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How to Impact Culture: Modeling

In my experience, there are three major behaviors that play into creating a culture at work. They’re all behind the scenes elements that eventually will make an impact on the overall customer experience, too. So, if we want to be part of making the customer experience the best it can be, it’s imperative we take steps to make our culture the best it can be first.

And that starts in paying attention to what we model, what we create, and what we allow. Because it’s out of those three behaviors, culture is defined.

What We Model

A culture is defined from the top down, right? As leaders, it’s imperative that we model the kind of culture we want to permeate our brands and businesses. So, whether you’re the CEO leading the way or the new intern just starting out, you have a responsibility to model the culture you want to have.

If you want a culture of creativity, you have to model what that looks like. Ask questions, create opportunities, make your workplace a space where new ideas are welcomed and celebrated.

If you want a culture of teamwork, you have to show your coworkers and customers that you are willing to work with them. Demonstrate that you’re willing to compromise, to listen, and to lean in.

If you want a culture of responsibility, you have to model what it means to take responsibility for every aspect of what’s happening at work—the stuff that is your job and the stuff that isn’t. To see a need and meet a need, and when something goes wrong, to say those powerful words” “That was my responsibility. I’m sorry, and I will do that differently next time.”

Whatever culture you want to see grow in your workplace, you have to be part of setting the example for it. And you can do this in two major ways: in what you do and in what you say.

Your coworkers, your customers, your employees, your boss—they’re all watching the way you work. They’re being influenced by the things they see you do, over and over and over again. The more you do something that you want to be a stamp of your company’s culture, the more others will pick up on it and begin to embrace it as well.

Trash. Specifically, picking it up was a behavior I saw modeled in my years at Chick-fil-A. Now the Chairman, Dan Cathy still consistently picks up any piece of trash that may be lingering on the ground or on the table of a customer who has finished their meal.

I was only 21 the first time I visited a restaurant with Dan. I remember initially being perplexed by the fact that he was so quick to pick up trash off the ground. Even in the parking lot, he was looking for discarded items to throw away! He did it so effortlessly and naturally. It wasn't a big deal; it was just something he did.

By my third restaurant visit, I finally worked up the courage to ask Dan why he always did this. He told me simply that it was part of the culture created at Chick-fil-A, not by him but by his father, Truett. As a child, Dan would watch his father, the founder of Chick-fil-A, be intentional about every detail at his restaurants, all the way down to the trash! Dan said he felt like that piece of trash was his "ticket" into the restaurant itself. If he didn't find a way to clean up or help out, he didn't go in until he did.

Watching Dan's consistent approach to picking up trash left an impression on me. Hearing why he took that approach left an even bigger one! What his father modeled impacted him, and what Dan modeled as a result impacted me. It became part of the culture at Chick-fil-A for employees. You better believe I'm scanning the parking lot and restaurant for trash each time I visit now! Why? Because of the way it was modeled for me.

The same goes for the things you say. The people around you are listening, and they’re listening closely. Your words are influencing the culture at your company whether you realize it or not.

My friend Mark once learned this lesson the hard way! He hired a business consultant to come do an assessment of his company. In the process, they asked every member of Mark’s team what they thought was important to Mark as their leader. The overwhelming answer? Labor costs.

When the consultant reported this to Mark, he was crushed. What he valued most in his business was the experience—creating a great one for employees and customers alike. Labor costs weren’t valuable to him in the same way. It wasn’t even close! When he told the consultant as much, their reply left him speechless.

“Well, Mark, your employees think you care about labor costs more than anything because that’s what you talk about more than anything else. Your words show others what you value.”

The things we talk about constantly? The subjects that come up over and over again in our conversations at work? The things we complain about on a regular basis? People are listening. And eventually, they’re going to take our words on as a part of our culture, for better or for worse.

What we’re modeling, in word and in action, is impacting the culture we’re creating. So, I’d encourage you to stop here and take stock for a moment.

What are you modeling when it comes to culture in your workplace? How are your actions and words impacting your customer and company culture, for good and for bad? How can you take ownership to start modeling the kind of culture you want to grow?

To keep learning and growing, grab your copy of The Power of Customer Experience and check out thebook club video series and user guide for your team.


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