Editorial: Culture sells your company

Culture is hard to define, but important to get right.
Patrick Flannery
May 16, 2017
Two years ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs were a mess. Fans were throwing jerseys on the ice, players were skipping their traditional post-game salute and hockey pundits were looking forward to more years of futility behind big contracts and no salary cap space.
This year, Toronto made the playoffs for only the second time in 13 years behind an exciting young team with a brilliant future that everyone loves. What changed?


I remember head coach Mike Babcock’s first press conference after being officially introduced and he spent a lot of time talking about creating a “safe space” in the organization for young players where they could focus on learning how to play in the NHL and improving their games without the distractions and pressure that come from playing in hockey’s biggest market. It seemed to me a strange focus at the time. Surely there were bigger concerns on a team mired in the middle of the standings with underperforming contracts and a full rebuild on the horizon. Yet, as I watched the Leafs clean house and play to a last-place finish in the 2015-16 season, it was clear that something had changed that was going to allow the team to do what it had not been able to do for many years. Fans, players, team leadership and the city’s sports media all seemed to have accepted the idea that there was a plan and that short-term pain for long-term gain was part of that plan. The bad season was taken in stride and the focus stayed on the bright future of the great new players entering the organization, especially once they drafted one Auston Matthews. By changing the culture, Babcock and the front office had eliminated the cynicism and opportunism that had defined the franchise in the past and obtained the breathing space to do what they had to do to build a winner.

Rental stores are the same. Speaking to Victor Moffat at AGF Access for this month’s profile, I was struck by the realization that what he’s really selling there is a culture. AFG doesn’t have equipment that others don’t have and they can’t rent it less expensively than others can. There is lots of competition in the areas where they operate. What they do have is a specific history in providing access solutions that has shaped the way the whole company is staffed and organized. Their focus is on getting people up and down on jobsites safely and efficiently, and the company is stacked with people who have a great deal of knowledge in how to do that. They don’t care how big the job is or how long the rental is for or what sector it’s in. It’s a culture of working the problem and it works.

Every company I’ve visited (and that’s quite a few now) takes on the personality of its leadership and builds a culture around that. There are companies that are flashy and bombastic, throwing around big claims and slick marketing while figuring out how to fulfill their promises later. There are companies that are tired, taking care of existing accounts with barely concealed resentment for the bother and actively resisting growth. There are companies that are full of ideas and energy, bounding off in five different directions as a new enthusiasm hits. There are cold, calculating companies, organizing every minutia and scripting every interaction with a meter running in the background. And there are friendly, personable companies where walking into the showroom feels like sitting down in Mom’s kitchen.

What’s your company’s culture?

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