What differentiates companies?
It’s generally not products, services, facilities, or equipment. In our
industry, for example, our lumberyard competitors sell essentially the same
assortment of building materials that we do. Across New England, our
white pine sawmill competitors make products that are very similar to our
own. Additionally, we all tend to sell our products at comparable
prices. So, what differentiates one company from another?
Years ago, I would have said it was
people who make the difference and separate companies. But I have come to
realize that’s not the whole story. Certain companies may think they have
the ‘best people’, but the truth is, great people are everywhere – the planet
is filled with them. For example, the United States has a more productive
economy per capita than Europe, but no one would take this to mean that America
has better people than Europe does. America is filled with great people,
and so is Europe—and, so is every other country on earth. People are
inherently great by virtue of their common humanity.
So, if products don’t make the
difference, and great people are everywhere, then what separates one
organization from another?
The answer is culture.
Culture makes the difference. An organization’s culture either creates an
environment where great people can flourish, or an environment where people are
frustrated, held back, or stymied.
What makes one corporate culture
different from another? To me, it’s all about control and where it
lives. Some organizations collect leadership power into the bureaucratic
center, where a few people can make the majority of the decisions for the
many. This is the traditional model of business—and government—leadership
and, during a period of time in human history, this may have been
optimal. But, that time has passed.
In the 21st century, organizations that disperse power, share leadership, and give everyone a voice are going to win because they recognize and celebrate the capabilities of everyone on the team. These types of cultures don’t see employees as expendable commodities whose purpose is to serve the company. In fact, these types of cultures flip the traditional script by recognizing that the company exists to serve the people who work there. In a great company, profit is an outcome of a higher calling. That higher calling is the celebration of the human spirit and human capacity. In this way, culture makes all the difference. This is why culture is so important to us at Hancock Lumber. We want our company to be a place where every person on the team is trusted, valued, respected, and heard. Work should serve the people who do it in more than just economic ways. Work should be a place where humans flourish—where people learn, lead, and grow. If the employees of a company have an exceptional experience, they will ensure that customers thrive and will protect and grow their company with loyalty and pride. Culture, it turns out, makes the difference. Great people are everywhere, but great cultures aren’t – that’s what separates one company from another.
CEO, Hancock Lumber Company
Read more of Kevin Hancock’s writing by following his personal blog at www.kevindhancock.com