Culture spelled out in rounded wooden dice

Two Powerful Culture Building Tools for Leadership Success

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” These are the brutally honest words of the all-wise Peter Drucker.

What he means is this: You may have the best product at the best price. You may have the most brilliant sales strategy being executed by the most talented sales staff. You may have the latest cutting edge technology and the coolest social media presence, but if your culture is broken, all of that stuff is useless.

Like an outdated operating system on a slick new smart phone, nothing is going to work. And in sales—and most anywhere else in business—that spells disaster.

What is Culture?

Simply stated, culture is the combination of beliefs and behaviors any group of people embrace, from businesses to churches, families to nations. It’s the way these people think and the way they act in these groups consistently over time. Culture drives the way we work as a team, the way we treat our customers, the way we pursue our goals, and the way we respond to adversity.

Culture is the one thing that changes everything. It’s the undercurrent of all that goes on in your sales organization, and the riptide that can drown any initiative that flows into its path. Which makes building a winning sales culture one of your top priorities as a leader. And that means changing the way people think and changing the way they act, from your top leaders to your frontline staff.

How do you do that? Here are two powerful culture building tools: telling stories and using artifacts:

  1. Tell good stories
  2. Using memorable artifacts

1. Telling Good Stories

For millennia the human race has told stories. Cultural traditions have been passed down by tribal elders repeating fables around the fire and doting mothers spinning bedtime tales.

Storytelling is the single-most powerful way to build a winning sales culture as well, that’s why I use so many in my writing and speaking. I’ve had people come up to me years after hearing me talk somewhere and retell one of my crazy stories.

This happens because there’s something magical about a story. It connects with human beings in a way that mere bullet points on a slide deck never do. It embodies those bullet points in real flesh and blood and reinforces the behavior you’re trying to build when other people retell the story. It also celebrates the hero of the story, one of your reps or one of your customers, doubling as positive praise.

MORE: Nail Your Next Presentation: Tell a Great Story

In other words, instead of challenging embedded beliefs and behaviors head-on through a locked and bolted front door, a well-told story sneaks in the back door and hits people over the head with a two-by-four when they’re not looking.

Here are six stories you should be able to tell as a sales leader:

  • The story of a new sales rep and how she got to quota faster than anyone else in the company
  • The story of a seasoned sales rep who slipped into a slump and then pulled himself out of his slump, making club for the third year in a row
  • The story of a struggling business who adopted your product (or service) and experienced a whole new level of success
  • The story of a struggling business who didn’t adopt your product (or service) and continued to struggle, ultimately going out of business
  • The story of a sales rep whose deal fell apart in implementation, but she kept working on it internally and externally until the business became her biggest customer.
  • The story of a sales rep who couldn’t get a meeting with a target prospect but found a shared contact on LinkedIn and used that contact to secure a first appointment that ultimately brought in lots of business

2. Using Memorable Artifacts

In addition to good stories, memorable artifacts are also key to building a winning sales culture.

Artifacts is an odd word to use related to sales culture. We tend to think about an artifact as something that gets discovered in an archaeological dig, you know, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. But think about it. An archaeological artifact is an object that reflects the activities and values of an ancient culture.

A living culture, like the one you’re building right now, also has objects that reflect its activities and values, and these artifacts create powerful, symbolic connections in the soul of your sellers. Memorable artifacts fall into two categories: old-school and new-school.

New school artifacts, unlike old-school artifacts, aren’t physical objects but digital ones. A photo on Instagram, a video on YouTube, a post on FaceBook, or a shout-out on Twitter all land in this bucket. And because most everyone is going new-school, the more classic pins and plaques, jewelry and clothing have made a comeback. Use both liberally to express your appreciation for your salespeople and reinforce the things that matter most to you as a team.

Your Internal Operating System

We all love a good app, don’t we? It may be a game, a social media site, a to-do list manager, or a news aggregator. We have our favorites and use them every day, many times a day. No app in the world, however, can make up for a bad operating system. If the operating system on your smartphone is slow, out of date, or simply broken beyond repair, no app will work, no matter how amazing it is. It’s just as simple as that.

Culture is the operating system at the heart of your sales organization. If you’re going to succeed in your leadership role, building a winning sales culture must become one of your top priorities. Start telling good stories and using memorable artifacts to create the kind of workplace everyone, including you, wants to be a part of.

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