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Your Culture Should Be Completely Unique, Right?

By Jake Friedman, Consultant


Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use best practices. These type of maxims are liberally dispensed in most aspects of business, but when it comes to culture, there’s often some hesitancy to apply the same concepts. Shouldn’t your culture be completely unique to your company? Wouldn’t the behaviors your employees need to practice be different from the ones that the next company practices?

Actually, no. In fact, I’d argue quite the opposite. For the most part, the large majority of behaviors (or “Fundamentals,” as we call them) being practiced in a world-class company are likely the same behaviors you would want in yours. Even mediocre companies attempt to incorporate the same ideas. The difference between good and great? The extraordinary consistency with which you actually practice these behaviors.

Successful behaviors aren’t unique

The behaviors that provide the foundation of a truly world-class culture aren’t secrets or tricks known only to a select few gurus. The simple truth is that the behaviors it takes to make one company successful are relatively the same as what it takes to make the next company successful.

Sure, there will be some behaviors more likely to play a prominent role in a certain type of business or industry (for example, “Work safe” in construction or manufacturing), but a far greater percentage of behaviors will overlap despite differences in industry, location, and company size.

Do you have humans? Then this will work for you.

In an effort to reach a deeper understanding of why so many behaviors will be the same between organizations, let’s pause for a minute. Instead of thinking of a business as a single monolith, picture it on a more basic level, as a collection of individuals. At its heart, that’s all a business really is; just a group of people. Which means it’s similar in many ways, and faces similar challenges, to any other group of people formed for any other purpose.

Whether it’s a sports team, a club, a religious organization, a circle of friends, or even a family, groups of people act in similar ways and face similar problems. Namely, the challenges involved with individual human beings communicating, relating, and working with each other. And so it stands to reason that behaviors that address those challenges would make a group of people, any group of people, function more effectively. There would be less division and more cohesion, less strife and more progress.

When asked by a CEO, if practicing Fundamentals would work for her type of employees, we often respond “Only if you have the human type.” While our response is humorous, it nevertheless hits on an essential truth. At the most basic level, creating and sustaining a world-class culture has less to do with the ins and outs of your specific business or industry, and more to do with teaching your employees to practice behaviors that would allow them to function more effectively in any group of people. So of course many of the same important behaviors will be practiced from one organization to the next!

Consistency is key

Even accounting for the somewhat specialized behaviors like “Work Safe,” there can only be so many possible important behaviors that a business could practice. I don’t know what that total number is, and it really doesn’t matter. What does matter, and what we’ve learned firsthand from our extensive experience, is that while successful behaviors aren’t unique to an individual company, consistency is.

The difference between good and great isn’t the specific behaviors you list as part of your culture. Instead, it’s the degree of consistency with which you actually practice those behaviors. We often say that the key to a world-class culture is doing the ordinary things with extraordinary consistency. That’s what the Fundamentals System™ is all about.

Your culture should be personal, not unique

Does all of this mean that because your culture won’t be comprised of unique behaviors, it won’t feel special or like it’s truly yours? Not at all.

While the behaviors that make up your culture aren’t likely to be unique, as a collection they will be personal. What I mean by that is that the Fundamentals will represent your personal vision for what your culture should be. The behaviors you choose to practice will be true to what you think is most important. You’re the CEO; it’s your vision that we\’re trying to implement.

At the end of the day, it’s your company. Determining the culture is your job as a leader. In fact, it’s arguably one of the single most important leadership functions you have. Do it right, and do it with consistency, and your culture will be the engine that drives your organization’s success. And, far more than claiming to be unique, that’s what really matters.

If you\’d like to learn more about how you can drive a culture that enables your people and business to perform at their highest levels, shoot us an email, give us a call, or check out David Friedman\’s latest book, Culture by Design.

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