Corporate Cultures

Back to Basics

by Ray Knight and Rob Sanders

      Four years ago this month, our first article, "Building a Service Culture," appeared in Casino Executive.   In a sidebar accompanying the article, we listed the "10 Building Blocks For a Customer-focused Culture."  Much has changed in the gaming industry in four years, but the basic building blocks of corporate culture development remain constant.

     It's instructive to revisit those fundamentals from time to time to keep them in clear view. As the gaming world evolves and new players reshape the industry, it's easy to lose sight of basic concepts like service to the customer...and grooming your culture so it comes naturally.

     These are the ten foundation ideas of building an effective service culture:

     1. Vision - Look beyond this quarter's earnings to where and what the company ultimately wants to be in relation to its stakeholders and its environment.  Yes, it's important to deliver favorable earnings reports every quarter, if possible, especially considering that the gaming sector hasn't exactly been luring stampedes of investors over the past few years.  But the 90-day mentality that drives American business these days is shortsighted when it prevents management from seeing the value of long-term planning and development of a company's culture.

     2.  Commitment - Beginning at the very top of the organization and flowing all the way to line-level hourly employees, instill a determination to provide a superior experience for every customer every time -- proven by action (walk the walk), not talk.  The subtitle of our original article said, "Service must transcend slogans if it is to become an integral component of a casino's success."  That's as true today as it was four years ago, and will still be true four years hence. More than once, we've seen casino executives give lip service to the customer-comes-first litany but fail to live up to it by their actions.

     3.  Objectivity - Maintain and illustrate a clear view of the company, its vision, and its
culture from an unbiased vantage point free of private agendas.  Many gaming companies continue
to suffer from the Vision du Jour Syndrome.  There's often a tendency to make the "vision" fit the expedient action of the moment.  Rationalization, in other words.  In the long run, it amounts to having no real vision at all.

     4.  Planning - Create a strategic blueprint to guide the construction of a customer-focused culture...a required process to maintain alignment with the vision over time.  "If you don't know where you're going, you'll probably end up someplace else."  We often quote that classic gem from the master of fractured logic, Yogi Berra.  It crystallizes in a few words one of the most profound requirements of corporate culture development.  There's no telling what kind of culture you'll wind up with unless you know what it's supposed to be when you start out building it.

     5.  Discipline - Methodically implement and execute tactics to put the strategic plan into action, with built-in regular checkpoints to measure results, gauge progress, and make tactical adjustments.  This is the boring part, but it's absolutely essential.  Corporate culture building demands constant care.  If it isn't tended every day to keep it blooming, it will wither or fall victim to the weeds of apathy.

     6.  Buy-in - Develop understanding, internalization, and active support from all ranks of the organization, from hourly workers to the board of directors -- with particular emphasis on middle management (the people responsible for tactical execution).  No matter how powerful you think you are, you can't wish a corporate culture into being.  It can only be done as a team, with everybody participating...and even more important, wanting to participate.

     7.  Consistency - Maintain strategic integrity and applying the customer service initiative evenly -- in all support materials, in all departments, in all strata of the company.  In advertising, they call it reach and frequency.  Keep coming back again and again with the same story with a different cover.

     8.  Continuity - Create systematic conceptual links which bind the initiative together over time, independent of personalities or level of resource support.  It should be The Big Idea that is larger than any one individual, so it will live on its own when that person moves on (as happens often in the gaming world).

     9.  Patience - Maintain realistic expectations of cultural dynamics and appreciation for the time involved in influencing the shape of a culture (it can't done by fiat).  Capt. Piccard of the starship Enterprise commanded, "Make it so."  Casino executives sometimes try the same method for corporate culture, but it just doesn't happen that way.  It takes time.

     10.  Resources - Invest the time, money, and people required to make the customer-focused
culture happen, the amount of each being a function of how fast management wants to move.  In the simplest terms, put your money where your mouth is.

(This article appeared in the July 2000 issue.)