Culture Shock

Culture shock is defined by Wikipedia as “an experience a person may have when one moves to a cultural environment which is different from one's own; it is also the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply transition to another type of life.”

Ever experience any part of that definition? If you say “no” I would argue that we experience this phenomenon every day. We sometimes just don’t know it.

Almost every leader talks about “creating a great culture” as their primary goal. The challenge is that culture is not a tangible thing that we can touch. We cannot build it with bricks, fund it with salaries, develop it with hard work. Culture is something that grows organically, something that while many books have been written on the topic, cannot be structured.

In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of hard core pornography, “I shall not today attempt further to define (it)….. But I know it when I see it…..”

The same holds true with great cultures. I don’t know of a playbook for how to build them, or how they happen, but I know one when I see one. Here are a few examples from my life today…..

  • Doctor Josh – My chiropractor Josh Haggard is a third generation practitioner with a small shop in central Phoenix. I went there for an adjustment this past Friday without an appointment. While I’m a decade-long customer of Dr. Josh, I didn’t get preferential treatment in my wait time as the place was packed. Like it is every weekday. Josh and his staff know every customer by name and greets them as they walk in, every time. They are also quite caring with new customers that pass through their doors. That place has the culture, the energy, the vibe, that everyone seeks. They have the “it”.

  • The Henry – A high school classmate of mine has made a national name for himself in the restaurant world. One of his concepts is a place called “The Henry” which is a few miles from our house in Phoenix. While there are a couple new Henrys across the country now, the original has a culture all its own. This place is part coffee meeting, part powerbroker lunch, and for our team at HUG, the pseudo-headquarters for our staff gatherings. The culture at this restaurant and the others created by its owner Sam Fox are intentional. The space is laid out well, the staff is hired to match the concept for the restaurant, and the menu fits the clientele. Everything there fits. The restaurant business is far from systematic. Creating a winning restaurant (or a winning culture) is a crap shoot at best. Sam has mastered the culture building process.

  • Sodas – Those that know me know I like Diet Dr. Pepper from the tap. Which means finding convenience stores that carry diet DP, which can sometimes be challenging. The Phoenix based chain Circle K has my drink of choice at every location. So does Quick Trip. What does that have to do with culture? Dave does. There is a guy named Dave who runs the front counter at the Circle K I frequent almost daily to get my soda fix. So what is so special about Dave and his store? I pass a half-dozen Circle K’s and Quick Trips to buy my diet Dr. Pepper from Dave. Why? Culture. He has figured out how to make his store fun, uplifting, and unique in the world of boring limited service convenience stores. Dave and his team are always positive, the music is great (yes, its okay to play music in a convenience store), and the brief moment you spend at the counter will include a smile and a conversational engagement during checkout. At Dave’s store it isn’t a transaction, it’s an uplifting and ongoing relationship proposition. If you want to just get your coffee or donut without any personal engagement, don’t go to Dave’s store.

  • Two Franks – Two others that come to mind for me are my doctor and my pastor (both named Frank). They both have built positive cultures where most people may not want to find themselves very often (in the doctor’s office or at church). Frank and Frank have created places where people want to belong and be part of what is going on there. These two guys are both one of a kind and they have had sustainable success in their respective fields by bringing a high level of energy to the table each and every day.


So what is the “big idea” this week? I think my takeaway would be this…..

More than all else, great people make great cultures. Their attitudes, enthusiasm, and love for what they do every day is life altering for those that come into contact with them. There is no road map or playbook for them to follow, they just get up every day and go do their thing, and the culture (and others) follow.

We leave you this week with a quote from an icon in our industry, Mr. Jim Host. He once told me this, “The sooner I can get to bed tonight, the faster I can wake up tomorrow to get to work.” If you don’t know Mr. Host, he is one of the most driven people I’ve ever come across. He has built and sold numerous companies, mentored an uncountable number of sports professionals, and still to this day at age 81 he gets up every day ready to get out there and do it again.

It’s people like Mr. Host, like Sam, like Doctor Josh, like the two Franks, and like Dave that bring their best to every opportunity they get. While there isn’t a set of directions to build great cultures, that is a pretty good place to start.