Intentional Culture: The Culture We Build, or the Culture We End Up With?

Usually when we think about what kind of team we have, what kind of company we work for, or what kind of organization we belong to – one of the first things that comes to our minds is how it “feels” to spend our days there.  What’s the vibe?  What’s the attitude of the employees?  Are most people happy to show up for a shift?  Or are they smiling stiffly to managers and clients, yet behind closed doors, grumbling and eye-rolling with colleagues? Are customers who walk in the door greeted immediately with a “Hello, Welcome!”, accompanied by eye contact and a smile and wave?  Or do all eyes remain firmly glued to computer screens; the patient customer standing by in silence until a team member shifts their gaze to them, mildly asking “Yes?”?  What about team meetings?  Busy shifts?  Inter-department conflicts that everyone knows about, but no one dares bring up unless it’s to commiserate in the break room away from official channels of communication?

Rudy Miick says, “Tangible details create intangible results.”.  Ever walk into a place and think “Wow, this is great!  This place really has a good ‘feel’ to it!” – but if asked for specific data pieces to say precisely why you have such a good impression of the place, you might struggle, saying “You know, I don’t know exactly….it’s just a feeling I get when I’m there.  It’s just got a good energy about it!”.  When team members and clients walk into a space, lobby or service area, they may not mentally calculate and identify the dozens (or more!) data pieces that all add up to create the “vibe” they are experiencing – but make no mistake about it – they are very much experiencing and feeling each and every piece, whether they are consciously awake to this fact or not. This is one of the reasons why intentionally creating culture in our businesses is so vital.  Otherwise, we end up with the team, the training, the aesthetics, the language, the Culture that we have allowed to happen, rather than create and build the culture that we intend for ourselves and our clients.

When we talk about ‘intentionality’ in our businesses, a few points stand out.

  1. Does every single staff member know exactly and precisely how to greet clients (either on the phone, via email or Social Media, or in-person)?  Does every staff member deliver the same experience to every client who walks in our door (or reaches out over the phone/email)?  Consistency in Brand Experience is not stuffy, robotic or stale – when done correctly!  This same concept applies to all areas of the client experience -from dealing with a service miss to verifying an appointment: How we do something is how we do everything!  Holding that there are no small, peripheral tasks when it comes to delivering Brand Experience can empower us to make sure that every aspect of our business is designed, created and implemented – On Purpose, rather than “Hey, that works….let’s do it that way!” or “We’ve always done it this way, and it’s worked up until now.”.
  2. In discipline, there is freedom.  This might sound counter-intuitive on the surface.  But intentional leaders know that providing structure and being as explicit as possible when it comes to expectations with our staff actually sets them up for success – and to have the freedom and flexibility to be themselves. We don’t have to fill up mental bandwidth with “trying to remember” what’s on our plate for the day, or how to be nimble enough to jump from one scenario to the next without a road map or script; with intentional, explicit structure as to what exactly is expected every day, every shift, from every team member – our staff can focus on the “art” of their work, because we have laid out the “science” for them already.
  3. Our staff, no matter how brilliant and amazing they are, are not going to “get it” the way we do as owners and leaders.  It is our responsibility to explicitly show them what we need from them – to set them up for maximum success.  Many times we fall into the trap of thinking, “Well, no one ‘trained’ me!  It was sink or swim, after I got thrown in the deep end! It worked for me, so why can’t it work for them!” – and we expect our staff to infer and deduce what we need from them as far as attitude, performance, behaviors and values.  This thinking allows us to stay in the role of Victim as leaders (“Why don’t they get it? Why can’t we find good people?  We just need to find the right staff….and that would solve our problems!  No one has common sense these days!”).  When we step out of Victim and take control of our days – we realize that it’s our job to empower our staff with as explicit, specific, intentional data pieces as possible in all areas of their work – to set them up intentionally for success by telling them exactly what we need from them!  While this may take more energy and focus from us (and from our teams) in the short term, ultimately this is a key step to take in order to get traction and growth in the long term.
  4. As leaders, we have to be honest with ourselves: Which aspects of training our team have we dialed in on, and done the work of actually mapping out and scripting out precisely what we need to see from our staff?  And which aspects have we, in all honesty – left to chance or luck?  How many times have we said “Susan is just great – she’s so talented.  She really has a knack for handling customers!  But Matt on the other hand…I mean, he’s a really nice guy and he’s definitely hard-working.  But he just doesn’t have that special ‘something’ that Susan has when it comes to people skills.”?  What if we analyzed the actual behaviors that Susan performs that make her interactions with customers so excellent?  And what if we could train Matt to perform those same behaviors?  When we say “Oh, that’s just not possible.  There are intangible, elusive things we just can’t train – like charisma and emotional intelligence – even work ethic!” – what we are really saying is, “I don’t know how/have the resources to do that analysis and train my people to that level on those specific data pieces.  I’m not even fully awake to all the data pieces that lie behind the overall “great” performance of my A-players.  I just know that they are A-players.”.  This is incredibly common thinking in business, especially among managers.  And this is the kind of limiting belief system that keeps our team from growing and achieving what we need them to.  The revolving door continues – team members come and go – and we lose hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years – not to mention time, energy and focus! – because we choose to focus on and train tasks – when what we really need from our staff are intentional behaviors.  We will get what we choose to focus on – the choice is ours.

These points just scratch the surface of creating a culture of intention, explicitness and behavior-centered training.  The invitation is to look at which aspects of your business are being done intentionally – every day, every interaction –  by you and your team; and which are you ending up with, and settling for?  It’s all a choice, and again – the choice is ours!

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