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Why culture matters

Last week I was dinning at an Italian restaurant with my family. Our waiter was very courteous, by pure observation I could tell he stood out from the rest of the waiters in that restaurant. Two days later I dined at a ‘similar’ Italian restaurant with a few friends, and to my surprise got served by the same waiter that served me days earlier at the other restaurant.

What gives?

My initial thought was that these restaurants were owned by the same person or group. But that didn’t make sense since they pretty much have the same menu, the difference is their service is different. My second thought was that this waiter had two jobs; which was the case.

But that’s not the point. Another observation I made was that this waiter was a better fit on this restaurant than the other one. Unlike the other restaurant, you could tell there was purpose behind everything they did. This is when it hit me: That’s why he stood out at the other restaurant.

Though I hate it that people have to work two jobs and have to use this particular waiter’s situation as an example, it got me thinking about an organizations culture.

Strategy drives culture

A strategy is at it’s core a guide to behavior. A good strategy drives actions that differentiate the company and produce financial success. And culture is a direct result of what your organizations’ strategy is; including how and why you hire people.

The dominant logic in business is to see people as interchangeable parts in a system. You hire because you need help and make that decision based on credentials, not because you’re picky and have ‘an idea’ of what type of person ‘fits’ your organization.

This is flawed logic.

Imagine that Microsoft and Google exchanged employees. What would happen? Would Microsoft employees fit Google’s model and vice versa? Absolutely not!

Even though both of them are technology companies, they’re different in their approach in everything they do.

Different strategies and therefore different cultures. And that is key, because their strategy dictates their behavior.

An even more unconventional example is Zappos, an online shoe retailer that knows why culture matters better than anyone (IMO). They hire for weirdness. They’ll even give you money to quit after they’ve hired you, which works as a ‘culture filter’ to weed out people who won’t fit in the long run. And lastly, they have a ‘culture book’ that gets updated every year by everyone in the company. Their goal is to deliver happiness. Enough said!

Closing thoughts…

I’ve argued before that most businesses look the same and operate the same way, the only difference being the name and colors on their logo. Though we tend to put a lot of emphasis on differentiation through product features and service models, we never mention ‘culture’ as the main differentiator. Yet it is people who ultimately execute strategy, and the more engaged they are and feel part of something bigger than profits, the bigger the differentiator culture becomes.

Your people are the most important differentiator. As you can see from the examples above, culture matters.

Thoughts? Do you think people are the most important differentiator?

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