I recently had the privilege of spending 10 days with Stan Slap, New York Times and Wall St. Journal bestselling author and renowned thought leader about business culture. Stan is also the CEO of SLAP, the international consulting company that specializes in gaining maximum commitment in employee, management and customer cultures. Stan and his company have been thinking, writing and consulting around organisational culture for over 20 years. He knows how these cultures really work and how to get them to really work for you. This is why the SLAP organization has achieved legendary performance impact for many of the world’s most successful companies, including Google, HSBC, Microsoft, Facebook, Viacom and many more.
Somewhere between the ClarkHouse Human Capital Diversity Day conference where Stan was the key note speaker, a plethora of consultations with large corporates, the odd business dinner and taking Stan on his first African Safari where we encountered Lion, Elephant, Buffalo and Rhino as well as other natural wonders the African bush has to offer, is where I started to understand a few critical points that really encompass what we need to understand as businesses (whether a start-up or mature business) and as South Africans. These are the lessons I learnt from the legend himself:
1. Culture is core to everything and you don’t know sh*t about culture!
Like a human body, an organisation with no core, no matter how strong in other areas is structurally weak. Culture is core and it is everything to a successful organisation. You may think you know, but you probably know a lot less about your company’s culture than you think. A company culture is a living organism, designed to protect itself. Your company culture will give you everything you desire, however you just have to give it what it wants first to obtain that. If you have the ability to truly understand what your culture wants and you tap into your company’s culture you can unlock massive potential with unrivalled commitment from staff. There are three types of culture around every business. The management culture (which you may or may not fit into), your employee culture (which you think you know, but will never know anything about) and your customer culture. Understanding these three is critical and if you get your culture right you can get whatever you want back from your culture. This is the core, the rocket fuel for your business’s rocket science strategies.
2. Know and declare your obsessions
It’s not good enough just to have values in your business that are slapped (no pun intended) onto work t shirts, screen savers and other internal marketing initiatives, you have to have obsessions. These obsessions define your daily actions and need to become a dedicated discipline every day, much like an elite athlete. Find out what these are and live and breathe them. Thread them into your daily life, weave them into each and every person that enters as an employee, supplier or customer. This creates ‘brandable’ and signature experiences. You have to find your obsessions and be completely consumed by these.
3. Build your business on legendary stories
The stories that are told within your business, are the stories that will create a legacy. These stories will be passed on from year to year and person to person reinforcing your obsessions and culture. You may know some of them, but these stories and storytelling grow with the business and wind and weave their way through the corridors and eaves. Use them to build a legacy about your employee, management and customer culture. They are about the way you do business, about what’s right and what’s wrong. These are hugely important in painting pictures throughout the years.
Stan Slap in action
4. Your brand is a tribute given to you and you need to build it up
A brand is not just about a fancy logo or marketing that gets plastered across billboards all over town. It is a pulse, a feeling, a heartbeat and ultimately a faith that resonates within and throughout your business. It is a feeling that people get when they walk into your building, when they see an advert, when they sit at their desks. It is about clients knowing your intentions and you need to live that intention in order to get their faith. It’s alive and it’s your responsibility to own it and to build it. Treat your brand as a delicate possession that has been passed to you to nurture and grow. Grow it with care, grow it with intention.
5. If you can’t sell it on the inside, you can’t sell it on the outside
Why do businesses put so little value on the focus group that is already on their doorstep, and if they do happen to engage with their employees, why do they not listen? Concepts that do not sell internally, will not sell externally and yet businesses continue to ignore this target market’s input throughout their market research. Likewise if you believe it and your staff believe it, then your customers will believe it. The most powerful feedback you will ever receive will be directly from the people you work with on a daily basis. Use it.
Stan Slap and I at the Clarkhouse Human Capital Diversity Day
What an absolute privilege to spend time with Mr Stan Slap, an incredible person, but yet so humble. I learnt thousands of lessons from Stan Slap. These are just 5 of them. But there is one that overarches all of these and one that struck me the deepest: “work is where the humans gather” in the words of Stan. “If we don’t get humanity right in organisations, the world is definably doomed.” Stan also further stated that building a good business and making profit is a good thing, but what will define us is the “Great Thing”. The great thing is what legacy we leave behind as managers, business owners, leaders and employees. Creating a legacy impact is more important than anything. We do not create organisations out of buildings and products, we create them out of people. People is where your strength lies, people is where your legacy lives.
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