Copying Another Culture Doesn’t Transform Yours

One mistake I’ve seen entrepreneurs, and leaders of established businesses, make is to adopt practices from other companies without thinking through how those practices fit withing their existing strategy and culture.

For the last 4 months I’ve been advising a logistics company on overall strategy as well as organizational culture. A pillar of their strategy is to deliver superior service to their clients, which isn’t as common as you think in that industry; we had to rethink their organizational culture to deliver that.

We spent time thinking about their “why” before determining what and how. Their focus on delivering superior service came from those discussions, specifically being pissed off at their competitors for setting the bar so low and them setting it so high.

After we got that clear, I had them make a list of companies they admire who provide world class service as part of the thinking part of brainstorming what “superior service” looks like for them. A few companies came to mind: Zappos, Mercedes-Benz, Ritz Carlton, Disney, and a few others who are not well known.

None of these companies operate in the logistics industry; that’s key. Also, their particular tactics might not fit into the logistics industry; also key. The leadership team recognized some tactics they could “borrow and adapt” that have delivered surprising results and have increased client satisfaction.

And that’s the key: You can learn from anyone, borrow and adapt; but only after you define your culture.

Think about it. How many companies have adopted the practices Netflix employs for hiring and retainment? My guess is not many, because Netflix puts a high bar on competence. Most organizations in the technology industry would have to rethink their culture to adopt Netflix’s approach to hiring and retaining employees.

Or take DARPA’s innovation model. Super focused. Any takers?

Amazon is another company who’s analyzed a lot. Check out this example below:

Just because it works for someone else doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you, the reasons are many but let’s just say habits die hard. It’s one of the reasons why adopting practices that work for other companies doesn’t work outright.


Bottom line: A practice that is normal in another industry can be disruptive in yours. But you have to be smart about what you “borrow and adapt”; you have to think through how those practices fit your strategy and culture.

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