Culture: It IS the game.

I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value. ~Louis Gerstner, IBM

Since culture is the game. I’m going to compare organizational values to a pizza menu. Probably not a comparison most people would consider.

Let’s say that you are in the mood for pizza. You go online and find two restaurants with a margarita pizza on the menu, just what you wanted. The pizza description for restaurant (A) is: thin base, cheese, stuffed crust. The description for restaurant (B) is: a crispy stone-baked base is the foundation for velvety tomato sauce and melted mozzarella cheese, topped with sharp notes of basil leaf.

I don’t know about you, but I am a fan of margarita pizza and without a doubt I would choose restaurant B. It’s descriptive, it’s unique, I can even visualize what it will look (and taste) like when it arrives at my door.

Then why do so many organizations have values like teamwork, excellence, integrity, customer-focused, etc. All of these values are really expected of employees at virtually every organization. It’s a lot like ordering a thin base, cheese, stuffed crust pizza. Nothing unique. Fairly bland.

Denise Lee Yohn said it well in her article Ban These 5 Words from Your Corporate Values Statement.

Your core values should describe the collective attitudes and beliefs that you desire all employees to hold, translate those into specific actions and decisions that they should make, and then in turn show how those behaviors produce customer experiences that define and differentiate your brand. Your core values need to be unique.

Values need to define and differentiate. They need to be unique.

Why do they need to differentiate? What I’ve seen with my own clients, those that have unique values and differentiate attract and retain the kind of employees who are a good fit for their organization. As Drucker said many years ago, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” An organization’s values, when they are unique, create the unique culture for that organization.

How do you do that? When I’m meeting with clients and they say something like teamwork is one of their values, I then ask, “What does that mean?” And then I keep asking, “What does that mean?” until we finally get to a point where we really start to uncover the organization’s unique behaviors and culture.

You can also ask, could any of our competitors claim the very same values? If the answer is “yes,” then they really aren’t all that unique.

Your organization’s culture is a brand.

Your organization is a brand to not only your customers, but also to your employees. You build that brand with unique values that differentiate you from other organizations. More importantly, you also live and breathe those values. That’s for another blog post.

Are your values bland and common? Or, do your values make your culture truly unique?

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