work play

How to Make Culture Your Ultimate Competitive Advantage

Hello friends,

Recently, I was asked the question, “How do you help leaders understand that culture is not just a function of HR, that it is the responsibility of all leaders?” When I think about this question, it leads me to ask a question in return: “What is your definition of culture?” Suppose your definition of culture is having company parties, organizing birthday celebrations, and having break room perks like a ping pong table or free snacks. In that case, you are missing out on an opportunity to build a Remarkable culture. How you define culture will be the foundation to ensure it is the responsibility of all leaders (and team members, for that matter) and not just the HR department.

I believe culture is the expression of the shared values of all team members. It’s the very DNA of an organization. Almost every company has values as part of its corporate statement. Having a mission, vision, and values on your wall and website is common and that creates a common problem for most organizations. The issue is not do you have values, it’s are those values being lived out? 

It has been said that culture is the ultimate competitive advantage. While that can be true, in many cases, it’s not. In order for culture to truly be a competitive advantage, it must be powerfully lived out in the way you do things. This is the key difference between having a culture that’s a commodity and a culture that is a distinct competitive advantage. 

No matter what industry you’re in, probably around 80% of your business operations are fairly generic, but that means 20% of the way you do things is what makes you unique. That 20% is where your culture and values come into play, and that’s where you’ll create a competitive advantage. When you have complete buy-in from your team, the way you do things becomes an expression of the organization’s values and, ultimately, your competitive advantage.

For example, at Roam, a chain of eight shared workspaces in Atlanta and Dallas, where I have the pleasure of being a co-owner, we established these values: Energy, Personalized Service, Inspiration, Innovation, and Generosity. These are not unique words, but they are words that everyone on our team passionately believes in and powerfully lives out every day. I recently saw a couple of these values in action.

A group was meeting at one of our Roam locations, and one of our team members noticed one of the group members hobbling because she had just broken her shoe. Our team member also knew that the group was scheduled to play Top Golf later that day and couldn’t imagine how this woman would play with a broken shoe. So, she went to a store nearby and purchased this woman a new pair of shoes. This small act of kindness and thoughtfulness almost brought the guest to tears.

In this case, our team member showed Personalized Service by noticing the guest had a broken shoe and Generosity by going out and buying her a new pair of shoes. In many other companies, the bureaucracy would prevent an employee from feeling empowered to do something like this without prior approval, but at Roam, this act was celebrated and encouraged. A managing partner heard about the act of kindness from our team member and typed up the story to be shared across Roam’s ‘Hospitality in Action’ Slack channel. While it’s important to have solid values in your company, it’s even more important that your team feels empowered to do what they need to do in order to live out those values. 

Something else we observe in this example is the principle that culture is more caught than taught. Once everyone in a company holds a common set of values, you provide a set of guidelines for employees to follow. I was proud that day to see our team embodying the values we have at Roam. There was no “rule” that we had to go out and buy our guests a pair of shoes, but because of our shared values, our team member knew it was the right thing to do. By sharing the story across the company and celebrating, hopefully, other team members would feel inspired to do something similar when the opportunity arose. Things like this can help create the foundation for a strong culture and one where it’s up to everyone to live out that culture. This is why culture cannot be the responsibility of just one team or department.

My challenge to anyone trying to ensure their culture is the ultimate competitive advantage and owned by everyone in the company is to start by answering these questions:

  1. Have we defined culture in a way that everyone on our team is equipped to powerfully live it out? How are you role modeling culture and its importance for your team members?
  2. Are you crystal clear on what your unique 20% is, and are you focused on it? Are your values aligned with that 20%?
  3. How are you regularly keeping those values in front of employees and recognizing and celebrating when they’re lived out?

At the end of the day, culture is simply the unique values of the brand being meaningfully lived out. So, when everyone has ownership in the brand and the company’s values, it will be a shared responsibility among all leaders and team members and clearly displayed in their actions.

Together, we can Spark a Revolution of brands more defined by meaning than money, brands that achieve success in a manner that redefines it.

I’d love to connect with you on social media, you can find me on these platforms:

Together, we can Spark a Revolution of brands more defined by meaning than money, brands that achieve success in a manner that redefines it.

David Salyers
Founder, Spark A Revolution

Recent Resources

At this time of the year, in addition to celebrating the holidays, many leaders and organizations are currently in the thick of making plans and budgeting for the next year. This brings an important lesson to mind that I learned during my time at Chick-fil-A.
This month we’re wrapping up our three-part series on difficult conversations with a discussion on how to preserve relationships in the midst of disagreement.