Four Steps to Creating a Sustainable Culture

I was in San Francisco the day Steve Jobs died.  It was 2011, but I remember it like it was yesterday.  For me, it was one of those events where time stands still – it’s etched in my memory.

As I drove down the 101, a local radio station played excerpts from his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University.  In that speech, he said seven words that literally changed my life: “You’ve got to find what you love”.

Those words inspired me to leave the safety and security of the corporate world and start Rise Performance Group.  Since then I have become an even bigger fan of Steve and the legacy he left in the culture of Apple.

I can only imagine how many other people were inspired by his words and his work – his legacy.

Now I am working on my legacy, the way I want to be remembered.

What about you?  What’s your legacy going to be?  How will you create a legacy that stands the test of time?

Jobs certainly seems to have done that at Apple.  When Steve passed on October 5, 2011 Apple’s stock closed at $54.04, up 1.54% for the day.  At the time of this writing, Apple’s stock is trading north of $150 per share.  Revenue has increased from $108.25 Billion in 2011 to $215.64 Billion in 2016.  And Apple is the most valuable company in the world.

While some might argue that Apple would have done even better if Steve were still alive and at the helm, Apple is still a dominate force and its performance is the envy of most every business person alive.

In a recent Bloomberg article, Tim Cook, Apple’s current CEO, said this about Steve’s legacy:

“Steve’s DNA will always be the base for Apple.

 It’s the case now. I want it to be the case in 50 years, whoever’s the CEO. I want it to be the case in 100 years, whoever’s CEO.

Because that is what this company is about.  His ethos should drive that—the attention to detail, the care, the simplicity, the focus on the user and the user experience, the focus on building the best, the focus that good isn’t good enough, that it has to be great, or in his words, “insanely great,” that we should own the proprietary technology that we work with because that’s the only way you can control your future and control your quality and user experience.

And you should have the courage to walk away and be honest with yourself when you do something wrong, that you shouldn’t be so married to your position and your pride that you can’t say, “I’m changing directions.”

These kind of things, these guardrails, should be the basis for Apple a century from now. It’s like the Constitution, which is the guide for the United States. It should not change. We should revere it.”

What Tim articulated are the values that make up the culture of Apple.  Take a look at the company and you’ll see these values are ingrained.  These values lead the company as Apple continues to innovate and create new products in new industries.

Consider the success of Apple’s last two product releases.  The Apple Air Pods, released this year, have the highest customer satisfaction of any product Apple has created.  According to JD Powers, the Apple watch, released in 2015, is already tops in customer satisfaction in the smart watch and fitness band categories.

What can you learn from Apple?

One of my goals is to help my clients design and create a culture that will allow them to reach their full potential.

Regardless of company size, age, or structure, here are four steps to creating a culture that will give you the highest probability of reaching your organization’s true potential.

  1. Identify the required behaviors and then model those behaviors. People are most impacted by how you model behaviors.  For example, I have always valued accountability and it’s a trait that I’ve identified to be important in the culture of Rise Performance Group.  That means my team needs to see me taking responsibility and not making excuses.Jobs valued the perfection that lead Apple to create “insanely great” products.  These were not merely words in a mission statement.  He modeled this behavior each and every day.
  2. Create systems that reinforce your desired culture. I recommend a quarterly cadence for performance reviews and calibration sessions for every team member.  This should include both job performance as well as cultural fit.  I also recommend a monthly or quarterly award system that recognizes employees who best live the values.This focus on cultural fit will help to shape the behaviors necessary to shape the culture.
  3. Use symbols and pictures to create visual displays of your culture. Make your values visible.  Posting pictures of the value award winners is a great way to keep the values front and center.Other pictures and symbols can serve as powerful reminders.
  4. Use stories to illustrate why your values are important. Dan Cathy from Chic-fil-A takes all new operators to the original restaurant in Hapeville, Georgia, that his Dad, Truett Cathy, started in 1946. He tells the story of his Dad’s vision and inspiration for the values that serve Chic-fil-A today.  Great leaders are often great story tellers.  Make a list of the stories that define your culture and always be on the lookout for new ones that will keep your culture relevant.

There are many practical lesson’s we can learn from the success of Apple and Steve Jobs.  I believe one of the most important is the importance of culture.  What is the culture of your team?  Will the culture get you where you need to go or do you need raise standards?

Interested in more on culture?  Download our eBook, 4 Ways to Drive Results with Culture.


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