How culture can change your business (and why the IT guy is talking about it)

Background

It may seem odd that an “IT guy” is opining on culture, but I am passionate about it and perhaps that makes me unique. However, culture is the glue that holds an organization together. It keeps team members happy and engaged, pushes innovation and productivity to new heights, and can take your company to the next level.

Even though internal IT typically isn’t associated with culture, we know startup tech firms really challenged and shook up the “corporate landscape” creating fun and relaxed environments. Regardless, companies sometimes still view internal IT as the geeks in the basement that need some pizza and energy drinks every now and then. 

I don’t like that. IT doesn’t exist just to fix computers and keep the network running – we are humans that are a strategic and integral part of any business. 

My pizza and energy drink are happy team members and customers.

So I committed as an IT leader to disrupt outdated mindsets, ensuring that IT is viewed strategically and that culture is part of every IT team I lead. I created an associated IT strategy and the results have been amazing:

    • It not only leads with a team-first and guest-centric culture, but sometimes even pioneers the efforts within the company. It focuses on things such as positive physical environments, innovation time, constant communication and collaboration, team success celebrations, daily huddles, guest service reminders, and flexible schedules.
    • It sets up a framework for IT leadership to thrive in the culture to ensure success and happiness of their teams. It reinforces leadership concepts like radical transparency, empowerment, accountability, positivity, open door management, and forward-thinking.
    • It creates a positive viral effect to energize internal customers with which IT works. Communication and engagement with peer departments – essentially IT’s internal customers – is critical and provides an opportunity to spread the culture.

However, it is only successful in environments that have supported it. If the surrounding company culture becomes discouraging or toxic, it will end up consuming your own efforts. So it’s important to be sure that your company is compatible.

(For any IT leaders reading this, it’s also good insight to how IT is viewed. If culture takes a backseat, or IT isn’t a strategic pillar in the organization, that’s a sign of a dysfunctional organization. Either try to effect a change, or move on.)

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Service-Profit Chain

For those not familiar, the service-profit chain links profitability to putting team members first. Putting trust in your teams and maintaining a fun, transparent, and collaborative culture creates happy team members. Those team members are energized and thus more productive. Innovation soars, projects stay on track, folks are more efficient, and ultimately that translates into better products and superior guest service. Energized guests then become loyal to your business, retaining and increasing their spend. 

I have been a part of building that type of culture and it works.  Nothing is more rewarding than watching your teams thrive in an environment where they are empowered to do their jobs, have a voice, and ultimately have a chance to make a difference. Similarly, it is incredible to see smiles on your guests’ faces because of the memorable experiences you are providing.

This isn’t just rhetoric. There are powerful books, sites, and studies available that better explain the mechanics of the model, as well as prove the financial efficacy of this approach through some interesting case studies. In addition, technology has made it even easier to engage our team members and guests and instantly gauge success in the method.

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Team-first Culture

Building a company culture is not easy. You are essentially defining the personality of your organization. It takes time, focus, reflection, and input from as many of your stakeholders as possible. Most importantly, it needs to truly reflect who you are as an organization and what you believe in. This is not a time to pretend to be someone else. 

In defining your culture, you will memorialize your beliefs in your mission statement, vision, core values, and critical drivers. Ample research, consultants, and resources exist to aid in that process – too much for just one article. It is important to note since that is exactly where your culture is defined and becomes an eternal reference for your teams.

For a team- and guest-focused culture, here are the key points to consider as you are developing those tenets:

    • Team members are the center of your universe. Encourage servant-leadership. Surround yourself with smart, caring people and give them everything they need to succeed: empowerment, transparency, tools, training, respect, and a voice.
    • Guests deserve the absolute best products and service. Each guest should be treated like royalty, and each interaction should be an opportunity for a memorable experience.

These obviously wouldn’t be the only tenets of your culture, but they would be prioritized. 

Your culture and associated mission, values, and drivers should never change once completed, unless of course your company is completely changing its reason for existence, which isn’t often. Spend the time up front to create them and don’t look back. 

It doesn’t end there. It takes the right type of company and leadership to do it well. It also requires a strong commitment and some key considerations. 

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Keys to Success

There are several very important keys to making a team- and guest-focused culture successful. And each takes commitment.

    • You need to be GENUINE. You cannot just go through the motions.  Live the culture and faithfully believe in and evangelize your core values, drivers, and mission. In every decision you make, consider the culture.
    • You must ensure EVERYONE buys in. All levels need to be committed: line-level, CEO, Corporate, the Board, and so forth. Nobody is exempt from it and nobody is above it. It only takes one bad egg – especially if they are at a senior level – to destroy your culture. Hire accordingly: You can train for skills – you cannot for attitude.
    • You need to have the right LEADERSHIP. You need confident achievers wired with a passion for helping others. Authoritative, egotistical, paranoid, and/or insecure leaders simply don’t fit in this culture. They need to adapt wholeheartedly, or move on.
    • You must make efforts to SUSTAIN the culture. It is not set it and forget it. Relentlessly focus on immersing the culture in ALL aspects of your business EVERY DAY. Include it in your strategy, planning, projects, communications, meetings, huddles, staffing, etc. Everywhere, every day. Measure the success regularly and course correct as needed.

The “sustain” piece is critical. I have experienced companies that once set the bar in great culture and service slip into sterile and toxic environments. The reason: They attained leadership that didn’t fit who changed foundational tenets to suit their needs and eventually the company lost their focus on culture. Good people left, remaining folks were afraid, innovation was stifled, productivity plummeted, and internal relationships were broken. It created a chaotic environment with a direct impact on guest service and ultimately revenue.

Though it is fixable, it is not easy. I have been recruited in the past to revitalize IT departments impacted by toxic cultures and, while successful, it took a toll on the company. It takes a lot of time and energy to repair – energy better spent on maintaining a good culture and on strategic priorities.

Conclusion

A team-first culture can truly differentiate your organization and create tremendous positive change.  You need genuine company commitment, the right leadership, and an understanding that it takes effort to sustain it. Not every company is capable and not every company is built for that type of culture. However,  if you do implement it and are successful, it’s an amazing and rewarding experience.

If you want loyal and happy guests, take care of your team first. And forget the pizza and energy drinks – give them a culture in which they can thrive!

Through our free Technology Advisory Services, VPS can help to evaluate your current IT environment and collaboratively implement changes to ensure you have a culture that supports empowerment, transparency, and collaboration, which will ultimately increase productivity, decrease turnover, improve vendor communication, and ensure optimal  IT performance.

Reach out to us today to learn more:

Fred Brown, Chief Technology Officer
fbrown@vps-analytics.com
(203) 202 – 3093

References:

Service-Profit Chain: Heskett, J., W. E. Sasser Jr., and L. Schlesinger. The Service Profit Chain: How Leading Companies Link Profit and Growth to Loyalty, Satisfaction, and Value. New York: Free Press, 1997.

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