The Ingredients of Culture
Originally published: 03.01.21 by Jodie Deegan
We hear a lot of words today that weren’t commonly used 25 years ago. They existed in our lexicon but weren’t household terms. Examples include “empower,” “synergy” and “collusion.” Another popular word commonly heard in the business world today is “culture.” Everybody’s talking about how important culture is to your business.
But what is it? What elements comprise a great business culture? There are a lot of answers and common themes, but I believe it boils down to the following factors.
t starts with an organization’s leadership. The person at the top must inspire and guide the organization in the right direction. Leadership is always the deciding factor in a successful business. The leader always owns the result. A business owner who looks for excuses or justification for why they failed isn’t a leader. People want to be on a winning team and will follow the person who expects to win.
Vision and Mission
Your team should know your mission and vision for the business. These are the principles that guide each team member when there’s doubt about what course of action is correct.
I’ve visited a lot of great businesses; among the best are those whose employees can readily respond when asked what their vision and mission are. They represent a company that’s aligned with its leader’s vision. Your mission and vision statements are not just wall decorations; they’re values that guide your team.
Mission and vision are executed through practices. Are we practicing what we preach? If not, our values aren’t in alignment with our mission.
If we say we value honesty and integrity, then our actions must align. We can’t turn a blind eye if a technician overcharges a customer. If we overcharged, then a refund and an apology are due.
If we say we care about our employees but fail to deliver on promises of allowing an employee to leave at his scheduled time so he can attend his son’s sporting event after-hours, we aren’t really showing employees we care about them. We must do what we say were going to do. Our employees respect that and it’s a key ingredient of a positive culture.
Do we have the right team or are we settling? Successful businesses know that having the right team is critical. Always look for and attract the best.
In Patrick Lencioni’s best-selling book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” he explains how just one bad apple can ruin the team. If there are people on your team who have poor attitudes or are not willing to perform, they can derail your talented people.
Sometimes, we feel like we can’t do without the former. But, once they’re gone, we realize how devastating they were to the entire company dynamic. Sometimes the damage is so gradual that we don’t notice it until it’s taken its toll. Great people are out there; they just haven’t found you yet. Be a magnet that attracts, trains and rewards top talent.
One of the biggest frustrations within organizations with low culture indexes is communication, which travels through several conduits: meetings, consistent coaching, all-staff meetings and leadership team meetings.
Communication skills show in the way dispatchers communicate with service professionals. They show in how a customer experience representative speaks with customers. The words we choose and how often we use them have a powerful effect on how people feel.
If we aren’t telling our team how great they are and how great our customers think we are, they may assume they’re not that great. It’s easy to only see when they get it wrong. Teams need to be constantly reminded that they mostly get it right.
Support comes in many forms, from training to the tools, trucks and resources employees need to excel at their jobs. As leaders, we also support employees with our knowledge, experience and availability. Our teams are better supported when there is a network of resources and lifelines that help them when they need assistance.
Create an environment that empowers you and your team. Your work environment should align with your values. It is incongruent to expect your service professionals to wear a clean uniform, be neatly groomed and drive a clean truck, but then report to a messy office or dingy training room.
Lead by example. I often witnessed the power of this in my Naval career. When a new hard-nosed chief petty officer arrived and raised the bar on cleanliness and grooming standards, his team hated it at first.
Without fail, however, that feeling was followed by a higher degree of pride and self-respect. The team always performed at a higher level when they had more pride.
Fun is also a big part of a positive environment. We spend more time at work than anywhere else, so why not enjoy it along the way? Fun comes in the form of team-building events, parties and unexpected enjoyable activities. If you struggle to create fun in your work environment, then identify someone who’s great at it and give them support to create the fun.
All this culture stuff doesn’t mean businesses shouldn’t keep score. Winners want to know if they’re winning and that needs to be defined. Playing ball without keeping score may be fun for a minute, but we all acknowledge, even it’s just to ourselves, that we play the game for the thrill of winning. We play because we are competitive animals.
Every member of your team should know what their definition of winning the day looks like. We won’t win every day, but scorecards make the game worth playing. Recognition is also a big part of accountability. It can come in the form of formal awards or just saying, “Great job.” We all want to be appreciated on some level.
We talk about culture more now than we did 25 years ago; it’s a permanent part of our business vocabulary. As you can see, it’s formed by more than just one element and by sharing our best practices and experiences with one another, we can all learn how to institute a winning place to work.