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Culture is the Key to Success

A colleague once asked a candidate during an interview for an open coaching position if the prospective candidate could describe the difference between a great team and a great program. It was a very good question! Great teams do not always originate from great programs unfortunately. But great programs consistently produce great team results on and off the competitive site.

We have all seen that one team that comes out of nowhere to win or compete for a championship only for the team to quickly fall out of contention the next year. It happens in athletics and it happens in business. Great teams often are the result of a great program but teams can still find short-term success without having a great athletic or business culture supporting them. Great programs sustain long-term success because of the systemic procedures and mechanisms they have in place. Great teams may not! Many organizations and teams can get to the top of the mountain but it is the outstanding ones who stay there consistently. This is normally achieved through the creation of an outstanding culture and with strong leadership. Strong cultures today are unfortunately not as commonplace as we would prefer and with NIL and other social mandates it may be increasingly hard to maintain or develop..

Culture is often described as the atmosphere, expectations and environment you operate throughout your program. It is in part your shared set of values and norms that your organization or business believes in and guides your everyday experience. Culture has to be learned and should be modeled through your leadership. An established weak culture can be very difficult to change. Can your organization change a weak culture to a strong culture that allows you the opportunity to be successful over the long haul? Yes, and those who do change their culture in a positive manner will enjoy the benefits. This is easily seen in athletic programs and tougher to judge in business. To develop a “great program,” you must decide as an organization that culture development is the one area of development your organization will never sacrifice.

Be prepared that your organizational culture may not work for everyone. It needs to be unique, genuine and hold true to the values, assumptions and principles of your organization. The experiences and personalities of staff within an organization help shape your "team" culture. By focusing on providing positive experiences and interactions, it allows your organization to be more successful long-term while focusing your employee’s day-to-day efforts on a shared vision and mission.

Not everyone will readily accept your culture and values and be a great fit in your organization. Your organization will need to establish strict limits to how far you will allow individuals to stray, if at all, from your established value system. The less freedom and the more consistent you are in insisting that your culture is followed, the more likely your organization will find long term success. As you strive to develop a strong culture, understand that even though everyone usually says they want change, they don’t all welcome it to the same degree. Change is great until it affects someone personally and they have to change their own behavior. Some experienced employees cannot unlearn their old way of operation. In these cases you must make tough personnel decisions. Likewise, very good employees who embrace a strong culture will be harder to retain if your culture is weak.

The quickest way to destroy morale and culture is to hire people who do not fit your culture or allow those already on staff to resist it. Individuals who bring great resumes do not necessarily enhance the culture of your program. Those staff members who join an organization and do not fit the culture will likely help destroy it. Likewise, current employees who are not demonstrating the important tenets of your culture will make it difficult for you to maintain or develop it. Often damaging it from within.

Consider your culture the blueprint for the success of your organization. If it is allowed to develop in a positive manner, you will have a stable foundation. If it is not embraced, your foundation and organizational personality will crumble over time. If you want an open, positive and collaborative culture you must insist on open doors, hire outgoing personalities and immediately deal with negativity in the workplace. If you want an organization that values your history and tradition, showcase your past by creative displays and innovative messaging. Institutional history is extremely valuable when trying to sell your long-term history and success. While institutional history is important, staying the course is not always the right answer either. Be willing to change those things that require it for positive culture growth but do not change just for change sake.

Your organizational leadership has to be the key people who represent and model your culture daily. They are the role models who have major influence on your staff through their decisions on long term strategic planning. Leadership is usually the face of the organization to your outside constituents. Whether it is the head coach, the athletic director or the CEO, these individuals must communicate well and mentor staff across the whole organization to work well and collaboratively together. These individuals choose their words carefully and know every time they speak they speak the organization is being judged on their words.

A strong culture leads to less staff turnover and more stability. Those who choose to stay with you despite having opportunities to work elsewhere demonstrate the value of a positive culture and working environment you create. Do not be afraid to reward those in your organization that model positive behavior enhancing your culture. When a behavior is rewarded it becomes more likely to become a part of the culture. This can help bring a stronger sense of identification across the organization and a shared understanding of the values and norms you want your organization to portray. A lone individual cannot change the culture by himself or herself, it takes the entire organization. But a lone individual can singularly damage the culture and reputation of an organization.

As we transition into a more robust work from home model and safety conscious social programming across the country, culture is the one thing you cannot allow to dissipate. It will be challenging to maintain and even harder to develop with all of your staff. Culture is often developed through interactions with each other. Learning how to develop those interactions in an online or masked world will be a challenge. It is hard to be on the same page when everyone is reading from a different book. It is important to have the right individuals out front leading your culture development. Being creative and innovative in development of organizational training and mentoring are a few of the new challenges we face.

Decide on your desired professional personality relating to purpose, values and principles that you want to model. Strong culture in an organization and the leadership to make sure it is woven into the fabric of both the organization and the employees will help your organization become more profitable, successful and consistent.

We should all work on culture development and strive to develop great programs and consistent teams! Let EMP help you develop positive culture changes.


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