“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” Peter Drucker
Sophia Amoruso has made the news a lot recently.
Her company, Nasty Gal, was named as “fastest growing retailer” by Inc. magazine in 2012. And her 2014 book #GIRLBOSS was a New York Times Bestseller.
#GIRLBOSS is the story of Amoruso’s unlikely climb from a dumpster diving, shoplifting anarchist, to the founder and CEO of a multi-million dollar online fashion retailer with over 350 employees.
It’s a truly remarkable success story and hopefully an inspiration to many young women. We need more girl bosses who overcome the odds.
Money Looks Better in the Bank
I’ve read #GIRLBOSS and there are some great take aways.
In chapter five Amoruso warns girl bosses away from debt; this is a refreshing message in our debt-crazy culture. “If you’re tempted to buy something, just imagine that those new shoes were actually made out of crisp $20 bills.”
“Do those $20 bills look good getting dirty on the sidewalk? No, they do not. That’s because money looks better in the bank than on your feet,” she writes.
Preach it sister!
You did what?!?
As a goody-two-shoes, rule-follower, my road to becoming a girl boss couldn’t have been more different than Amoruso’s. When she was hitchhiking up the West Coast at the age of 18, I had my nose in a book and spent my weekends writing for the school newspaper or traveling to tournaments with the Azusa Pacific University Speech and Debate team.
If Amoruso’s life personifies what it means to be alternative/cool, that only further confirms my suspicion that I’ve always fit in much better into the geeky/nerd herd than I’ve fit in with the cool kids.
None of that matters.
The road we travel to becoming #GIRLBOSSES is WAY less important than what we do when we get there.
“Foul words is but foul wind, and foul wind is but foul breath, and foul breath is noisome.” William Shakespeare
Am I Practicing What I Preach About Company Culture?
Unfortunately, the press hasn’t been entirely good for Amoruso. A quick google search turns up a pile of articles and blog posts alleging that Amoruso is not practicing at Nasty Girl the philosophy she’s preaching in #GIRLBOSS.
I’m not one to put down another girl boss based on internet rumors or media speculation. I think female entrepreneurs should be doing everything we can to support each other.
I have no idea whether these are salacious rumors of jealous wannabe’s or signs of trouble brewing within Nasty Gal.
I mention this only because we are intensely focused on building our own culture and values at 8 Signal. Factual or not, these claims serve as a reminder of the importance of creating and maintaining a positive culture in your business that goes beyond words on a wall.
Amoruso does a great job of defining Nasty Gal’s company culture in the book.
At Nasty Gal, we have something we like to call “Our Philosophy.” It’s a set of directives that align us to stay focused on what really matters. We designed them really nice and pretty, and have them posted up around our offices as little daily reminders of why we’re all here…
- Nasty Gal Obsessed: We keep the customer at the center of everything we do. Without customers, we have nothing.
- Own It: Take the ball and run with it. We make smart decisions, put the business first, and do more with less.
- People are Important: Reach out, make friends, build trust.
- No A-holes*: We leave our egos at the door. We are respectful, collaborative, curious, and open-minded.
- Learn On: What we’re building has never been built before–the future is ours to write. We get excited about growth, take intelligent risks, and learn from our mistakes.
- Have Fun and Keep It Weird.
What Amoruso calls “philosophy,” I call company culture and values. Few businesses are able to articulate their company culture that clearly. Even fewer are able to practically put their company culture into action.
“No company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.” Jack Welch
Every business has its own culture, whether by design or default!
One of the decisions Ruben and I made early on at 8 Signal was to maintain a commitment personal and professional growth. Marketing trends and strategies change so quickly in this digitally focused world. If you’re not staying current, you run the risk of becoming irrelevant.
But marketing isn’t the only expertise we need to build an El Paso marketing group. We also need to study and practice the business skill necessary for success.
That’s why we joined the Las Cruces chapter of C12 New Mexico group shortly after we launched 8 Signal. We’d looked at all kinds of corporate coaching and business development options, and ultimately determined that C12 was the best option.
I can’t recommend C12 stronging enough for any business owner committed to personal and professional growth.
In May, our C12 group spent an entire day unpacking the concept of company culture and values. Here’s a little of what we learned:
“Every business has its own culture, whether by design or default…Our culture reflects our team’s interdependent attitude toward our business processes and the value of our product or service.
Great cultures are almost always the result of an intense focus on providing value for others. Such organizations are united in the belief that the value offered is far greater than the price they charge.
This reflects passion and commitment to ideals that supersede mere profit and loss, since the most valuable things in life can’t simply be purchased.” C12, May 2015
Ruben is a wiz at designing business systems. I shine when it comes to executing systems. But running a successful business requires more than just systems and delivery. Values and culture are what set a business up for success.
So, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about what we want the culture to be at 8 Signal. While we are still working out the details, we want 8 Signal to be a place where we:
- Practice Truthfulness
- Pursue Innovation & Creativity
- Be Responsive
- Give Back
- Engage in Mutually Beneficial Relationships
- Have Fun
In the end, we believe our success is connected to those six things.
So Where Does it All Go Wrong?
In “Organizational Culture and Leadership,” Edgar Schein concludes that organizational culture is the most difficult attribute to change. Organizational culture, he says, can be observed on three levels:
- Apparent: on the surface or at a glance to the uninitiated observer
- Professed: written statements, slogans, policies, creeds
- Experiential: deeply rooted assumptions, unspoken rules/reality
Amoruso has the apparent and professed going for her at Nasty Gal, but if the rumors are correct, employees are not experiencing the reality of those values.
That’s prompted me to ask, are we practicing our company values on all three of these levels?
Writing a Book is Like Painting a Target
Twenty years ago, writing a book was reserved for professional writer, theologians, and the incredibly successful.
Today, writing a book has become a great marketing tool for nearly any business or individual looking to build a brand. You don’t have have a literature degree or background in journalism. You just have to be passionate about what you do and what you believe.
Amoruso has a great story, she’d definitely passionate, and couldn’t have purchased the kind of publicity she’s gotten from #GIRLBOSS.
The problem is that writing a book is also a lot like painting a giant target on yourself and your business. It’s much easier to tear down your competitor else than it is to built up your own business, but it won’t lead to long-term success.
I believe developing and maintaining a positive company culture is the real secret to becoming a #GIRLBOSS or any boss for that matter!
Have you thought about your company culture?
“Although leaders bear responsibility for a company’s culture, we can’t simply dictate it. Culture is created over time as we lead and influence others – even when we’re unaware or unintentional. Cultures emerge as a by-product of the way leaders impact people.” C12 May 2015
Photos courtesy of flickr via with wind, Carolyn Coles, Squire of Cydonia,