Home Builder Company Culture Defined

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Culture is as culture does. Rodney Hall looks at how your company’s actions and behaviors today become the culture you’re known for tomorrow.

May 01, 2007

There seems to be a lot of talk about company culture these days. Several builders I've spoken with are trying to define or improve their firm's culture.

With all of the culture talk, I decided to do my usual exhaustive research (sending out a plea for help to people smarter than me) and see what I could find. Here's what I uncovered.

Culture Defined

Culture is more than just a word; it embodies several ideas:

  • Culture refers to the perspectives, practices and products of a social or professional group.
  • Culture is the personality of an organization, comprised of the attitudes, beliefs, behaviors and values of a company.
  • Culture is a group's particular ideas about authority, hierarchy and communication styles.
  • Culture is shared values across an organization, along with consistent business-related (and to some degree social) ways of behaving that express those shared values.
  • Culture is the collective conduct of an organization "when outsiders are not watching."

At San Diego-based Newland Communities, culture translates into caring about quality-of-life issues for its customers and team members. Tim Durie, vice president of human resources at Newland, explains: "Our customers told us health is more than physical — it also relates to their sense of mental and emotional well-being; spiritual and financial health; and freedom from stress." Those sentiments became a cornerstone by which Newland operates its business internally and externally.

Where It Begins

"Without a doubt, it starts with the observable values and behaviors of an organization's leaders," says Jay Mason, COO of Texas-based Antares Homes. "HR 'architecture' is a secondary but also critical piece of shaping a culture; a company's systems, policies, practices and 'rules of engagement' become the field of play within which a culture grows and thrives (or not)."

Gary Williamson of PSP Metrics in Pittsburgh describes it this way: "I think of culture as the unspoken rules of a company; a simple way for everyone to understand those rules is by playing Fill in the Blank."

For example:

  • The way our company shows how much quality matters is to ___________.
  • The way we show respect for each other at our company is to ____________.
  • The way we make decisions at our company is to __________________.
  • We show our compassion for the community by ___________________.

Attributes of Positive Culture

Whether you call it shared values, attributes or characteristics, these are some of the more common descriptions of positive culture. How many reflect the flavor of your organization?

  • Authentic
  • Loyal
  • Fair
  • Honest
  • Empathetic
  • Committed
  • Caring
  • Collaborative
  • Rewarding

Mason says it's "being honest and personally concerned with the experience and well-being of customers, trade partners and co-workers." Break that statement down and you realize how rarely it applies to most businesses.

Observations

The behavior of your organization today becomes the culture others describe tomorrow. It is not retroactive; you can't go back and change it. It starts with you. As Williamson notes, culture always manifests itself in observable behavior that is repeated over and over again throughout a company, top to bottom."


Author Information
Rodney Hall is a senior partner with The Talon Group, a leading executive search firm specializing in the real-estate development and home building industries.

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