Playing for the Sweet Spot: Creating a winning business culture

by External03 Jul 2013

Sports teams often try to stock their team lists with high-paid, individual talent in their quest to win. Sometimes this approach works, but all too often it fails. That’s because these organisations do not take into consideration how these players will impact the overall chemistry and culture of their team. They look at statistics and past performance as an indicator of how these athletes will help teams meet their goals, rather than gauging the intangible qualities of each player, such as talent, passion and drive – the true assets to help teams move forward.

In a sense, companies are very much like these teams, which need a cohesive unit of employees that will work together as a group to achieve an overall common goal. Like teams, companies have unique strengths that help guide them to success. Many also have unique cultures. 

But -- very few companies have their own unique cultures that drive their business. That’s unfortunate, because a company’s culture can be the engine that helps it achieve results. That’s why organisations need to make their culture a part of their strategy and tap into the wealth of opportunity that presents itself when an employee base is committed, as a singular entity, to driving the business forward.

The game plan

Creating a successful organisation involves identifying what makes an individual tick – and then empowering and providing them with an outlet to be creative, passionate, and engaged. 

At my company, SolarWinds, we focus on creating an environment where employees have the opportunity to create a unique place within the company – their “sweet spot.”  The sweet spot is like a cricket bat hitting the ball in the perfect place; the batsman connects but barely feels it, while the ball screams through mid-off for a boundary. Like that batsman, hitting the sweet spot is how my company wins. 

With effort, other companies can emulate this strategy. The process requires an enormous amount of intuition, which comes from the inherent feeling one gets about where an employee might fit best within the company. And it must be an integral part of the employee relations process, from the initial interview and hiring to a person’s everyday work life.

At the crease

It’s important for every company to have objectives and methodologies for reaching them, but it’s equally important for organisations to build a team that can be fluid and react quickly as things change. But change makes most people uncomfortable and that slows down reaction time. We have found that when our employees are engaged and feel a connection to the work they are doing, however, they are far more flexible. That’s why, when interviewing candidates, we always bowl a wrong-un: what are you passionate about? 

It’s a critical question that too many companies forget about. When someone is passionate about something they are more likely to adapt to a shift in their role because they have already been empowered to make that role fit their own personality. This creates a sense of fluidity within the individual, one that gives them the confidence to be able to adjust to changes with fewer concerns. 

So when the ship starts to hit choppy waters, everyone ends up steering the course for successful navigation. That’s a direct result of passion and concern for what they do.

Conversely, being very skilled at something does not necessarily indicate passion, but great passion can feed and even create exceptional skillsets. For example, a person who is a traffic manager may not be great at their job because they love traffic management, but because they love managing processes. Thus, that person might also be happy and in another role if the company’s goals were to shift. 

Simply put, skills are wonderful, background and experience is good, but it’s the passion behind those that really drive an employee’s – and a company’s -- success.

The fundamentals

Every organisation has a certain set of things that set it apart and represent its very reason for being. At SolarWinds, we call these “The Basics,” and we strive to teach them every chance we get.

The Basics is about making sure that everyone understands what motivates a company so they may, in turn, be motivated. It involves clearly articulating the overall strategy of the company and what the team is striving to achieve. It’s centered on effective employee communication, from orientation through regular one-on-one conversations with managers and direct reports to company-wide meetings. 

Companies need to always make sure their workers know exactly how the organisation defines success. Businesses need to be consistent in their efforts to help people understand where they fit in and how their talents can help, so they continue to follow the path leading to the finish line. That’s why every 90 days, minimum, I take the time to remind everyone who we are – what makes us unique, what we value, the cornerstones of our business, and what is most critical to us.

Simultaneously, managers need to understand that people change, as do their interests and goals.  The problem is that most feel that change will come when the employee grows out of their position and moves on to another company. But managers who take the time to listen to employees can focus on cultivating those employees’ sweet spots, making it easier to retain them. This leads to employees being happy right where they are, because they are empowered to evolve every day. 

Success comes through understanding the potential of each employee, encouraging them to achieve that potential, and making that a fundamental part of a company. Most importantly, it comes from empowering employees to take responsibility and ownership in the business in order to actively drive it forward more meaningfully. That’s a true reflection of a winning corporate culture.

About the author

Kevin Thompson is president and CEO of SolarWinds, Inc.