Blueprints and Bourdain: Crafting a Consistent Company Culture

Company Culture

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time as founder and CEO of Findsome & Winmore, it’s that there is no opt-out button for company culture; it happens whether you plan it or not. Like floodwaters, culture tends to flow (often downhill) without boundaries. Part of the leader’s job is to build those boundaries by setting expectations for how things ought to work. As I was researching for my latest marketing book, Formulaic: How Thriving Companies Market From the Core, I was inspired by an unlikely source: tough-talking, world-traveling chef, Anthony Bourdain.

Chef Bourdain is a divisive figure in the culinary world, often coming off as world-weary, gruff and unconcerned with ruffling his contemporaries’ feathers. While his abrasiveness may be well know, anyone who has read his Kitchen Confidential tell-all or watched his long-running TV series, Parts Unknown, also knows that his success is no fluke. Bourdain worked himself to the bone, dedicating his life to the world of culinary arts. In doing so, he has risen through the ranks from lowly cook manning a deep fryer to a world-renowned chef and TV personality. More than that, he has become a leader.

One aspect of Bourdain’s leadership style that resonated with me is his persistence on the punctuality of his staff. Come hell or high water, Bourdain expects you to be ready to filet a tuna or sear a tomahawk steak as soon as your shift starts. Whether two minutes tardy or an hour late, your failure is still counted as a first and final strike. Upon your second case of tardiness, you’re off the team. Though strict, this stance is fair and sets a tone for the “company culture” of his kitchen. These expectations define his ideals and, therefore, reflect the level of excellence and responsibility his staff is expected to maintain. Not up to the challenge? Well, there’s the door.

Of course, this level of brutal strictness doesn’t work in all (even most) companies but the lesson remains the same. Bourdain set a blueprint for company culture by not accepting anything but the culture he wants his kitchen to embody. Any good leader would be wise to instill the same within his or her own company. But how?

Most importantly, you have to look inward and discover what is important to you. Your answer will be nuanced, multi-layered and possibly difficult to succinctly define, but you must do so in order to set clear cultural expectations. Build this blueprint based on the ideals you hold most dear, whether that’s punctuality or personal responsibility, collaboration or individual excellence–or a carefully chosen combination of all of these things (and more).

Once the blueprint is defined and detailed in a culture guide, infographic, or video, you can set the foundation for your company culture. This breeds a clear, consistent vision for not just the present, but for a foundation to build a company’s success and a team’s happiness. After all, without a blueprint, you can’t have a solid foundation. Without a foundation, your company is sure to face some unsteady footing the larger it grows.

While I don’t believe that simply hanging up a series of platitudes on the wall will solve all of your problems, it certainly does help. Without any definition at all, the floodwaters will simply flow where they may. Part of creating a winning culture is defining what you’d like it to be.  Without that definition, you very well may have a flood on your hands.