Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What's Your Company's Soul?

What is the soul of your business or organization? Was your answer: the products you manufacture or the services you provide? Or was your answer: your mission statement or logo’s tagline? Or did you answer: policies and procedures? If you are still thinking about the answer, here’s a hint: spend a moment or two considering what unique selling proposition or competitive advantage the following companies share in common: Nordstrom, Disney, Zappos, Southwest Airlines, USAA, Cirque du Soleil, Wendy’s, and UPS. According to Richard S. Gallagher, “one of the founding fathers of modern customer support,” corporate culture is the soul of an organization.

“Building a successful corporate culture goes beyond business processes and into being a way of life. It gives meaning and purpose to the place where most of us spend over half of our waking lives. More important, it reduces the vast complexities of the business world into a clear sense of who you are and where you are headed. It is truly the soul of your organization.”

While Gallagher’s book, “The Soul of An Organization,” was written in 2003, the case studies and company examples are just as applicable in today’s business climate. First, though, it is important to remember that in the business setting, the concept of corporate culture “extends to the core beliefs, behaviors, and actions” that employees either follow or don’t follow. Gallagher studied hundreds of companies that featured good and bad corporate cultures, and as a result, determined that seven core traits drove business culture:

  1. The Strategists: these folks create systems that drive operational excellence
  2. The Motivators: these folks succeed by creating a positive work environment that promotes respect, autonomy, and personal growth
  3. The Team Builders: these folks are devoted to creating a strong team environment – from recruiting all the way to building strong internal relationships in the workplace
  4. The Nimble: these folks embrace change as an opportunity and adapt their cultures to shifts in markets, technology, demographics, etc.
  5. The Customer Champions: these folks focus on putting the customer at the front of every business decision
  6. The Passionates: these folks view their work as a mission or way of life and infect everyone around them with their enthusiasm
  7. The Visionaries: these folks lead by setting goals that make everyone on their team part of something greater than themselves

The companies mentioned in the first paragraph are just a few that truly understand how to create and maintain a culture that allows employees to build bridges with customers, consumers, end-users, guests, etc. Employees who are lucky to work in these corporate cultures have the autonomy to settle disputes, answer questions, fix problems, and do whatever may be necessary to guarantee a satisfied and repeat customer. We only have to remember the Nordstrom story about a customer who returned a set of tires – even though Nordstrom doesn’t sell tires – with no and’s, if’s, or but’s from the Nordstrom salesperson.

What would your employees have done in this situation?

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