Do You Need a Culture Budget?

We’ve been talking about work culture for decades now. But it turns out most organizations still don’t do anything really meaningful to manage their company culture. If fact, we’ve just been paying lip service to it.

That’s largely because actually doing something to manage culture is really hard. It takes time, energy and investment.

We often think of culture as driving sentiment in the workplace — Are we happy? Are we satisfied? — rather than about whether we’re doing the kinds of things we need to do to drive success. Culture is about behaviors — and just like any other kind of behavior, it can be assessed and it can be changed.

If you want to drive real change, you need a culture budget. A culture budget treats culture like any other operating system at your organization. It focuses on behaviors and whether people are acting in ways that will move your company forward. “Budget” doesn’t have to mean a ton of money. Adding a line item for culture is more about paying attention to and modifying behaviors, and that can be done without big programs, new policies, benefits or perks. It’s about taking action and paying attention — giving culture visibility so that we create accountability around it.

Invest in Understanding What Drives Your Success

Stop worrying about whether somebody’s happy. Culture isn’t about how happy your employees are. It’s about the ways you act, interact and behave as an organization, and whether those behaviors lead to the outcomes you want.

Take Zappos, for example. We all love hearing about the unique Zappos culture. But 90 percent of the things that Zappos does won’t work in your organization. You cannot copy culture.

Look at Amazon, on the other hand. It has recently gotten a lot of flak for having a company culture that’s too hardcore. But it’s poised to be one of the first company valued at $1 trillion. They are clearly doing something right, and part of what they’re doing is being resolute about what drives their success. If you don’t want to work a million hours, if flexibility is important to you, don’t come work for Amazon. They’re not pretending to be flexible because that’s what Zappos does.

There’s no such thing as a good culture or a bad culture. You either have the right culture for your organization or you don’t. You’re the only one that can decide whether your culture is working for you. And the only bad culture is one that’s not driving your success.

Invest in Gathering Culture Data

You can’t wing culture. You have to plan for it and make it intentional. Attach that culture budget to a plan with a clear methodology.

We all know that what gets measured gets done. A great way to make a commitment to getting and staying intentional about culture is to make it an item in your financial statements. Then collect data. It’s really easy to rely on our gut instincts when it comes to culture. But if you don’t have the data to validate what you know about your culture, you’re going to miss the mark.

Once you have real data, start small. What are the one or two things that you know will have the biggest impact and that are easiest to do? Find the low-hanging fruit.

And remember that there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. Every organization has to study its data and figure out how it should be spending its budget to make a difference.

Invest Time and People Power

Culture should be an operating system in the business. If that makes you feel uncomfortable because culture is meant to be something friendlier and fluffier, then you’re missing the point entirely.

You need people devoted to this effort — cultural stewards for your organization. It doesn’t have to take up the entirety of their day and it doesn’t have to be allocated to any one person. But the only way that you ensure that these cultural stewards see this as an important part of their job and their responsibility is to make sure that they’re funded accordingly. Allocate some of their time as part of your cultural budget.

Of course, no one person in an organization owns culture. We all own culture. But if you can create some stewardship around it in a more visible way, that reinforces your commitment to staying intentional about shaping the culture at your organization. Hopefully that translates into action and behaviors that people can see and feel and identify with as being the outcome of all of the investment.