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The Entrepreneur’s Secret of Bees and an Easy Company Culture 

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Believe it or not, a group of flies is a “business.”  

I have always been drawn to collective nouns, and this insight about flies inspired the following parable:

Fly had a business idea.   He wanted to create a great place for insects to congregate.   Fly and his business partner, Beetle, knew that to attract a swarm of clients, they needed a fabulous and fetid company culture.  So Fly and Beetle talked about culture.  They planned.  They strategized. Beetle even suggested a SWOT analysis, but the swat idea gave Fly the creeps.

In the end, their company culture was just this:  talking and wasting time.  

Meanwhile, Bee also started a business.   She too was creating a great hangout, a hive if you will.  She quickly established core company values and lived by them.  She was busy, a hard worker, and even drank nectar with her clients.  The insects all recognized there was something special about Bee and the culture of her business.   Soon her hive was all the buzz.   

Meanwhile Fly’s company culture was just a piece of shit.  

      *              *                *             *

Be Do Have

Although Aesop may not be impressed, there is a moral worth appreciating in the story of Bee and Fly:   don’t just create company culture, Bee it!

One of the competitive advantages for sustainable entrepreneurs is team motivation, which is created in part because employees appreciate a culture that values sustainability.

Last month, I was taking with two friends who have recently launched a cool SaaS company, Ecobot, that automates the process for wetland scientists to collect, process, and report data.  Jeremy and Lee have struck a nerve in their industry and demand for their software has been immediate and way beyond expectations.  They have the good fortune of a fast growth tiger of a company by the tail.

At a weekly scrum meeting, Jeremy and Lee affirmed their desire to create a great company culture from the start, before more employees are brought on.  I joined them for their dialogue on company culture.

Ecobot is a technology company committed to sustainable entrepreneurship and creating a great company culture from the start
Ecobot is creating a great company culture from the start

Our conversation evolved into a discussion of “have-do-be” vs. “be-do-have”. Here is a short blog on this concept.    Most of us maintain a have-do-be mindset, which goes like this:  (1) If I HAVE lots of money, (2) then I can buy or DO the things I want, (3) then I will BE happy.  However, there is a more powerful way to approach life and business.   The more enlightened leaders start with Be, and it goes like this:  (1) If I AM happy, (2) then I will DO my job enthusiastically, (2) then I will HAVE opportunities.   

The same goes for leadership in business:   (1) If I AM trusting, (2) then I DO rely on my teammates, and (3) we will HAVE a company where everyone feels valued.   Or specifically for sustainable entrepreneurs: (1) If my company IS a leader on environmental issues  (2) then we can DO work that benefits both the planet and the bottom line (3) then we will HAVE customer who align with our values.         

Values for Your Sustainable Entrepreneurial Company

Sustainable and general entrepreneurs alike can learn from Bee that our values are the source of how we “be” in the world.   In fact, while I was writing this blog, I conferred with Bee.  She summarized her secret to building a great company culture into three easy steps.

  1. Know Your Values.   Know your company and personal values!  If you don’t know them yet, create them.    Identify the top 3 three values that you drive you or your company.   Here is an example of the process one company went through to develop its values.      
  2. Be Your Values.  As a leader, Be your values.   If a value is honesty, be honest.  If a value is love, be loving.   If a value is customer service, serve your customer the best you can!   If your value is sustainability, infuse sustainable activities into every aspect of your business.  Your employees and customers are watching you.  They will see you for who you are and how you act.   If you BE your values, people will know…and they will follow suit.   
  3. Use Your Values.  Values can only be the foundation of company culture if they are used.   All too often values sit framed on a company wall or homepage as an emblem of a process that was only for show.    My friend, Colin, regularly references values with his team.    When deciding how to deal with a warranty issue, I heard him say, “Lets provide our client help beyond what is required by the contract, because we believe in Customer Service as a core value”.   Values can be most useful in hard times, especially when leaders are faced with ethical issues.   So when the going gets tough, turn to your values.    

A Few Don’ts

Here a few things to avoid when identifying core values and using them as a foundation for building company culture:

  • Don’t Create Too Many.  Limit your core values to 3. When a company has 10 or even 5 core values, the team cannot remember them all, and the values degenerate into meaningless words on a poster in a dimly lit hallway. 
  • Don’t Memorize. Don’t compel employees to memorize the company values, which would just endanger resistance to them.  On the other hand, if you use, reference, and BE the core values, everyone in the company will know them.
  • Don’t Overdo It.  Creating a company culture based on values is easy.    Establishing values doesn’t require a protracted planning process.  Their creation shouldn’t be a no-holds-barred wrestling match.    All that is need to create core values is an authentic dialogue among you and your team over a couple of weeks.

Solar Story of Integrity

I founded a solar development company back in 2007 which by 2011 was 46th on the INC 500 list of fastest growing companies in the United States.  Early on, an incubator lent us $50,000, our first outside money.   Our contact at the incubator made a courtesy call to me to ask my approval to lend a similar amount of money to one of our competitors.   I said no.

Later that day, the competitor called me after he was informed of my role in the denial of his loan.  He was pissed! He berated me:

“If your mission is to make solar mainstream, denying another solar company access to capital is out of integrity.”  

Ouch!  He hit a nerve.

I turned to our company values, one of which was in fact “integrity.”  My competitor was right.  My action to impede another solar company’s access to capital was inconsistent with our company value.  So, I made the call to the incubator to let him know I changed my mind.

A Survey With Every Blog

With each blog post, I include a survey to help get the heart of the entrepreneur.  

Bee Your Company Culture

Fly has compound eyes, which are made up of thousands of receptors.  But all of those eyes don’t give Fly compelling vision, since Fly does is not building on the foundation of core values.   So in the end, Fly does not make honey….let alone money.

On the other wing, leadership starts with Bee.

Bee is known for her acute sense of direction.   And company values help us stay on course.  If there is one thing I have learned about leading companies over the years, it is this:  You can’t create company culture, you Bee it!        

Now you know the Secret of Bees.  

Your company values are the foundation of your company culture.  Bee your values.
Values are the foundation of company culture. Bee them. Photo by @Matthew_T_Rader on Unsplash
Michael Shore
Author: Michael Shore

Michael is passionate about creating a sustainable planet and supporting entrepreneurial companies. His loves his work the most when he can do both at the same time.

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