Tag Archive for core values

Who Gives a Harlem Shake About Culture?


That’s hashtag Harlem Shake for those of you who haven’t yet had the life sucked out of you by the infinite black vortex that is Twitter yet.

Why does this stuff happen? Why in the world does nonsense like this get started at all, let alone spread all over the place like this and any other number of similar things. I’m looking at you, Mr. Gangnam.

I mean, it’s stupid, right? These are grown adults that aren’t acting like it. Talk about being unprofessional–this is the epitome of it. It’s appalling, really, to see what a time and energy suck this has been on workplaces across the country.

I say this tongue-in-cheek, of course; but as I’m sure you know, there’s been some healthy debate about whether or not this particular expression of creativity and teamwork is appropriate for the workplace.

Well, I posted the below, from Best Advantage Credit Union, on our team’s Facebook wall

…and shortly thereafter, my awesome teammates at Mazuma created what you saw at the top of this post. Obviously, I and the rest of the exec team at Mazuma immediately reprimanded them and informed them that as a result of their foolishness we were taking away all future lunch breaks and instructing their families to love them less.

Yeah right. At Mazuma, we’re soooooo far from perfect; but we are working hard to continue on a trajectory of aligning everything around a set of cultural values. Like any other clump of humans, we stumble and screw stuff up along the way; but we’re in this for the long haul. We want to create an environment within which Team Mazuma can be themselves and exude their positive, fun sides (and no, that doesn’t mean we want a bunch of people who act exactly alike).

So what happened when we got wind of the Team making the video? We laughed. Out loud even. Or, we LOL‘d. It was awesome. It was our culture in action. They were demonstrating three of our core values: they were being positive and fun, they were working together in a collaborative way, and they were using creative expression. These Mazumans, who are dead-set on making Kansas City a better place to live and work, put their creative and collaborative powers to work and as a result added a little bit of happiness to others’ days.

There are lots of folks in the business world shaking their collective heads at all of this; but really, it makes sense when you think about it. Stuff like the Harlem Shake points back to something, doesn’t it? It reminds us that we’re–brace for non-brilliant insight–human beings.

That’s right. We’re human beings, each with our own unique wiring, our own version of creativity, our own perspectives, our own personalities, and our own potential. Yet at the same time, there are some basic things that most human beings seem to want, even need. That’s why culture is so important.harlem-shake

The Harlem Shake isn’t just about the Harlem Shake. It points to truths that are much bigger and more important. It’s another reminder of some of the reasons culture matters:

1. Human beings crave legit community.

We want to belong. There aren’t many psychologists who would disagree with that sentiment. Culture and community are undeniably interrelated. These videos aren’t made by a bunch of random strangers. They’re made by teammates and humans who have built community and enough trust to be absolutely crazy with each other and share it with others.

2. Human beings like to collaborate.

I’m not saying Vanilla Ice was right, but…

A lot of times, if you did stuff all on your own, you’d look like a crazy person; but somehow, if it’s a group situation, it doesn’t feel as crazy. Or maybe you’re just more OK with the crazy. Either way, we’re drawn to working with others to make something that we couldn’t have made on our own. Leaders have a responsibility to provide an environment conducive to collaboration.

3. Human beings don’t want to only think at work.

I’ve said it so many times at Mazuma that they probably want to smack my bald head, but too often workplaces make people feel like they have to check their humanness and all that it entails–positive emotion, feelings, joy, zeal, zest, passion, excitement, etc–at the back door.

That sucks.

I don’t know how else to say it really. It’s essentially asking people to be partial people from the hours of 8 to 5. Why not let them do things that engage more than just their minds? With apologies to all the quantitative-data-only folks, people need to feel the culture more. Give them room to tap into themselves. Provide a safe space for them to come out of that protective shell that’s been formed over the years for any number of reasons.

Culture matters because people matter, and culture resonates most when people both feel it and feel part of it.


Top Posts of 2012: 6 Reasons Core Values Matter

Over the next week, we’re going to take a quick trip down memory lane and check out the posts you guys read and shared the most. So sit back, grab some coffee, and enjoy the year’s best Mojo according to you, my esteemed readers.

Core values–or whatever you want to call them–are a BFD. Some folks might argue that they’re not that important, but I’d suggest they rethink that position because whether they think they’re important or not, core values are a big deal.

Here’s why they’re a big deal:

1. They encourage a sense of belonging. Humans are wired to want and need a sense of belonging, so why wouldn’t we want to create communities in our workplaces that provide the sort of positive, meaningful belonging that we’re designed to desire as human beings?

2. They promote loyalty. They’re like a stake in the ground, so to speak. The more certain sorts of values are internalized by the folks at an organization, the more likely people are to develop a sense of loyalty to the organization and those values.

