What's culture - and what's yours?

2013

Have you ever walked into a shop and it just didn't 'feel' right? Or have you called a business and got the clear impression that the person on the end of the line doesn't really care? Equally, have you ever had a wonderful experience that just blows you way and makes you feel valued as a customer?

Great customer experiences don't happen by chance and they are often a reflection of the culture of a business - good or bad. Culture is often seen as the softest side of business management. It's perceived by some as being all 'touchy feely'. The reality is that culture is often it's the hardest side of business management, and the organisations that get it right are the ones that get ahead.

Culture is all about the behaviours that people demonstrate. It's one of the ingredients of what we call an UBER Culture which I have talked about before on Management Issues and is Characteristic #5 of my Seven Characteristics of 3D Businesses. Winning business leaders work hard to establish a clear set of behaviours that their people understand, buy into and live - and they live them consistently.

The key ingredients of an UBER culture are:

  • Everyone Understands what's expected of them and behaves accordingly and consistently as a result.
  • Systems and processes are Built to reinforce and support those values and behaviours
  • People are Engaged, Empowered and Encouraged to deliver them
  • People are Rewarded and Recognised for doing it!

One such business that has made this work is Southwest Airlines, the low cost US airline, and they work really hard on this stuff. My definition of culture is 'the way we do things around here' (deliberately or non-deliberately, consciously and un consciously) and I came across this definition from Herb Kelleher, the former CEO of Southwest Airlines which I think works brilliantly. He says "Culture is what people do when no-one is looking".

I love that! South West Airlines spell out to their employees the behaviours they expect and encourage them to live them in everything they do, and this creates real competitive advantage. For example, cabin staff are allowed to do the announcements in a style that reinforces their own personality. Here are some of the things that their staff have been heard to say…

"There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there are only 4 ways out of this airplane."

"Your bags will be available on carousel x. if you do not find them, they will be available in 2-3 weeks on eBay."

"In order to enhance the appearance of your flight crew, we will be dimming the cabin lights."

In fact, if you really want to see this in action, check out this video of the rapping flight steward!

So, I have three questions for you:

  1. Have you established the preferred behaviours you want from your people?
  2. Do they live those behaviours when you're not there?
  3. Crucially, do they live those behaviours when your customers are?

If the answer is 'no' to these questions, then there's a fair chance that you've got some work to do to establish and reinforce the culture you want.

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About The Author

Andy Hanselman
Andy Hanselman

Andy Hanselman helps businesses and their people think in 3D. That means being Dramatically and Demonstrably Different. An expert on business competitiveness, he has spent well over 20 years researching, working with, and learning from, successful fast growth businesses. His latest book, The 7 Characteristics of 3D Businesses, reveals how businesses can get ahead, and stay ahead of their competitors.