One of my favorite authors is Stephen R. Covey. In a book he writes with A. Roger Merrill, First Things First, he teaches that all humans are born with an innate drive to fulfill four basic needs:
- To live
- To love
- To learn
- To leave a legacy
You must understand and address those needs as part of building your business. Each one will contribute to the culture you develop, as well as to the way your company accepts your leadership. For those of us who have peeled the layers back, it is evident that “leaving a legacy”—mattering—should be the primary focus. Make a difference. Do something that impacts more than just self. Establish worthy aspirations. Establish a culture that allows people to matter.
Not many years ago, I attended Ray Noorda’s funeral. Ray was the man who took Novell, a failing startup with 17 employees, and transformed it into to a computer giant. Novell eventually employed more than twelve thousand people and transformed an entire valley in Utah into a veritable techno-hub. Ray is known in the technology industry as the “father of network computing.” This is a fair assessment, but he was much more than this. He generated thousands of high-paying technology jobs, spawned numerous small businesses, and—of most consequence to me— set a leadership model that enabled young leaders to emerge. As one of those, I have tried, in many ways, to emulate his leadership style.
Ray was a multimillionaire who drove a pickup truck, lived in the same modest home until he died, and was often seen wandering into someone else’s meetings to sample the snacks. As heads turned to see who was moseying in late, Ray would pleasantly say, “Hi, folks. Got anything good to eat here?” He was down-to-earth and his values were real. “Make a real contribution” was not just a mantra for Ray. He mattered, and established
a culture that allowed others to matter as well.
Ray created stories. He did not establish the culture at Novell by lecturing or mandating but rather by making a point to drop by offices after hours and on Saturdays to visit with whoever was in. He would park himself on our desks to see how we were doing, talk shop, and inspire us. Stories that originated with him started in one cubicle would circulate like wildfire. He gave us all the impression that we could add to the Novell culture, and that it belonged to all of us. He took time to educate and inspire us personally through both his interactions and his stories. We learned from him how to behave, what we stood for, and what was expected of us.
Ray’s legacy ranges from larger-than-life examples of business fervor to amusing situational anecdotes. I was present for one of my favorite stories, which took place between Ray and my mentor, Dr. Peter Horne. Dr. Horne had flown in from London for a meeting with Ray and others, and things got started with some small talk. Ray casually mentioned his love for skiing, adding the aside, “But only on Tuesdays.” Dr. Horne, with his proper English accent, asked “Why only on Tuesdays?” Ray responded, “Because Tuesdays are Senior Citizen Day, and I ski for half price.”
Without fanfare or self-aggrandizement, Ray set the tone of the meeting, establishing the fiscally conservative nature of Novell and laying the foundation for a strong and productive relationship between Novell and Dr. Horne for years to come. This was Ray’s way: understated but clear, light but appropriate. I love and appreciate everything that I learned from him.
At Ray’s funeral, the speakers gave outstanding eulogies, attempting to sum up several of his key beliefs. Ray wove these into the very fabric of Novell and, of course, his own life. Following are the characteristics I made note of during the service:
- Believe and trust in people.
- We all have a responsibility in life. Be faithful to it.
- Customers first, employees second, shareholders third.
- Be unassuming.
- Listen, especially with your heart.
- Practice integrity.
- Be loyal.
- Be true to your own core beliefs, but recognize the need to compromise within parameters that don’t violate those beliefs.
- Respect the individual, not the title.
- Marriage is ordained of God, and is your first priority in life.
- Practice fiscal responsibility.
- Take care of your health.
- Willingly forgive others’ mistakes and shortcomings.
- Retain your dignity, no matter the circumstances.
- Give something back.
Ray never put together a PowerPoint on these principles. He didn’t make posters or require us to attend “Company Culture” development workshops. He simply lived and shared what mattered most to him and expected us to internalize similar principles. Ray knew the culture he wanted, and he owned his responsibility to create it.
In owning your company culture, remember that your culture has to work for you. Each company is different, and what might be appropriate for a marketing company could be outrageously unsuitable for an accounting firm. Your culture is about the way your office is laid out, the perks and fun things you do together, and the values you embrace.
Whatever your culture, communicate it. You must be the one to start your own legacy and stand up for what you want to see happen. As an entrepreneur, you have the freedom to pick and choose and develop whatever you want your culture to be. Don’t succumb to laziness or insecurity and simply live and let live. Your culture is your Holy Grail, and you have the power to pursue it and make it your own.
Porter’s Points – You Own the Culture
- People don’t learn company culture from lectures and meetings. You create your culture by what you do. Map out how you want your company to act, and start acting that way yourself.
- Everybody wants, somehow, to matter. Show your team that they matter to you and to the company’s objectives. You must balance your administrative duties with your need to lead.
- How do you want to be remembered? You determine that memory by your every action.