How Do You Inspire Visionary Culture In Your Company? Four Strategies From A Tech CEO

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Building a strong company culture is crucial for attracting and retaining skilled, creative professionals and offering efficient, ground-breaking change. An essential tool for shaping culture is encouraging employees to ask “Why?” every day. Having core company values helps a team answer this question repeatedly, setting a company’s culture on a course for creative, relational, and economic growth.

According to a Gallup poll, “Just 23% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they can apply their organization’s values to their work, and only 27% strongly agree that they ‘believe in’ these values.” Without clarity about shared values and vision, a company will lose focus.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Riley McCormack, the President and CEO of Digimarc, a global digital watermarking company that seeks to safeguard artists, digital creators, and businesses by ensuring their digital work is correctly identified. One project the company has developed, called Digimarc Recycle, is the creation of technology that allows brand owners to digitize their products using sustainable materials. With these kinds of projects underway, when McCormack began his role at Digimarc three years ago, he knew he needed to help encourage a culture that would excel at detailed and groundbreaking work. He began considering Digimarc’s core values and how they influenced its culture.

Compassionate Leaders Circle created a list of seven core leadership values that foster a healthy culture, three of which Digimarc holds. A team of experts developed the seven C’s based on evidence-based research on successful leadership qualities. The seven C’s include Contemplative, Confident, Compassionate, Civil, Courageous, Collaborative, and Curious.

Riley McCormack offers a helpful example to other leaders who want to implement core values to change their company’s culture. At the start of McCormack’s role at Digimarc, the company had over fifty different core corporate values. McCormack found that holding so many values left the company without focus, so he sought the perspectives of his employees. Wanting to ensure that all of his employees clearly understood and supported the vision, he asked them the question: Who are we? His employees helped him narrow it down to three values: courage, collaboration, and curiosity.

  1. Courage: Employees hold each other accountable and dare to take risks to do the right thing for their stakeholders and shareholders.
  2. Collaboration: Employees function as a team, putting intentional effort into interpersonal communication, brainstorming, and problem-solving.
  3. Curiosity: Employees seek to understand their mission and one another fully and learn new methods and strategies.

Once core values are established, the culture-building process can begin. In The Secret of Culture Change, Jay B. Barney writes, “Unless your organizational culture aligns with your strategies, its full potential will not be realized.” Furthermore, Barney offers an example that could be applied to a company like Digimarc: “If your business strategy focuses on selling highly innovative products or services to your customers, then you must have a culture that supports teamwork, creativity, and risk-taking among your employees.” Centering on their company core values set the Digimarc team on a trajectory of efficiency and forward-thinking.

A company’s leaders can introduce new practices that focus on its work culture based on its values. McCormack offers four practices for uniting his team around courage, collaboration, and curiosity.

  1. Offer your employees unique opportunities to grow and inspire their imagination. For example, in a tech company, having access to new and innovative technology will support one’s employees to think outside the box. Other examples might include traveling opportunities and conferences that engage their interests.
  2. Make your employees aware of the change they’re making in the world. Continually inform your employees how the products and services they offer are gaining traction.
  3. Surround your employees with equally passionate and intelligent people. Leaders can be intentional in the hiring process, bringing on team members who will complement other members in skill, interests, and communication.
  4. Recognize that employees are human beings. Everything a company will accomplish stems from its team, but too often, companies don’t treat their people like human beings. When leaders acknowledge their employees’ good days and bad days, personal aspirations, life changes, accomplishments, and growth areas, they will see a better result in culture.

In February of 2024, Digimarc reported a 71% increase in Annual Recurring Revenue and an 87% increase in Subscription Gross Profit Margin. Regarding this growth, McCormack writes, “These results were made possible by the team’s… ethos of never settling for the status quo and always planting the seeds for future growth.”

Culture-building begins with creating a clear vision for one’s team. According to a LinkedIn study in a recent Forbes article, “68% of workers in the UK, France, Germany, and Ireland [prioritize] organizations that share their values. The figure rises to 87% for workers in the US and 85% for those in Brazil.” Younger generations entering the workforce highly value work that offers a unique company culture and vision. In order to maintain a positive, passionate, and loyal company culture, companies should invest time in discerning and enacting their core values.

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