I’ve been a fan of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers since my father mandated it when I was six years old. Either I join him and the rest of the family, or spend Sundays alone. I’ve watched season after season of losing. And four games into their 2016 campaign, Tampa is, once again, losing.
Their Head Coach Dirk Koetter recently said, "There’s something in our culture, and it’s my job to fix it, along with the coaches, of letting games like this get away. I wish I could grab it. I’ve been on teams that have had it, and you don’t want to let go of it. But when you don’t have it, it's hard to figure out what it is."
Clearly, something is missing for Coach Koetter. And that mysterious something lives inside of culture. We can speculate that it’s a certain swagger, or a collective passion - whatever this something is, it’s the key to unlocking performance.
And it confounds us.
We hear our clients talk about the elusive something in a business setting. Lines like “our culture isn’t right” or “we want our teams working better together.” Just like professional sports teams, our clients are searching for a higher state of performance, where things just seem to click. Where wins come faster and easier.
How do we get there? How do we achieve the coveted state of interconnectedness, where the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts?
Coach Koetter is right. It’s inside of culture. Culture is the baseline agreement for individuals to act in accord. It’s a system of shared beliefs, values and behaviors. And when it’s not working, the distractions, anxieties, frustrations and losses start to pile up.
We can look at the Daimler and Chrysler merger in the late '90s as a classic example of losing. German Daimler and American Chrysler were profoundly divided on operating styles and philosophical approach. One joke captured how many employees felt - “How do you pronounce DaimlerChrysler? Daimler - the Chrysler is silent.”
Major layoffs began shortly after the merger, and Chrysler was soon sold.
In 2005, Sprint acquired Nextel in an epic loss, which has been attributed to a massive cultural rift. According to Washington Post, the two sharply different cultures have resulted in clashes in everything from advertising strategy to cell phone technologies. In early 2012, Sprint shed Nextel.
Businesses invest mightily to define and codify its own cultural systems through vision statements, core values and guiding principles. Once defined, these statements are shared with the understanding that it will guide behavior and create wins. While defining and codifying these statements is imperative, simply sharing them and hoping people adopt them just isn’t enough. Here are the three wins of a high-performing culture.
1. Employees need to understand your culture, and then live it.
Socially-conscious apparel company Patagonia is blatant about cultural fit.
Lyrical prose in Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard’s book Let My People Go Surfing helps a particular tribe of people to see themselves at Patagonia.
According to the book, finding a dyed-in-the-wool businessperson to take up climbing or river running is a lot more difficult than teaching a person with a ready passion for the outdoors how to do a job.
Patagonia has become a magnet for the kind employee it searches for.
"So we seek out dirtbags who feel more at home in a base camp or on the river than they do in the office,” Chouinard said. Happy dirtbags everywhere have found their workplace. Big win.
2. Trust your employees to express culture in their own way.
Southwest Airlines has, for the past four decades, excelled at bringing joy to a largely stodgy industry. And it has done this by giving employees permission to go beyond the expected to make customers happy. It’s one thing for Southwest to say it wants to make its customers happy and quite another for the organization to enact a policy to trust employees to make it so.
Another example is Adobe. At the core, Adobe is a creative company. Its suite of products allow people to express themselves and unleash their own creativity. And through their conscious avoidance of micro-management, Adobe has given its employees agency to create and the freedom to take risks. Managers are more like coaches, allowing employees to set their own goals.
3. Embrace culture as a process of continual development.
Culture isn’t static. It evolves and requires constant observation and cultivation.
According to Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc., Disney Animation was demoralized as a company. Dysfunctional in culture, and just coming off the flop Chicken Little. Disney bought Pixar and with it, its cultural blueprint for creativity that created wins, such as Finding Nemo and Toy Story.
Since the merger, Disney Animation has had a string of unprecedented wins including Tangled and Frozen. Leadership saw the opportunity to bring these powerhouses together in the spirit of mutual development.
Finding that something in culture isn’t about installing ping pong tables or hanging inspirational posters. These examples point to creating the right environment for peak performance. And if Coach Koetter takes note, the Bucs might win a game or two.