Is your culture person-dependent or institutionalized?

By David J. Friedman, CEO/Founder

Almost every week I’m traveling around the country, most frequently by plane.  While traveling can sometimes be tiring, it’s also a fascinating time to observe people.  Perhaps it’s my natural curiosity, but watching various people respond to the same situation in vastly different ways always gets me thinking.  Why the difference?  And how can we create more consistency?

Last week I was on two different flights in which I was thankfully upgraded to first class (one of the few perks of flying more than 100,000 miles per year).  On the first one, I had an amazing flight attendant.  She had this authentic and infectious enthusiasm and you could tell she genuinely loved to serve.  She made the effort to learn each person’s name and to call us by our name throughout the flight.  She proactively informed each person about their connecting flight gate and schedule.  She made it a pleasure to fly.

On the second flight, the flight attendant did the minimum necessary to accomplish the job.  When she delivered my ginger ale (I’m a big drinker!) and I said, “Thank you,” she didn’t respond and moved on to the next person.  It’s not that she was nasty.  It’s just that she portrayed no enthusiasm and did nothing to make it an outstanding experience.  I suspect that if she were rated poorly, she’d be surprised and not know would she did wrong.  After all, she did everything that was in her job description, exactly as it was prescribed.

Obviously, the flight attendant on the first flight was far superior and created a much better experience for the passengers.  And while that was great, I can’t help but to see this from an organizational perspective.  I was lucky to get an outstanding person, but that clearly wasn’t the norm for the airline.  How can we make sure that every experience a customer has is outstanding, rather than it being dependent on being lucky enough to get the occasional superstar?

The answer is rooted in your culture, and more specifically, in “institutionalizing” your culture.  When I use the word “institutionalizing” your culture, I’m referring to making your culture so pervasive, so ubiquitous, that’s it’s practically in the DNA of your people.  It’s just “the way we do things around here.”  When a culture is institutionalized, everyone who works in the organization shares a commitment to operating in a particular way.  This is what creates that consistency.  It’s what ensures that every customer experience is outstanding, rather than it being dependent on the luck of the draw.

As I’ve talked and written about for years, institutionalizing a culture doesn’t happen by accident.  It’s an intentional and systematic process, driven from leadership and carried out through all the levels of an organization.  It’s what separates world-class organizations from pretty good ones.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can institutionalize your culture to create excellence with greater consistency, just shoot us an email or give us a call.  You can also learn much more from my most recent book, Culture by Design.