Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast

Strategy is often talked about in business schools, in fact it’s a primary focus.  Culture however, is less understood.  Culture involves a variety of contributing factors including a blend of attitudes, beliefs, mission, philosophy, and momentum that help to create and sustain a successful brand.  It represents the vision, norms, symbols, beliefs, behaviors, and traditions that are taught to new members of an organization.  Organizational culture affects the way people within an organization interact with one another and the people they serve.

Culture is key in an organization for long-term success. It is the most important thing in an organization and it applies at all levels, from the top of the organization all the way down.  Rules, regulations, and operating standards are important, of course, because you have to have systems in place to guide activities. But culture is the factor that stands above all others.

There are many factors that go into building an organizational culture.  Each successful company has a different combination of factors that makes their culture successful.  Here are a few that I think are particularly important.

1. Traditions

Traditions help make a company what it is.  They tell the world who they are as an organization.  One way for an organization to maintain and develop its organizational culture and ethos is to introduce and celebrate a variety of traditions.  Disney in particular has been a master of this concept by training all new employees on the traditions of the organization.  Strong traditions that are applied throughout an organization are one of the best ways to maintain a healthy organizational culture.

2. Mission

A burning mission can give laser focus to an organization.  The mission statement needs to be short and memorable. Most importantly, it needs to be a rallying cry for people throughout the organization.  One thing I’ve learned in running a business for almost thirty years is that “ignorance on fire is better than knowledge on ice.”  Getting employees and clients excited about the mission is critical to organizational success.  If the average employee can’t recite your mission – it’s too long. 

3. Engagement

Collaboration encourages engagement.  Get all levels of an organization involved.  In BNI, the global referral network I founded almost 30 years ago, we have focused on getting a high level of engagement at all levels of the company.  This engagement includes a Franchise Advisory Board made up of key franchisees to address organizational challenges, a Founder’s Circle of stake holders to provide direct feedback to management about issues concerning the organization, a Board of Advisors made up exclusively of clients to ensure engagement regarding policies that effect the organization globally, an Executive Council made up of the largest seven master franchisees within the organization, as well as a number of other entities to help ensure full participation at all levels of the organization.  Engagement can be messy, but when done correctly, it encourages a collaborative culture.

4. Recognition

Many years ago, Ken Blanchard got it right in The One Minute Manager.  He said, “catch people doing something right” and recognize them publicly.  Praise in public and re-direct in private.  No truer words have ever been spoken when it comes to building a healthy organizational culture.   Recognize and celebrate successes.  As Blanchard says, if you can’t catch people doing something right – then catch them doing something ‘partially right’ and recognize that.

5. Education

Immerse and engage in a culture of learning.  The more a company can integrate ongoing learning into the organizational ethos, the more likely that company is to stay nimble and prepared for change.  Educating the organization regarding the culture of the company is particularly important to fuel and maintain a great culture.  A great strategy keeps you in the game, however, a great culture helps you win.  Especially important are the traditions and mission of the company. These things need to be part of the ongoing education of all new and existing employees.

Culture is a critical key to organizational success. It is one of the most important things in a company and it applies to all levels, from the top of the organization all the way down. The challenge with culture is that it is illusive.  The best and most scalable culture is one that is managed and maintained by the majority and not by a single policing body or by management alone.

Companies that dominate an industry for a long period of time do so because of a shared vision of organizational culture that is effectively implemented throughout the company.  That shared implementation of the vision is an important key to building a successful organizational culture.  If all the people in an organization row in the same direction in unison, that organization can dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.

Implementing a strong organizational strategy can be difficult however, implementing a healthy organizational culture is rare and in my opinion when all is said and done; culture, eats strategy for breakfast any day.

A Win-Win Way to Reward Referral Sources

If you’re looking for creative ways to give referral incentives, it’s worth considering a technique I like to call “Incentive Triangulation.” This is a powerful way of leveraging other people’s services to benefit your customers, clients or patients and reward those who refer you.

