I’m a Scotsman who loves history, so hopefully, you’ll appreciate the opportunity to use the movie 300 as a reference point about creating kick-ass business culture.
A fellow Scot, Gerard Butler, ripped up as a Spartan in the movie, which was based on an actual historical event where a small army of Spartans, along with some Greeks, held up a massive Persian force at Thermopylae pass.
The reason they successfully did so was because the Spartan culture was a strong one that had clear rules, high-performance expectations as well as learning from a young age, which was very unique for its times.
This striving for excellence allowed them to cultivate a unique culture of warriors, and so it can be for your business, without the swords and shields, of course!
The evolution of culture
Business culture is something that evolves and is also something in which every individual plays a part.
That’s why if a business doesn’t set a direction for the culture it wishes to create, well, the culture will indeed create itself, and that is often not a good thing.
Culture and strategy are also often misunderstood within businesses in my experience.
Yes, they are well-defined corporate terms, yet both have come from other arenas, which is vital to understand before setting out to create the ideal culture or strategy for your business.
Business culture has evolved over the centuries to the point where, today, it can generally be assessed as being in one of four stages.
Unsurprisingly, most employees and real estate agency owners wish their culture to be perceived as being the fourth evolutionary stage, which is seen as the holy grail.
The unfortunate truth of the matter is that they are usually stuck in the second one.
So, here are the four evolutionary stages of business culture as well as how you can achieve cultural nirvana.
Evolution 1: A Culture of Compliance
Some people don’t like playing by the rules.
In fact, it was the Dalai Lama who said, “You’ve got to know what the rules are in order to break them properly.”
It’s true that all people bring their individuality, and their individual strengths, too, to the culture party.
However, you still need to have (or abide by) a playbook of consistency, such as rules and ethics, including standard policies and procedures, that create a bedrock for order.
In essence, a structure of rules allows the seed of consistency to be birthed, because without some order, chaos reigns and ethos and strategy likely fall with it.
Some businesses remain stuck in a culture of compliance or indeed a culture of overcomplication.
While it’s important to have clear processes, it is unproductive to make them too convoluted, which will cripple performance.
This is where technology in the digital era can be used as it can make compliance simpler and easier for everyone, especially those who have an admin Achilles heel.
Ensure your processes are relevant, up to date, ethically sound and compliant to industry standards — without looking for unnecessary excesses that slow you down.
Evolution 2: A Culture of Achievement
With the scene set for what one can, or cannot do, culture evolves to one of individual and business performance.
For a culture of performance to thrive, you must ensure there is clarity of aspirational goals at an individual, team or business level.
Then, in order to strive towards them, personal accountability becomes imperative.
One of the best mechanisms for encouraging personal accountability is to create a culture where all individuals are coachable and have access to an appropriate level of regular professional development.
If being conducted internally, then this also means leaders must be armed with coaching tools themselves.
Managing, directing and coaching people are quite different, so it’s important to know when one is wearing each hat.
The culture of success, achievement, results and performance is often the one that the real estate sector, and aligned industries, remain stuck in, even though they feel they’ve incorporated the other pillars.
Where there is an excess of attitudes or slogans that solely focus on results, the bottom line or winning at all costs, generally it’s an indication that the performance culture pillar has become a tad overpowering.
Yes, you should strive for results, but do so with the rules and compliance in mind.
Then, it’s vital that you don’t get so stuck on the numbers that you’re writing that you are unable to fully integrate the next two culture stages.
Evolution 3: A Culture of Continual Learning
The real estate profession has evolved enormously since the late 1890s because business and industry practices continually change.
While, as with any industry, there is classic wisdom that stands the test and weathering of time, there invariably is an evolution in the skills required to perform your role competently.
That’s why a learning culture is critical to retaining a competitive advantage.
Which skills do you need to cultivate individually and as a team within your culture?
All of them, of course, including soft skills, hard skills, tech skills, leadership skills, plus insights or industry knowledge and communication skills.
There’s been a massive shift within the real estate sector to overly rely on technology over the past decade or so.
Often, though, when you look under the hood, it’s at the expense of other critical skills such as human touch, which is something I covered in my first blog for Real Estate Business.
We all get busy trying to perform and to hit our numbers.
Of course, the danger is when you’re under the pump or feeling a little strained, one of the first things to get sacrificed, in so many cultures, is your continued professional improvement.
The irony is that by training and developing your skill set, the gaps that prevent peak performance are more likely to be filled.
To achieve even better results, no matter how well you are performing, requires going to a place, and perhaps doing things, that you’ve never done before, and that is why continual learning is key.
Evolution 4: A Unique Culture, a Culture of Disruption or Innovation
Disruption, innovation, blah blah blah.
Unfortunately, these are some of the words that are vastly overused in businesses from every industry, with most nowhere near qualifying to be called thus.
However, what every business can do is continue to be creative, to innovate and to create a feeling of uniqueness for both their employees and their customers.
When you ask people to name “unique” cultures, or the cultures they aspire to replicate, invariably you receive the same handful of usual suspects — Apple, Facebook, Virgin and Google. Yawn!
The reason is they are seen as disruptors and highly innovative, while simultaneously being frequently associated with all the fun stuff.
The problem with unique cultures, or aspiring to be one, is so much focus is placed on innovation, disruption and getting ahead, that the three prior pillars suffer.
A unique culture, no matter its potential or possibility, without the other three is like a Hollywood movie set — all smoke and mirrors.
For example, the film 300 was clearly not filmed in ancient Greece. It was not even filmed in Greece at all, but rather in Montreal!
In today’s digital age, there are many wannabe unique culture businesses floating around.
The thing is, when a business overinvests in their marketing, professional and personal branding, flashy freebies and videos, while simultaneously ignoring continual professional development and updating ethics and rule playbooks, it will come unstuck and potentially crumble.
The businesses that truly have unique cultures are the ones that have a cohesive staff who work within appropriate guidelines, have access to continual coaching and professional development, while also enjoying ownership and personal accountability of their own goals.
The epitome of business culture also never sacrifices learning for sales targets and incorporates innovation as one, and not its only, signpost of success.
By Mark Carter, author and real estate trainer