Have you noticed it, too? “Culture” is becoming the catch word for virtually every new business book, training program, or speech.
There are people out there who want to help you develop a culture of accountability, service, innovation, celebration, learning, listening, sustainability, trust, recognition, teamwork, engagement, and change.
The only culture that matters is the one that helps you and your organization achieve your desired results.
There’s nothing wrong and potentially a lot of good that can come from each of the “cultures” being marketed to you. But at the end of the day, we all live and die by our results.
Need an example? Look no further than the slew of dot com companies that imploded with the collapse of the industry. Many were heralded for a culture that promoted employee engagement, fun, and innovation. Remember the Foosball tables in the break room, after-hours beer busts, and relaxed dress codes? These were critical components of a culture that attracted and retained top talent.
Here’s the lesson: fun without results is a party not a company. The same can be said for any type of culture that sounds great on the surface but is not directly tied to delivering results.
Why Culture is Hot
I read my first book on corporate culture in 1982 and was immediately hooked on the subject. It was called Corporate Cultures, and it mirrored the work that I and the other leaders were doing at the start-up mental health facility we had opened in Waco, Texas.
Corporate culture, for the most part, was ignored for many years as the leading and wanna-be gurus migrated to quality, customer service, and change. It is making a resurgence today for one simple reason: culture prevails in the face of changed strategies, new programs, and well-intentioned initiatives.
Culture is a hot topic today for the same reasons Deal and Kennedy believed it was important in 1982:
“American business needs to return to the original concepts and ideas that made institutions like NCR, General Electric, International Business Machines (IBM), Procter & Gamble, 3M, and others great. We need to remember that people make businesses work. And, we need to relearn old lessons about how culture ties people together and gives meaning and purpose to their day-to-day lives.”
A strong, unified culture that guides and defines how things are done is, and has always been, at the core of every successful business. People are re-discovering the truth that good ideas are useless unless implemented, and they are not consistently implemented in organizations unless they are integrated into the culture.
Buzzwords and program-of-the-month topics appear every few years. They show up in book titles, training programs, and speeches at corporate and association meetings. Quality was hot in the 1980’s. That gave way to customer service, change, innovation, and lately, social media.
The topics never really go away. They simply recede off of the front pages and return to being need driven rather than fad driven.
There are a few gurus who make their names based on a best-selling book, and there are scores of second and third tier speakers, trainers, and consultants who migrate from topic to topic to keep their calendars filled.
The impact of this process is largely benign. Even those who are migrating from topic to topic generally base their programs on solid (or at least adequate) research. It is different when you are dealing with culture
The dictionary defines “culture” as the integrated patterns of thought, speech, and action. You can’t change a culture with a training program, book, or speech. It is a two to three year effort, at best, and it requires a depth of knowledge and experience that goes beyond a single activity or event.
Add in that the only culture that matters is the one that helps you deliver results, and culture change becomes a very personalized process.
Here are the three questions you should ask before you buy a culture of anything or engage someone to help you transform your culture:
1. What is the competitive advantage you must integrate into your culture to compete in your market? Wal-Mart’s culture supports its competitive strategy to be the low-cost provider. Zappo’s culture supports it competitive strategy of amazing service. Southwest Airlines’ culture supports its competitive strategy of providing great service in a fun, low-cost environment. Your culture must reflect the business strategy that will help you deliver results that allow you to stand out.
2. What is the people philosophy that must be integrated into the culture to help you attract, retain, grow, and engage the staff you need to implement your competitive business strategy? The fun flight attendants on Southwest Airlines are not an accident. They nurture, grow, and sustain the environment that allows that to happen on purpose. The same applies to Wal-Mart, Zappo’s, The Container Store, or any other business that grabs and holds top talent.
3. Does the resource you select to help you develop your culture have the depth to understand your results and help you implement a plan to transform the culture? Or, are they simply selling you a book, training program, or speech? There is nothing wrong with selling books, training programs, and speeches. But, your culture defines your destiny. You can’t trust that outcome to someone who doesn’t understand your goals; the results you need; and the significance of their actions on your long-term success.
The only culture that matters is the one that helps you deliver results. Please be intentional in your efforts to build and sustain it.