Of all the perspectives I could share with you about leadership, my thoughts about building a strong culture may help you succeed the most. So here you go:
Leadership is a matter of taking people in the right direction and one of the best ways to practice it is to shape the culture of your organization. Think of corporate culture as the operating system that delivers consistent outcomes for employees, partners and customers. When a culture is strong and pointed in the right direction, it shows up on the bottom line.
But as we’ve learned with United Airline’s latest gaffe, sometimes a culture gets so weak the customer experience is wildly inconsistent and ‘common sense’ is lacking. Likely, United’s issue comes down to a weak CEO combined with a total lack of on-the-ground leadership at the manager and supervisor levels.
You see, culture is a conversation led by leaders about “how we do things around here.” Over time, its consistency creates a collective intuition in the group about how to react, act and behave, even when ‘the boss’ is not around. At Nordstrom, where their customer culture is famous for its consistency, each store manager acts as the culture-defender, instilling the company way of service into the minds and behaviors of every store associate.
In one instance, an elderly customer returned a tire to one of their new Alaskan locations that moved into what was formerly a tire shop. In Nordstrom culture, no customer will leave the store dissatisfied, so the manager cheerfully refunded his purchase. But here’s the kicker: Nordstrom didn’t sell tires. But he knew what to do! Although this is a strange situation, it underscores how a strong culture can produce surprising results that in today’s world, would go viral for the right reason.
But in my experience, you don’t need a title to be a leader. You need a clear understanding of the company’s values, the best practices against them, and the influence to convince others to follow your lead. In my career, defending the company’s culture was the catalyst to my multiple promotions from account executive to Chief Solutions Officer. As former Yahoo! COO Dan Rosensweig recently said about me, “Tim was our cultural warrior.”
Whether you are CEO, sales manager or customer service rep, here are a few ways you can strengthen your culture:
1. Learn your company’s key values, and how they translate into best practices. If you need clarification, ask your CEO or who you report to. It’s a good conversation to have!
2. Talk about these values in working situations, especially when there’s a question on what ‘we should do in this situation.’ Remind everyone involved about ‘how we successfully do things here.’ If you are a titled leader, insert the discussion of values and culture into every conversation you can. Your consistent cadence about this is key to cultural strength.
3. Hire, fire, promote or demote based on it. Find people that align with your values and the spirit of service your company possesses. Make the topic of “Our Culture” a key part of the New Hire Onboarding process. Expunge those who don’t align with the culture like a body getting rid of a disease. Make “Does he/she promote our culture?” the key question when it comes to promotions. And most of all, be very transparent about this. While culture is defined in conversation, actions punctuates it in a long-lasting way!
4. Integrate the discussion of culture, values and best practices into every company meeting, be it an all-hands or an offsite conference. Make sure that you slot this keynote (inside speaker or outside professional) just as often as you do Innovation, Futurism, Leadership or Celebrity Speaker. It’s likely more important to your present-day success than any of those topics.
In this issue’s video clip, I share the story of Tom Ward, who was brought in as CEO of Barton Protective Services to turn around the company. The first thing he realized is that the company culture was weak, so that’s what he went to work on immediately. Watch the clip to find out what happened!