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The world of Business Coaching has to be approached on two different levels: the personal and the organizational. There can be no change in organizational culture and climate if the organization’s members don’t experience changes in individual behavior.


Last year, I was helping facilitate a series of training sessions for an areal firefighting company in Montana. I was there for a week with a colleague, working with some of their teams to get clear on what it meant to have a healthy culture so the mission of saving lives could be executed well. At one of the breaks, one of the airplane mechanics came up to us and pulled his shirt off showing us a giant tattoo on his back of a Neptune airplane. Then he told us his story of how when he was a teenager, his father was killed in a plane crash. He told us how the next day, he showed up with his dad’s toolbox saying he wanted to grow up to be like his dad. The folks there brought him in, trained him and embodied their value of “embracing family”. The result – he now believes so much in what he does that his body bears the marks to prove it.

Do you have a culture like that on your team?

When I first began facilitating executive offsites, I used to launch into our time together by talking about the business, the strategy and who was going to do what. The problem I didn’t understand was that the people on the team weren’t talking regularly, much less bearing tattoos representing their pride in their mission.

Drucker is attributed as being the one who said “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He couldn’t have been more correct. I’ve worked in diverse industries like health care, veterinary medicine, aerial firefighting, property development, semi-conductors, small business and faith based. I list those for this reason: in every one of these diverse realms, there has been one common factor that caused either great success or failure. Relational climate.

The reality is, you can’t address what you are supposed to be doing unless you address who you are and how you behave. Production and bottom line are important, but they are bi-products of being on point with a good vision and healthy culture.

In the quote at the top of the page, Dr. Vega highlights the reality that the plan can’t be executed until the individuals in the organization get clear on how they are to behave. Dave Logan, USC professor,  notes in his book Tribal Leadership (one of my personal favorites), that culture is what separates the good companies from the great ones. While the good companies have talented individuals, the great ones have united teams. What does this mean? It means that good companies reflect western individualism where individual values take the top spot. 49% of companies function this way, in fact. However, the great companies (22%) function, not by individual values, but shared values.

Practically speaking, this means people hold each other to agreed upon standards of behavior. It means that team members have established principles in play so they know how to treat each other and outsiders. The result is that team members aren’t against each other. Rather, because they are united, they are able to focus on the work of defeating the foe that stands in the way of their success.

Where is your team at? Are you healthy enough to execute your vision or are you just trying to get each other to interact? Are your people anywhere close to getting tattoos of the mission or are they just concerned about their own individual success? Teams who aren’t healthy might get some work done, but think how much farther your team could get if they were equipped with healthy relationships and established standards of operating.

So next time, before you plunge in to take care of the business, check first to see how you are doing with culture.

Here’s a tool. If you want to see what your culture values ask this question: “When was a time when you were most proud to be a part of this business? What was happening and who was involved?”

The stories people tell point to the things they value. This is what the man with the airplane tattoo taught me. His life exemplified that when people are clear on what’s important (the vision & values), the strategy gets executed with drive and focus.

If this post resonates with you–I’d love to find out why.


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