When does a team start to believe in itself? When can leaders know they have something special building? When do the values, strategies, and every day actions start to become visible to employees so that they get it and just know the right things are being done and that progress is being made? I have been doing a lot of thinking about what it takes to create a winning culture. I am certain of only one thing: Winning and culture are earned. There are no shortcuts, no cultural “easy buttons” to press. Winning and culture are not overnight, instant successes.
So does it happen after the first big win? Is it when individuals get recognition and reward for a job well done? Or is it when there is visible momentum that the outside world starts to take notice? Winning is such a personal thing. Winning is about interpretation. What is winning to one is failure to another. Winning is all in the eyes of the beholder and is about expectations. Winning can be a feeling, an instinct, an observation of a continual pile of decisions made, and results accomplished.
Personally, I have had teams and employees believe in me. I’ve have also had teams lose faith. So much goes into a business, a sports team, or a volunteer organization that is out of the control of the leader right? If you led anything through the last recession, trust me, you saw and experienced the impact. A good economy covers up so many mistakes. A bad one exposes every flaw, scratch, imperfection, and amplifies their impact!
But there is a formula to winning through culture, at least mine:
- Humble, Honest, Authentic leadership is irreplaceable. I make mistakes, I forget things. But I maintain trust by communicating and sharing everything all of the time. I find employees, players, volunteers all appreciate being treated as equals. I hope I don’t come off as arrogant here; so many don’t view leading as their primary job and it should be. Lead with your values in mind. Use those values to guide reward, recognition, and as a means of addressing needed changes!
- Speaking of Values, hire against them. If your company is informal, relaxed and not hierarchical than make sure you have folks that fit. We are entrepreneurial, our companies focus on the customer, that is our brand promise. But we don’t care about the corporate uniform. I look for positive, half-full (players, employees, volunteers) who believe in and naturally follow our values. I find they come to us seeking a place to be their natural best. That other places have felt incongruent and out of sync. That the values act as guide lines for conduct and decision making – they don’t really need their boss!
- You have to be Outside-In®. For me, that is studying how to get better every day, all of the time. This is learning from competition and others. I like to think this is about reducing hassles in the business. The customer point of view is critical here. However, the key is setting a cultural expectation around getting better. This might seem strange; however, I have seen so many cultures that prefer no change. “We like things the way we are” is the mantra and leadership allows it, prefers it even, because there is always something to risk if you change. Empower. Encourage the heart. Unleash your teams on the problems and learning opportunities. The key is to get better all of the time. This takes time, let it work to your advantage. Each day, little wins and small gains accumulate and become a real advantage.
- Have an accountable culture. Care about getting things done. This is so much harder than the words. We must teach and model the right skills and behaviors. As leaders, we have to show people how to do things. And stick with the basics! Be careful about adding new ideas, strategies, and initiatives to the agenda until you master what you were working on. Do the basics really well, and than you can add complexity to the mix. Choose your priorities carefully. Work on them, get them finished. Watch the impact on things if you chose the right ones! They will help your winning culture.
If you ask me, a winning culture comes from The Accumulation Effect. In business development, results can come from working on selling and meeting people over time. In other words, you let the benefit of time work for you. Build your portfolio of marketplace relationships and if carefully cultivated, your sales and rainmaking will come. Of course this is assuming that you are in a winning culture!
So, for a company or sports team to have a winning culture you have to have consistent leadership and you need to do it for a while. You have to have the right people. So hire them to your values! You better have values that are compelling to all stakeholders. You need to have a good overall plan that makes sense, allows for, and encourages continual tweaking and adjustments.
It is important to keep in mind that you will need to work on the right things and get them right! Be sure you don’t move on until you get them right. Do the basics right before you get complex. This is much harder (and a less interesting path.) Finally, if you do this long enough and you do it the right way you will get ahead a little at time. Your team or company will be working on problems and challenges that are well-ahead of your competition. You will be ahead of the game in the most basics of ways and this is a competitive advantage that can’t be bought – only earned!