Small Business Leadership Daily Brief: June 14, 2018 – Culture, Make Sure Yours Isn’t The Cultivation Of Bacteria!

Culture defined: (biology) “the cultivation of bacteria, tissue cells, etc., in an artificial medium containing nutrients”

Too frequently that defines the culture inside our organizations. It’s like a bacteria-filled petri dish. Not like a sports team locker room where everybody is doing their part so the entire team can hoist the championship trophy!

We’re going to use this definition of culture, “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” Let’s cut to the chase and call it what it is. Your business has a culture. It’s what your company believes! Belief drives people to behave in ways that are either congruent with what you want. Or not. 

So let’s start with YOU since you own the joint. What do you believe? 

Do you believe honesty and integrity are so important, that even when it may cost your company some revenue (a’hem, profits) you insist your people do the right thing? No matter what?

Do you believe that innovation and creativity are so important that attempts should be celebrated rather than penalized?

Do you believe that collaboration is so important you reward it?

There are countless things you can choose to believe. Those beliefs drive your actions. As the top leader, they also set the tone for everybody else in your organization. 

It necessarily has to begin with YOU. Let’s consider some questions that may help.

How negotiable are your beliefs about how your business should operate? Are there circumstances where your beliefs would be suspended? If honesty is a critical value to you – one you deeply believe in – if an employee behaves dishonestly, but it results in a big sale, what will you do? The crux of this question is really this – will there be consequences for violating these beliefs? If not, then they’re really not beliefs. They’re more feeble. Kind of like moderate wishes. 

Do you hire people based largely on how well they’ll fit in with what you and your company believe? Or do you hope the talent you hire will fall in line with your beliefs after the fact? If people don’t believe what you believe, do you really think you’ll convince them once you hire them? How many Republicans do you know who have converted to the Democratic party? Or vice versa. Oh, it can happen. And blind pigs can find acorns, too. 

Do you think you can mandate beliefs? Many small business owners seem to think they’ll just impose their will. Reminds me of parenting. When our children are small we can impose our will. Then one day, we realize we’ve got a teenager in our house and suddenly that ability is lost. They have a mind of their own and oftentimes, they rebel. Your employees will, too. Unless they also believe what you do.

Culture is non-negotiable beliefs held by the entire organization. It’s the place from which you operate. Everybody makes choices congruent with the culture. It establishes not just what’s expected, but how to meet those expectations. Culture is the heartbeat of your company’s operating system. It’s just how things work around your place.

Since 1984 I’ve been an Apple Mac guy. The Mac operating system is different than the Windows or Linux platform. It just works differently. I’d argue it’s better, but that’s admittedly my bias. It’s a non-negotiable operating system just like the other operating systems. Each is different. They don’t mix or mingle. I’ve got programs on my Mac that are only made for Mac. There are other programs that aren’t made for Mac at all. Apple made that decision a long time ago. So did Windows. It’s not so much a judgment thing as it is a choice. A belief. 

What have you decided to believe? And follow, unapologetically? Without hesitation or negotiation? 

People need to know the reason. They crave knowing why. 

Dallas Stars’ Stanley Cup winning coach, Ken Hitchcock, retired last season from coaching at the NHL level. Over 3 decades of coaching professional hockey players taught him a thing or two. Last year he remarked the changes he’s seen in players since he began his career. There was a time, he said, when you could simply ask a player to do something and they’d follow the instruction. Today’s player, he remarked, wants to know why he’s doing it. Welcome to the culture dilemma that too many business leaders fail to solve. 

Step 1: Know what you believe. Make sure it’s a non-negotiable standard. That means, failure to comply will cost people the opportunity to remain on your team. 

Step 2: Evangelize the beliefs. Don’t just preach about them. Put rewards and consequences in place to reinforce them. 

Step 3: Hire for fit. Get the talent and skills you need, but if the candidate doesn’t believe what you do, kick them to the curb. Find somebody who shares your beliefs. 

Step 4: Go back and repeat each step constantly. Your work is never done. Culture (beliefs) can erode over time, or be disturbed by replacement beliefs. Be intolerant of movement away from what you believe and value. 

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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Grow Great a public sector leadership podcastAbout the hosts: Randy Cantrell brings over 4 decades of experience as a business leader and organization builder. Lisa Norris brings almost 3 decades of experience in HR and all things "people." Their shared passion for leadership and developing high-performing cultures provoked them to focus the Grow Great podcast on city government leadership.

The work is about achieving unprecedented success through accelerated learning in helping leaders and executives "figure it out." 

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