Peter Drucker said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Though the quote is attributed to him it is not known exactly when he said it. Either way it is still a wonderful advertisement for culture over strategy. In an era where products are being commoditized and every firm knows what every other firm does culture is what will set your organization apart. For example Southwest Airlines was the low fare airline and is well known for its culture of getting people with passion and providing customers with a unique experience. Though other airlines tried to imitate this model it never went well. This is because you can never copy the culture. Here are the 9 ways to build a winning culture for your organization.

  1. Evangelize the mission statement– I know this is not the most exciting topic but it is an absolute requirement for developing a culture of inclusion. Paraphrasing Shakespeare a lot of mission statements are full of sound and fury signifying nothing. A mission statement should be simple enough to understand but it should also get the employees excited about working for your organization. You need to have a mission statement that ignites the passion within your people so that they bring their best self to work. For example the Southwest Airlines mission statement is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. This is a wonderful mission statement which has stood the test of time and the results are there for everyone to see.
  2. Set BHAG’s — Setting Big Hairy Audacious Goals motivates everyone towards a common vision. One of the best examples is Henry Ford’s vision of democratizing the automobile in the early part of the 20th century which galvanized his organization. Another example is the one sighted by Howard Behar(Former President, Starbucks International) in his book on “It’s not about the coffee” where he said in 1996 Starbucks had the following BHAG “To be one of the most well-known and respected organizations in the world known for nurturing and inspiring the human spirit.” Of course the term BHAG was coined first in the management blockbuster book “Built to Last.”
  3. Transparency — This means having a culture where everyone has a voice. The single most important determinant of a person’s loyalty to an organization is for them to have a unique voice that is respected and heard within the organization. Create a transparent culture by communicating everything which happens within the organization including negative things and positive things. Have a system where feedback is solicited without hurting the source of the feedback. I recently read the book Everybody Matters by Bob Chapman (CEO of Barry-Wehmiller) and Raj Sisodia which is a wonderful read and one of my favorite books. One of the keys for Bob is the culture he has built in the company. Even during the recession in 2008 the company didn’t lay off people instead they created a furlough program where every person in the organization took four weeks unpaid time off and spread the pain without inflicting too much. This way they won the trust of everyone working there without a single person being laid off. They didn’t sugarcoat the situation but rather they faced the reality and came up with a creative solution to the satisfaction of all. This is what transparency does to the culture of an organization.
  4. Flexibility — The work life balance is a myth because we are all connected to each other 24*7. Create a culture where flexibility is enabled by providing an environment where there is a lot of autonomy for the people to decide how they want to work. If the work requires a high degree of collaboration then working remotely may not be an option but still have a frank decision with employees on what they would like to do. Honor those commitments and only by honoring those commitments can a strong bond be built within the organization.
  5. Identify Key Result Areas — Every single person in the organization should know exactly what they have been hired to accomplish. It can be both qualitative and quantitative measures. Some of the Key results areas for a sales executive might be to generate new leads in certain geographic areas, a revenue goal and a profitability goal. When everyone knows exactly what needs to be done they feel happier and they are more productive.
  6. Cult Like Culture — This subject is one of the chapters in the management blockbuster Built to last. Basically a lot of organizations like Nordstrom have a unique culture which differentiates them from the rest. The key is to create such a culture for your organization. There is no map to create that culture since every organization is different. The only way to create this culture is to involve your people to engage in stimulating conversation and brainstorming sessions to arrive at it. Here is the description of visionary companies from Built to Last “Visionary companies are so clear about what they stand for and what they are trying to achieve that they simply don’t have room for those unwilling or unable to fit their exacting standards.”
  7. Celebration — One of the main keys to create a winning culture is to have routines for celebration. For example if someone has won a new client celebrate that by throwing a party acknowledging that person and at the same time indicating to the team which actions get celebrated. You can have a culture without celebrating but only celebrating can result in a winning culture.
  8. Create a Scorecard for Rewards and Recognition — The whole purpose of this is to create a fun filled atmosphere where people are motivated to bring their best to work. A lot this also revolves around recognizing good work output and also indicating to everyone in the organization that ultimately work is like a sport. It creates team camaraderie and fosters team spirit. When you make people see work as play they will eventually want to play hard which will result in ultimate job satisfaction. Creating a compelling scorecard stimulates and enhances employee morale.
  9. Build psychological safety — Amy Edmondson has made this term famous. Every business book I have read recently has been mentioning this term. It is important for your teams to feel that they can express their opinion without facing rebuke. This is building a culture of safety where everyone in the team across all levels of the organization can speak up for what they believe in. If we build this level of safety within our teams we will create a wonderful culture where everyone feels safe and willing to contribute to every discussion.

Creating a culture is an ongoing process. It is never set in stone. As we have more millennial’s part of the work force and Gen Z joining them very soon we need to be aware of the changes in the social fabric and create unique rituals which result in a winning culture.

Finally I want to finish with wonderful passage from Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers “Meaningful work is three things — autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward. It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It is whether our work fulfills us. Work that fulfills those three criteria is meaningful.”

The views expressed in this article are my own and do not represent my organization.