“The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture.”- Edgar Schein
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
How did Nike create a culture of innovation and transparency that stood the test of tumultuous decades? The All Blacks loom large as opponents and play rugby with a consistent high velocity of attack and creativity, how do they maintain their courage, almost inhumane levels of skill, fitness and drive to be the best in the world? What amount of hard work and what level of quality was the asking price for iconic entrepreneurs such as for example Steve Jobs’ success?
It is an impossible task to even attempt to answer these questions in one article. The goal of this writing is instead to focus on a common “golden thread” that flows through the sustained successes of most iconic companies, teams, and entrepreneurs. This “golden thread” is a delicate, sophisticated, yet extremely rewarding concept when applied with skill and perseverance and it goes by the name of Culture.
There is much more to culture than simply observing what the collective habits, dislikes, symbolism, language use and preferences within that specific business or team culture is. For simplicity and clarity, I will only focus on three key principles that current and past masters of culture have applied to help build and sustain a successful culture.
“Accustom yourself to tireless activity” – Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov.
Principle 1: A successful culture can only be built and maintained by consistent, effective, hard work and perseverance
It was recorded in history that General Suvorov, a Russian Supreme commander never lost a battle. He ensured that his soldiers went through consistent training and tireless activity and kept training activities as close to real battle conditions as possible.
Suvorov was a “disciple of discipline” and created a culture where his men was taught relentlessly to pay attention to detail and maintain a high level of awareness of skill requirements.
“He who is afraid is half beaten”, Suvorov maintained in his memoirs and knew that by ensuring that his men became fearless of harsh battle conditions through innovative training methods their courage would instil fear in the hearts of the enemy. A culture of excellence can only be maintained if everyone committed to the cause is already or becomes excellent at what they do.
The practical application of the first principle is to incorporate training programs that are pragmatic, inspirational and as close to real life situations as possible. Make these training programs challenging and provide mentoring and coaching to those that struggle yet show determination to improve.
It is very hard to give up if you have put in sustained hard work. Ensure that hard work is a matter of fact in your organisation, company, or business as it builds perseverance.
“NIKE INC FOSTERS A CULTURE OF INVENTION”
– Statement on Nikes’ website.
Principle 2 : Over time and in general the workforce does and follows what the leader/leadership consistently does
To establish and maintain a culture of success the leader/leaderships’ behaviour must be consistent with the vision, purpose and values of the company.
Mark Parker the CEO of Nike is reported to daily block off time in his calendar to spend time on fostering the Nike Culture of innovation and transparency. He visits the Nike dedicated innovation teams regularly to inspire them to create inventions to meet the purpose of enhancing the experience of whomever wears / uses their products.
Nike is legendary for the level of transparency in their communication and reports to employees and stakeholders. This ensures that a high level of trust forms part of their culture and that they can go forward and work together as a team at the impressive “speed of trust.”
Parker is said to have the habit of not allowing any of the Nike team members reporting to him to simply just state problems and challenges. A problem or challenge is an obstacle to their culture of invention. Therefore, he immediately poses the question: “What are we going to do about it?” to the team member who stated the issue to foster action to overcome the issue that stands in the way of invention.
To apply principle two in your business, organisation or team. Have a clear Vision, Purpose and value system, act and behave accordingly, hire for character over just talent, and fire and promote per the company values.
“It is not the strongest species that survive nor the most intelligent but the ones most responsive to change” – Charles Darwin
Principle 3: Adapt to change quickly
The All blacks have established a passionate learning culture, their coaches currently and in the past mostly come from a teaching background after all. Per James Kerr the author of “Legacy” The coaching staffs’ contracts allow for overseas trips with the sole purpose of studying other successful teams from other disciplines with the result of constant improvement and small changes to their ever-evolving training methods. As an example, the All Black scrum coach visited Japan to study Sumo and Jiu Jitsu grappling techniques which could be subtly adapted to enhance certain scrummaging situations and skills.
All Blacks management has studied successful companies, business coaching strategies, Formula one teams, and basketball and American football teams for them to have an arsenal of strategies and techniques available to them to pro – actively adapt to changes in rugby rules, conditions, and skill requirements.
Complacency births stagnation even if you have maintained a rich and successful culture up to that point. The practical lesson provided by principle three is to empower yourself, your company and team to be change adaptive by providing tools and skills for all committed to the common cause to quickly embrace changes to market conditions and external factors.
When the leadership of a company, business, or any team have created and maintained a culture of hard work, excellence, perseverance, behaviour that is consistent with the company values, and have empowered all to embrace change, this culture is likely to withstand the test of time.