Whose Culture Is It, Anyway?

It’s funny how we adopt words and terms like “culture” and “change” and they quickly become part of every discussion. Reminds us of the days when “the bottom line” and “Y2K” were all the rage. We seem to be a society that feeds on buzz words. The military is also guilty of this trend, as we remember how hard it’s been for us to stop using Army acronyms and abbreviations that no one else in the civilian world understands.

We’ve often said, and truly believe, that culture does indeed trump everything else. It’s where your mission, intent, and shared values come to life. Far from a contemporary buzzword, culture is enduring – and a culture of excellence is extremely hard to establish, nurture, and grow. But it sure is worth the investment.

One of the amazing stories in the history of the world is our victory over the British in the Revolutionary War, made even more remarkable by the establishment of our culture based on the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. When urbane, sophisticated writers and explorers like Alexander von Humboldt and Alexis deToqueville came to see us during our infancy in the early 1800s, they immediately recognized that ours was a culture unlike anything they had ever seen. The American culture emerged through the dedicated leadership of the Founding Fathers, who spent their lives fiercely protecting it. The United States of America, formed in the cauldron of war, developed a culture based on the fundamental premise that every person deserves to live in freedom and liberty, as the cornerstone of our “inalienable rights.”

Whose culture is it, anyway? How does this relate to you and your organization? Quite simply, the American story of how we developed our unique, enduring culture is a model for all us to emulate. Your culture is represented in your personal leadership example. You may not be at the leadership level of George Washington or Benjamin Franklin, but you can set the standard in your company by treating your teammates with dignity and respect. Do it every day.

The second way you start the journey to grow a culture of excellence is to formally establish your mission, intent, shared values and culture in writing. Get some external help in putting these together, and dedicate a couple of days to preparing them with your senior team. Then, circulate them to every member of your company. Review them at every team and scorecard meeting. Recognize team members who excel representing your culture. Bring your culture to life through stories.

Establish metrics for your cultural journey. What are some of these? Establishing leader development and certification programs, promoting a higher percentage from within, reducing voluntary turnover, achieving exceptional quality standards, improving customer satisfaction, and eliminating injuries and accidents are components of the culture of excellence. And there are certainly others. Just remember the old adage “that which is measured gets done.”

Be prepared for a 2-3 year campaign to create and grow your new culture. You must remain persistent, humble, and dedicated to servant leadership. The concept is relatively simple – but the execution is hard. There will be many temptations to step away from the standards of behavior that define your culture, particularly on the 3rd shift. Grow leaders who won’t let that happen, who lead from the front and can be counted on to “do the right thing when no one is looking”.

But our Founding Fathers did far more than we are being challenged to do. What a wonderful example, though, of building and protecting a culture of excellence, which has grown and impacted the entire world. You, too, can build such a culture. We’ll be glad to help.