Blog

The Big Goal: A Company Culture of Success

by Eric Baker
on 2016-09-28

If you’ve ever watched Premier League football (i.e., soccer), you may have noticed it’s perfectly OK, right in the middle of the action, for teammates to scold each other for making bad plays, usually with exaggerated gestures for the benefit of the camera. If a National Hockey League player in North America tried that, he’d be labelled a “locker-room cancer” before the next commercial break.

On the other hand, soccer players will often kick the ball out of bounds as an act of sportsmanship when an opposing player is injured. In hockey, forget about it. They keep going until the ref blows the whistle. Some guy is crumpled in the corner? Tough. He knew what he was getting into.

Meanwhile, in American football, it’s common for players to perform a dance after sacking a quarterback and a bigger dance after scoring a touchdown. Goal celebrations in Premier League football are rather enthusiastic as well, though generally restricted to running with one’s arms raised, perhaps ending with a slide on the knees. In ice hockey, a player would earn death stares from teammates, opponents, both coaching staffs, and maybe even the ice girls for such hot-dogging.

Sports don’t just have different rules (written or otherwise), equipment, and playing surfaces. They develop unique cultures, just like companies.

Articles explaining company culture and how to improve it can be found across the internet. Most of those pieces talk about getting rid of lousy managers and lazy employees, reducing operational waste, and eliminating negative stress. While we agree those aims are worthwhile, such articles aren’t really talking about company culture; they’re talking about surviving toxic work environments. If you’re a leader in a toxic work environment, stop reading this and start fixing right now, or there won’t be anything to fix soon.

As demonstrated in our sports analogy above, culture comprises the little things that collectively lead to uniqueness. Ask yourself: Is your company culture low-key and collegial, or is it highly competitive and welcoming of aggressive communication? Does management encourage innovation and risk, or is the environment highly structured and rules-based? Are conversations focused on customer satisfaction, systems, or product development?

When evaluating culture, it’s important to separate the ideal state from reality. It’s tempting to say innovation, customer satisfaction, and operational efficiency all carry equal weight within an organization, and that vertical and lateral communication are perfectly balanced. But a culture can’t be all things in equal measure. Observing conversations and actions in an unbiased way will reveal what constitutes a given culture.

Once you begin to discover where the cultural focus lies (e.g., innovation), you can begin to ask critical questions: Do we have the right people to bring about innovation? Are we so focused on innovation that we rush product development at the expense of quality control? Do our customers want all the new products we are developing, or should we shift our emphasis toward improved service?

Whether you need to hire different people to enhance your existing culture or move the needle toward a desired culture, tools like competency-based employment assessments and job modeling can eliminate the guesswork and frame your talent-development strategy in concrete, consistent data. And once you achieve your goal, remember: No hot-dogging! Unless that’s how they do it there.