Living Your Values: The Culture Formula

Updated Sep. 6, 2022 Published Jun. 3, 2021 3 Min. Read

Written by Aaron Spence, Director of Culture & Diversity

“If you want to be great, you can’t do two things half-assed. You have to go all in and do one thing whole-assed.” This quote from my high school band teacher didn’t make much sense as a 16-year-old, but 20 years and a forgotten saxophone later, the sentiment is still with me.

I’ve come to learn that being a leader requires a superior level of personal ownership and clarity. Leaders need to understand the “why” behind a team’s work to get them to the next level — this “why” is critical. It must have its roots in the company’s greater vision and it must be shared with the team (and clients) early and often.

So why does this matter?

There is a reckoning happening in our society. Racial injustice and inequity is laid bare, and a virus has driven us indoors away from human connection. Uncertainty is rampant.

During times like this, we are called to do more; we are called to live our values out loud. We just have to figure out the best way to do that.

I found myself needing both a way to assess where the team is aligned, and how to effectively communicate that to the company at large. 

Enter: The Culture Formula.

The Culture Formula

Expectation + Experience = Culture

Culture is driven by the expectations (spoken and unspoken rules of the road) compounded by the experiences (daily lived engagements, interactions, and events) your team members have. Culture is not shaped by any one event, person, or document — it’s the culmination of those things. 

In a 2013 Harvard Business Review piece, John Coleman notes that the components of a great company culture include vision, values, practices, people, narrative, and place.

Within the Culture Formula, Expectation is fueled by the vision, values, and practices (what is the greater company motivator and how is that occurring?), while Experience is driven by narrative, people, and place (what story are you telling, to whom, and where are they?). Clearly introducing your culture through outlined expectations — and reinforcing them with intentional experiences — will drive your team to business outcomes in direct alignment with your stated vision. 

Design Pickle has a Vision, Purpose, and Core Values that we hold dear, but it isn’t enough to simply have them written down or posted on a wall. These value statements drive everything we do within our organization, from how people conduct meetings to holiday gatherings and everything in between. 

How to Assess Your Culture

The Culture Formula allows you to organize your behaviors around culture, but in order to adequately assess your culture (and better understand the “why”), I recommend:

  1. Bringing team members from different levels within the company together to ask about their understanding of the expectations for their role and department. Seek answers around the value they find in the experiences you deliver — and create an open, judgment-free environment to get the highest-quality answers.
  2. Continually visiting, poking, prodding, analyzing and wrestling with your Company’s Vision, Values, Purpose — are they clearly defined, published, and communicated often? Do they need revamping? Are the values all-encompassing, or is something missing?
  3. Asking trusted colleagues in other departments, on senior leadership, or on your board for feedback to see how the actions taken at the team and department level ladder up to the broader outcomes and goals of the company.

Companies will continue to be asked to stand up and use their voice to show their teams and their customers what matters to them. The last thing you want to be accused of is being wishy-washy on your commitment to your values.

Simply put, it’s time to be whole-assed about your culture.

Want an up-close peek into Design Pickle’s culture? Follow us on Instagram.

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