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06 Sep. 2012 | Comments (0)

Over the course of your career, you’ve probably worked in a variety of business cultures, ranging from the good to the bad and the ugly.

First, there’s the good. I hope you’ve had the opportunity at some point in your career to relish going to work every morning because the environment was positive, energized, and cohesive. Then there’s the bad. Have you ever worked someplace where the people were nice enough, but the culture was sluggish, bureaucratic, and complacent? Time moves at a snail’s pace, and Sunday nights are pure misery because you loathe the idea of going into work Monday morning.

Finally, there’s the ugly—an organizational environment where the norm consists of a “me-first,” finger pointing attitude that is more political than productive. If you’ve ever worked in such a toxic organization, you know all too well how soul crushing it can be.  

As a business leader, it’s easy for you to differentiate one business culture from another. What’s more difficult is to understand how to create an energized culture, where people are self-motivated and are looking for ways to drive your business forward without need for direct management. Why do some companies seem blessed with engaged employees from top to bottom while others do not?  In essence, what is the “secret sauce” in the recipe of your company’s culture?  Alternatively—if you’re working for one of those companies that could be so much more—what is the missing ingredient?  

To lead in this uncertain age, you need to be take action to make sure your secret sauce is giving you a competitive advantage. Let’s review some basics.

Three Keys to the Secret Sauce  

1.  Reading the Atmosphere: The atmosphere of an organization can’t be observed, but it can be felt. To be effective and drive enormous economic value, your organization’s atmosphere—your secret sauce—must be captured and clearly defined by you, the leader. You need to crack the code and demystify it for your team… or you may need to determine the “missing ingredient” that keeps your sauce from being as special as it needs to be. Either way, you need to read your atmosphere and dissect its components.

2.  Alignment Intensifies Commitment: When you are able to crack the code by capturing the secret sauce of your atmosphere, you create a channel to spread your energy throughout the organization. There is great economic value when the organizational truths are clear and accurate and they align with the personal truths of the people in and around the organization. Alignment creates deep commitment to the company and to the business strategy; it is a catalyst for self-motivation.

3. The Law of Energy Attraction: When you create a high-energy culture, it’s an incredibly attractive force. Every great performer wants to be a part of a winning team, whether in sports or business. High-energy leaders attract high-energy contributors. As legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, wrote: “Good values are like a magnet, they attract good people.” 

Theoretical ideas are good, but you may be wondering what is the real world application of all this? So let’s get real. Picture in your mind the best retail experiences you’ve had as a consumer. Maybe you were shopping for groceries at a Whole Foods and were impressed by the enthusiasm and depth of understanding the cashier had about the organic produce. Perhaps you were in an Apple store trying to pick up the latest iPod and ended up startled by the energy and wisdom of an extremely helpful employee. What makes both of these scenarios so remarkable is that the secret sauce clearly identified at the top of the organization has cascaded downwards throughout the company.

How can you do the same? 

It’s not easy. Your lowest-level employees—like a Whole Foods cashier—are far removed from your everyday interactions as an executive. Your messages may get diluted or lost in translation.

The first step is identifying, developing, and sharing powerful stories about your personal and organizational truths. Great stories show your internal teams what it is that makes you and your organization special. Stories move people deeply. They are emotionally compelling, and they turn abstract concepts—such as “enhancing the customer experience” – into concrete examples of the values and behaviors you want to promote as a leader. These can be shared through blogs, video, newsletters, and speeches.

For starters, ask yourself this: What are two or three powerful stories that capture what it’s like to work for your organization today?  What are the underlying themes of these stories?  Through careful analysis of several stories, you’ll reach a better understanding of your special sauce… or know what to modify in your company’s culture if your stories instead reveal a missing ingredient.

View our complete listing of Leadership Development blogs.

  • About the Author:David Casullo

    David  Casullo

    David Casullo is president at Bates Communications, a national consulting firm specializing in leadership communication skills and strategy. His passion is developing leaders who have the courage and …

    Full Bio | More from David Casullo


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