Our company has been constantly improving for almost 40 years. In that period of time, so many things have evolved dramatically. Much of that evolution is visible in our maturity as an organization and the impressive achievements evident in our work skills and processes. The visible outcome is in the scores of buildings we construct every year. Since I’m not so often on the front lines where the work gets done, it’s easier now to brag: we’ve become very, very good! You can see it. Measure it. Feel it. Built structures tell only the truth, so there’s not much doubt.
But there’s an aspect that’s harder to quantify and takes some “squinting” to see and experience. It’s also the foundation for all our capabilities, capacity and potential; and that’s our culture.
We always say our people are our most important asset and that’s true, but it’s also true that the context in which we all work and interact is essential to our individual and collective performance. If you take that cultural context away, the people would perform differently. In many ways, then, the culture in which we work is the most important asset for all of us.
But what is it? I don’t really know, and can’t easily define it, as it ever evolves too. I do know it’s pulled us through some very difficult projects, some lean economic times and it propels us to improve and innovate constantly.
Perhaps the closest we have come to defining our culture happened about 8 years ago when we decided to write our Teamwork Principles. It was a fun little exercise because everyone seemed to know what they were by then. It was the first time and last time we actually wrote them down and numbered them. There were only a couple of drafts, mostly to distill the wording. Apparently, they were already ensconced in the DNA of our culture.
Fittingly, they are posted above the sharpening bench. Look up, and you get two sharpenings at once. So here they are: Not our culture, but one outgrowth of it.
- Nobody is above the work that needs to be done.
- Nobody is below the work that needs to be done.
- We share the same high expectations and work ethic intensity.
- We are a team. Each person strives to be a good supporter and a good leader, and to know when to be one or the other.
- We provide opportunity for success for all team members.
- We will constantly improve our products and our work performance.
- We will be known for consistent quality and integrity of work.
- When problems arise, we will assume people are good, systems are bad.
- We treat the company property, time, and money as if it were our own.
- We are committed to self management.
- We own the problems we see.
- We create the setting for excellent craftsmanship by keeping an orderly workplace.