Over the past several years, “company culture” has become a much-talked-about ingredient of business success.
Best-selling books like Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose (Grand Central 2013) show how companies can leverage culture to manage bad times and thrive in good times. Business magazines frequently give front-page coverage to leaders who create innovative cultures in all sorts of industries. And, of course, the fitness industry has taken notice.
I’d credit much of the success of the company I co-founded—Mark Fisher Fitness in New York—to our strong culture. If you’ve heard of MFF, it’s likely you know we call our clients “Ninjas.” And we don’t call our home a “gym.” We call it “The Enchanted Ninja Clubhouse of Glory and Dreams.” Our mascot is the majestic unicorn.
While those are definitely representations of our culture, a strong culture is about more than weird mascots or nicknames. Here I will share some of the things we’ve done to build a culture that has propelled MFF to greater success.
What Is Culture?
The classic definition of company culture comes from management guru Peter Drucker, who explains that it’s “the way we do things around here.” A company’s culture is the summation of the values, beliefs and behaviors of its team members.
To determine the current culture of their business, owners can analyze what their team members say and do. These behaviors and actions can be thought of as the tip of the iceberg—the part that’s visible to onlookers. However, it’s the values and beliefs below the water level that drive those behaviors. For instance, wearing capes while teaching a class may not be the foundation of MFF’s culture, but it does suggest we value having fun!
How to Build a Strong Culture
1. Clarify Your Mission
Leaders who want to influence their team’s behaviors must start by clarifying why the organization exists and what it values.
An organization without a mission is just a financial objective for the owner. Any discussion of culture begins with an exploration of why the organization exists. For example, great mission statements should inspire teams with an audacious reason for their existence. One way to determine your reason for being is to ask, “What would the world lose if my business ceased to exist tomorrow?” What would be the consequences for your clients and your team members?
While there are different approaches to creating a mission statement, completing the following sentence can be useful:
(Name of organization) exists to (do what?).
Whether you’re creating a mission statement for a new fitness business, or clarifying the statement for your current business, everyone on your team needs to be on the same page. If your business already exists, you may want to invite your team to take part in clarifying and articulating your mission.
Action step #1: Create a mission statement that clearly expresses why your business exists. Communicate that statement with your team, and make sure that all of you understand it and agree with it. Then analyze where and how you’re working toward that mission—and where you’re falling short.
2. Clarify Your Values
If your mission is the North Star that shows where your organization is headed, your values are the guardrails on your path. Values establish the standards of behavior for an organization. They answer the question “How will we achieve our mission?”
Conversely, values also clarify the things you won’t do. In this case, it’s helpful to think of the behaviors you don’t want to see. For example, what behavior bothers you and why? What value does that behavior reflect? What is the opposite of that value? When you determine what you don’t want, it’s easier to clarify and articulate what you do want.
For example, MFF strives to be a safe space for nontraditional gym-goers. Because many of our Ninjas are uncomfortable in gyms, kindness is a must. We want the Ninjas to feel truly welcomed every time they come to the Clubhouse.
Action step #2: Establish a set of values that reflects the behavioral standards that will best serve your mission. Share them with your team, and discuss specific examples of where you currently express these values, and specific examples of where you’ve come up short.
3. Clarify Whom You Serve
While the first steps in creating an optimal culture require knowing your mission and your values—who you are and what you stand for—the next step emphasizes whom you intend to serve. When you clarify who your ideal customers are, you can think about what behaviors appeal to them.
For more information, please see “More Than Unicorns: Why Culture Matters, and How to Build It in Your Facility” in the online IDEA Library (October 2016 issue of IDEA Trainer Success). If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at 800-999-4332, ext. 7.