3. They provide identity and uniqueness (hopefully). Many organizations tout core values, but don’t live them. Think about it this way: if you stripped the walls of the organization of any verbiage about your values, and invited a complete stranger into your organization for the day, what would they think your values were? While that stranger might not be able to articulate the values with the same wording that you do internally, they should be able to detect the general ideas in many cases.

Would they walk out thinking your workplace was fun? Dynamic? Collaborative? Quiet? Somber? Boring? Buzzing? Crazy? Depressing? Creative? Straight-laced? I’m not arguing the merits of any particular value, per se; I’m just saying that whatever those values are, they ought to be apparent.

4. They provide clarity around the purpose of the organization. People need to know the answer to the Why question. Your values will likely have some sort of connection to your greater organizational purpose. They’re the behaviors and attitudes that you believe are conducive to moving toward that purpose.

5. They help everyone understand group norms and behavioral expectations. Anyone who’s ever worked in an organization with unclear or inconsistently lived and enforced values–and most of us have–knows how frustrating this is. Without clearly communicated and understood values, people don’t have an adequate framework within which to live organizational life.

6. They push the concept of “team” past being just a buzzword. Values form a bond between people in a group. There’s a shared understanding of the expectations people have of each other. Instead of a group being a team in some abstract sense, there are real and clear ideas that people can rally around and have in common. Instead of teamwork being something scrawled in an awful font across the breadth of rarely-viewed poster in the break room, it becomes something that people are passionate–even fanatical–about.

So yeah, they matter. They’re the biggest of deals. But hey, I’m super nerdy about culture stuff, so what do you think? What other reasons can you think of?

Top Posts of 2012: Your Core Values Might Accidentally Suck

corevaluesFirst, Merry Christmas to you and yours! Over the next week, we’re going to take a quick trip down memory lane and check out the posts you guys read and shared the most. So sit back, grab some coffee, and enjoy the year’s best Mojo according to you, my esteemed readers.

I don’t mean to be unkind, but sadly, it’s true in many cases. Many well-intentioned folks–executives, managers, consultants, and so on–craft core values that end up being almost entirely meaningless if you accept that core values are supposed to be your organization’s DNA. Folks rightly understand that your values undergird your culture, and I think most know on at least some level (even if they don’t want to admit it) that an organization’s culture is a potentially huge–and often untapped–competitive advantage. However…

If you glance at many organizations’ lists of core values, you’ll find things that sound great at first blush. Things like honesty, integrity, respect–those things are all fine and good, but they really don’t speak to what makes your organization different from every other one in your market. I mean really, have you ever seen a financial institution not list those as their values? Yeah, me either. So unless of course you’re suggesting that your organization is more honest, has more integrity, and is more respectful than everyone else (which would be pretty arrogant, right?), you should be looking at your values differently. Think about it–most of us just generally assume that most organizations are honest, aim to conduct business with integrity, and are respectful of, well, whatever it is that organizations are respectful of. So for you to list those as your core, defining values is almost redundant and unnecessary. Those are attributes that we expect most businesses to have; they don’t really make you unique.

Keep thinking. What if we took your core values or your marketing pieces and put them on a piece of paper without colors, identifiable fonts, logos, or anything else. If people read them, would they know it was you? Would your employees even know it was you? Many times, the answer is no. And again–it’s not that those values themselves are bad; they’re just not unique. They’re not you.

What about these? Warrior’s Spirit. A Servant’s Heart. A Fun-LUVing Attitude. Those, of course, are from Southwest Airlines. Now underneath each of those values, there are specific behaviors outlined. By the time you’ve read through them, you have a pretty good idea of who they are and how they roll. Are you stoic and serious-minded? Then Southwest’s not for you, and that’s OK! Core values aren’t moral judgements; they simply speak to what defines the culture of that group of humans.

And please–don’t misread this and think I’m saying everyone needs to be like Southwest or any other organization. That’s not what I think, and I’ve said as much in previous posts. You need to be YOU, warts and all. We don’t need another Zappos. We don’t need another Apple. We don’t need another Five Guys. They’re all great organizations, and we can admire what they’ve done from a culture and branding perspective. But what makes them great is that they’re them. They’re unique and unflinching in regards to their culture and brand.

Your core values should give your employees a sort of behavioral compass, and should give the outside world an idea of who you really are as an organization. It’s essentially your brand. Great organizations find ways to really blur the line between internal organizational culture and external brand, and that’s how it should be. An organization’s brand ought to be simply one face of its culture. But frankly, that’s not possible with those almost default, expected values. You being honest and respectful is great; but it’s also not at all unique. We would all nod and say that those things are sort of standard operating procedures, sure. But they don’t really define your organization in a unique way to your employees or the broader public.

So dig deep. Figure out who you really are. And then be you.