Starting a New Business: What You’re Made Of … Or Not

By Mark Riffey

Business culture is often viewed as “woo-woo”.

People will roll their eyes when you say the words.

Some are so turned off that they stop listening to you when you say the phrase, thinking the conversation will be about things that aren’t the least bit business-oriented.

To me, that’s reason enough to avoid using the term.

Why “Congruent”?
I use the word “congruent” in conversation, in part because it doesn’t provoke the “woo-woo” rolling of eyes. Folks have to listen harder to figure out what a geometry term has to do with their business.

You might have first been introduced to the concept in geometry class, where your teacher taught that two objects of the same size and shape are, by definition, congruent.

I use it in a behavioral context: “Congruent behavior occurs when the words and behaviors expressed are in agreement and incongruent behavior occurs when words and behaviors expressed contradict each other.

You can boil that down to “Do you walk the walk?”, as the character “Animal Mother” asks in living color in the movie Full Metal Jacket.

Walking the walk
Most people know what that means, even without Animal Mother’s help. Or do they?

If your advertising says you offer the best service in town, does your retail service phone line go directly to voice mail?

If your menu says “Today’s catch”, do you throw out yesterday’s fish or use it for stews/stock instead of freezing it so you can serve it later as “fresh”? Walking the walk doesn’t mean doing this out of fear that someone will leak the truth, but because “that’s how we do things”.

When your speech at the local Chamber of Commerce says “Our employees are our most valuable asset”, does what happens in the back office, in company meetings, in your manufacturing facility, in reviews and in your employee benefits reflect that claim?

Culture is the stock used to simmer your business
In the photo below (print readers, see http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1283/1304768250_daa6a6f98f.jpg), an Argentinian man is removing the hide from a cow. If you look at the sequence on Flickr, you’ll find the entire family at work. A baby is swaddled to the mom’s back, napping as mom works on the carcass. Work-life balance, Argentina-style.

Matadero Iruya IV

Look closer. You’ll see a young child using a sizable knife, yet you don’t see a helicopter parent darting in to take it away before the child puts his eye out. Instead, the child is learning first hand how to do the family’s work, despite their young age.

Learning how to efficiently become a productive member of their culture starts at an early age.

Is that how it works at your business?

If your business is ready for a new employee on day one and is given the tools (and perhaps a roadmap) that enables them to become productive as quickly as possible, you are walking the walk. If you throw them to the wolves and all but ignore the responsibility to train them in the skills and “how we do things here and why we do them that way” (the core of your business culture), expect disappointment.

Like the child, they’ll mirror your behavior
If you don’t walk the business culture you talk, your staff won’t – they’ll often mirror your values and behavior, perhaps as payback.

You can’t tell your staff that you love your customers and then refuse to communicate with them. What you say must be reflected by what your business does from the CEO’s desk to the mop bucket.

Your people see it quickly. Eventually your customers will too.

If your staff doesn’t see congruent behavior…

  • How well are they going to take care of your customers?
  • Are they going to buy in and work hard to achieve the goals you enthusiastically announced in your last meeting?
  • Are they going to be concerned about the costs and quality of the things they personally make and deliver?

Some businesses teach their staff how to read their financials and think like owners, empowering their staff to improve their area/output (and their job security), by instilling a culture of walk the walk throughout the company.

Business culture isn’t just woo-woo. It’s what you’re made of.

What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a business, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site, contact him on Twitter, or email him at [email protected].