Expert's Angle: Breaking the Mold of a Cookie Cutter Culture
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Expert's Angle: Breaking the Mold of a Cookie Cutter Culture

"What should my culture look like?"

When I asked this question in AP Biology, I received specific examples of what I should see in my Petri dish. It was easy for me to understand and I could make a simple comparison to determine my success. The teacher would explain the exact formula that was required and using her years of experience, could look at my culture and identify what I did right or wrong. She also taught me that once the culture was established I was left with few options for change; I could introduce some new ingredients and hope for improvement or, in most cases, would need to scrap the old and start new from scratch.

I was approached with that same question during a recent conference presentation and arrived at some remarkable similarities and differences during the subsequent discussion. Based on that conversation, here are three key points to consider when you're developing your company's culture.

1. Your Culture Should Be Unique

Why do we talk about brands like Zappos, Southwest Airlines, or Whole Foods? They have a culture that is unique to them. Unlike my science experiment, our customers and our employees expect a culture that is different and singularly specific to our organization. Imitation may be one of the greatest forms of flattery, but innovation is one of the greatest keys to success. While there are some key ingredients that I’ve identified as similar in organizations with great cultures, the quantity, delivery and other specifics are unique to each brand!

The culture at Hershey Entertainment and Resorts is unique considering that Hershey, PA, "The Sweetest Place on Earth," is a town built around chocolate. (After all, where else in the world can you find streetlights that are shaped like Hershey’s Kisses?) Operating attractions including an amusement park, zoo, spa, and more doesn’t hurt, either! Beyond the candy and "whimsy," however, is a legacy that enriches the lives of others. The Milton Hershey School, the largest school of its kind, is a cost-free, private, coeducational home and school for children from families of low income, limited resources, and social need. Employees of Hershey Entertainment and Resorts, and the jobs that they perform, help to support this school.

2. Your Culture Should Have These Ingredients

A Simple Mission - Organizations can spend A LOT of time crafting their mission. Unfortunately, it often becomes an epic project of monstrous proportions that is known by few and embodied by less. We attempt to be so specific in our mission that we often miss the purpose of having a mission in the first place.

Great cultures charge people with a simple task and then give them the authority, ability, support, and resources to accomplish that task.

I recently made a friend who works at a hospital with a simple mission: We Save Lives.

I asked him if and how he accomplished that mission and his answer left me in awe. "I accomplish that mission every single day. Because of me, disease cannot spread to others." I said to him, "That's amazing! What is your job?" "My mission is my job," he said. "If you want to know what tasks I do to accomplish that mission, I mop floors, empty garbage cans, and keep the grounds clean.

"Behavior-Based Values" – I want you to think of your company’s values. Can you recite them from memory right now? If you can, are you able to identify what you and your employees do to exhibit and achieve these values on a daily basis? I am hoping that your answer is yes, as I would anticipate that those values and behaviors are an integral part of your coaching and performance evaluation process.As a coach, I believe in generating examples of how to exhibit specific behaviors, making the connection to anticipated results, and giving plenty of opportunities to practice and refine. When an employee understands not only what is expected, but how they can accomplish it, you’ll notice increased ownership during future coaching sessions, receptiveness to feedback on areas of opportunity, and the opportunity to collaborate on performance improvement ideas.

Empowered Employees – A great company culture is not defined by perks. It is not defined by quirky mottos or videos gone viral. A great company culture is defined by the employees who carry it out - who have a simple mission and understand how they contribute to that mission. Empowered employees are hired for their passion and immersed in the culture of the organization throughout their onboarding. They are then educated on their importance and impact to the customer experience, trained on and equipped with robust tools and resources and held accountable to metrics that matter (and that they can impact).Empowered employees aren’t afraid to take calculated risks. Empowered employees have support. Empowered employees have managers who understand exactly how to empower them. As re-known writer, political scientist, diplomat, and businessman, Henry Kissinger said, "The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.

"That Something Special"– Identify what makes you different from the rest. It can be the interesting story of how the company was founded, the fact that you were the first of your kind in the industry, or the legendary myth that surrounds the creation of your product. Once it's identified – embrace it! Capitalize on the realization that this "something special" is unique only to your organization and establish the value and advantage that it gives you over your competitors.A Great Product – I think that this goes without saying, but I’d be lying if I said that the quality of your product didn’t have an impact on your culture. If the product, process, system, etc. is broken, antiquated, or otherwise defunct – FIX IT! If your employees don’t believe in it and your customers aren’t buying it, not much else matters.

3. Your Culture Should Be Visible

Don't hide your true identity! You should be proud of who you are! Use your culture to entice customers, recruit new and engage existing employees, and evolve your organization into the future. Remember, there can be thousands of others that are similar to what you do. Your customers and your employees won’t remember your organization for how you were similar, but rather for what it was that set you apart from the rest.You can create a world-class culture that inspires excellence and it doesn’t require complex science. Open the cupboards of your company and you may be surprised to find that you already have the basic ingredients that you need. From there, just gather your team and collaborate to create your own unique, defining formula.

Topics: Culture & Morale, People Management, Learning & Development


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