I asked a group of company leaders what the most important factor is in their company’s success. Without hesitation and unanimously, they answered: culture. I followed that question with another question, “If culture is the most important ingredient to success, what have you done to define, develop, and disseminate your culture so it becomes part of the organizational DNA?”

One leader responded by saying, “We are just lucky that we attract great employees.” Another said, “My team just knows how to treat each other, and our strong culture is simply organic.” I then asked: “If you were interviewing a salesperson and you asked what the most important component of their success was, and they said, ‘People just gravitate to me and I guess it’s just natural and organic’… Would you hire them?”

With the outbreak of COVID-19, organizational culture was tested with a rapid change from working together on site to working at home. Companies with a strong, intentional culture were able to swiftly implement work-from-home practices since their culture was stronger than the process. On the other hand, organizations with a weak culture struggled with employee productivity and motivation when the surrounding environment changed.

In truth, cultureis the most important ingredient to success and your company cannot realize its potential without having an intentionally designed, foundational culture. Here are some tips for developing a culture that connects, motivates, challenges, and aligns organizations:

Shift from Vision to Cause.

In his book “Culture Trumps Everything,” Dr. Gustavo Grodnitsky says people work harder for a cause than for cash. Working for a cause is much more stimulating than working for the CEO’s vision. The millennials are focused on working for a cause and when they hear the word vision, they think of some old school platitude that originated several decades ago. They rarely interpret the organization’s vision as something they want to spend most of their waking time pursuing.

When I take companies through the Culture Component of The Blendification® System, we develop a clear Statement of Cause. The Statement of Cause highlights a future based on the organization’s societal impact. Companies with a strong Statement of Cause that becomes embedded in the organization’s DNA use this as motivation when they are faced with challenges.

When COVID-19 struck, companies with a strong Statement of Cause simply kept their focus on their impact. The pandemic temporarily disrupted their short-term actions; it did not change their cause.

Build a Statement of Intention for Employees, Customers, and Communities.

Most vision and mission statements are dreams evolving from books written in the 1990s. They are either focused on world dominance or some level of profit and shareholder value maximization. Millennials do not trust these statements. There is typically no mention of the company’s impact the company on its three main stakeholders: employees, customers, and communities.

A Statement of Intention creates a commitment to these three groups. Intention creates a level of accountability to real groups of people. Companies that build a solid Statement of Intention outline what they are committed to as it relates to the employees from a growth and development perspective, their customers from a product and service perspective, and their communities from an impact perspective.

While the Statement of Intention is not a goal, there is inherent accountability as the company states what its true intention is for these key stakeholders. This commitment evolves from and aligns with the Statement of Cause. This second step in intentionally defining and designing your culture also aligns and motivates the employees as there is a clear connection to the groups they care about most.

Establish Desired Behaviors and Habits.

At the core of culture is behaviors and habits. Since that is the foundation of culture, then why don’t we build culture based on the desired behaviors and habits? Companies that are truly serious about their culture and its connection to success record the specific behaviors and habits they want to see active inside company meetings, employee communication and support, customer interactions, community engagement, and more.

Make Culture Part of Routines.

Once the desired culture is designed following the three steps above, you still haven’t created a culture. For your defined culture to become part of your active culture, you have to disseminate it through daily routines. Many companies do daily lineups, but most of these are either sales or task-based meetings.

The Ritz-Carlton organization does a daily lineup solely focused on culture and how employees interact with each other and guests. The company’s motto is, "We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen." Each day, every Ritz-Carlton employee meets with coworkers and shares a specific example that relates to their internal and external service excellence. When organizations take culture seriously, they will make it part of their routines.

Culture has always been the most important factor in determining organizational success. While leaders have known this, there hasn’t been a systematic process to define, develop, and disseminate a desired culture as outlined above. Culture mostly receives lip service, but it needs to be reinforced by having a strong Statement of Cause, Statement of Intention, and corresponding Behaviors and Habits.

This became more obvious when COVID-19 forced people to shift from working in an office to home. With the exception of technology modifications, companies with a defined culture that was part of the operational DNA were successful in responding quickly and seamlessly transitioned to a different work structure.