The Culture Code: Six Keys (and Four Steps) to Hidden Treasure

Whether you are a fan of The Goonies, Romancing the Stone or the adventures of Indiana Jones, you will agree that the journey to discover the treasure is just as important as the treasure itself.

Similarly, that a thriving workplace culture is a much sought after jewel for any HR professional or leadership team is without question. A more pressing and revealing question—the kind which yields diamonds of its own—is this: “What makes your culture unique?”

The reason why this question is so significant is that every culture is unique. Every culture has their own treasure map (a.k.a.culture story). What makes or breaks a company’s culture is the ability and will to uncover/discover/recover these existing treasures and effectively activate and connect these unique strengths and traits with their team members. That hidden treasure might lead to unimagined riches in the process and goes to the heart of the workplace as much as any Indiana Jones film.

Defining Your Culture Code

The truth about culture—like hidden treasure—is that it already exists. Like a village, community or country, the collective group of people within an organization defines the culture code of the organization. Culture in this sense is akin to DNA, defined by as “the fundamental and distinctive characteristics or qualities of someone or something, especially when regarded as unchangeable.”

The DNA of a corporate culture is innate within its core values. Therefore, as you uncover your culture code, you will define the genetic instructions or in culture speak, the culture elements of the company.

Six Human Needs We Share

Tony Robbins, a renowned life and business strategist, shares six common human needs for achieving fulfillment in life. Robbins states that each of us is motivated by a differently prioritized set of these six human needs: certainty, variety/uncertainty, love/ connection, significance, growth and contribution.

What if we could determine the human needs of a corporate culture? How would these human needs translate into culture needs? The fact is, companies are made up of a group of human beings. Therefore, if we can define what is most important to the individuals within an organization, we can start to understand the culture code of a workplace.

Uncovering Your Treasures

During my quest to find the most unique cultures in Vancouver, we were invited to visit Left, a global media and technology company, and RightMesh, its subsidiary which is building mobile mesh networks to connect the next billion people. That they connect equally well in person became apparent when we were greeted in the parking lot of their Maple Ridge office by Chris Jensen, co-founder and CEO of Left, upon arrival. It’s not often that the owner of the company welcomes you outside the building with open arms.

The culture tour led by Jensen and Tracy McDonald, their head of people and culture, provided us with our very own Indiana Jones-like adventure—ending with a peek into an enticing “hidden” room. This is the place team members gain access to after being employed for 1,000 days at Left.

This is where Left’s prestigious 1,000 Days Club—those tending their award-winning, community engagement program—meets daily for their 10:10AM huddle. Their most recent accomplishment is becoming a Certified B Corp company—to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee— for their ongoing social and environmental efforts. Further treasure is found in their Dream Program, created to help team members fulfill personal and non-work related aspirations.

We learned very quickly during the culture tour that what makes this company unique is their ongoing and constant journey of defining their culture code. They have a dedicated wall showcasing employees in “The 9 Standout Roles” based on the book, StandOut 2.0: Assess Your Strengths, Find Your Edge, Win at Work. Accompanying it is their “treasure map,” painted on the walls with fun company facts and arrows leading you through an unforgettable and authentic journey celebrating wins and failures.

And while all of the above goes to defining one of the most unique corporate cultures in Vancouver, every company or organization has the opportunity to do the same.

So what are the steps to uncover your unique culture treasures?

Starting Your Culture Adventure

At SPARK, we have translated Robbins’ human needs into six culture elements. Our belief is that every company will have a unique set of culture elements. Once these culture elements are identified, then companies can start to create programs that nurture these unique needs and, as a result, start to elevate the life experience at their workplace.

Stepping Into Culture

Here are four simple steps to apply these culture elements:

STEP 1: Ask your leaders and team to prioritize the level of importance of these six culture elements. You can gather these insights using an online survey or by simply asking a select group of individuals across the whole organization to share their thoughts on the culture elements.

STEP 2: Once you have defined the top three culture elements, work with your leaders and/or culture champions to evaluate which of your current programs support these culture elements. You may already have existing programs that fulfill these needs. If not, here’s the opportunity to create new programs that are aligned with these elements.

STEP 3: Focus on one of the culture elements and implement a new or improved program that will strengthen the experience of this one element. Determine what data points you can use to measure the impact and track the results before and after.

STEP 4: Reflect on your culture experience. What treasures did you uncover about your team and culture? What can you do even better next time? What is one thing that you can apply today to elevate the life experience at work?

Like any adventure, you may go down an unexpected rabbit hole. It’s all part of the experience of exploration. How you get yourself out of the rabbit role is what matters. Your unwavering resilience throughout the journey will inevitably create the workplace experience you and your team desire. The key is to stay curious and open to learning more about the heart of your organization—and to keep exploring. It is through this discovery quest that you will unlock the treasures of your culture.

Originally posted in the Winter 2017 Issue of PeopleTalk Magazine Social Media.

Lorie Corcuera