Culture as a Competitive Advantage: 3 Tips for Sustainable Success
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For an entrepreneur, one of the most difficult things to do is admit how little control you have.
Let’s face it - you have almost no control over the demands of your customers, the intensity of your competition or the ever-increasing pace of technological changes. Even your employees seem harder to keep than before.
So, if the world is increasingly volatile, and if products, processes and people only create short-term competitive advantages, what should an entrepreneur focus on to produce sustainable success?
Corporate culture is sometimes the only aspect of the company that doesn’t have external dependencies. Technology changes. People come and go. Markets evolve. But a strong company culture can be a solitary constant, paving the way for a sustainable competitive advantage.
Here are three tips to keep in mind when it comes to building and maintaining an enduring corporate culture.
It’s not about you.
Early on as a leader I learned that I had very little to do with creating culture, but I could quickly destroy it.
As CEO, a big part of my job is to hire talented, humble people, and guide and support the team in the direction that I think we need to go. But the culture isn’t about me, and if it’s going to be sustainable, it can’t be led by a single person. It has to be driven by the entire organization. Everyone, from our customer care representatives to our executives, contributes to the culture equally. All it takes is one entitled leader creating one negative change in attitude to upset years of work in establishing a cooperative, employee-centric culture.
So while I can’t single-handedly create a strong culture, I need to do everything I can to support it.
Success is a lousy teacher, and spreadsheets lie.
One of the quickest paths to losing is too much success.
Often, when a company starts to do well, the team can become convinced more success is inevitable. People will point to success as proof that there’s no reason to change. I can’t think of any business that is successful today that will be successful doing the same thing 10 years from now. If your culture doesn’t encourage people to think about what needs to change to continue to succeed, it’s almost certain you will fail at some point.
There’s so much talk about data and analysis these days, but I think spreadsheets and statistics are the biggest liars in the history of business. While small organizations might understand their business well enough to see past reductive, poorly structured analysis, as companies grow, they can become to dependent on spreadsheets - blindly using them as tools to prove points without understanding the most important drivers and variables.
Your past success is only sustainable if the course ahead is not taken for granted, and if you have good decision-makers, who are able to analyze data and are given permission to tinker with success. If you consistently trust your spreadsheets more than your people, you’re in trouble.
Plan a sustainable culture.
Culture doesn’t become scalable and sustainable by accident. As companies grow, they often lose their way and lose the connections that were so important to them. Connections that were easy to make and maintain because everyone knew and worked with everyone else. But as your business grows, you have to invest in culture. It has to be intentional. It has to take up some of your time, just like sales and marketing.
At Payoneer, we’ve recently experienced tremendous growth – opening six new offices throughout North America, Europe and Asia in just the last year alone. As we added new geographies and lots of employees, it was crucial to safeguard our culture and create the sense that we are all part of the same team.
To do this, we focused on the country managers. We scoured the new markets for professionals, who were not only smart and experienced, but who also shared the values that are so integral to our identity. We needed leaders who could be flag-bearers of the Payoneer culture, and foster a supportive and cooperative environment that would give team members room to innovate.
Our managers were given autonomy to build a team that fit these values above all else. It’s not always about hiring the person with the most experience or relevant expertise, though that can seem like the quicker, easier path. To build sustainable success, we have consciously made the decision to protect our culture over short-term gains, and it has paid off time and time again.
Building a strong culture might just be the only way to sustainably succeed in a constantly changing world.