CULTURE EATS STRATEGY FOR BREAKFAST BY ADRIAN GOSTICK & CHESTER ELTON
Too often in our work we meet with well-intentioned managers who seem to always have their noses down in the crisis of the moment, the numbers of the quarter. Many of them have hit a wall of productivity, or profitability, or creativity.
Few pause and consider if there is a cultural issue that needs to be addressed. Are their people buying in, or not?
Culture is often dismissed by uber-busy business types as too warm-and-fuzzy, the stuff handled by HR. With all due respect, that’s rubbish.
Culture isn’t touchy-feeling, indefinable. When you walk into a great culture, it smacks you in the face with its concreteness. We’ve all experienced this firsthand. There is a tangible feeling about spending time in an Apple store where employees are truly enabled to meet your needs, or phoning Zappos and sharing a laugh with an energized customer service agent, or ordering a double-double at an In N’ Outcounter. It is an atmosphere that engulfs you immediately and lingers with you after you leave.
Culture “has to be genuinely nurtured by everyone from the CEO down,” wrote Shawn Parr in Fast Company magazine. “Ignoring the health of your culture is like letting aquarium water get dirty … (where) the money invested in research and development, product differentiation, marketing, and human resources is never maximized and often wasted.”
This month we visited with leaders of Trimble Navigation, one of the fastest growing providers of GPS, laser, optical and inertial technologies for industries such as construction, engineering, and transportation. It’s a business that runs on incredibly complex equipment that would make NASA envious.
But according to the CEO, their technology is “table stakes”—something Trimble has to have to be competitive. It’s important, don’t get us wrong, but what sets this fast-growing company apart is culture.
“It’s our culture that creates an environment where a customer can call at 4 p.m. and know that someone will answer the phone and work all night if that’s what it takes to fix a problem,” said Steve Berglund. “Our culture is rife with those kinds of stories. We hire people who want to change the world, who are crusaders for perfection. And it’s our values that drive those behaviors.”
According to the article in Fast Company, building a strong culture takes hard work. The writer suggested four ideas to consider, which dovetail well with our recent research for All In:
Dynamic and Engaged Leadership. Great cultures are led by managers who genuinely care about the company’s role in the world and are passionately engaged. They are great communicators and motivators who set out a clearly communicated vision, mission, values and goals and create an environment for them to come alive.
Living Values. We hear this again and again at The Culture Works as we conduct assessments and surveys in organizations. Leaders will proclaim, “We have values,” but employees will guffaw and say, “They are just a poster on the wall.” It’s one thing to have such grand ideas to live by, but another to make them directional and alive and to model them daily. Bring them to life in your people, products, spaces, events, communication and recognition.
Responsibility and Accountability. Strong cultures enable their people to succeed, they recognize their talents, and they help them understand how they contribute to the company’s success. They turn words such as “responsibility” and “accountability” from a negative into a positive.
Celebrate Success and Failure. Organizations that run fast over the long-term always (yes, always) take time to celebrate victories, both big and small. They also take the time and have the humility to learn from their failures. Simple, isn’t it? Hardly. The heavy lifting now comes in getting these right. And yet there are few things you can do to set your company and your brand apart than creating an inspiring culture where people are truly All In.