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Culture Is The Winning Advantage

What are the unique cultural traits of the world's biggest technology businesses?

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What are the unique cultural traits of the world's biggest technology businesses?

Opinions

Culture Is The Winning Advantage

What are the unique cultural traits of the world's biggest technology businesses?

Share this article

When I was seven years old, my grandfather took me to the horse track to watch the races. He was not the gambling type, but knew this kind of outing would make me happy. Immediately, I devoured the data in the racing program, finding the best horse names and their track records.

When I explained in great detail why my grandfather should bet on one horse versus another, he gave me the kind of laugh that indicated my enthusiasm was far ahead of my knowledge. He then explained, “If you want to win, bet on the jockey and not the horse.” I would not find the wisdom in that statement until I became an adult.

Decades later, as a company owner looking to improve my organization’s culture, I turned to top CEOs to learn their secrets. Among the ranks of savvy investors, venture capitalists, and successful businesspeople, I kept hearing some version of my grandfather’s advice to choose people (the jockey) over a product or service (the horse).

Seeing how these individuals did so in their respective business sectors helped me piece together why some companies were winners and others losers.

My research revealed patterns, which I call the seven pillars that any company can master to achieve cultural greatness. Here, the jockey represents the leader and the people who take direction. On a collective scale—the one that generates culture—whole companies act as the jockey.

Think of Apple, Amazon, and Google. These three examples could not be more different in their approach, what they sell, and how an employee might navigate a successful career.

Yet, they all have mastered the seven important pillars of outstanding culture. Let’s look at their approaches to three of my pillars, to see how each leverages its strengths to dwarf the competition.

Apple:

Despite delivering innovative products to millions of users, Apple has in its story all the components of a Greek tragedy—fire, focus, a fallen hero, and redemption. Among its myriad strengths, the tech giant best upholds the cultural pillar of “Uniqueness.”

In my experience, when companies know what makes them unique, celebrate that with the world, and make it a core part of their DNA, they can outwit and maneuver to dominate the marketplace.

That’s Apple, in a nutshell. Their culture is one of secrecy, innovation, and disruption, and it makes them unique. They embrace these elements. The company’s smiling geniuses and loyal customers form a bond that pushes them to explore the boundaries of what might be possible.

We love them and we hate them. But, we admire them. Leaders, take note! The fundamental way in which Apple leverages what makes them unique is what companies striving for greatness should emulate.

Amazon:

While we might consider Apple a cultural role model, Amazon has a very competitive and driven culture that is not a fit for most companies.

Amazon receives as much criticism of its working environment as praise. Yet, Amazon’s culture has a direct influence on its outcomes, which continually inspire and improve our lives. The company rises above the competition by leveraging the culture pillar of “Mistakes.”

One of the hardest things to do for any company is to stay on top. Typically, when businesses do well, their employees and leadership are charged to keep the status quo. But Amazon is different. They intentionally create silos of innovation to find new and impressive ways to achieve and improve. That also means they fail often.

But mistakes are seen as part of the creative process, and part of their business plan. Failure is literally celebrated by the company, digested, and turned into the next pivot. Amazon expects to get it wrong nine times out of 10, because they are trying to enact gigantic change.

Google:

Often the darling of company culture and what CEOs dream of, Google makes the impossible look easy. Among their many cultural strengths, in my opinion, what they do best is “Measurement.” Looking at the hard facts of company performance lets leaders and employees own what works and fix what doesn’t.

Data drives Google’s culture and its outcomes. Ceaseless measurement gives them incredible insight into their clients, employees, and the public. How do teams best operate? They measure it!  Which managers hire the best? They measure it!

The list goes on. The company is a borderline science factory of data that allows flawed humans to make the best decisions possible. Google does measurement so well, they even measure what they measure.

The best cultures empower leaders to operate effectively and create the right space for employees to do their most impactful work. As we look to great companies for cultural inspiration, remember what my grandfather might say. A great jockey is what makes a horse a winner.

Chris Dyer is the author of The Power of Company Culture: How any business can build a culture that improves productivity, performance and profits, out now published by Kogan Page, priced £19.99.

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Culture Is The Winning Advantage

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