Sometimes the words you say in a moment of frustration come back to haunt you and then teach you. That was the case for me as I worked with a group of engineering leaders at a client organization.\nAfter a particularly difficult discussion about their need to be more intentional in their efforts to create a culture that attracts and retains top talent, I lamented that \u201cI\u2019m not sure why this concept is so difficult. Creating a positive culture isn\u2019t rocket science.\u201d\nI called a break at that point, and an attendee approached me at the front of the room.\n\u201cMy last job before I came here was at the Jet Propulsion Lab,\u201d he started with a sly smirk on his face. \u201cI am a rocket scientist.\u201d\n\u201cGreat,\u201d I thought. \u201cThis guy is going to debate my reference to rocket science and miss the point about culture.\u201d\nFortunately, my fear vanished when he said, \u201cRocket science is easier. For us, 1 plus 1 always equals 2. It\u2019s not that way with people.\u201d\nCreating your pi\u00e8ce de r\u00e9sistance\nEvery business consultant and author has a formula for building and sustaining a strong, vibrant culture. \u00a0On paper, they resemble a step-by-step equation for success. It sounds like science. If only it were that easy.\nIn reality, your organization\u2019s culture is like a chef\u2019s signature dish. Others might prepare something that resembles it, but theirs is a one-of-a-kind work art.\nAdmittedly, I am not a great cook much less a chef. My efforts are stellar if they include a microwave. My wife, on the other hand, is an amazing cook and often trades secrets with the chefs at places where we dine. I have learned to appreciate the artistry that results from her dedication and attention to detail.\u00a0\nThere are guidelines. You can\u2019t, for example, ignore the chemistry of how ingredients interact. But there is also a tremendous opportunity for creativity in crafting the perfect meal. Some dishes need a little more spice while others may need to appeal more conservative preferences. The masterpiece, in the eye of the consumer, is in the intentional blend of art and science.\nIt is the same with your organization\u2019s culture. A rigid three, five, or seven-step process will work if you want a cookie-cutter culture that is just like your competitor\u2019s. But, how do you stand out if you look, sound, and act just like everyone else?\nThe basic ingredients\nThe building blocks for a souffl\u00e9 are egg yolks and egg whites. Everything else is discretionary. You can have savory ones or sweet ones. You can even add extras like chocolate or Grand Marnier to customize it. I know this because my wife makes them at home.\nThere are basics required for creating a great culture, too. Here are six that are present in each of them.\n1. Clarity\nThe Southwest Airlines culture is anchored by two statements: Live the Southwest Way and Work the Southwest Way. That doesn\u2019t really tell you much, however. Southwest is crystal clear on what those two statements mean. Working the Southwest Way means working safely, wowing customers, and keeping costs low. Its team members Live the Southwest Way by having a Warrior Spirit, Servant\u2019s Hear, and Fun-LUVing Attitude.\nThe City of Carrollton, Texas \u2013 one of the clients with whom I have worked to articulate and anchor their culture \u2013 defines their desired culture in three words: Better, Faster, and Friendlier. Walker Sands, a tech PR agency based in Chicago with whom I have no financial relationship, has built its culture on the three core values of Learn, Support, and Do.\nThere is nothing magical or set about the length of your list. Zappos, for instance, has 10 Core Values that define its culture including some that are uniquely them such as Create Fun and a Little Weirdness.\u00a0\nClarity around exactly how you want your culture to look, feel, and act is the basic ingredient from which everything else flows. The distinctiveness and relevance of your culture is in direct proportion to the clarity you have about it. Everything else flows from there.\n2. Constancy of commitment\nThomas Watson, Jr., the second CEO of IBM, wrote:\n\n\u201cI firmly believe that any\u00a0organization, in order to survive and achieve success, must have a sound set of beliefs on which it premises all its policies and actions.\u00a0Next, I believe that the most important single factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs.\u00a0 And, finally I believe if an organization is to meet the challenge of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except those beliefs as it moves through corporate life.\u201d\n\nThe beliefs and values on which your culture is built can\u2019t shift with each new organizational fad.\u00a0 Otherwise, there will be nothing to which you can anchor yourself when turbulent times arrive. The necessity of constancy serves as a reminder that you can\u2019t short cut the clarity piece of this recipe.\n3. Consistency\nSouthwest Airlines has over 58,000 employees. The recent struggle with their mechanics union aside, the company has an amazing history of utilizing its culture to sustain its performance. The reason is consistency. Sustaining the culture is part of hiring decisions, promotion decisions, leadership performance, and every other aspect of what happens within the company. That consistency is what allows a similar feel and experience regardless of where you interact with the company.\nAt Walker Sands, consistency is maintained through a combination of formal policies, adherence to metrics, and equal dedication to bring in the right people while removing the wrong people. For instance, promotions are based, in part, on an associate\u2019s willingness to help others succeed as an example of support. A formal policy exists to ensure that everyone understands its flexible paid time off commitment. The company continuously measures both employee and client happiness to determine its consistency of culture.\n4. Communication\nOrganizations that are proud of their culture shout it to the world. They know, as Walker Sands President Mike Santoro told me, that a great culture is a crucial weapon to win the war for talent. He told me, \u201cI know that our team members are getting calls for jobs with higher salaries.\u201d He also knows that his associates will trade the Walker Sands culture for a marginally better salary if his company does the work for communicating through word and action.\nAlso, communication about the culture is a two-way conversation in the best organizations. Erin Rinehart, City Manager for the City of Carrollton, visits operations around the organization of over 800 employees every week. For her, the opportunity for dialog is a visible commitment to protecting and nurturing the culture.\nInteracting with people isn\u2019t as much of a challenge for the 120 associates at Walker Sands. Even then, the company sends out weekly one-question surveys through a dedicated portal and mobile technology. One survey per month is dedicated to monitoring employee happiness.\n5. Competence\nThe fifth core value at Zappos is \u201cPursue Growth and Learning.\u201d In other words, the company has made the competency of creating competence an integral part of its culture. You expect your team members to improve their technical skills. Why wouldn\u2019t you want them to improve their ability to influence your culture? Education for leaders and managers is only the beginning. To make your culture truly special, invest in every person at every level to help them reinforce your culture through their own performance and behavior.\n6. Courage\nDr. Bren\u00e9 Brown says, \u201cCourage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.\u201d\nQuoting a social worker in an article about corporate culture might feel a little out of place in a business discussion. That\u2019s the point. Creating a great culture is more art than science, and art is created out of human emotion. It is inherently a little\u2014or a lot\u2014messy.\nThere will be times when you try something and fail. You will find yourself distrusting the intentions of others, and others will find themselves doubting their trust in you. You will definitely experience discomfort as you push yourself to grow your leadership competence to match your intention. Those are necessary parts of the process to find what works for you.\nThe goal isn\u2019t to be Southwest Airlines, the City of Carrollton, Walker Sands, or Zappos. It is to be the best version of you. Every author or speaker promotes a culture of something. In the end, the only culture that matters is the one that empowers you to deliver the results and create the environment that is right for you.\nA vibrant, compelling culture is the intangible that allows you to set your organization apart in a world where customers and employees see very little that is different. That comment from my rocket scientist participant reminded me just how difficult it can be to accomplish.\nWe would like for it to be as easy as even the most difficult equation. It\u2019s not. Do you want a culture that is based on the same equation everyone is using, or do you want a work of art?