What Company Cultures Can Learn From Freemasons

Harry Houdini. Henry Ford. John Wayne. Winston Churchill. My grandpa. What's the common bond? They were all Freemasons.From fraternities and Freemasons to the Girl Scouts or Rotary, membership really does have its privileges: belonging. We join groups, teams, clubs and even companies to feel a part of something. A community or camaraderie. That's what culture really is: specific rules and attributes that define who you are and how things work. The rules of the road, the community norms. The way we exist. It's what makes strong cultures strong.

The Freemasons began as a guild in the 1700s for stonemasons and then evolved to a social organization full of ritual and rites of belonging. Historically, the rituals drove conspiracies which in turn drove attention and ultimately membership. At its height in 1939, the Freemasons had 4 million members.

Today, still boasting a membership of over one million members, the Freemasons continue to welcome new recruits into their culture. They don't actively solicit new members--you'll need a referral--and you'll have to check off a few boxes: men only, above 18, good character and belief in a supreme being (it doesn't matter which one but no atheists allowed). And that's about all I know for sure because the rest is a secret.

There's a reason ritual, secrecy and tradition matter here. It's called culture. And if your organization wants a strong one, you're better off to learn from an organization that's been in existence for 800 years over hot brands with track records of less than a few decades. Here are six ways you can strengthen your culture Freemason-style:

1) Get people interested in your culture and keep them interested.

While membership in the Freemasons has ebbed and flowed over the years, they've found a way to stay relevant. For modern men, the Dan Brown books did the trick. For modern organizations, they have to stay vocal and relevant to drive interest. That means regular content, and insight where possible into what makes you special and unique.

2) Be clear about what it takes.

While most companies wax poetic about the incredible career opportunities or company culture, they avoid being upfront about how they recruit and who they recruit. Freemasons are clear on qualifications, how to recruit, and who to talk to about membership. Direct connection with a member gives you an immediate, personal, offline culture connection.

3) Show a commitment to your community.

When you create a culture you have to demonstrate no matter how elite or special it is, you care about the larger world that allows your culture to exist. You can't shut yourself off. Freemasons donate an average of $2 million to charity. Every day.

4) Make it special.

Freemasons have secrets.They have closed meetings. Not anyone can become a member. And when you do, you have to keep what's secret, secret. There's something special that provides a certain allure. And when you're in, it's that sense of belonging. Same thing goes for organizations with strong cultures. They care about how they welcome you and give you benefits only members have. That gold mason's ring that belonged to my grandpa? My dad had it melted down since he couldn't wear it.

5) Make it accessible.

Great cultures aren't elitist. Freemasons come in all colors and creeds. And they ban conversations on divisive topics like religion and politics. It's not about being better than someone or something else. It's about being a part of something bigger. Accessible, but you have to really want it and make the effort. Organizations with great cultures don't give job offers after one paltry interview. Both sides need to truly flesh out fit.

6) Be consistent.

Every company has a vague list of values on the wall. How many can say they have practiced those same values and have rites of tradition lasting 800+ years? You may not want to develop extensive ritualistic practices but you can develop work rules to show how your culture manifests itself in the business. Align traditions for work and play -- and don't abandon them. Make cultural norms crystal clear and long-lasting.

Like any culture, the Freemasons have rabid fans and detractors. And for most modern-day companies, look no further than Glassdoor to find the same. This isn't an endorsement or a criticism--we can learn similar lessons from many long-lasting religious groups, political parties and local clubs. It's about understanding what drives long-lasting culture, that sustains and aligns.

Find what defines your organization--what you live by, how you exist, and the constancy that will ensure your business is around in 2714. Then live it, practice it, and hire to it. Don't you want to leave job opportunities for your great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren?

Susan LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.

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