How to Build a Company Culture of Leadership

October 2, 2020

By: Yehuda Neeman, VP R&D at Votiro

Building an organization’s culture is an ongoing process. It requires a constant investment of time, effort, and ongoing evaluation of what needs to be improved, while keeping an eye on the desired goal: a company culture that supports the organization’s success and acts as a starting point for future activities and strategies. 

The first step is to recognize the need for building a company culture. Which values would you like to cultivate? How should employees feel about their roles and their experiences with the company? This determination requires vision into the future, as well as a clear understanding of how to face the obstacles to that vision. What changes need to happen to drive the desired values and culture forward? What actions must be taken to achieve the company’s culture goals?

As an analogy, successful agricultural endeavors require advanced planning – you will need to plant, water, plow, sow and replant – a long and grueling process that will eventually lead to harvesting the fruit. Similarly, while building a company culture may be its own grueling process, it will ultimately lead to a higher-performing organization, better positioned for growth and success.

Votiro’s R&D leadership model: Leader-Leader Model

Here at Votiro, our R&D culture follows a leader-leader model. In this model, the company delegates responsibility as low on the organizational hierarchy as possible, maximizing every individual’s level of control and empowering them to excel in their roles. This model has been proven to create a work environment where everyone takes responsibility for their actions, interpersonal relationships are healthier, employees are happier, and the company is the ultimate winner. 

This model was best highlighted in the book, Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders. The author, Captain David Marquet, outlines how the leader-leader model allowed him to boost morale and improve operations on his nuclear submarine, the USS Santa Fe. The model transformed the vessel from one of the least effective submarines in the US Navy into one of the most effective, and one that continued to over-perform for more than a decade after Captain Marquet’s retirement.

This model can be applied to any organization or team.

The path to growth of an effective organization

To help visualize the culture change process, it’s helpful to draw the following graph which represents the expected productivity of an average organization or team.

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V = value / productivity

T = time

The blue line represents the expected linear progress of the organization if no change is implemented. This graph indicates the best case scenario where your company / team experiences continuous improvement (note that most organizations do not have this experience).

The red line represents the expected path if cultural changes are implemented. 

Point #1 represents a point in time where a team leader or manager begins incorporating changes to the company culture, such as delegating more responsibility to team members. This point is a decision point, when you must decide which path to take. In fact, initially, if you take the “new” path (the red line), any change may result in a productivity slow-down (point #1 to #2) due to aversion to change or errors made by newly empowered employees.

At point #2 you will start to harvest your “fruits,” but you will need to stand strong because you may still be in a “lower” position than the line representing no change (#2.1). However, if you stick to the process and believe in the vision and actions you’ve taken, you will reach point #3.

At point #3, you will start to see the rewards of the changes implemented, such as improved productivity, value, etc. You will find that your efforts have paid off and you have even greater value than before. Note that the company’s position at point #3 is similar to the linear progress had there been no changes made to the culture. It is only after this point that the true impact of the cultural changes will be evident, resulting in exponential improvement.

The visionary period

“All it takes is a belief that people are fundamentally good—and enough courage to treat your people like owners instead of machines. Machines do their jobs; owners do whatever is needed to make their companies and teams successful.”

Work Rules

The time where you begin incorporating changes to point #3 on the “new” path (red line) is the visionary period, absolutely critical in the process, where additional value may be seen without any additional changes and you have to believe in your vision.

Even after point #3, organizations cannot quietly sit back. You will need to continuously reevaluate, adapt to new needs, and implement additional changes. You might be lucky enough and see the results and improvements overnight without any issues, but from my experience, it rarely happens that way.

Even highly successful companies, such as Google, who are already way past point #3, have been changing and building the company’s culture for a long time. “All it takes is a belief that people are fundamentally good—and enough courage to treat your people like owners instead of machines. Machines do their jobs; owners do whatever is needed to make their companies and teams successful.” (Excerpt about Google’s approach in Work Rules.)

How the model has directly benefited Votiro

Trust in employees lessens impact of shift to remote work during COVID-19.

For many companies – especially those with a top-down model – the shift to working-from-anywhere (WFA) in the face of the current pandemic has raised significant challenges. At Votiro R&D, our leader-leader model enabled our staff to make the transition quickly without any setbacks to ongoing projects.

Our employees were given the tools they needed to be technically competent. They are each well-acquainted with Votiro’s goals, the status of each project, and feel the trust the company has placed in them to achieve their goals even in the face of adversity. As a result, even during the global pandemic crisis, we have successfully launched new products and features, and our ongoing work continues without delays or setbacks.

If you’d like to continue the conversation about the importance of building a team culture of leadership, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.