Houses are built on strong foundations. And so are successful businesses. Whether you’re a small, brand new start-up or a large, veteran company, I recommend you follow this 4-Step process to create the type of culture that produces sustained results:

Step 1: Establish your identity as an organization. You do this by collectively answering questions like:

  1. Who are we?
  2. What do we stand for?
  3. What is important to us?
  4. What is our mission?
  5. What are we trying to accomplish?
  6. What are our goals?
  7. What makes us special?
  8. Why is this worth the sacrifice?

The sum of these answers will be your identity.

I highly recommend you encourage input from as many people in the organization as possible – from every department and every level (from the executives and senior management to entry level positions). This will make sure all voices are heard which will increase buy in and believe in. This is crucial because people will always be more invested in a team where they have a say.

As an organization, you should reference your identity every day. It should be reinforced at all meetings, gatherings and communications.

Remember, repetition is not punishment. Repetition is the oldest and most effective form of learning on the planet. If you want your team to know their identity, you need to repeat it over and over and over.

How do you know if it’s working?

If I were to walk in to your office at any time of the year and quietly observe for 10 minutes – I should see, hear and feel your team’s identity.

Step 2: Collectively create a list of standards that support your identity. Rules are handed down from the top and must be followed. Standards are created by the team and upheld with pride. Standards are a code of conduct that everyone agrees to live by. Standards create an agreement between each member of the organization and the overall mission, vision and identity.

As an example of standards, below are the 15 Gold Standards created by the players on the 2008 USA Men’s National Team (under Coach K’s leadership).

  1. No Excuses
  • We have what it takes to win
  1. Great Defense
  • This is the key to winning the gold
  • We do the dirty work
  1. Communication
  • We look each other in the eye
  • We tell each other the truth
  1. Trust
  • We believe in each other
  1. Collective Responsibility
  • We are committed to each other
  • We win together
  1. Care
  • We have each other’s backs
  • We give aid to a teammate
  1. Respect
  • We respect each other and our opponents
  • We’re always on time
  • We’re always prepared
  1. Intelligence
  • We take good shots
  • We’re aware of team fouls
  • We know the scouting report
  1. Poise
  • We show no weakness
  1. Flexibility
  • We can handle any situation
  • We don’t complain
  1. Unselfishness
  • We’re connected
  • We make the extra pass
  • Our value is not measured in playing time
  1. Aggressiveness
  • We play hard every possession
  1. Enthusiasm
  • This is fun
  1. Performance
  • We’re hungry
  • We have no bad practices
  1. Pride
  • We are the best team in the world and we represent the best country

The players collectively created this entire list of standards; Coach K did not hand them down.

It’s amazing how many of these apply to the corporate world. And that’s because the principles of achievement in basketball are aligned with the principle of achievement in business (and life).

Step 3: Promote individual and collective accountability. Holding someone accountable shows that you care. It shows you care about them and it shows you care about the organization. Holding someone accountable is something you do for them… not to them.

Here is how you create a safe and fertile environment that promotes open, honest accountability:

Have every manager, director or supervisor formally meet with every employee, look them in the eye and ask these two questions:

  1. Do you give me permission to coach you, challenge you and push you to the best of my ability?
  2. Do you give me permission to hold you accountable if you fail to live up to the standards we’ve agreed to?

Once this 2-part agreement is in place – then managers, directors and supervisors are obligated to hold their team accountable, uphold the organization’s standards and protect the team’s identity.

Step 4: Culture is a common buzzword used in sports and business. But what exactly is Culture? By my definition, Culture is the collective attitudes, actions, values, beliefs and behaviors of an organization. It’s the intersection between what they say and what they do… consistently.

In more practical terms – your Culture is a combination of Steps #1-3. It is how well you hold everyone accountable for upholding the standards created to live out your identity.

How can you evaluate your Culture? See how your team functions when the ‘boss’ is not around.

How effective and efficient would the team perform if every manager, director and supervisor were absent?

Would it be business as usual? Or would the whole thing come off the rails.

Either way, that is your Culture.

Culture is the #1 determining factor in your business’s long-term results.

To recap: Establish your identity, create standards to uphold it and promote collective accountability to protect it… and you will build a Culture that produces results.

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