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Why You Need To Worry About Culture

branding culture leadership operations Jan 22, 2018

Culture. You've heard that word before. Contrary to what some believe it's not an urban myth. Culture is the lifeblood of your restaurant and bar. It's a beacon that sends a vibe to those that like the message your culture sends out. It's like your own personal bat signal for your brand. So yes, it's a big deal.

Describe Your Culture 

Here's where we run into the problem. Culture is hard to describe because it's more of a feeling. Even now as you think about how to describe your culture, you probably struggled or searched for the right words. The part of your brain (the limbic system) that handles those messy emotions has a hard time expressing them. That part is taken over by the Neocortex, which has an easier time rationalizing what you are feeling into language.

So don't feel bad if you have a hard time describing your culture. It's common. Look at those feelings and tap into those emotions. The key to culture can be summed up in two words: core values (are you having déjà vu from some of my other posts?) 

Digging For Your Values

Many don't really understand the lasting impact core values have on your brand as well as yourself. Core values become a compass for decision making and they keep you on track to who you are. One of the biggest contributors to the downfall of a brand is lack of identity. If you are not sure of who you are and what you stand for, how do you expect to attract talent or guests to you? 

There are two main types of core values that can be considered when exploring and creating your brand's values list. One set are what you wish you were and the other is who you truly are.

Aspirational Core Values: these are what can be described as "surface values". These are the go to words that people think they have to have . It's like you were walking in a field of core values words and you just thought that some of those words sounded good. We all have aspirations to be better (well, not people who are addicted to being average). Wanting to be better and doing something to actually become better are quite different. A lot of people talk a good game, few can play the game at high levels, long term. 

Here are some common ones: pride, integrity, teamwork, punctuality, cleanliness, honesty, service, and profitability. The main focus of aspirational core values is they focus on what you want to be.

Now, maybe some of those are not just talk and you actually live and breath them everyday. Those kind of core values are ones that resonate with who you are. They are authentic.

Authentic Core Values: these are your real core values. These are the ones that have deep roots into your identity. Funny thing about identity is we will go to great extremes to protect it. If you think you are hip, you go out of your way to dress and act in a manner that supports your identity. Too many people focus on their identity and not on the real essence of who they are. You'll need to go beyond the cheap talk and "surface" values and get down to your core. You need to ask quality questions that provoke quality answers. Don't go for the easy words. Time to think and think some more. What do you stand for? What is a principle you believe in?

What feelings get stirred up when you get upset?

- Lack of respect?

- Dishonesty?

- Intolerance?

- Wastefulness?

Here you'll have to really dig down to uncover them. Once you find them you'll know right away because you really cannot live without them. This could also be called your nonnegotiable values. You would not sacrifice them for a quick buck or toss them to the side if they were an inconvenience. Authentic core values are you in it's pure form. 

Some deep rooted core values might include: learning, humor, compassion, family, Kaizen, creativity, accountability, and hospitality. Unlike aspirational core values, authentic core values focus on who you are as a human being. These are the seeds of greatness. You'll just have to learn how to cultivate them.

Growing Core Values

So you hopefully have some core values that you are willing to share will your team. Not so fast. Planting seeds the seeds of core values into your culture is the easy part, nurturing them and watching them grow will require some work. Hey, if it was easy then everyone would have the restaurant or bar they want!

Don't place your core values on a poster, employee handbook, or send them out in an email. If you have sent them out via one of these ways then give yourself a time out for being bad. Words and core values need to be explained and discussed. Posting them and not talking about them is the second sin in the restaurant and bar business...poor communication (the number one sin is mediocrity encase you were wondering).

When you put up a core value like respect, what does that mean to you? That's the key. The only definition that matters for your brand is yours. Too many times we throw out words and assume people know the meaning. They do. They have their own meaning and sometimes that meaning is not the same as your meaning. Clarity solves that. Talk to your team about what each core value means to you and for your brand.

Lastly, you must be a living example of your core values. Hypocrisy runs rampant in our industry and your team will see through it faster than a speeding bullet! Don't think for a second that you have them fooled. Remember the words by Shakespeare from his play As You Like It, "A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool."

You must set the example for your team by showing them your core values in your actions! In military special operations there is a phase you should incorporate into your life: Deeds, not words. You team does not care about what you say you will do. They care about what you do. Period. If your core values are authentic then they will shine through how you talk, act, and run your business.

Culture is a feeling that is built upon values. You can't fake culture. You can only grow your culture by nurturing those emotions and those values that make you unique. Restaurants and bars with outstanding cultures might have an entree or a drink copied and placed on a competitors menu. The one thing that is hard to reproduce is your culture because a part of its DNA is you and your values.

Of course, you need to know what your values are.

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