Culture! I searched R&R's website for the word “culture”, and it yielded over 200 results. There are lots of golden nuggets from industry experts that lie within. My first Restoring Success in January 2014, Core and Shared Values, spoke to understanding them, putting on paper, and living them. Six years later, I'm now realizing nearly every column I write circles back to one core topic: culture.

We have all read about it, talked about it, and understand how it impacts our organizations. It is a fairly abstract concept and there is not necessarily a right or wrong culture. Can such a gray area like culture be the ultimate key to success as defined by your organization? 

Have you ever gone somewhere or to someone’s home and you felt uncomfortable? Have you ever brought someone in your organization and then questioned if they will fit in? Do people in the organization who become ingrained in the culture seem to thrive? 

From a business standpoint, culture can impact an organization’s ability to adopt new technology, overcome challenges, provide world-class service, provide opportunities for growth, learning, development, and more. Descriptors of these attributes may sound like innovative, customer-centric, and adaptable. If I was asked to describe the culture in our organization, I would also use the word happy. It’s part of our culture to be happy. I like to work in a happy place, happy people serve others with joy, we attract and hire happy people, and if someone joins the team and exudes “grumpy”, they either get happy or ... you get the idea. 

Culture: the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.

I love the restoration industry as a profession and my passion is in operations. There is nothing I enjoy more than process and order, developing it, and the excitement of doing it in a world with intricacies and challenges. I love even more when processes, systems, and order are followed consistently. In classes, we focus on standards of care that often become integral to companies’ SOPs, safety practices, workflows, and more. The reality is that drafting an SOP and distributing it does not make it so; culture and engagement are the key. 

A good restoration friend of mine, Chris Zahlis, the owner of Restoration 1 of Columbia-College Park-Annapolis, referred to the movements that naturally happen within an organization or in any given moment as “muscle memory." Muscle Memory is a great way to describe the moment when the processes, procedures, and order become the culture of the company. 

Culture is not just the “practices”, but also the attitudes and values and other characteristics that ultimately impact every facet of the organization and its outcomes. 

One of our shared values is priding ourselves on our presentation and professionalism as a company. This value applies to our dress, communications, building, vehicles, equipment, and more. Although most of us in our organization think it is never good enough, our warehouse is typically organized and clean. I get on-going positive feedback about our warehouse and there is certainly methodology, process, and order but it is really just part of our culture. Nobody is “in-charge” of the warehouse; everyone naturally pitches in, tidies, and keeps it looking good.

Messy Vehicles and Culture Change

In spite of our values, clearly written expectations, making random announcements, holding individuals accountable, we have been challenged to keep the fleet, specifically the interiors, of our vehicles up to company standards. Why? It is part of our culture to keep our warehouse neat, orderly, and everything in its place and it is not part of our culture to keep the interior of the vehicles in pristine condition? Why is it not part of the company culture? How do you change the culture? 

What are the options in tackling this cultural shift? Let’s try consistently leading with some standby clichés that have a track record of being effective:

  • Inspect what you expect
  • Keep it front and center (consistently)
  • Lead by example
  • Publicly praise

It is time for a change. The leadership talked about it and showed passion. We committed to weekly inspections, publicly praised, tweaked forms and processes, and after a couple months, the culture started to change. People would walk up to me with pride and joy, “I cleaned my vehicle!” 

Then, for the leadership, everything else became more important and the momentum of the cultural shift stopped. As soon as the elements that contribute to the culture shift stop or are inconsistently (Inconsistency, The Silent Enemy) exemplified it will unravel. 

Culture is complex and the backbone to your intricate organization. Next time you are challenged by something in your organization, in addition to process, people, and systems, consider it as a matter of culture. Be inspired by others, be observant, be thoughtful, and check out some of the great ideas found within the R&R archives.