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Seven Indispensable Insights on Culture

Seven Indispensable Insights on Culture

Dave Anderson

In several of my books and seminars, I stress the importance of building and protecting a high performing culture. “Culture” is often an overused word that many managers have trouble defining in precise terms. Following are seven rules and insights into the importance of culture, building a high performing culture, and protecting it from cultural infections.

  1. Culture influences behaviors and behaviors determine results. This one sentence conveys a key principle to improving performance in your dealership. It’s easy to overlook this tenet and try to change or improve employee behaviors without changing or improving the culture in which those behaviors are found; to hack at the leaves rather than strike at the root. Culture is defined as a collection of beliefs, values, traditions and practices shared by a group of people. Naturally the strength of those beliefs, values, traditions, and practices – as reflected in performance expectations, accountability, teamwork, and quality leadership – go a long way in determining how people behave and perform within that culture day-in and day-out.
  2. The leader is the chief architect and primary influencer of culture. While everyone contributes to shaping the culture, as well as to strengthening or weakening it, no one has the level of influence in this regard as the leader(s). In fact, the culture a leader builds, and the quality of people he or she is able to attract and develop make up a significant portion of that leader’s report card. And the culture he or she creates goes a long way in determining the quality of people one is able to attract, develop, and retain within the organization.
  3. Culture is the foundation of your organization. Just as in erecting a building, without the right foundation supporting the structure you’ll be limited as to how high you can go. Thus, whenever one wants to go higher results-wise, he or she must first go back to the foundation and strengthen each of the culture’s five primary pillars.
  4. The five key pillars of culture are core values, mission, performance expectations, core competencies, and people. Think of these five pillars as supporting the foundation mentioned in the prior point. Core values relate to your non-negotiable behavioral standards – regardless of what type of numbers someone produces they must do it the right away, according to your values. The mission is the shared purpose uniting your entire team from all departments. A team becomes unstoppable when they passionately believe in and pursue the same purpose. Performance expectations relate to the “numbers:” how many calls per day, sales per month, getting receivables to a specific level monthly, producing the monthly statement by “x” date of the month, “x” hours per RO, and the like. Please note that the first three pillars of culture all relate to clarity. Without clarity, you have chaos in the cubicles and there can be no accountability because the question becomes, “Accountable for what?” Thus, if you have core values or a mission statement that are never discussed or that no one knows, or cloudy performance expectations that are too vague, too low, or for which there is no accompanying accountability, your culture is weakened dramatically.

The core competency pillar of culture pertains to the corporate strengths that make your culture unique, different, and better than the competition.  Too often, leaders ignore their strengths precisely because they are strong, and never fully edify their culture by putting more talent, dollars, and resources into the areas where they already excel, which could pull them further away from the competition. The people pillar of culture is the key. Nothing makes a culture stronger, weaker, or more memorable to a customer—for better or for worse – than the people that comprise that culture.  The people must share your core values, believe in your mission, have the skills to reach your performance expectations and the talents to align with and leverage your core competencies.

  1. Culture is never “finished.” In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the day you think culture is done, YOU are done, and it’ll eventually catch up with you. Think of culture as you would a garden that requires constant attention and can’t be left to fend for itself, lest it be devoured by the weeds, bugs, disease, and elements. This is why isolated leaders who spend more time polishing their office chair with their rear end than out in the trenches helping to shape culture, eventually plateau or fail outright as they leave their culture up for grabs to be shaped, rather than actively shape it in the right image.
  2. Culture must align with your vision. It does little good to have lofty goals or forecasts if you don’t have the core values, purpose, standards, strengths, and people to make it a reality. Again, if you’re missing the numbers you’ve got to stop engaging in quick-fixes or silver bullets and return to your cultural foundation and address the aspects of your five pillars that are making your vision turn into a frustrating nightmare.
  3. Multiple cultures hurt an organization. Culture is palpable. You can feel the energy and positivity when it’s present, as well as the indifference and lethargy when it prevails. In most dealerships there are multiple cultures: one department where people are engaged, helping one another, growing, and setting records; and forty feet away you walk into a different department and feel like the kid in the movie The Sixth Sense who uttered the classic line, “I see dead people.” You’d like to think that the stronger departmental cultures would lift up the weaker cultures, but normally the opposite happens: the weaker culture within the same rooftop distracts, depletes, slows down, frustrates and drains the more robust unit. That’s why it’s essential that all departmental leaders are on the same page in matters like hiring practices, living the core values, demonstrating high standards, and continuing to grow and prove themselves daily.

There’s a ton more we could discuss concerning culture, but this piece should give you plenty to look at, evaluate, and work on for now. As a parting thought, at the end of the day there are really only two ways to change a struggling or under-performing culture: the leader either changes what he or she does daily, or the leader must be changed. You simply can’t work around a leader who won’t consistently do what’s right or productive and expect anything to change within a culture measurably or sustainably.

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