My leadership learnings on the way to a cohesive company culture

Profile picture for user Philip van der Wilt By Philip van der Wilt June 3, 2019
Summary:
How do you build a cohesive company culture? ServiceNow's Philip van der Wilt draws on personal experience to offer some leadership learnings

Silhouette of team climbing mountain peak against blue sky © Love the wind - shutterstock

Many leaders, people managers and to be honest, anyone that works in a team will have often thought about company culture, what it is, is it good or bad and how the hell do you go about building and influencing it. 

Put simply culture is the glue that brings everything together, from better productivity through to better employee engagement that in turn creates happier customers thanks to happier, high-performing employees. This in turn again can lead to lower attrition, which means you can focus your people management efforts on recruiting and retaining talent rather than back filling hard to fill holes in your business. 

However, the truth of course is there is no quick fix for developing a cohesive company culture. It takes time, effort and hard work. 

Getting tactical with teamwork

No one gets it right all of the time, but if everyone appreciates, they are on a constant learning journey when it comes to people dynamics and culture, which spans the entire length of their career, and often beyond, they are in a good place to start building high performing teams. 

What I try to do with my own team is to ensure I consciously get outside the confines of the familiar management office and meeting cadence and create an environment that encourages individual input from every member of the team. Be prepared to realize that conflicts and disagreements will occur - but encourage this and don't be afraid of these differences - in fact they should be invited, in a respectful way. Every opinion in the team matters, and often each opinion shared will make everyone a little bit wiser and stronger. But don't lose the fact that the whole team should be held accountable for the group decisions taken.

Like most businesses, we are extremely results-focused, we like to win. But results that count towards the pursuit of team goals. When we work together, with clear goals and priorities, we give ourselves the best chance of success for all short- and long-term objectives.

Leadership DNA

At its core, a cohesive culture can be centered around a collective and agreed purpose. Teaming this with behaviors that foster diversity of thought, inclusion of opinions and building a sense of belonging and acceptance, teams will feel ownership of collective purpose. 

These may sound like intangible factors to results-driven sales people, but these elements of the employee experience are crucially important as we seek to create new, more fulfilling and productive work environments. 

My greatest leader 

Whenever I talk to other leaders about such topics, the conversation often turns to sharing our examples of great leaders.  When asked, I always start with my mother. She's the most inspirational leader I have ever met. She gave up her job and some of her dreams to raise our family - but hopefully my siblings and I gave her new dreams to enjoy.

Cohesion in the workplace

Looking at where we are today, I can't help but to stand back to ask when the core nature of work really changed. People used to go to work and do their job (however tough it was) and never grumble… employees now actively seek out great experiences in their chosen line of work. A lot has changed.

The best way I find to explain the transition is to look back at what my parents went through coming out of the end of World War II in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. The city had been badly damaged during the war, but there was a strong cohesion among people because everyone had very little and community life was very strong. 

Today, I feel that a lot of that sense of belonging and cohesion can be lost, simply because modern life has sped up so rapidly. But at the same time, we are seeing positive signs with the post-millennial Generation Z joining the workforce. They are actually more interested in meaningful work, positive experiences in the workplace and giving back to society than we ever were, so this is a time of flux.

From a hot to a great company

So, my thoughts turn to our company, ServiceNow. We went through a period of being known as a 'hot' company with high stock valuation. At that time a lot of focus was naturally placed on results and growth. 

And while we are still very much regarded as a 'hot' company, no business stays hot forever. There is a critical need to evolve into a great and enduring company. To do so you have to become a company that can attract and retain talent, with employee wellbeing and individuals' autonomy at the core of how you operate.

In whatever industry vertical your business operates in, it's all about setting goals, being sincere and sticking to your mission. If you can do this, then employees will recognize your leadership value and I also think that customers will very clearly recognize your position and genuine worth.

A shared common purpose

I would urge leaders in any position to give the people in their team a purpose and share a common vision for why they are doing what they are doing when going to work. 

Above all, show your team what 'good' looks like and give them a North Star to follow. But remember, it's a big universe out there and we live under a constantly shifting sky, so everybody's personal view of the team's North Star may be different, depending on where they sit or stand at any given time. 

Stay inclusive, stay diverse, stay compassionately transparent, embrace belonging and keep your team's North Star shining bright.