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Nothing is more important than the "pickle juice" in your organization

Nothing is more important than the pickle juice in your organization. It is more important than your business plan, your strategy, and your product offering.

Don’t believe me? Stick with me and just maybe, I can present a compelling argument to change your thinking.

I recently carried a gallon of pickles on stage in front of nearly 800 people. I sat the jar on the large podium and went to work. I made a point to refer to the jar several times during my speech. I even gave away 3 small shots of pickle juice to members of the audience that were brave enough to come on stage during my presentation. For the rest of the conference, people would see me and say “hey, you are the pickle guy.” I am totally ok with that reference as long as they remember the message.

Think about the pickle juice this way. Organizations spend considerably on recruiters, human resource professionals, search organizations, and interviews to find just the right cucumber for their teams.

They find the best cucumber and hire them. After a few months they begin to realize the wonderful cucumber they hired has become another pickle. Your pickle juice makes the cucumbers into pickles.

Immersion into your culture can be the most influential indicator for individual performance on your team.

The late economist and thinker, Peter Drucker said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

I recently heard a speaker talk about dynasties in high school sports. How does a high school that turns over 25% of the population continue to win year after year? More amazing is the fact that they turnover 100% of the population every four years.

They key to winning is the culture (pickle juice) of the program. The derivative of culture is behaviors. In a winning culture there are likely behaviors (with expectations) that result in higher performance.

Can an organization be deliberate about expectations and behaviors among members? The speaker went on to extol the value of rituals derived from behaviors. Rituals become the new normal and everyone behaves in ways to support the culture. Think of it this way, the behaviors that become rituals create expectations for everyone else in the organization. It becomes the new normal even though it may be seen as abnormal or even strange to outsiders.

I believe the creation of ritualistic behaviors is the foundation for tribes in organizations. In the book, Tribal Leadership, Dave Logan and his co-authors make the distinction between tribes and teams. Creating a desired culture (pickle juice) is futile unless the culture is embraced by the tribe. In other words, the leader will only succeed if the tribe embraces the rituals. Once established, new members naturally join the rituals as normal for the tribe.

Most organizations struggle because they limit thinking to corporate values and assume the behaviors will naturally follow. This is a critical error.

The translation of values into behaviors is an executive function that can never be overlooked. Undesired behaviors that contradict tribal rituals will only taint the pickle juice.

More importantly, members that do not embrace the rituals must be removed as quickly as possible. This becomes the highest and most easily interpreted display of accountability in a culture.

I was teaching a local group of about 20 leaders recently. On a break, I noticed four white vehicles backed in to parking spaces with bright orange cones in front of each vehicle. I realized all four vehicles (three trucks and one sedan) were from the same local utility company. I asked the oldest of the four people from the company about the cones. He simply said, “Yes that is what we do. When you park a vehicle you put out the cones.” I asked, “Is it that simple?” He said, “Yes, it is that simple.” I then asked, “What happens if you don’t put out the cones?” He looked at me and said with a smile, “Then you don’t get to work for us.”

The ritual of putting out cones may sound strange to the rest of us but it is something they do without thought. Building a winning culture is about the ideation of behaviors in order to form rituals that may seem odd to outsiders. This is normal.

What current behaviors make your pickle juice better? Or, what behaviors are you tolerating that make your pickle juice bad? The simplification and clarification of desired behaviors is important, however the accountability for being part of the rituals is essential. Work on your rituals with an expectation of performance. They are teachable behaviors for all members.

Nothing is more important for success than the deliberate effort you make to create and maintain the pickle juice in your organization. Dill with it!

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