Habits are Your Company Culture

There is no consensus on company culture, so some companies do not even pretend to have one. Their mission statements are “achieve US$1 billion in market value by 2020” or “maintain sales growth of 20% per year”. In addition to being a failure of the imagination, this approach is unlikely to achieve even these narrow definitions of success precisely because of the lack of culture.

There are more companies with relatively inspiring official mission statements such as “innovation for a better future” and “making the world healthier”. These are complemented by statements of values, such as “Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence“. However, as Enron proved spectacularly, this is not enough.

The reality is that organizational culture is not created by the slogans on a website or giant posters hanging on office walls. Culture is created by everyday habits.

Why are habits so important? Our memories are actually not very good. Of course, they can be trained over time: repeat to remember. But to really have an impact, memories need to change behaviour, and that means habits.

Habits are simple ideas but messy in reality. For example, the idea of curiosity. Many companies would benefit by having more curiosity as a core value. But how would you turn curiosity into a habit, a true value, rather than simply an empty statement?

First, start with a small win. For example, Friday Pizza Questions, a Friday afternoon pizza session when people can sit down and ask interesting questions. No answers, just questions. Over time, you will build up a list of questions and start to notice patterns. In addition, people will get into a habit of asking questions just for the sake of asking questions. They will start to ask more questions during the week. Build from there.

Friday Pizza Questions contains the three core elements of a habit cycle:

friday pizza questions

1. Trigger / cue: Friday afternoon

2. Routine: ask a question

3. Reward: mmm, pizza

Most importantly to build a lasting habit, you then have to repeat until it is automatic.

Having an inspiring mission statement is a starting point to build a successful culture, but mission and values must also align with habits. Start small, then repeat and grow.