Culture Eats Strategy For Lunch

September 1, 2015 Jeffrey Hayzlett

I recently had the chance to sit down with Jim Murren, Chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts, on All Business on Play.It and C-Suite Radio. He told me, “culture eats strategy for lunch.” I couldn’t help but think, what a great quote. One thing I discuss in my book Running the Gauntlet is how to create a great working culture. One thing that is important to remember when creating a culture is that you’re actually developing a process. You can’t just “create” a culture by saying “this is what it is.” Corporate culture is made up of too many different parts and is created over time.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. I don’t care if your team consists of two or two thousand, if they’re not working together, the game is over. Culture is important but so is mood, you have to have a good mood.

Murren’s MGM is a great example of what good culture and mood do for a business. He said, “At the end of the day we are a family of 63,000 employees. That represents about 200,000 lives. You have to think about what your role is. For me, it’s about creating the opportunities for the company, the employees, and the culture.”

Whether I have led a small business on Main Street or led a team of thousands on Wall Street, I have put a process in place, usually creating an acronym to help my people and I remember the parts of the process.  My favorite organizing principle comes from my good friend Thomas White’s Profoundly Simple FAST System: Focus, Accountability, Simplicity, and Trust.

  • Focus – Clear vision, values, principles, and priorities consistent with your goals.
  • Accountability – What is my promise to the company, customers, and community?
  • Simplicity – How do you make what you do as simple as possible so you can move quickly?
  • Trust – How do you engender trust among a group of diverse people who must move quickly together?

For me, FAST is more than an operations process; it is a mind-set. Murren told me, in regards to making changes to their restaurants menus: “We serve 42,000 meals to our employees a day; we felt we had to make a difference in their lives be adding nutrition.” I think it’s our responsibility to do some of that kind of stuff. I provide full health care to my employee’s. It’s a huge expense, and sometimes we would like to think “geez maybe that’s too much”, but sometimes I think we need to draw the line in the sand. Sometimes we need to understand the needs of everyone – employees, vendors, customers, and partners. We need to deliver on promises without excuses, embracing innovation, and continuously exceeding expectations.

MGM has recently made the decision to change its culture and become an “all green” company. Murren’s brother used to live by saying, “Improve the world.” Jim has adopted this thinking, and believes by taking care of the environment, employees, and customers he can create a winning culture. When I asked him to plug anything he wanted to promote on All Business, he chose to plug the MGM Foundation. A foundation where MGM employees donate their time, money, and energy into their surrounding environments and charities. I think that speaks volumes about the culture that Jim is creating at MGM. “It’s about the people here that make things so special,” Murren said.

He also went on to tell me, “If companies like ours don’t take a stand and define themselves by a set of core values then we are complicit. We are a part of the problem.” I couldn’t agree more with him.

FAST allowed my businesses to dump outdated operating procedures and marketing models, and adopt new ones that fit the current business. Over time, it has helped reshape my companies’ cultures for the better. Even when we screwed up, we said let’s do it FAST-er!

A “simple” solution like FAST can be easier said than done when it comes to a company’s culture. It’s like my friend told me about his mother’s pasta sauce: she used only five ingredients, but it took all day to prep and simmer before it was ready. It is the same story in business. People are often set in their ways; you can make a simple change, but it needs time to work. Add the right ingredients, let it simmer, and your business is off and running.

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