How Your Company History Strengthens Your Company Culture
Your company’s history is a powerful tool to help you shape and lead in your company culture. It is uniquely suited to diagnose cultural issues, plays a role in fixing them, and can fortify your company against similar problems down the road. Here's how...
Principal & Founder
In the early 1980s, business leaders and corporate analysts began to realize how impactful company culture is throughout an organization -- not just in an emotional or team-building capacity, but in a real dollars-and-cents value that could be objectively measured.
Since this explosion of research some 40 years ago, we’ve arrived at the point where you can hardly open your LinkedIn feed without scrolling past some post mentioning the importance of your company’s culture.
(And, naturally, the person making that post likely has the magic product or training course to cure your of your cultural woes, right?)
While such posts might sound like a broken record at times, the truth of your culture’s impact on your brand isn’t unworthy of the hype or repetition.
Because the data doesn’t lie: Everything from leadership, to marketing, to sales, and customer retention is ultimately affected by your culture.
So when cultural issues do rear their heads and start affecting your business at a systemic level, they are scary, because they absolutely can sink your organization if left unaddressed.
But before hiring the “culture guru ninja rockstar” from LinkedIn to come and host a “3-week, high-octane culture hackathon,” there’s a better solution you’ve already got at your disposal to strengthen your culture: your company’s history.
Together, let’s dig into why your company’s history is uniquely suited to diagnose cultural issues, how it plays a role in fixing them, and how it fortifies your company against similar problems down the road.
How Your Company’s History Helps You Diagnose Cultural Problems within Your Business
Uncorrected cultural issues can have a major impact on your company’s growth and success, but your company’s history allows you a unique (and extremely cost effective) perspective to diagnosing and solving these problems.
1. Company history provides an objective starting point for diagnosing culture issues.
Deep-rooted company culture problems are rarely diagnosed easily. They might manifest as a decline in sales, an uptick of negative reviews, or a steadily increasing turnover rate.
In short: They feel overwhelming and they seldom feel like a cultural issue. With these glaring problems breathing down your neck, it can be hard to know how to even start finding a solution.
With your company’s history made easily accessible and freely available at your fingertips, you or other members of your leadership can catch your breath, look back in time at the lessons learned throughout the years, and collect insight that you can apply immediately.
Best of all, you don’t have to try and guess where to look to best start your research into learning why all of this downturn is happening. You have a rich chronicle of past problems, lessons, and victories that you can dive into without second-guessing yourself about whether or not you’re taking productive steps to solve the problem.
2. Company history allows you to see the origins of cultural problems from the past.
Whether it’s a toxic environment that’s taken root in your sales team, apathy that’s crept in to your customer support, or poor quality control that’s deteriorating the reputation of your products, it can be extraordinarily difficult to point at a problem and say: “Aha! This is actually a problem with our culture!”
Because, in the moment, a sales problem feels like a problem with the sales team; and a customer service problem looks like a problem with customer service staff or training.
But if you’re armed with access to your company’s history, you’re able to take these overwhelming issues and truly examine if they’re simply the surface-level problems they seem to be, or if they’re the result of deeper cultural issues.
From the lessons embedded in your history -- during the earliest years where everyone in the company wore 10 different hats, or from the years during the opening of a second location -- you can see the patterns behind how similar issues took root.
By learning how these cultural problems manifested within the company at the time, and by seeing the broader picture of how the company evolved and corrected course, you can get a better grasp on what’s now taking root and causing these systemic failures in the present day.
How Your Company’s History Helps You Fix Problems with Company Culture
Taking a step back and allowing your company history to show you how problems have taken hold in the past is a game-changer. Now let’s better understand how you can put that insight to work and get today’s cultural problems resolved at the root.
Company history allows you to learn how past leaders managed problems that stemmed from cultural deficiencies.
Just as you’re able to see how deep-seated cultural problems took root, so too are you able to see how your company’s past leaders solved -- or didn’t solve -- the problem.
If your founders or early executives did overcome similar hurdles akin to the culture problems you’re facing today, there’s almost certainly actionable steps you can use to put a plan of action together for your problem today.
But even if cultural issues were historically ignored, led to a time of downturn, and aren’t fondly remembered, there’s still immense value you can glean and put to work.
Why? Because now you have perfect clarity of past leaderships’ predicaments and you can see exactly how inaction (or the wrong actions) eventually affected the company.
For example, let’s say you’re facing a slow and excruciatingly consistent drop in month-to-month sales.
You’ve tried training, changing incentive structures, and everything in between but nothing’s changing: Customer churn is high, new hires aren’t sticking around long, and sales continue to creep downward.
Thankfully, if you’re armed with your company’s history, you’re already got the tools you need to solve the problem.
