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Empowered Employees + The Right Decisions = Culture of Success

August 29, 2017

Today, we’re welcoming guest author Jim Estill. Jim is a Canadian entrepreneur and businessman who is the CEO of Danby Appliances. His efforts to resettle 58 Syrian families in Guelph, a small city west of Toronto, were featured recently on the CBS program Sunday Morning. This October, Jim will join us at Linkage’s Global Institute for Leadership Development® to share his story and what inspires him to lead. Below, he shares some thoughts on the importance of building culture. Read his previous blog on why he doesn’t believe in motivational speeches.

Leaders play a critical role in helping culture come alive through people and creating an environment where everyone is empowered. Culture generates energy, innovation and happiness—and is built on shared values, a vision for the future, trust, and (believe it or not) letting everyone else make decisions.

In its simplest dimension, Danby Appliances has a corporate culture of “do the right thing.” This makes doing a job—and making the right decisions—easier.

How do you treat you coworkers? Treat them well. How do you treat customers? With respect and kindness. How do you treat suppliers? Fairly.

The reality is that focusing on culture—and creating an environment where employees are empowered to make the right decisions, regardless of whether the leader is there or not—is critical to our ongoing success as a team and as an organization.

I learned this lesson from an experience that I had early on in my career, when I started a technology products distributor company from the trunk of my car. Ultimately, I grew it from zero to $2 billion in sales. In order to get there, I studied how to scale a business.

Culture is critical for scaling a business. Culture allows decisions to be made by almost anyone in the company. Without strong culture, decisions tend to be funneled to the top, slowing things down. Regardless of how strong a single leader is, they need to have others make decisions, or they will become overwhelmed by the choices to be made as the business grows.

What do we stand for?
Reflecting on the experience of my first business success, I started to think more deliberately about what corporate culture I wanted here at Danby Appliances. As a first step, I developed a framework that the leadership team then refined using input from all areas of the organization. Here’s what we came up with:

  1. Decision making. We do the right thing. We make decisions that are in the best interest of our people, our clients and our company.
  2. Speed. We focus on completing our work at a fast pace, and we are highly responsive.
  3. Frugality. Our customers expect good value. We need to make sure that everything we do and spend adds appropriate value.
  4. Failure. We want a culture that embraces fail often, fail fast, fail cheap. We do not zap people for failing. Experiencing a failure does not make us a failure. Not trying does.
  5. Competitive advantage. We seek to do things where we have or can develop an advantage in our market.
  6. Constant Learning. We realize the only way to thrive in changing times is by learning. We spend time and resources to learn.
  7. Work ethic. We have a high work ethic. This helps us with the other cultural norms like frugality, speed and competitive advantage.

This list is our touchstone—we’re not perfect in any of these areas. But these are standards that, as a company, we uphold ourselves to. We’re all human and we need to work hard on an ongoing basis to polish each area.

The right culture can inspire staff, customers and suppliers. The right culture can help anyone in the company make the rights decisions without having to funnel everything up to the leader.

Great leaders spend time getting clear on what culture they want, and they spend time working on culture while empowering others. Take a few minutes to assess where you’re at now and make a goal for where you want to be at the end of this year. Add it to your list of strategic initiatives so that you are deliberate and have time set aside to think about it. Look at successful companies that you admire and decide what parts of their culture you want (and don’t want) to adopt.

And above all else, remember that building culture is an ongoing process, and one that will ultimately pay off in the long run.

Tell us: What type of culture do you work in? Are you empowered to make the right decisions?

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