Culture is a collection of attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that yield a shared system of meaning. It exists in all of our organizations, whether we recognize it or not, and if we ignore it, we don’t have any control over how it evolves. To achieve high performance, we can and must shape culture – through systems, policies and practices, through our own behavior and that of our teammates. Culture needs to be the primary thing we “do,” the focal point of our professional efforts, not just something we tinker with halfheartedly when everything else is working okay.
We hear a lot these days about how vital culture is to organizational success. Countless articles and books detail the efforts of innovative companies like Apple, Whole Foods, Starbucks and Southwest Airlines to create nurturing environments in which work is more meaningful and employees and customers thrive. Yet, such examples seem hard to emulate in places (like pizza restaurants) where turnover is generally high, a college degree is not required and most employees consider their jobs a way to make money – not a stepping stone to an outstanding career.
Overcoming the Inherent, Small Business Mindset
In your average small business, culture doesn’t seem to matter much. Owners, entrepreneurs and managers focus on more “practical” matters, like tracking the competition, keeping employees in line and taking actions to increase volume and reduce costs. Managers hire warm bodies to fill a position; they launch new employees into jobs with scarcely any training or performance feedback and offer them few chances to make decisions and take responsibility. As a result, employees seldom derive a sense of higher meaning from their work, nor do they feel they are growing very much as people. They perform poorly and turn over often, creating a need to hire still more warm bodies. Any improvements to the business originate with the owners, who in turn come to expect that their teams don’t care very much about company success. The cycle repeats, and the result is mediocrity and the familiar belief that “this is just the way it is.”
Define Your Culture, Change the World
What we’ve proven at Nick’s is that you don’t need to be a large, sexy, headline-grabbing company to have a great culture. You can reap all the benefits of a world-class culture – including more enthusiastic teams, lower attrition, more innovation, better customer service and, ultimately, better financial performance – by disciplining yourself and your organization to make the company’s culture a high-priority consideration in every decision you make and every action you take.
It may be counterintuitive, but I know that unique, inspiring, transformative cultures are latent within even the smallest, most ordinary, most commoditized and most poorly performing of organizations. Even the humble pizza parlor or corner grocery has the potential to change the world. What’s required is for leaders to define the desired culture and work single-mindedly to nurture it and make it real.
Incorporating Accountability and Recognition
Back in the summer of 2002, seven years after we opened our doors, a group of 12 employees and myself collaborated to define why we do what we do. We defined our purpose, and six weeks later we defined our values – the “how” of what we do. We didn’t stop there, with a list of words posted on the wall somewhere. We hold each other accountable to the positive behaviors that support our purpose and values, and we recognize them in the moment. This system of recognition is exactly the way we make the culture we want come alive and vibrant in our restaurants.
Our Purpose: “The Nick’s Experience.” Our dedicated family provides this community an unforgettable place; to connect with your family and friends, to have fun and to feel at home!