Voices: Dan Barnett | Culture is not soft
March 6, 2017
People think culture is soft. That culture is only about concepts like "integrity." I argue that culture is not soft. At its core, culture is about performance — it raises performance to a higher level. When you deal with culture, you are concerned not only with "what people do" but also "how they do it." It is a higher level of performance. When your people "do things" and also "do them the right way," it can give your company a competitive advantage.
Here is an example. When Weyerhaeuser asked me to be president of their disposable diaper business, I found that their culture was all about cost. And Weyerhaeuser had become outstanding at low cost. They were the low cost producer in their category. They had built a big business by being the low cost producer. But this business was not making much money. The problem they had was that their diapers were low quality. So consumers would use them once and then would move to another brand — it is hard to make money when you do not retain your customers. We decided to change our culture to be all about quality. To do that, we had to change the beliefs of our people. They had to believe that quality was more important that cost. We did that by taking the leadership team to Japan to study companies who had won the top prizes in the world for quality (Toyota, etc.).
What happened next was amazing. During that trip our beliefs changed. We came back from Japan and we were on fire about quality (our culture was not about cost any more). We immediately began making major changes that drove quality. In two years we increased the size of our market segment by 45 percent and our margins went up by 41 percent. We had developed a competitive advantage.
I have been running companies for 28 years and have worked with thousands of companies around the world. I like to ask this question: "Is it easy to get your people to do what you want — consistently?" The answer is rarely "Yes." Why is it so hard to get people to commit their full talent, passion and energy to taking your company where you want? And yet it must be done if you are to achieve your goals.
Culture is about behavior. When you focus on culture, you are trying to change the way people behave — which is not easy. And yet it can be done. That is what we will be talking about at the upcoming Breakfast & Business on March 7. The topic and tips I'll be sharing is about building the right culture for your company — one that gives you exceptional results through people.
Dan Barnett is the CEO/owner of The Primavera Company, an international speaker, consultant and chairman of Vistage Advisory Boards.