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5 Ways to Create a Winning Culture

A strong culture isn't something you wish into place, or even will into place. It's something you build. Here's how.
Denver Navy Week, 2011.
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“We train for war and fight to win.” -- Navy SEAL Creed

I’ve never met a business owner who didn’t say he or she wanted to create a winning company culture. But I’ve met plenty whose actions exhibited something different.

That's because building a winning culture isn't easy.

The most focused, most well-defined winning culture I’ve seen is the Navy SEALS culture, and at our company we try hard every day to replicate that personality. This is how we go about building a winning culture.

  1. Define values and ingrain them in everything you do. Instilling company core values takes communication and repetition. It also takes action and leading by example. The values and guiding principles of any company should be so important that without them the organization would fail. To create and build a winning team, you need to clearly define the values, partner with team members and clients that share the same values, and live them every day. Also, set values-based performance measurement systems and reward success publicly. Always reference values when doing so.
  2. Team members, not employees. Navy SEALs refer to the community as “The Teams.” We refer to ourselves as “Team-guys.” That is how team-oriented the culture is. At IMI, we never refer to team members as employees. In a winning culture, everyone shares a common goal and understands how their role affects mission success. All team members are aligned, engaged, and focused on achieving goals rather than performing activities.
  3. Create an environment of trust. Many organizations believe internal trust is nice to have but not a key factor for bottom line profitability. That simply isn’t true. Trust directly affects speed and cost. When trust diminishes, speed goes down and costs go up. These economic factors are usually disguised as other things, but when there isn’t trust between team members, or between the company and its customers, it is impossible to achieve real success. The myths are that trust is built solely on integrity, that you either have it or you don’t, that if lost it can’t be restored, and that it can’t be taught. The realities are that trust is a function of both character and competency, it can be both created and destroyed, it can be restored (in most cases), and be taught and developed into a measurable strategic advantage.
  4. Set the right goals and constantly raise the bar. You can’t win without setting goals and defining the path to success. It is critical to set both attainable goals and lofty, seemingly unattainable goals in order to drive a business forward. While celebrating the small wins is important and keeps people engaged, we don’t want to get too hung up on the little achievements. If this is done too frequently, we start to master mediocrity and spend less time on working towards the tougher goals. We need to get out of our comfort zones and push our organizations hard. The more we do this, the larger that comfort zone becomes and goals that used to seem far reaching will then be just another simple win.
  5. Focus on results and build accountability. A winning culture is not just about setting the right goals and pushing hard toward milestones. It is about measuring performance, learning from mistakes, and holding every stakeholder accountable. Accountability can come in many forms, but in a truly winning culture that has the right people doing the right things, people hold themselves accountable. There is no better system for accountability than that.
Last updated: May 14, 2013

BRENT GLEESON

Navy SEAL combat veteran Brent Gleeson is the co-founder and CMO at Internet Marketing Inc., a leading digital marketing agency and an Inc. 500|5000 company for the past three years in a row.




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