The concept is simple and can be designed to fit the needs or requirements of any business. For example, a retailer might negotiate an arrangement with another local business, such as a florist, printer or appliance store owner, whereby that store will provide its customers with a discount of 10 percent or more on their next purchase. After that, each time someone gives you a referral, reward him with whatever you would normally give as an incentive and also a coupon good for the discount at the prearranged business.

This form of joint venture is beneficial for all three parties, hence the term “Incentive Triangulation.”  You benefit because you are providing another incentive for people to refer you. The other business benefits because you are sending your clients to it, along with a recommendation, of course.

Finally, your clients will benefit because they got recognition for their effort as well as an additional product or service at a reduced rate.

If you have an example of how you’ve successfully used Incentive Triangulation, leave a comment and explain how you’ve used it. Your example could spark great ideas for other blog readers on how they might use the technique for their business.

The First Phase of the VCP Process–Visibility

Last week I wrote a blog explaining the VCP Process, which is a huge part of the foundation of networking. Because this process is so crucial to effective networking, I promised to write a blog entry for each of the three phases (visibility, credibility and profitability), and today I’m going to talk about why it all starts with visibility.

The first phase of growing a relationship is visibility: You and another individual become aware of each other.  In business terms, a potential source of referrals or a potential customer becomes aware of the nature of your business–perhaps because of your public relations and advertising efforts, because of your social media presence or perhaps through someone you both know. This person may observe you in the act of conducting business or relating with the people around you. The two of you begin to communicate and establish links–perhaps a question or two over the phone or via e-mail messages about product availability. You may become personally acquainted and work on a first-name basis, but you know little about each other. A combination of many such relationships forms a casual-contact network, a sort of de facto association based on one or more shared interests.

The visibility phase is important because it creates recognition and awareness.  The greater your visibility, the more widely known you will be, the more information you will obtain about others, the more opportunities you will be exposed to, and the greater will be your chances of being accepted by other individuals or groups as someone to whom they can or should refer business.  Visibility must be actively maintained and developed; without it, you cannot move on to the next level, credibility.

I’ll talk more about credibility next week, but it’s important to understand that visibility brings the opportunity to build credibility, and credibility is what will get you to profitability, where you’ll actually benefit from your efforts. So many times people try to jump straight from visibility to profitability, and that’s not real networking; it’s just an obvious ploy to get something from your new contacts. That’s nothing more than a bad attempt at direct selling and a big waste of time.

So, how do you go about creating more visibility for your business? What are some strategies that have really worked out well for you?  I’d love to hear your comments.

Simple Recognition Is Sometimes the Best Reward

Rather than receiving a finder’s fee, for most referral sources  it is more important to be recognized as a person who can direct others to the goods and services provided by skilled, highly competent, trustworthy people.

Over the years I’ve witnessed time and again that most people will do more for simple recognition than for money. However, for those who expect a finder’s fee, this is a good thing to know in advance if you want to keep the relationship healthy, active and profitable.

You will find that different motivators will inspire different members of your referral team, and this is a matter in which understanding the various behavioral styles of people can be helpful.

People who are embarrassed by being in the spotlight, even for accolades and applause, might prefer their rewards low-key and private–perhaps a simple thank you or an evening cruise on your boat if you are a boat owner.  Those who like public recognition might prefer seeing their name showcased on your bulletin board.  Still others may be more highly motivated by an inexpensive but thoughtful gift than by a more substantial cash reward–a bottle of wine from a winery near their hometown or a coffee table book about their favorite travel destination.

The point is, simple recognition really resonates with most people and, more often than not, simply recognizing people in the way they prefer to be recognized is a far better reward and incentive for them to refer you to others than offering them a cash finder’s fee.

If you’re in the habit of recognizing people as a way of thanking them for referrals, please leave a comment about what’s worked for you and even what hasn’t.  Then check back next week to read my story about a way in which someone recognized me that kept me motivated to refer that person over and over again!

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