Many business leaders who ignore company culture. They don't make it a priority because they don't see how culture drives business results

The challenge with that approach is if you don't proactively design and nurture the culture you want, it will form all on its own. And the culture that is shaped for you, might not be one that serves you. Last year, United Airlines lost $800 million overnight, when their out of control culture became public when a video of employee bad behavior was seen around the world.

Uber's toxic company culture cost its CEO his job, after the company struggled to deal with a mountain of bad press as the curtain was pulled back on the misconduct not focusing on company culture enabled. 

But managing your company's culture isn't about preventing unfortunate incidents. When used strategically, your culture can be a major source of growth for your business.

How Amazon Builds a Culture That Fuels Their Growth

In 2015, Amazon became the fastest to reach the $100 billion mark in sales. Jeff Bezos did it by prioritizing culture, in particular with his "Day One" mantra, that reinforces that the company will always act like a hungry startup.

Bezos notes that maintaining the startup culture enables the behemoth company to "remain vigilant and maintain a sense of urgency." That hunger drives Amazon to obsess over their customers to continuously find ways to add value to them. It also pushes them to experiment, make decisions quickly, and hop on trends early.

In the 2017 Amazon annual report, Bezos went a bit deeper on an additional cornerstone of their winning culture, explaining that Amazon invests a great deal of energy in cultivating an atmosphere of "high standards." 

Building a culture of high standards is well worth the effort, and there are many benefits. Naturally and most obviously, you're going to build better products and services for customers -- this would be reason enough! Perhaps a little less obvious: people are drawn to high standards -- they help with recruiting and retention. More subtle: a culture of high standards is protective of all the "invisible" but crucial work that goes on in every company. I'm talking about the work that no one sees. The work that gets done when no one is watching. In a high standards culture, doing that work well is its own reward - it's part of what it means to be a professional. And finally, high standards are fun! Once you've tasted high standards, there's no going back.

Bezos and his team get everyone in the company to operate with high standards, by first defining what good looks like. As you work to implement this in your own company, make sure you frequently push examples of your quality expectations to the forefront.

When I teach business leaders various concepts, one of my favorite ways to help them see what they should be doing is by providing examples in the form of screenshots, videos, and other visual and experiential means to help drive the point home. In addition to showing what is acceptable, it is helpful to break the examples down to explain why they work. 

If you can, overlay your training on what high standards look like with samples of work that doesn't quite hit the mark (along with explanations of why). It will equip your team with clear guidance on how to rise the level of performance you expect.

The second way Amazon leadership fosters a high standards culture is by providing clarity around the scope of what it takes to perform at your expectation.

As humans, we often have a tendency to overestimate our abilities. While being naive about the work involved with accomplishing a task can help you get started, you can set yourself up for a rude awakening as you get deeper into the work and realize what you thought it would take to reach a goal, is nowhere near what it actually takes.

Years ago when I did my first triathlon, I thought all I had to do was complete a certain distance swimming, biking, and running. Early on in the triathlon I quickly realized I didn't invest sufficient energy in strength and endurance training, or in how to nourish my body during the race. As a result, I struggled through the event running on fumes.

 As you work to elevate the performance of your team, give them a clear view of the journey they will have to undertake to operate at a high standard. That view should be inclusive of both the time required to get something ready for prime time, as well as any additional factors that are essential to producing quality work.

It's worth it to Invest the time to define and nurture a culture that gives you a competitive advantage.

Published on: Jun 25, 2018
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