How Empowering Is Your Culture?

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At this stage, we all know the importance of culture. Peter Drucker told us how important it is that your company is founded on the right-set of values and behaviors for superior service to customers and relationships among workers. As he said: “It eats strategy for breakfast”. 

In every presentation opportunity, success isn’t just the message content; the style in which it’s presented is also critical. In the case of culture, is it adoption empowering employees to proactively go beyond expectations.   One story first shared in Practical Wisdom (by Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe) (and later retold by David Brooks in The Second Mountain) demonstrates this point well. As I read both books prior to a podcast for corporate leaders, I thought I would share it.

Luke, a janitor in a major teaching hospital, is sharing how his job is structured with some social scientists. While doing so, he shares an incident concerning a comatose young patient and his father who had been keeping vigil for months. The custodian cleaned the comatose young patient’s room while the father stepped out for a few minutes. When the father returned, he snapped at Luke for not cleaning the room that day. Luke then chose to clean the room again. Why? 

Luke explains the situation. The son had been in a fight and when brought into the hospital was in a coma. Everyday, Luke would clean the room while the father stayed in the room. Today he was out smoking a cigarette. When he returned they met in the hallways and the father “freaked out” telling him he didn’t clean the room. At that point, he was about to reply defensively – and then stopped himself. “I’m sorry. I’ll go clean the room.” Why did he clean it a second time?

“I cleaned it so that he could see me clean it… I can understand him… It was like six months that his son was here. He’d be a little frustrated and I cleaned it again. But I wasn’t angry with him. I guess I could understand.”

While the job description of the custodian detailed all the things that had to be cleaned in the room and the standard of care, it did not address the cultural elements: who are the “customers” in when the purpose of care involves patients and caretakers.  But the culture of the hospital made it clear that it was not just the patient but also those caring for the patient and empowered the custodian to do the right thing: give the father peace of mind. It may not have been “efficient” to clean a room twice, but it was more “effective” to do so.

As you know, one member of the Presentation Excellence Group is (A4S) that develops job descriptions that address job performance, cultural behaviors and leadership skills. This is especially important in the hybrid working world when people have to manage themselves and members of their teams, rather than the hierarchical staff “below” them. Key to creating an effective culture is empowering people to take on those behaviors which enable them to go “beyond the call of duty” to meet customers’ needs. 

Just as Ritz Carlton empowers employees to spend extra money on guests in order to ensure that they are pleased with their stay if something goes wrong, every service company should empower its workers to invest extra efforts to make sure customers are pleased. And the story shows that if done correctly, it can make a significant difference for companies involved with life-and-death issues.

How are you empowering your employees to fully actualize your company’s values?  Share with us. (To learn more about A4S, contact