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Using Culture as a Force Multiplier

By Jake Friedman, Consultant

One of the first times I recognized the impact of culture was back in high school. I played football at school, but in the small New Jersey town I grew up in, football wasn’t the big deal it is other places. Our team had decent athletes, but wasn’t anything spectacular, and the results were typically mediocre. My senior year we won a total of 3 games, if I remember correctly.

However, in a dramatic turn of events, just two years after I graduated, my hometown football team went undefeated and won the state championship. How in the world did that happen? As a senior, I had practiced with the then-underclassmen who ended up leading that championship team. Sure, they got better over several years, but none of them were big school, Division I talents at the next level. The coaching staff was the same as it had been, and our opponents were largely the same as well.

In fact, the only significant difference between that championship winning team and the teams I played on was the culture. Those guys cared more, they worked harder, they held each other accountable, they played with more of an edge, and they refused to lose. The culture they built helped each player perform better individually, it made the coaches more effective, it made the schemes being run on offense and defense more likely to succeed, and it took the team as a whole to unprecedented heights.

Culture as a force multiplier

When done right, culture can contribute significantly to every aspect of the organization. In short, it can be a “force multiplier.”

A force multiplier is a term borrowed from the military. The U.S. Department of Defense defines it this way: A capability that, when added to and employed by a combat force, significantly increases the combat potential of that force and thus enhances the probability of successful mission accomplishment.

In more colloquial terms: twelve American soldiers on horseback in Afghanistan is one thing; twelve American soldiers on horseback in Afghanistan with GPS devices, satellite radios, and the knowledge and training on how to properly call long-range bombers onto a given target is quite another. The training, technology, and weaponry are all force multipliers that allow the twelve soldiers to punch far above their weight.

The same is true in business

Of course, we aren’t talking in combat terms when we use the idea of force multipliers in business. But the same principles still apply. There are a variety of ways your culture can act as a force multiplier.

A world class culture enables your people to perform at their highest levels, increasing productivity and efficiency. Because personnel costs are typically fixed costs (you’re paying someone the same wage regardless of whether they’re working at 60% of their own capacity or 100%), any amount of increased productivity goes right to your bottom line.

A great culture also increases your ability to recruit top talent and then retain that talent. Talented people want to be in a place that gives them the opportunity to be successful and actively works on eliminating all the obstacles to that success. And happy, successful employees are quite obviously less likely to look for greener pastures elsewhere.

Additionally, a high performing culture increases the chances that all those new initiatives you’ve got planned will be successful. Just imagine how different it is to roll something out in a group that practices behaviors like “Embrace Change”, “Think Team First”, and “Find a Way”, as opposed to a group that doesn’t.

Getting your culture right also provides lasting differentiation between you and your competitors. Any new product or service offering you come up with can be copied by the other guys down the road, and usually more quickly and cheaply than it took you to develop it. But your culture, the things your employees do, and thus the experience that your customers or clients have when buying from you or working with you, that’s extremely difficult to copy. And it’s that experience which builds brand loyalty and turns people from mere customers into raving fans.

If you’d like to learn more about how to utilize culture as a force multiplier, and a practical, systematic, sustainable approach to get you there, just click the button below.  Or join us at our annual Culture Summit in October.

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