What The Grateful Dead And A Winning Organizational Culture Have In Common
According to Deloitte’s 2016 Human Capital Trends Survey 86% of organizations cite culture as a very important issue and a top agenda item. I know what you are thinking, how can a bunch of hippies teach us anything about building a compelling organizational culture. “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” I encourage you to open your mind for just a few minutes and have that powerful line from Scarlet Begonias guide your thinking.
The Grateful Dead are authentic. The Grateful Dead have never tried to be anything but themselves. As a result of being comfortable in their own skin, their music and devoted fans “Deadheads” have endured for over 50 years. They have not been guided by trends and fads but by passion. They have owned who they are. It is perhaps the combination of spirit, confidence, playfulness, and adventure that has magnetized generations of music lovers to them. The best company cultures are distinct and real. They are not trying to keep up with the Joneses. They march to a different drums and space beat (google it, worth your while).
They embrace diversity. If you look around a deadshow and you will see people from all walks of life. There is no commonality in age, gender, religion, etc. The Grateful Dead have toured the world from Egypt to Buffalo, NY. Their music unites. A great culture is not a hoard of clones. It represents a group of people from diverse backgrounds passionate about a shared mission. According to a Glassdoor survey (2014), 67% of active and passive job seekers indicated that when evaluating organizations and job offers, it is important to them that the company has a diverse workforce.
They have purpose. The Grateful Dead serve more than the music; they have a social conscience. The Rex Foundation supports the environment, the arts and grass-roots social efforts to make the world a better place. It is not enough to simply put products into this world, great talent is drawn to a bigger purpose. Per Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey, values alignment with one’s organization and its actions related to corporate social responsibility matter to this population.
It’s about the experience. Anyone who has been to a deadshow would understand the impossible task of describing it. It is more than a concert; it is an experience. There is an energy and an optimism that runs deep. Strong organizational cultures care about the employee experience. It is not the policies, programs, compensation or ping pong tables that retain top talent, but the organizational energy behind the employee experience. Great cultures put people before perks and create a shared mission. This is the superglue of an organization that is hard to replicate by others.
They are nimble and innovative. The Grateful Dead play what moves them. One song bleeds into the next and will often turn into a powerful jam session stretching 15-20 minutes in length. They have that level of creativity and agility to adapt to the moment. Great cultures foster an environment of psychological safety where innovation can occur. They remove barriers and de-layer in order to be as nimble as possible in an ever-changing landscape.
They build community. If I were to sum up what it means to be a deadhead in one word, it would be community. This community gets each other. There is an unspoken understanding. There is a shared sense of purpose. There is a kindness to their spirit and a strong sense of belonging. The very best organizational cultures are not a place you go to from 9-5. It’s a community you join. They create pride, unity and loyalty. You are part of something bigger than yourself. Add a pinch of kindness and social responsibility and you have a recipe for high performance, retention and success.
What a long strange trip it’s been to get to this place of clarity.
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