I was recently with the leadership team of a proud company that had a big challenge. They had been experiencing declining sales and profitability. The senior leadership team understood the gravity of their situation, but they couldn’t get the mid-level managers and the frontline employees to see a need to change day-to-day habits.
Like many companies, the culture of the organization had become stale. The employees had a lackadaisical, “So what?” kind of attitude.
So what if this order is not shipped on time? So what if the customer complains?
As we set about making our goals for the coming year, one of the top priorities was, “Transform our company culture to one where ALL employees know THEY are in charge of making customers happy.”
There were some heated conversations as we discussed what it would take to achieve this transformation. As soon as one person insisted that certain operational changes must take place, someone else would disagree and say the solution was something else. The atmosphere in the room became thick with frustration and confusion.
Finally, someone said, “Hey! We are over-complicating our business. It’s not as hard as we’re making it out to be. Basically, we buy a product, then do some things to that product, and re-sell it to our customers. And to our customers, the basics count. If we do what we say and ship it on time, the customer is happy and he buys from us again.”
Everyone agreed that failure to deliver the basics was the reason for their decline, and that if they didn’t do something, all would be lost. They weren’t delivering the basics because their culture didn’t value the basics.
And it was their fault. The senior leaders sitting in the room – it was their fault. Culture is everything, and when it gets lost, or stuck, the bottleneck is at the top. Culture spreads from the top down.
If this has happened to you, here’s the fix – you and your senior leaders must:
- OWN it yourselves,
- COMMUNICATE it incessantly,
- EXPECT it from every person in your organization, and
- LIVE the message by example.
That’s what it takes to push the culture you want to build beyond your senior leadership team.
I sent this team a quote I found here from Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks:
“The only thing we have is one another. The only competitive advantage we have is the culture and values of the company. Anyone can open up a coffee store. We have no technology, we have no patent. All we have is the relationship around the values of the company and what we bring to the customer every day. And we all have to own it.”
Transforming a culture is a deliberate act, and one that must be executed by the top leaders. It starts when ONE person decides to do it. When an entire leadership team makes the decision to follow suit and supports one-another completely, honestly, and with the good of everyone involved, it can become an unstoppable transformative force.