You Can Smell A Culture

By Jack Daly

How does your culture smell? Does it smell good, or does it stink? Do you have a culture by design, or by default?

At times, it can be difficult to identify your culture, since you are part of it. But, as an outsider, spend 30 minutes at a company and you will be able to describe its culture.

Every company has a culture. When I think of leaders and culture, Herb Kelleher and Jack Welch come to mind. In Southwest Airlines and GE, we have two companies where the leaders established a culture and worked to ensure it permeated the enterprise. They carefully identified the key elements they sought to promote and managed them accordingly. While both leaders and companies were effective in establishing their respective cultures and delivering solid bottom-line results, their cultures were different in design.

But, designed they were.

In my book, Hyper Sales Growth, I identify the three key ingredients of business success: vision, key people in key spots, and culture. Many business owners and executive teams focus the lion’s share of their attention of the first two, while culture takes a backseat.

How do I know this? Because I have upwards of three decades of experience “smelling” corporate cultures. I speak to business owners across the country on the very topic. If I’ve anything from these travels, it’s that the best of the best focus on all three key ingredients of business success equally. CEOs like Kelleher and Welch understood the importance of proactively building a culture by design, not by default.

So, I ask again. How does your culture smell? If you don’t like the answer, or if you aren’t sure, consider these five ideas to jump-start your design of a winning culture.

  1. Be who you are.

Winning cultures reflect who the leader is as well as the company’s core values. A shared mission and values and empowering your associates with confidence and trust to make the right decisions can be liberating. If people have to refer to a manual to make daily decisions, you hamper service and lengthen the sales cycle.

  1. Training should be an integrated process.

Training is an inside job, not something to be abdicated to an outside provider. While an outside firm can provide clarity of direction, help to design the training process, and provide for interval course correction, the ultimate day-to-day responsibility for training rests inside the company.

  1. Recognition systems—don’t leave “thanks” to chance.

Put systems in place to ensure regular recognition. Imagine an outsider asking your associates, “By a show of hands, how many of you are ‘overly recognized’?” What do you want their answer to be? People are starving for recognition, and the recognition doesn’t need to be heavily-weighted financially. In fact, one of the most powerful recognitions is the age-old handwritten note.

  1. Communicate.

Knowledgeable companies communicate, and they do it proactively and consistently. Howard Schultz, Chairman of Starbucks, is constantly reminding the company that even though it is big and successful, that does not mean Starbucks can’t execute each cup of coffee better. Share the news and realize that communication involves both talking and listening.

  1. Recruit and hire the best—and start them right.

Think “culture first, experience second.” You can train people in the business; however, attempting to retrofit people into a culture is a Herculean challenge. Invest considerable time in the recruiting and screening process, as opposed to just filling an empty seat. Once you find the winning hire, implement an orientation plan so that the new hire isn’t just thrown to the wolves, or ignored.

What percentage of your time is spent on designing and implementing your culture? Always remember: don’t rush to the urgent at the expense of the important.


Jack Daly is a serial entrepreneur, international sales expert, and author of Hyper Sales Growth with ForbesBooks, the exclusive book publishing imprint of Forbes Media. Learn more at jackdaly.net.