Editor’s Note: This is the sixth of Chuck Gremillion’s columns on family business. Read the introduction to his series by clicking here.
Creating a Culture of Success
By Chuck Gremillion
Have you ever wondered why some businesses seem to perform at a level that is several notches above their competitors, and yet they seem to run on autopilot? There are good reasons for it and most relate back to a culture that exists within them that not only makes outstanding performance possible, but an expectation. A robust, healthy culture is the foundation of a business’ success. Companies with a healthy culture will always out-perform those with a weak or unhealthy culture over time.
I have always taken special interest in studying why some companies just seem to “get it” while others never will. I believe that the qualities described below, when combined, create a synergy that makes for an almost unbeatable and unstoppable formula of success for all businesses, especially family-owned businesses.
- Clearly defined purpose/vision – I wrote about this in one of my earlier columns (click here to read this column) -- the more vivid the destination the easier it is to achieve. For instance, when President Kennedy made the statement in 1962 that “before the end of this decade, we will land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth,” he clearly established his vision of success for the Manned Spacecraft Program at NASA. Every NASA employee knew exactly what the goal was, and it was achieved in less than eight years! However, I assert that because NASA does not have a clearly defined vision today, it is floundering.
- Deeply held set of core values - Strongly held beliefs provide structure and guide behavior. They set expectations of performance. In my family’s company, our first core value (one of eight) was to project and maintain a “can-do attitude.” This value became so deeply engrained in our culture that we hired and fired based upon whether or not an individual demonstrated this trait. Because this core value was so deeply held within our company, it provided clear direction to all those working there. If a customer called us with a challenging request five minutes before closing time, the answer was always, “Yes, Mr. Customer, we will be happy to do that!” I highly recommend the book Built to Last, written by Jim Collins (author of Good to Great) and Jerry Porras. In it Collins and Porras compared and contrasted 25 pairs of companies and what made one markedly more successful than the other in the same industry. Their conclusion was that the much more successful companies all had a “big, hairy, audacious goal” (a vision) and a deeply held set of core values to guide behavior.
- Leadership – In any organization, the quality of leadership determines the level of success. Well-led organizations set goals and develop a plan for achieving them. They communicate to the members of the organization what the goals of the organization are and provide the resources to achieve the goals. Leaders communicate to each employee how their role impacts the company’s ability to achieve its goals and how their performance will be measured. The implementation of this philosophy, coupled with a healthy performance evaluation process and genuine, sincere recognition of a job well done, drives members of the organization to perform at very high levels, which then pushes company performance even higher. In addition, leaders of the company are optimists but always frank and honest. They are unafraid to recognize a problem and admit a mistake. They are passionate and not afraid to show that they are human. They communicate openly how the company is performing because they know that their employees want to feel included. Very importantly, leaders encourage vigorous debate of challenging issues and protect dissenting opinion because they know that a scintillating discussion related to an important decision could have a big pay off and/or prevent a larger problem in the future, if the topic is thoroughly vetted.
In family businesses, I believe that leadership is even more critical because the owners of the company must inspire non-family members, who typically do not have ownership in the company, to perform at a high level and hopefully remain with the company throughout their entire career. This can be particularly challenging for small companies because their benefits and career opportunities often are perceived to be inferior to those of larger companies. To compete, I believe the best-run family businesses exhibit these characteristics:
- Family members are servant leaders.
- They are easily accessible.
- They blend in with their co-workers and do not treat themselves differently from other employees.
- Family members have higher expectations of one another and are conscious of the example that they set.
- Family members celebrate success with their co-workers.
By doing these things, family members model the behavior that they expect of all others in the company, which naturally endears them to non-family co-workers.
In closing, when the philosophies described above become the culture of the organization, it empowers and motivates all members of the team. These companies perform at a very high level as a result, which grows their reputation and brand and creates rabidly loyal customers and employees. These companies appear to run almost on autopilot, which makes the lives of their owners much less stressful and a bunch more fun.
Chuck Gremillion now runs Gremillion Consulting Services LLC, which focuses on the needs of small businesses. He is a past president of IRgA, and chairman of the IRgA President’s Council. He welcomes input and questions from other family business owners. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.