Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success


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You Can't Copy Culture

I’m working with a number of organisations and teams at the moment to help them redefine the culture they need to achieve the goals that they have. During our initial conversation I always ask them to describe the culture that they’re looking for. At some stage during the conversation someone will say something like ‘We want to be like Netflix/Spotify/Atlassian/Google/Apple’ (but never Uber funnily enough).

At this stage - and desperately trying not to kill any enthusiasm that they have - I tell them one thing, ‘You can’t be any of those.’ And they can’t. 

It’s tempting to leave the blog there and assume that you all understand why, but I’ll soldier on and explain it anyway.

You see, culture cannot be replicated. It’s unique to that team, in that environment, with that set of circumstances, using that method, at that time and in that place. The people that work there have motivations, experience, mindsets and ambitions that other’s cultures don’t have and that’s important because ultimately that’s the crucial difference.

Those people have taken the time to create something that works for them. Something that drives them and motivates them to get out of bed in the morning, bring their best self to work, be generous with their time, smash their job out of the park and continually look for improvement.

And that latter point is important because whilst you can’t copy someone else’s culture you can look at how they do things and ask yourself the following questions:

  • ‘What makes this approach work?’

  • ‘Could that work here?’

  • ‘How would that work here?’

  • ‘What would our people need to do differently in order to achieve this?’

  • ‘Is it right for us to do this now?’

In order for me to be able to help others to change and implement something that feels different, I scour the world looking for the different things that cultures do.

As you’d expect, this something that I cover a fair bit in my new book Culture Fix: How to Create a Great Place to Work, providing case studies from those people that are doing great things and providing insights into how you can do them yourself.

I’ve also set up a community of practice dedicated to cultural evolution. A safe place where people can share what works for them, what’s failed and how they went about it. The community is free to join and if you’re not already a member, click here.

My commitment is to continue to provide information to you on what others are doing. This week I’m in Las Vegas at the Zappos Culture Camp. Zappos are an online shoe retailer who are famed - in workplace culture circles at least - for creating a great place to work. Their CEO Tony Hseih in his book Delivering Happiness said this about culture, ‘You’ve gotta love the game. To become really good, you need to live it and sleep it.’ That’s what they do, so I’ll be sharing my learnings from the camp every day on the community.

You can’t copy Zappos, but you may be inspired by one thing that they do that could make a huge difference to your culture. What might that be?