I had the chance to chat with Bretton Putter, a company culture expert with a keen understanding of what makes today’s organizations tick. I reviewed Putter’s new book, Culture Decks Decoded: Transform Your Culture into a Visible, Conscious and Tangible Asset, for this site. In essence, what’s key to a company’s success is its culture — intentionally created, reflecting the company’s values, and then effectively conveyed to those inside and outside the company.
Can you talk about what led you to do a book using organization’s actual culture decks?
I have spoken with and interviewed hundreds of founders and CEOs about their culture. One of the areas I explored during these conversations was how they had gone about creating their company’s culture decks. There are two main reasons why culture decks are hard to do.
First, very few people have the time to research all of the different decks to learn how others have structured and written theirs. Second, there are lots of culture decks available online, but no overarching document that explains what an effective culture deck is and what it should cover. I wrote Culture Decks Decoded to solve these problems.
Who should read this book?
Business leaders, including founders, CEOs, division and department leaders, operations and HR leaders, and people/talent leaders.
Talk about the qualities of a culture that is visible, conscious and tangible. Why is it important that a culture reflect all three?
Culture becomes visible when the company values and expected behaviors associated with those values are clearly defined. You can’t, for the most part, see a value in action. But if you know what the expected behaviors are, you can “see” people behaving in the right way, or not.
Culture becomes conscious when it is embedded into the organization at a functional, process and procedure level. For example, if I am rewarded for the way I live the culture in the functional role I perform as a customer service representative, I become more “aware” of the impact that living the value has for myself and the customer.
Culture becomes tangible when I can touch it. This could be as simple as a piece of paper listing the values and expected behaviors. It could be the signage up on the wall, or the award I receive for employee of the month.
What companies have the best cultures, and what makes their cultures so much better?
Best, worst, right, wrong, good and bad are all subjective. They depend on whether you fit in with that culture or not. The mafia have the best culture if you were born into that culture. But most people outside the mafia would probably think it would be one of the worst cultures to work in. I believe the way to evaluate culture is through the strong/weak lens.
Next Jump has an incredibly strong culture: as a DDO (Deliberately Developmental Organization) it’s one of the strongest I have come across. What makes the culture so strong is the depth to which it is lived within the company. For instance, the CEO mandates that employees spend 50 percent of their time on culture-based initiatives, and 50 percent on revenues.
How can high-growth and start-up companies leverage the approach and information in these culture decks for their own purposes?
Each company culture is like a strand of DNA: similar in some ways to other people’s, perhaps, but ultimately inimitable. In designing a culture deck, companies should create the structure, design, and content that works for their specific culture and organization. As always, however, borrowing from what others have successfully done before will enable them to avoid re-inventing the wheel.
Companies can take inspiration from the content in these decks and from the way in which the companies have created and structured them. I have chosen slides that I believe get the message across to the reader effectively. I have given commentary on the slides, either from the point of view of a potential employee or my general perspective of the slide. I hope that startup and high-growth companies will be able to use the slides and commentary to think about developing their unique deck.
Why does having a culture deck transform the organization?
Firstly the best decks are created by, or with, involvement from the team. This results in engagement and commitment from the team. Prior to the publication of a deck there is, in most cases, no single document that describes the culture, values, mission and vision of the company. A culture deck reinforces the messages the company wishes to send internally and externally about:
- the history of the company
- the values, mission and vision
- the way the company works
- why the company is different
- why you should (or should not) want to work there
- how team members can and do fulfill their potential
- how the company approaches feedback, making mistakes, diversity and inclusion, making a difference etc.
If it’s well written and lived by the company, a culture deck demonstrates a clarity of purpose, culture and strategy.
Not every company is the size of Netflix. But you think every single company can benefit from a culture deck?
Yes I do — and they should start this process as early as possible. Smaller earlier stage companies may not yet be thinking about all the elements of a well-crafted culture deck, and that’s fine. The act of getting the team’s thoughts about their values (plus expected behaviors), mission, vision and what’s fundamentally important to them down on paper will benefit every company that hasn’t done it yet.