Your company is a faith: create a magnetic culture by following the five pillars of religion
Let's examine the best practices of the most enduring faiths to build great cultures in our own orgs.
I’ve been thinking about company culture, how we built such a great culture at Budsies, and how the founders I speak with can build great culture in their orgs. I decided to make a mini series. Thank you for your support: all feedback welcome! If you like what you see, share this with your colleagues and subscribe.
A company is a faith. Your LLC or corporation is not a naturally occurring entity like a rock or an ocean. Your org chart, roadmap, marketing funnel… none of these exist in the natural world. They exist because the founder invented a vision and spread that vision to early employees, investors, and customers. These stakeholders then take on the vision, help proselytize it to more people, and turn that lonely idea into a really impactful company. When done right, it’s a win-win all around.
If your company is a faith, then why not glean from the best practices of the world’s most enduring faiths to develop your own company’s culture?
Many rites found in today's dominant faiths of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism result from thousands of years of evolution. Consider that most traditions are the result of interpretation and experimentation that either became accepted into the faith or cast aside.
Let’s turn to the Jewish Sabbath (or Shabbat) as an example – the day off work beginning at sunset on Friday and lasting through Sunset on Saturday. Imagine one Rabbi telling his tribe that they should relax in their own gardens to bring in the Friday night Sabbath, and another rabbi telling his tribe they should come to pray and eat together. The former might be abandoned and the latter evolved to become the Friday evening Shabbat meal because a communal dinner is easier to enforce as a weekly ritual and it better strengthens bonds within a community. We can learn from the enduring pillars found in religious faiths to shape the pillars of your company's culture.
The Pillars of Organized Faiths: Applied to your company
Here are the fundamental elements within faiths that I believe help create culture and identity. In future posts, I'll dive deeper into each of these and give specific, actionable examples of how they can be worked into your company culture. Remember to subscribe to my email list to ensure you get those playbooks.
Rituals: a set of actions shared by followers and often performed communally. Examples include lighting candles, hunting for easter eggs, kneeling in prayer 5x per day, or fasting on certain days of the year. All holidays are rituals - from Christmas trees to Hanukkah candles. Rituals ground us. They create milestones in our lives that we look forward to, prepare for, communally participate in, and then reminisce about. I've often said that bonds are formed through shared experiences, and rituals form a framework for those experiences. What sorts of weekly, monthly, or annual rituals does your company celebrate? Read the full rituals post here.
Iconography: a set of physical symbols that bind people together. Some obvious ones are the Christian cross and the Jewish Star of David. Others might include the Namaste hand pose, a head covering, a beard, a robe, or a mark on the forehead. Modern organizations have amplified this to create tiers of iconography: different colored uniforms representing different levels or departments. What visual artifacts do you use in your company to foster shared identity and pride? Read the full iconography post here.
Vision: a core belief that's grander than the objective reality. The element of faith is pivotal to every religion. It is what separates the believers from non-believers. Do you believe that Jesus is our Lord or not? Do you believe that following principles in your present life will determine your place in heaven in your afterlife? To rally employees, a company should have a vision greater than its current reality - something stakeholders can join together to strive towards. Read the full vision post here.
History: a codified history that gives its people a unified sense of understanding of their shared story. Where did we come from? What did our ancestors endure? What makes us different from others? What gives us pride in our shared identity? Examples include the Torah, the Bible, and the Quran, and the re-telling of their stories at most weekly services. What does your company do to document its foundational story and share that story with stakeholders?
Values (tradition): a set of beliefs passed down that create an identity within a group. Jews have the tradition of Tikun Olam ("repair the world"), which they point to when partaking in philanthropic activities. As written by Apostle Paul, Christian values include kindness, self-control, and patience. These beliefs form the core values of faith. Values help followers make their own decisions in line with the faith and appraise whether others' actions are aligned with the faith. How clear are your company's values? Do they help your stakeholders make difficult decisions regarding hiring, firing, and product roadmaps? [there are dozens of books already written about defining values in your organization; rather than regurgitate another iteration, I'd recommend you check out the book Traction by Gino Wickman]
In the next post, I’ll dive into Rituals. What makes rituals successful in religion? Which of those elements can be applied to our companies? What are examples of other company rituals? We’ll also go through an exercise where we turn a simple company anniversary into a wholesome annual ritual.
Disclaimer: My writing in no way invalidates or discredits the divine or religious authority behind faiths. On the contrary, I am impressed by the power religions have in forming communities. I merely seek to learn from the cultural practices found in the most enduring faith-based cultures and consider what lessons can be applied to developing culture within an organization.
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I’m a multi-time successful tech founder. These days I make strategic direct investments and advise founders on their growth, fundraising, product, and culture. I love working directly with other founders: we have shared experience, trust, and respect. Reach out.