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Column: How to energize your organizational culture

During the last few years, our team at Correct Craft has been able to accomplish some pretty amazing things in a very difficult environment. I know that I am very biased and that we are far from perfect; however, many people have noticed that we have a dynamic organizational culture, and that culture has produced some significant results.


I was asked to share what we are doing related to organizational culture at the International Marina and Boatyard Conference in January. I'll share some of what we are doing here in this column.

Have you noticed a difference between organizations that seem to consistently deliver good results and those that seem to go through the motions year after year? Have you noticed that some companies seem to have energized employees, while other companies' employees just seem to sleepwalk through their jobs? Are there some companies that you enjoy dealing with more than others?

If there is one thing I have learned throughout my career, it is that organizational culture significantly impacts results. In fact, organizational culture is one of the few ways to really differentiate your company and have a profound impact on results.

So what is organizational culture? Most people cannot give a clear definition of it. Organizational culture is a combination of your company's knowledge, norms, values, attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, philosophies, assumptions and expectations. Or, more simply put, it is what employees would identify as the "way things are around here." Culture does not require thought; it is so ingrained that people in your organization automatically act in accordance with it.


The reason organizational culture is one of the few ways to truly differentiate your company is that most of your competitors have access to the same materials you have, they can implement the same processes you can, and they can hire new and better marketing firms.

However, when the rubber hits the road, success is always about people and how they think and act. How your people think and act will help you take many of the same inputs as your competitors and end up with a much better product or service.

Organizational culture is about people, and experience teaches us that people are more effective when they work in teams. A book that has been a big help to various teams of which I have been a part, including our current team at Correct Craft, is "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team," by Patrick Lencioni. I have found this book very helpful and have recommended it to hundreds of people. Lencioni describes effective teamwork by using a pyramid to identify the key elements as follows:

  • Trust: Trust is the foundation of the pyramid. If your team does not have trust, not much else matters. Effective teams demonstrate a high level of trust. Trust is knowing that everyone has the best interests of the team at heart. We all realize that trust takes work to build, but let me make a suggestion for your organization: Try to give your team a fresh start, and, regardless of your past, start new and encourage your team to trust each other until someone proves they cannot be trusted.
  • Debate: Healthy teams not only debate but also have conflict. Get that? Healthy conflict is good. It is important to see things from various perspectives, and when your team members are comfortable sharing how they see things, conflict is inevitable. Now the key to this point is the foundation of trust mentioned above. Without trust, debate and conflict can be toxic; with trust, debate and conflict are very healthy and beneficial.
  • Commitment: This means joining together once a decision has been made. No matter what side of the "debate" you were on, your view must become secondary once a decision has been made. Effective teams are able to set aside their personal perspective and rally around a decision.
  • Accountability: Effective teams hold each other accountable. This does not mean that just the boss holds people accountable; the team (peers) also holds each other accountable. Again, can you see why the trust foundation is so important? It is hard to hold each other accountable without trust.
  • Results: Do the above, and the results will take care of themselves. And when they do, celebrate.

I have had the privilege of working on many high-performance teams throughout my career but none better than our current team at Correct Craft. Our team, using Lencioni's material from "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" as a start, has been able to create an organizational culture that is truly unusual and gets great results.

We have been able to change our business model in a manner that has resulted in new product, increased market share and increased profitability in a horrible boating market.

We have a highly energized team, and every employee in the company is on an incentive plan to share in the results. While we still have plenty of room to improve (part of our culture is that we will never be satisfied), I believe we have learned some things that we can share about an effective culture that get results.


I can put what we have learned in four categories: expectations, people, communication and mindset.


Stating clear expectations is one of the best tools available to a leader when helping their team reach its potential. This may seem obvious, but the vast majority of managers fail to do this. They are either unclear on their expectations or they change them so much that it is demotivating to their employees, and the employees basically end up just ignoring them.

For expectations to be most effective, they must be high (but achievable) and clear. Most employees want to step up to the task expected of them and want to be on a team that achieves its goals.

