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We Think, Therefore We Can: Creating a Company Philosophy

June 20, 2016

 

The term “philosophy” was coined by Pythagoras around 500 BC, but the actual concept dates back even further, to the days of Ancient Egypt. Ancient religions accounted for explanations of weather and biology, but when it came to questions of human behavior and meaning, philosophy was the answer. An Egyptian minister named Ptahhotep wrote “The Maxims of Ptahhotep” in the 28th century BC, and though the book was said to be the teachings of the goddess Maat, it dealt with topics such as social order, self-control, and Egyptian wisdom. Thus, a social philosophy was born.

 

It speaks to the core of human nature that before any largely significant medical, scientific, or technological advances (albeit the wheel or fire), scholars sought answers to large questions about humanity as whole, and smaller questions about human interaction within society. We have a central need for a system of beliefs or principles to guide us, and following these principles underlines the fundamentals of self-fulfillment. Fast-forward a few millennia, and the same holds true to company culture. A clear corporate culture leads to employees that are confident in their decision-making, and employers that are confident in their employees. Company philosophies usually aren’t as direct as “this is how we believe we should operate, you should believe it too.” Those are rules-- a company philosophy is an intangible vibe or culture that corresponds to the core concept of your brand. So how you do you cultivate a philosophy without forcing it?

 

First, let’s look at what isn’t philosophy: your best practices, and your brand identity. These things are mere extensions of your ideology, and though they should be clear and consistent, they aren’t enough to instill an active mindset in your workforce. A brief anecdote:

 

A woman ordered shoes for her husband from Zappos. Before they arrived, he died in a car crash. She called customer service to explain the situation. The next day, flowers showed up on her doorstep from Zappos. The flowers were paid for by the company, but the customer service rep never consulted a supervisor.

 

The customer service representative was acting on Zappos’ philosophy of going “above and beyond the average level of service to create an emotional impact on the receiver.” She didn’t need to contact a supervisor, because she was so imbued with the company mindset, she knew she was doing the right thing. This level of employee confidence doesn’t come from a mission statement posted on a website, it comes from an inherent understanding of the company’s core principles-- principles that must be felt to be fully understood. There are a few key elements to successfully developing a company philosophy:

  1. Lead by example. Maybe you have a philosophy of rational egoism, to protect company assets at all costs. Maybe you have an altruistic mindset, and want to help people no matter the financial cost. Whatever it may be, make sure you act the way you expect your employees to act, because they will always follow your example.
     

  2. Keep it simple. Even if you bullet all the perceived elements of your company philosophy and send out a memo, it won’t help if it’s too multifaceted or filled with exceptions. Consider developing a philosophy based around the fewest words possible, and demonstrate it through actions rather than memos. Example: “Be Kind.”
     

  3. Hire the right people. Like all of these, this element seems obvious, but people have differing ideas of the definition of “right.” If you’re a small-town, community-focused credit union looking to increase profits, don’t hire a shark-- hire someone that’s just as passionate about the community. They’ll both focus on growth, but the second person will do it for the right reasons. This is most important when hiring HR employees, as they often handle hiring and communicating the company philosophy internally.
     

  4. Don’t force it. Company culture should be felt, and by preaching philosophy, you risk coming across as didactic. At New Belgium Brewing, CEO Kim Jordan doesn’t have employees-- she has co-workers, a distinction that’s part of New Belgium’s culture of involving everyone in the decision-making process. To quote Harvey Firestone, “Success is the sum of details.”

For a closer example of company philosophy, employees at The Pod Advertising are known as “peas.” Peas have:

 

This acronym isn’t a mandate of company philosophy-- rather it’s a general guideline to have in mind when hiring interns and employees. It demonstrates to everyone that we aren’t necessarily looking for the “perfect” employee, but for free-thinkers with a passion, and that passion doesn’t have to be advertising! The best employees find ways to infuse their passions into their work with great success.

 Developing a company philosophy can be difficult, because forcing it will always cause it to flounder-- however, when you’ve achieved implementation of a philosophy, you’ll feel its success. High quality internal branding can help. If you’re looking for Blooming Creative Solutions to any marketing problems, contact The Pod Advertising!

 

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