Culture is Your Advantage

Given enough time and money, your competitors can duplicate almost everything you’ve got working for you. They can hire away some of your best people. They can reverse engineer your processes. The only thing they can’t duplicate is your culture.

Brave Cultures Are Sustainable

All music is made from the same 12 notes. All culture is made from the same five components: Behaviors, Relationships, Attitudes, Values and Environment. It’s the way those notes or components are put together that makes things sing. (Follow this link for more on BRAVE cultures and some ways to put this into practice across interviewing, due diligence, and engaging with the culture.)

In sustainable, championship cultures, behaviors (the way we do things here) are inextricably linked to relationships, informed by attitudes, built on a rock-solid base of values, and completely appropriate for the environment in which the organization chooses to operate. As Simon Sinek famously pointed out, most organizations think what – how – why.

business culture is competitive advantage Great leaders and great organizations start with why (environment and values), then look at how (attitudes and relationships) before getting to what (behaviors).

  • Behaviors: What impact? Implementation.
  • Relationships: How to connect? Communication.
  • Attitude: How to win? Choices.
  • Values: What matters and why? Purpose.
  • Environment: Where to play? Context.

It’s the context that makes it so hard to duplicate a championship culture. Because every organization’s environment is different, matching someone else’s behaviors, relationships, attitudes, and values will not produce the same culture.

Attitude Is the Pivot Point

As you work to evolve your culture, focus on attitudes. There’s a strong case to be made that IBM’s near-death experience was a result of a bad attitude. It thought it was the best. It thought its customers needed it more than it needed its customers. It stopped being flexible. The big thing Lou Gerstner did was reversing that attitude. Behaviors and relationships followed.

Of course, I am oversimplifying things. Few things are as simple as we hope they are.

Of course, you have to be in touch with your environment.

Of course, you have to make sure your values are current.

Of course, people and communication matter.

Of course, it’s all theoretical gibberish until someone actually does something

Attitude is not the only lever. But it’s generally the lever to pull first, using that choice or change to influence the others.

(Editor: Starting Thursday we begin a four-part series by George on culture as a competitive advantage).


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