Probably the biggest and most important way I set expectations for our team is through the use of a strategic plan. I have written and spoken about strategic planning often through boating industry publications and conferences, so I won't belabor it in this column; however, there are two points that are important to reinforce.

  • More important than doing things right is doing the right things. This is the beauty of a strategic plan. If a strategic plan is done well, it will identify the right things your organization should be doing. This helps everyone understand their expectations.
  • Your expectations must require your team to be both "right" and "fast." Almost any organization can be fast if it doesn't care about being right. Many organizations are so concerned about being right that they sacrifice fast and get left behind. Our team understands that my expectation of them is that we be both right and fast.


If I had to pick only one talent I could have as a leader, it might be the ability to identify and hire good people. Success of an organization always boils down to its people.

Related to people, I don't think anyone would ever accuse me of being a micromanager. My philosophy on teams has always been to hire good people and get out of their way. If you have good people and have set the proper expectations (as noted above), this is much easier to do.

One of the things you can do to make sure your team works well together is to make sure you really understand them and they really understand each other. Through the years, I have become certified in both Myers-Briggs (MBTI) and DISC - two temperament assessment tools that really help you understand people. These tools can help your organization.

So often, there is tension on a team because people are wired differently and look at others who are different from them with suspicion. I have personally taught many classes in our company to help people understand each other, and the results are dramatic. They learn to view differences as complements and put team above self. (And as an important aside, this helps them in their personal lives, too.)

The last point I would like to make regarding your people relates to a plane ride from Orlando, Fla., to Salt Lake City that I took shortly after starting work at Correct Craft four years ago. I sat on the plane, and, surprisingly, I was sitting next to the author I mentioned above, Patrick Lencioni. He was a very engaging guy, and our nearly four-hour plane ride turned into a classroom for me.

One of the things Pat shared was what he called the Rule of Thirds. He explained that when trying to change an organization you will have a third of the employees support you, a third will oppose change and the other third will be in the middle.

He said the crucial mistake most leaders make is trying to get the third who oppose them to be supportive. Pat said that this is a big mistake. He said to reinforce the support of the third who are with you and the third in the middle will get on board. You can't worry about the third who are fighting you. I found this to be good advice.


Another thing I have learned through the years is that at the bottom of almost every management problem is a communication problem. Communication in general causes a lot of tension in an organization, and in the short run it is much easier for employees to not communicate. But that is deadly in the long run and can kill an organization.

There is much that can be written about organizational communication, but here are two principles we follow at Correct Craft:

  • Highly assertive/highly cooperative: It may sound counterintuitive on the surface, but once the team agrees to abide by this principle, the results are impressive. Basically it means that everyone agrees to be highly assertive in presenting their view but also highly cooperative in considering the views of others.
  • No silent lying: Silent lying is when you have a perspective to add or you disagree with a teammate's view but decide not to share your thoughts. Silent lying is very costly to an organization because it results in important perspectives not being considered.

Finally, not to belabor the point, but effective communication is also much easier if you get Lencioni's first step of the pyramid right and develop a team who can trust each other. Trust allows your team to be both highly assertive and highly cooperative while not engaging in silent lying.


One of the biggest things I notice that differentiate people who are very successful is their mindset. I have noticed that successful people are open to input and are often trying to improve. This is really hard for most people, but I believe now more than ever that we must all be prepared to either change or get run over.

I enjoy studying trends and trying to make predictions about the future. There are all kinds of different predictions that can be made, but there is one thing that is absolutely certain: The world is changing very fast, and we will live in a much different place 15 to 20 years from now. You better be open to growth and improvement, or you will be in big trouble.

One of the best books I have read on this topic is "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success," by Carol Dweck. In the book, Dweck describes the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset and explains the danger of a fixed mindset. This book has also had a powerful impact on our team.

Our team has been fortunate to be able to experience firsthand the positive impact a great organizational culture will have on a company's results. It is powerful, and with a few easy steps you, too, can be on your way to developing an organizational culture that helps your team reach its potential.

Bill Yeargin is president and CEO of Correct Craft, the builder of Nautique boats.

This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue.


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