With it, you’re able to look back on past sales leadership lessons, and you discover that some of the earliest sales teams were unfortunately a dog-eat-dog mess of internal toxicity and backstabbing.
Moreover, you have a perfect perspective on how this environment corrupted the focus of the sales team and motivated them to do or say anything to get a sale rather than being an honest problem solver for customers. In the end, customer satisfaction tanked, sales nearly bottomed out, and the brand was in dire straits for quite some time.
Now you’ve got insight that’s truly unique to your brand, your customers, and how your products have historically been marketed and sold.
Rather than feeling lost and overwhelmed, you’ve got actionable information you can immediately put to work to dig deeper and begin fixing the problem. And, perhaps most comfortingly, you’re able to see that you’re not the first to have to face these problems.
Now you can act confidently, knowing you’re taking action that’s derived from sound logic, historical precedent, and that you’ve modernized to fit the problem you’re correcting today.
Your company’s history brings the “why” of your company back into focus.
Central to the culture of any successful company is its core purpose for being in business. What problem are you solving? Who are you solving it for? What makes you unique?
And most importantly: Why is your company doing any of this at all?
The problem of forgetting your “why” might feel like new-age business jargon, but the cost of losing focus of your business’s purpose is well-documented and profound, often manifesting in decreased sales, poor customer retention, and apathetic employees.
Putting it into a more global perspective, a 2018 study by PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed that 80% of all employees and 65% of leaders from over 50 different countries feel their company culture needs to change and regain focus of why they’re doing what they’re doing in order for the company to succeed.
When you’re equipped with your company’s history, rather than just trying to recapture or re-invent your company’s purpose, you can go directly to the founding vision and purpose and re-ground your company is your original purpose-driven vision.
Even if your products or services have radically evolved, your history still reveals your original purpose, as well as the values and principles that ground your actions in the common good for your company, your employees, and the customers and communities you serve.
By regaining your company’s “why” and re-focusing the heart of your decision-making around this purpose, you anchor your business on virtuous ground where any cultural shift that needs to happen can take root from a framework of shared principles and values.
Company history provides objective and productive ground to discuss culture problems.
Problems that are rooted in a company’s culture are rarely easy to talk about with leadership, and even less so when leadership might be the very cause of those problems.
But when you’re able to reference an objective source of truth like your company’s history, and point to where similar problems took root and how lessons could be derived to improve culture and fix the issue, you create a more productive conversational atmosphere in 2 key ways:
History helps remove perceptions of bias & emotion from the conversation.
Discussions about longstanding cultural problems aren’t among the easiest you can have with other members of leadership (or even yourself).
Unfortunately, one of the early bits of friction that often enters into the conversation when problems like this are brought to attention are other members of leadership perceiving such claims as being biased to a specific course of desired action or change, or being too emotionally-charged and overblowing what, in their opinion, isn’t the problem.
And it’s here where your company’s history really helps break down these conversational barriers and begin moving toward action.
With it, you can objectively point to your history and state from a logical foundation that this problem can be solved, that there are lessons that can be used that have been successful before, and there’s a clear path of action you can embark upon immediately.
Though you might not dissuade every argument concerning the validity of your concerns or nature of the culture problem your company is facing, your history enabled you to authoritatively and objectively make your case to those who are truly interested in fixing it and getting the business back on track.
History helps jumpstarts the problem-solving process and expedite action.
Any time there’s a massive change in company-wide culture that needs to happen, it can be intimidating to be the first person who puts forth a suggestion.
“What if we’re wrong?”
“What if we just make the problem worse?”
“Is that really the problem? Am I seeing this all wrong?”
A million thoughts try to convince us that we’re not up to the task. And these thoughts become all the more frequent -- and convincing -- if we’re not approaching the problem with objective information.
But when you huddle your problem-solving executive team around your history and you’re able to springboard modern solutions to similar problems of culture your company has overcome before, you’re able to act and think far more confidently as a unit.
Even if the answer to your modern-day problem hasn’t been encountered in your company’s history before, you’re able to see how other gargantuan moments of uncertainty and downturn have looked bleak to previous generations.
More importantly, you’re able to see how in those dark moments, your former leadership, like you, didn’t have all the answers, but acted confidently and with the best interests of their teams and customers in mind, and this mindset is what spearheaded the lasting changes that bred success.
Let’s Rediscover Your Company’s History and Give You a Foundation of Cultural Strength
The leadership demands of today’s executives and managerial teams have evolved dramatically, and the insight and inspiration that so many organizations pay tens of thousands of dollars for is freely available in their history.
Don’t let future problems, big or small, derail your leadership teams, degrade your sales, or cause customers to lose faith in your business.
Let’s work together to rediscover your company’s history, put it to work for your brand, and give your business and its future generations of leadership the insight and lessons they need to overcome any obstacle.
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