When you’re advising family offices and family businesses, consider that they might benefit from knowing one of Frank Perdue’s operating principles. Frank Perdue, by the way, was my late husband, and he built his chicken company from a father and son operation to one that employs 20,000 people.
I was constantly amazed by the importance he put on company culture. I noticed that almost everything he did was with an eye to precedent. He was deeply aware that what he did as a leader was sending a message about what was important and valued, and what could be ignored.
I even interviewed him for the family newsletter, asking him about the importance of culture. Here’s what he said: “If a culture is weak, people have limited motivation and they work only for money. When values are strong, the culture is strong, and people are excited to work there.”
Frank was 100% intentional about building a strong culture. He didn’t just go along with what Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” His attitude was more aligned with what the founder of Costco, Jim Sinegal said: “Culture isn’t the most important thing, it’s the only thing.”
Rewards for Getting the Culture Right
Steve Gandara from Excellent Cultures would agree with Frank Perdue. Gandara has had 40 years of experience helping companies like Starbucks, Microsoft, Costco and Toyota deliver excellence. “Core beliefs,” he states, “make the difference between a maximally effective culture and one that’s on its way to death.”
In Gandara’s view, getting the culture right provides returns that people in Wall Street could only dream about. “A trust manager would jump through the sky to get the kind of return that improving culture can create,” he says.
The smallest return he’s seen for companies that invested in improving their culture was 225%. That was for a commercial property management firm. The highest return was 1750% in one year for a trucking company in Alaska.
“In the case of the trucking company, their employee retention improved by 330%. Saving the costs of recruiting and training new employees,” he explains, “was a large part of that improvement. You don’t get that kind of return in Wall Street or with Bitcoin.”
Using his more than four decades of experience, Gandara has 10 questions your clients can use in evaluating their corporate cultures. It’s a quick way of finding where things are going well and where they can be improved.
Ten Factors for Evaluating Your Corporate Culture
As you or your clients answer these questions, Gandara suggests creating two columns. The first column is for what the ideal would be, and the second column is where the company is now. Score the answers from one (“We sure need to improve”) to five (“We’re doing great”).
- How do your people view change and innovation? Answers can range from “We don’t innovate, we just execute the plans we have” to “Change an innovation are what we’re all about.”
- How do your people view accountability? Answers can range from “They’re skilled at fixing blame on others” to “They embrace accountability for anything that influences the success of the team.”
- How would most of the people in your organization characterize their own importance? Answers can range from, “If left today, nobody would notice” to “I give my best every day because I’m a valuable component of our team’s success.”
- How much time do business leaders spend reacting to problems or emergencies? Answers can range from “There are too many 'fire drills' that have a negative impact on our success” to, “We have few real emergencies.”
- What’s the leadership method most often used to create and measure efficiency and results? Answers could range from “Our business moves too fast for any real monitoring activity” to “Risk taking is encouraged as leaders proactively coach/mentor individuals and teams to set their own job goals and be all that they can be.”
- How are leaders developed and chosen for your organization? Answers can range from “We have lots of managers but I'm not sure we have many real leaders” to “We invest in leadership at all levels.”
- How do employees view their ability to do their jobs? Answers can range from “They’re constantly overwhelmed” to “They believe that they have untapped potential to be and do more.”
- How do employees relate to each other? Answers can range from “very competitive and non-supportive” to “they actively support each other.”
- What would your employees say about internal competition? Answers can range from “We’re under-resourced and over-matched so let's get whatever we can from whoever we can,” to “Our competitive energies are focused on our goals and our true competitors.”
- What happens when mistakes are made or problems arise? Answers can range from “They go undetected for too long” to “The company sees mistakes as opportunities to improve?”
Let’s say you’ve been through Gandara’s “Culture MRI.” You’ve identified strengths and weakness, and you’ve taken a hard look at where you are and where you’d like to be.
Congratulations! You’ve already taken the most important step for improving, and that’s discovering what you need to improve.
Mitzi Perdue is the founder of Win This Fight, Stop Human Trafficking Now! She’s the author of four books on family business, including, “HOW TO MAKE YOUR FAMILY BUSINESS LAST, Techniques, Advice, and Checklists for Keeping the Family Business in the Family.” Contact her at [email protected] .