During a recent Intentional Corporate Culture workshop, our client’s COO told a story about filling two senior executive positions. He said his company has a great culture and he knew that once his future execs had toured the office and met employees at random, the deals would be sealed. It occurred to me it wasn’t the first time I'd heard this during a culture workshop.
We have a client in the Quick Service Restaurant industry, who very intentionally incorporates tours of their facility as part of their sales process. They do this, not so much to show off their manufacturing capabilities, but so their future customers can feel the vibe of the company. Recently, a third client asked us to help them develop a presentation to pitch business in a new industry sector. Their direction:
“Our capabilities are the table stakes, let’s make sure we talk about our people.”
We do it ourselves as well. We know our chances of successfully closing new business go up dramatically when we show off our space so we make a point of inviting our local clients-to-be into our world before they make their decision.
Three questions follow naturally from these related stories. The first one is rhetorically posed as the title of this post: Can your culture close deals? The second question is this: Why the heck would a company, which already has a great culture, hire us to help them build an intentional one? And finally: What are the central behaviors of a culture that can help close deals?
Let’s address the second question first, because the answer is actually very simple. They want our help to document their secret sauce because they feel it is at risk. A culture, being a collection of behaviors, evolves whether it’s managed or not. Cultures arise naturally and, absent of any direction, will change organically. Many successful companies have great cultures that have evolved fortuitously. When a company is young and small, the behaviors that support and encourage positive interpersonal dynamics are easily reinforced. The influence of company leaders, the stewards of the company’s culture, is strong. But as the company grows, this influence wanes. Adding more people to the workforce means adding more minds with different perspectives and different influences. These perspectives and influences can inculcate different behaviors, which in turn, work to dampen the original cultural influences. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it creates a sense of growth and change that puts the foundation at risk.
Therefore, leaders must take responsibility for culture stewardship as the company grows.
Leaders need to document their corporate culture to ensure that what’s important stays, as well as to put structure in place to address the behaviors that get in the way of fully developing its potential.
And what are the central behaviors of a culture that can close deals? When we conduct cultural assessments for our clients, we evaluate cultural hygiene in four areas: responsibility, authority, accountability and transparency (RAAT for short - there's a debate in our office whether we should pronounce it "rat" or "rate"). Get these right and leaders will not only release the full potential of their culture, but also use it to help close deals. However, without good hygiene in these areas, all the policies, procedures, bonuses, foosball and casual Fridays in the world won’t matter a bit.
In developing an intentional culture, we ask leadership to be intellectually honest about how much responsibility and authority they grant their people. For example, on a ten point scale, think about where you are and where you would like to be along both these dimensions. Do the same thing with the amount of accountability and transparency there is in your organization.
In our work, we see a direct correlation between these two. Cultures that invite people to say what they think, and make it safe to do so, are also cultures of accountability. In fact, if you suspect there is work to do in these two areas, you are not alone.
When putting cultural emphasis on these four areas however, be careful. If you try to distribute authority and responsibility, without first creating an environment that supports accountability and transparency, you risk push back. As much as you might want to empower your people, the effort won't take unless people are comfortable with being held accountable and feel safe holding others accountable.
We went through this exercise last week with a client. We identified where the company was in terms of how much responsibility and authority it gave its front line people. The leadership team decided the company was around a 3, which was far too low since their desire was to elevate their customer service to an industry leading level. They also rated personal accountability low, which expressed itself in many ways but most obviously in the consistent use of victim language and playing the blame game.
The leadership team, to their credit, took responsibility for these issues. They recognized that they hadn’t done a good job communicating the reasons for a recent re-organization. The curt email bombs about personnel changes caused fallout. The lack of transparency created a vacuum into which rushed a set of stories that employees began to tell themselves. The stories included “They don’t trust us,” or, “The company is in trouble,” or, “I’m probably next.” For this client, the journey to an empowered front-line staff, with the authority to make decisions at point of customer contact, begins with a more transparent leadership team, both organizationally and interpersonally.
Be intentional about setting your culture’s responsibility, authority, accountability and transparency dials. There is no right or wrong combination. Once everyone understands the expectations your particular settings represent, you are on your way to creating a culture that can help you close deals. If you’re interested in undertaking an assessment on your company’s RAAT rating, give us a call.