Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch

The massage school where I am a co-owner, the National Holistic Institute, recently had our annual all staff gathering in Northern California.  wowIt is a big investment, but also a critical culture investment to get everyone on the same page.  In a school, the interactions every day among students, staff, and the public number in the thousands or tens of thousands.

There is no way to train or provide an employee handbook to handle all of those critical interactions.  The only way to do it is to get on the same page with culture and values — what we like to call the unwritten understanding of how we do things.

This year, we had an observer, Drew Sanders, an expert on business management and building high-performing teams.  Drew has joined us here at Greybull Stewardship to assist the management teams at our companies when called upon.  In his email newsletter, here is how he described the meeting.

Is Your Culture a WOW! Or a Whatever? by Drew Sanders

One of the benefits of helping companies work on turning groups of people into teams is that you get to visit a wide variety of settings and environments. A recent trip to a professional college had us buzzing and prompted the above title. This team of 125 teachers, administrators, and service staff were on fire from the very beginning of the two-day long all-hands meeting all the way until the end.  Every member of the team was making a sacrifice to be present, and the business itself was closed the entire time. Thinking of the total cost to the enterprise would make most owners blink, yet like clockwork for years these days are reserved to fill up the tanks of the people that make the company tick.  If your current culture is more of a Whatever these days than a Wow, see if implementing a few of these tips we gleaned will help.

An initial idea to consider is having a common way to signal the end of a situation or event. Most companies will have gatherings, and even with the best clock management they can run long. With attention spans waning you increase the chances of having the end of your meeting being a dud, which sends your people scattering and potentially lacking vigor. Consider having something everyone does together to officially signal moving on to the next task. Think of a football team clapping their hands as they break the huddle. Your group should have its own authentic act, but as corny as it sounds it brings your people together.

Another tip is to allow your long standing employees to talk about their experiences at the company. You will be shocked at how seriously they will take this, and it signals to everyone that commitment to the company is honored and appreciated. You needn’t have a perfect culture to accomplish this, and the people you are honoring will have had challenges along the way. Regardless, this ceremony binds your people to each other and your enterprise.

Finally, give your new employees a chance to answer a few key questions in front of the group, and make sure they are made to feel very welcome. One of the questions can be serious enough to let the entire group know that not just anyone qualifies to be on this team, and we are all looking to make a contribution. We really liked the question; what do you intend to contribute to our purpose, mission, and objectives? As newcomers stand in front of a group of warm fellow teammates and are given a resounding ovation after they share their answer, you are well on your way to having a culture of Wow vs Whatever.  Here is a short video about how Zappos built a culture of Wow in Las Vegas where the call center employees are motivated to keep customers on the phone longer….

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