhoods, was the conference keynote. His address proposed that we take a new look at suburban density to see how we can make improvements in the walkability of what is currently existing. What he wanted to challenge was the idea that “No one walks in the suburbs”. Because, seriously… no one walks in the suburbs right?
When people think about the suburbs – they often think of sprawling single-family homes and whirling subdivisions that have no exits. It is true that this landscape exists a great deal in the suburbs and that this low-density development tends to blight the countryside.
What we often glaze over, however, is the existence of real density. What Larco showed in his presentation was that DENISTY DOES EXIST in the suburbs. Maybe not in the single family housing that we are so familiar with – but perhaps somewhere else. What we are missing is that medium-density apartment developments are also a huge part of the suburban landscape and have been since the 70’s. While the analytics of density might point to extremely low ratios in the suburbs – the fact is that there are dense micro-developments that rival even the densest downtown core.
In fact, Larco and his students did a great study on walkability in the suburbs and surveyed hundreds of residents that live in apartment complexes throughout America. What they found was that, absolutely, people do walk in the suburbs. They walk to the convenient stores, they walk to the grocery store (even if it is through paths paved from hundreds of trips through the buffer zones), and they even knock down fences in an effort to get from point A to point B.
I recall this kind of “suburban connection” from my youth. Particularly one that connected the woods behind my grandmother’s house to the back of the Dairy Queen. If we would have taken the paved route to this coveted location, it would have taken us three times as long to get our frozen treats – so we blazed trails, we pulled apart the fence and trampled through the poison ivy.
Now – while this kind of density isn’t what you would normally think of, and this kind of Walkability isn’t the type of trip that will show up on Walkscore – what I do love about this conversation is that it is about something more organic. It is about community-driven design in a sense. It is about people letting designers, planners and developers know what they want and where they want it.
It is about taking charge of your community. And that is really what this density conversation should be about, right? How can we enable the neighborhood to take charge of their community?
Larco has recently began working with apartment developers to give them a “recipe” for creating successful connections in and out of their development. Where these developers once built with blinders on – they are now noticing that, “hey, I don’t have to put up a fence around the whole property because there is this Pizza place right behind us.” And that saves money right?
It should and could be the same thing in any neighborhood. At Green Canopy we have recently taken steps to develop more community-driven designs. Our community meetings have become more robust – and our feedback is really changing the way that we design and develop properties. It is hard to marry what the neighbors want with what the market wants – but at the same time – there is no need to knock down fences, right?
Contributed by Aaron Fairchild, CEO of Green Canopy Inc.
Have you ever heard ANYONE say after coming back from Europe, “I had a great trip, but I just hope those Brits/Germans/French don’t lose their culture?” The very notion of a nation losing its culture seems silly. Sure cultures change, but they change over time. National cultural changes happen slowly and change is usually driven by a shock to the current way of life.
For whatever reason, corporate culture doesn’t seem as “fixed” as national culture. Nations lose their leadership, have lots of turnover and people come and go all the time. And nations are influenced by other nations in ways that it is hard to imagine might happen in companies. So what makes company culture more susceptible to change?
Fast Starts and System Shocks
I recently spoke with David Norris, CEO of MD Insider. We both agreed that companies tend to start-up rather quickly. People come together in the beginning more out of chemistry and shared excitement about the opportunity surrounding the product or idea. More often than not, they share a common national cultural framework so they already have a great basis to begin working together. They also have a shared language, and typically share the same historical perspective, political and economic frameworks (socialist, democratic, capitalist, parliamentarian), etc. Layer chemistry on top of a similar national cultural framework, and that can take the newly formed company down the road a fair bit.
The breakdown typically comes, just like with a nation, with a shock to the system. For a company this could mean jumping from four employees to twenty in less than one year, and then from twenty to forty in another six months. When countries are merged together for one reason or another, we often watch as the individual cultures tear them back apart... Infighting can happen as larger and more powerful countries begin to dictate terms. Just bringing a similar currency to Europe has been challenging since adoption of the Euro. In the same way, with companies experiencing rapid growth, bigger personalities typically dictate cultural norms, and when those personalities move, for good or bad, so goes the cultural dictator.
