Think of the organizations that have strong connections with you—more than great service or products, you have a strong, emotional connection with them. To achieve this level of engagement, they’ve likely worked very hard to create an internal culture that reflects their external culture.
Current Culture Examples
I realized how popular the NASCAR brand had become a few years ago while facilitating a group of PricewaterhouseCoopers consultants, most of whom were only a few years out of college. During a break in the action, two of the young ladies carried on a long, informed discussion about the Bristol Race, which had occurred the previous weekend. I was amazed to see how NASCAR had transcended its provincial beginnings and gained loyal fans in sophisticated business circles.
Zappos Shoes is another compelling example of building culture and employee engagement with its staff and customers. They’re so committed to creating a culture of passionate, engaged employees that they now offer $5000 to anyone that would like to leave the company at the end of their training period. If a one-time bonus exceeds one’s commitment to the Zappos brand, then they want to know at the beginning of the relationship.
There are many other examples of companies making their mark in their respective industries—Starbucks, Chick-Fil-A, and Duke Energy just to name a few.
“Culture development is more than a tactical plan—it’s a deeper layer that taps into the emotions and deep desires of human nature.” [Tweet This]
Building Culture in the POW Camps
Even in challenging times in the POW camps of Vietnam, our senior leaders instinctively created a winning culture to fuel passion and commitment with me and my comrades. Here’s how they did it.
As the senior ranking officer in the camps in the early years, Lt Col Robbie Risner wasted no time in issuing simple and direct guidance: “I’m in charge, and here’s what I want you to do. Be a good American. Live by the Code of Conduct. Resist up to the point of permanent physical or mental damage and then no more. Give as little as possible and then bounce back to resist again. Pray every day. Go home proud.”
Risner’s policies passed quickly through the camps via covert communications, clarifying our mission, vision, and values for what would turn out to be a long war. Risner made the military Code of Conduct the cornerstone of POW culture. The Defense Department had adopted this code after the Korean War as a tool to help POWs resist Communist exploitation. Virtually every warrior in the U.S. military had memorized it during training, and Risner made it clear that he expected everyone to follow it to the best of his ability. During our darkest moments, knowing we were united by common values and shared commitment to mission and vision made a difference in our mental and physical survival.
The Honor of Building a Winning Culture
“Organizational cultures are shaped by the values and beliefs established by leaders and shared by the people and groups in the organization.” [Tweet This]
Positive cultures increase motivation, teamwork, and commitment. With a clear understanding about core values, operating styles, and standards of behavior, people can focus their talents and energies toward common goals. A common mindset also enables people to operate independently, while remaining aligned with the values and policies of senior leaders.
Establishing a culture requires clarity, commitment, and creativity:
- Clarity about vision, mission, core values, and operational policies. Over-communication is a key to clarity—sharing it multiple times, multiple ways.
- Commitment to the organization’s mission and defined values. An over-arching principle in the military is a “Be responsible, No excuses” attitude, for example. Creating an attitude of ownership and healthy accountability with your team also cranks up the commitment level.
- Creativity to make the cultural story unique and compelling. What are some ways that you can make the culture-building process more fun or emotional? Think beyond a set of rules and descriptors.
Once the culture is defined, it must be communicated fervently and frequently, until it is caught and bought in every corner and on every level of the organization. Understanding the individual, unique behaviors of each team member with tools like Leadership Behavior DNA is essential, too.
The Big Payoff
What’s the payoff for creating strong employee engagement and a positive culture?
In a Gallup article, organizations that engage their employees grow their earnings more than 2.5 times faster than organizations that do not. In addition, “optimized” teams within an organization — those that are in the top 50% of teams on both employee and customer engagement — generate a 240% boost in financial performance compared with teams that fail to engage their employees and their customers.
- Engaged, behaviorally-smart employees yield engaged customers.
- Engaged customers yield happy, committed customers.
- Happy, committed customers enthusiastically use and enjoy your products and services as part of their lives.
It’s an emotional process that yields positive strategic and tactical outcomes. What has been your experience and tactical steps to creating a winning culture? Please share your comments.
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