Southwest Airlines has not only been the most financially successful airline in history it has also produced the #1 return to investors of all S&P 500 publicly traded companies for a 30 year period. Herb Kelleher, co-founder, Chairman Emeritus, and former CEO declares, “it’s the intangibles that are the hardest things for competitors to imitate. You can get an airplane. You can get ticket-counter space, you can get baggage conveyors. But it is our esprit de corps — the culture, the spirit — that is truly our most valuable competitive asset.”
Bruce Huber, Barrick Gold’s former director of Safety & Health, also pointed to culture when he reflected on the main reason the company saw a remarkable 65% reduction in total recordable safety incidents over three years, “Continuing to focus on the ‘technical side of safety’ would take 40 years or more to approach zero injuries … we had to shift our focus to achieve a better balance between technical safety (policies, procedures, training and auditing) and the people side of safety (leading, motivating, coaching, and inspiring). … to encourage people to speak up we need to create an open atmosphere and show them we’ll respect their opinions, listen to their ideas, and enlist their support in finding solutions.”
Whether its customer service, safety, or implementing key organizational changes, culture is the critical factor that boosts or blocks peak performance. Our research and experience guiding dozens of Clients in culture development efforts has shown these five key steps need to be followed:
- Defining or revitalizing vision, core values, and purpose/mission to make emotional connections.
- Identifying supervisor, manager, and executive behaviors that move beyond lip service to visible and active leadership.
- Aligning management systems and processes that often contradict values like safety, customer focus, or trust.
- Developing frontline staff’s motivation, skills, and behaviors to bring the desired culture to life in their thousands of daily decisions and interactions.
- Continually improving and further developing local and organizational processes, systems, attitudes, and skill sets.