The Culture Code: Why purpose matters for every business.

Here at Ruby, it’s fair to say we’re obsessed with company culture. From our Space Kitten Pizza Parties (you read that right) to our massive annual kick-off meetings to the methods we use in getting to really know who our customers are, when it comes to creating and maintaining our culture, we go all out. 

The work it takes to cultivate a community of employees eager to enrich and engage with our culture is often very fun, and always rewarding. We get to feel good here, and while that is a success in and of itself, we learned a long time ago that company culture fuels success.  

We’ve experienced it firsthand, and we can see it elsewhere. Look at any of the world’s top-performing organizations—they’ve flourished from a foundation of strong company culture. 

But what makes a company’s culture great? What can other organizations, including small businesses, learn from others who have, well, cracked the code?

Danny Coyle’s The Culture Code, the latest book featured in Ruby Reads, got me thinking about all this. True to its title, The Culture Code offers insightful—and often surprising—answers to the questions above. 

Coyle spent four years studying exceptionally successful groups and comparing their characteristics to less successful groups, wondering: “Why do certain groups add up to be greater than the sum of their parts, while others add up to be less?” 

Coyle’s subjects range from big to small, from Pixar Animation Studios to a band of bank robbers. 

He finds that each successful group has three critical elements in place: 

  1. Safety—people feel safe and comfortable speaking up and voicing their opinions, even if it means potential conflict.
  2. Vulnerability—people are willing to share their deeply-held doubts, fears, and insecurities; to ask for help when they need it.
  3. Purpose—people know what they’re doing and, more importantly, why they’re doing it.

Each of these themes is worth their own blog post, which is why I decided to break this book review of sorts into a three-part series. The Culture Code is so chock-full of valuable information, it seemed like a disservice to our readers to stuff everything into a single article.

Let’s go in reverse order, starting with purpose.

What is purpose? 

Purpose is the reason you made the bold decision to start your own business. It’s the thing—a physical object or an idea, vision, dream—you’re most passionate about.

A purpose doesn’t need to be incredibly specific, but it should serve as your North Star—an inspirational motive that supports everything you do. 

Let’s use Ruby’s purpose as an example. Some people would say our purpose is to answer the phone and respond to live chat for small businesses. That’s not quite right. Answering the phone and engaging in chat are services we provide. Our purpose is to cultivate great relationships, from first impressions to lasting loyalty. To help small businesses thrive in a hundred different little ways. To make meaningful connections. 

How do you build purpose?

Having a mission statement is one thing, following through on that mission is another matter entirely. You need to determine not only what your purpose is, but how you build, achieve, and maintain it. 

Coyle offers the following tips:

Take a moment to sit down and write your purpose. Think about your purpose and put it into words. You may find that it’s easy to articulate your purpose, or more difficult than you first imagined. Perhaps you’ll need to revise it several times, try out different phrasing, or come up with several options and pick your favorite.

Collect feedback. Treat your purpose like a theory. Ask your team or people familiar with your business to test it, improve it, and build on it. When you invite your employees to engage with your purpose, they’ll take ownership of it and run with it in ways you may have never imagined. Perhaps they’ll unearth important elements you hadn’t considered, or articulate it in a way that gives it an entirely new meaning.

Support your purpose with values. Your purpose needs to be linked to everything you do. It’s essential to come up with a set of Core Values, which connect your overall mission to real-world priorities, projects, and actions. Core Values give life and specificity to the purpose, and reinforce it over time. This isn’t a “set it and forget it” situation. Incorporating your Core Values into your every-day hustle and using them as guides in your decision-making process will keep you aligned with your purpose, and ultimately reinforce your company culture. 

How we do it here at Ruby. 

At Ruby, we take purpose seriously—it’s baked into our daily working habits, employee interactions, and external communications. Just like Danny Meyer and his restaurants, which The Culture Code profiles in-depth, we’ve established a set of Core Values that support our purpose:

  1. Foster happiness. We foster happiness internally, which empowers and fuels us to foster happiness externally. Happy people are infectious!
  2. Create community. We endeavor to create a sense of community at every opportunity. We consider ourselves a family—and our customers an extension of our family.
  3. Innovate. We hold ourselves accountable for creating an environment for both Rubys and our customers to share their ideas, aspirations, and goals. Everyone in our organization has the power to instigate real change in how we do what we do. The best ideas with the biggest impact have often come from our receptionists.
  4. Grow. There are so many ways to engage in growth! Grow your business, grow your skills, grow your team, expand your perspective. The world is not static, and we believe change is a good thing.
  5. Practice WOWism. This is a major one. For those unfamiliar, WOWism is a Ruby term coined by our founder, Jill Nelson. We practice WOWism in ways big and small. Sometimes, it’s surprising someone with an unexpected gift or bit of above-and-beyond service. We’ll give directions before someone asks, send a blanket and herbal tea to someone who’s sick, we aim to fulfill unexpressed needs in a way that leaves someone wonderfully surprised—enough to make them say, “Wow!”

Our Core Values are unique to Ruby and incredibly specific to our purpose. We go the extra mile to make sure that we’re doing what we can to generate a positive effect in the lives of one another, in the lives of our customers, and in the lives of our customers’ customers. We call it the Ruby Ripple effect, and it’s the kind of work that rallies our people around a greater purpose. Practicing WOWism is so much more than answering a phone or responding to a chat—we’re building a meaningful network while helping entrepreneurs actualize their big, small business dreams.

Note that these Core Values are meant to be challenged. We encourage every Ruby to push the boundaries and establish new and better ways of delivering on our values. This is what it means to Grow! As our Rubys change and our customers change, our values remain intact–enabling our company to evolve in tandem with our community. (After all, this is part of what it means to Grow.) As our Rubys change, as our customers change, as the company changes, our values remain intact—but they evolve in tandem with our community. 

If I can offer one last piece of advice, I urge every business owner out there to celebrate your purpose, to acknowledge when your people are living and breathing your company’s Core Values. Every quarter, Rubys nominate one another for our Core Value in Action awards. We share the winning “WOW” stories throughout our offices—literally framing and hanging the stories in our breakrooms. These actions give us a reason to keep going and pushing ourselves to be better than we were yesterday. 

Establishing your purpose can be the first step in catapulting your business to new heights. 

But purpose doesn’t mean much if people aren’t ready to be honest and open with one another. In the next article, I’ll explore the second pillar in The Culture Code—the role of vulnerability in organizational culture. 

In the meantime, if you haven’t already, be sure to join Ruby Reads, our monthly book club for small business owners. We’ve got some exciting plans in the works and cannot wait to share them with you!