Core Values As Cultural Seeds
To help ensure your corporate culture isn’t encapsulated and controlled in one or two, or even just a few key personalities, consider what is at its core. Culture can be defined as the shared values, language, beliefs, and customs of a group. At the heart of culture is how we interact and behave together. At the heart of culture is how we interact together and behave together… David referred to our shared set of core values as the seeds of culture. As the seeds of culture take root in your workplace, your teams will thrive and productivity will increase.
If a group of people has a shared set of values, they can be pointed toward any mission or vision, and as long as they buy into the mission and vision, they will excel. Core values incorporate our language, what we celebrate, how we develop, our rights of passage, and how we interact. For a country, these things may seem obvious. For companies, it seems less than obvious for many leaders. In fact, I’ve heard more about the importance of the boss taking people out for beer as a means to “create culture”, than working on our values to create culture. Hmmm.
Whether a company’s values are implicit or explicit, they exist. The more explicit the shared sets of values, the more that group of people “live” their values. The more alive values are within a group the stronger the bond and the greater the resiliency of that group. It’s about so much more than happy hour beers.
Every Day Values
Companies often explicitly state their values on their websites and in promotional material, creating a veneer of credibility and sincerity. One of the most infamous examples of this is Enron’s four capital V Values: Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence. Clearly this broke down long before the company failed. So if our values are the seeds of culture then nurturing and cultivating these values throughout every day will help to keep them alive and healthy, rather than stale and static on a corporate website.
For a traveler, there’s a difference between that sense of “Love this place, but wouldn’t want to live here” and “I would love to live here!” It’s the same in companies. Living your corporate values and keeping them alive and healthy within the company means the right people will find they’d “love to work here”, and the “wrong” people will move along. A company whose employees work to keep their shared values alive within the organization will allow the company culture and the team to thrive through down times and times of change and growth.
"If we don't pay attention, we risk running businesses at the expense of our communities, our planet and the future."
Contributed by Krystal Meiners
It’s been nearly one year since Green Canopy became a certified B Corp. Our company, at that time, was a small and tight-knit group that was dedicated to living out our values and our mission. Our work was meaningful and the team was excited about growth.
It couldn’t have been a better decision to certify at that time. Our small and nimble team had created a rich corporate culture that everyone was excited about preserving. We were mindfully crafting systems for hiring, communication, and human resources that would ensure that our culture and values were protected as we grew. Certifying* was part of that process… but one year later we are finally seeing just how important it was.
Since then, Green Canopy has nearly doubled in size. We have started new business channels: from Fund development, to Custom Services, to RePurpose (a whole-house deconstruction program). We have gained talent, we have restructured; we have evolved. All the while, managing our culture, resources and social capital in a way that is intentional and meaningful.
B Corp means a lot more to how we do business now. It enables us to do business the way we want to do business – the way we started out with our high-fiving, adventure-loving, sustainability-minded (Fbomb-dropping) nimble team not long ago. But now it allows us to do more. It holds us accountable, it guides us and gives us tools for growth. B Corp helps us do business better.
I asked some of our team, both new and old members, what B Corp means to them and how it allows them to do business better. Here is what they had to say:
Each member of the team finds the B Corp certification meaningful for their own reasons, but putting some structure and accountability around those values strengthens our community and purpose. In the year since we certified, we have improved in all areas of our business and are currently working on a Corporate Social Responsibility Framework. This framework will help us develop a set of action-oriented goals for improvement, as well as help us improve our reporting and the measure of our impact. The steps we are taking, including even just revisiting team commitment to it through writing this post, help us collectively see the change and be all the more intentional about B-ing the change.
* A B Corp is a for-profit company that is committed to gains in social and environmental capital rather than just monetary profits. It is a certification that is awarded by B Lab in Pennsylvania – an organization that scores companies based on a set of social and environmental metrics. Green Canopy’s score at certification was an 86.
The Green Canopy blog is written by our CEO and Culture Curator, Aaron Fairchild, as well as our staff and a few very special guests.