Amazing Possibilities!

The Secret of Culture


Every day you have a chance to surprise and delight your customers with your products and services. The very good news is that they won’t keep their surprise and delight to themselves. They will delight in telling others about it.

You may of course be wondering what all this has to do with culture. Let’s take a look, but first, one more question: What is your organization’s most important product or service?

When I ask this question I usually get answers like these:


“It’s hard to say. Maybe Pampers—I mean, if it were its own organization it would be on the Fortune 500 list on its own.

But maybe it’s Tide, which I think was our first billion-dollar brand.”


“The iPhone. There’s no doubt. We are popping up new billion- dollar organizations here and there, but people just yawn. It’s going to be all about the iPhone for a long time, I suspect.”

“Classic Coca-Cola. It’s been the biggest-selling soft drink for, wow, I don’t even know how many years. But I could see a future where our most important product is Dasani water.”

“Life insurance. Everybody needs it. Everybody is always going to need it.”

But I’d like to propose that your organization’s most important product or service is its culture. I know, when investment bankers look at an organization’s portfolio of products, they don’t consider its culture. But they should.


Your culture is a product. It’s also a service. Your employees and customers are consumers of your culture. Even though you and they may have never thought of it as a product, they consume it like they do other products and services every day— and they respond to it. Now, they may respond with surprise and delight, but they may also be responding with disdain or resentment. Most organizations don’t know, because culture is the only product that they don’t get customer feedback on. Many organizations will say, “But we do our annual engagement survey for employees.” This is good and it has its place, but let’s agree that if your culture were a billion-dollar brand you would be doing more.

The other piece that employee engagement surveys completely ignore is that customers don’t get to participate, and they too are consumers of your culture. In fact, very often they have a much more clear-eyed vision of what your culture is really like than your employees do. I don’t know a single organization

that asks its customers about the organization’s culture. We ask customers about service and their experience in general, but I wonder what they notice about the culture than we don’t.

Your culture is your organization’s most important product or service, but who is in charge of it? Who is responsible for ensuring its success? When was the last time you consulted someone on culture? When was the last time you benchmarked your culture against best practices? Do you know what’s working and what’s not working? The truth is, we wouldn’t ignore products and services that are essential to the success of our business, but that’s exactly what we do when we ignore culture.

Matthew Kelly


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