Corporate Cultures


by Ray Knight and Rob Sanders

A corporate culture cannot be fixed with a training program. Not by itself. A common management misperception is that employee attitudes can be changed with some motivational training sessions and tactical activities aimed at improving the ability of employees to deliver good customer service. 

While there is nothing wrong with such tactics per se, they are generally wasted effort when done in a void. These tactics are generally developed and implemented piecemeal and in the absence of a unified strategic plan for internally marketing the desired cultural attributes to employees. The impact of the tactics is likely to be diffused and short lived. There may be a brief interlude of improvement, but when the momentum peters out, the culture almost always slides back to its familiar routine. Executing scattered tactics without a strategic plan is unavailing. The likelihood of accomplishing any lasting or important effect on customer service with scattershot tactics is minimal. 

The authors' experience with casinos and non-gaming industries as diverse as oil and gas, healthcare, banking, and others has proven that superior customer service cannot be mandated, nor can it be imparted with cognitive training alone. The employees must want to give good service, to feel it within themselves...not because they've been ordered to do it, but because they believe in it. Everyone is well familiar with the thankyouhaveaniceday kind of service from mechanical robotic clerks who never look up from the cash register. They parrot the words they were taught in a training course, but without emotion, without caring, without even hearing the words they speak. Before they can comprehend what the customer service training really means, they must understand and buy in to the culture and its values system. 

For employee bonding to the culture to occur, there must be a desirable culture to bond to. Before customer service training can be made to stick, it is necessary to define what the culture is today and what the desired culture should be, then strategically map a systematic process to build it. As baseball great Yogi Berra phrased it, "If you don't know where you're going, you'll probably end up someplace else." 

Strategic and systematic. These are the key thoughts in developing an internal marketing system. Internal marketing is the process of positively influencing employee behavior through the implementation of strategically planned communication and cultural development tactics. The internal marketing plan outlines a methodology for continually marketing or "advertising" the vision, mission, goals, traditions, rituals, history, and values of an organization to its employees.  It should also directly address and provide solutions for resolving the key issues that are obstacles to creating the proper environment and culture in the company, necessary for a profitable future. 

Just as external marketing uses research, advertising, sales promotion, and public relations in a carefully-orchestrated matrix to influence consumers, internal marketing uses many of the same disciplines to inform and inspire employees. Internal marketing defines the cultural message, creates an appealing package for it, identifies or provides the conduits for delivering it to the target audience (employees), supplies motivation to believe and practice it, measures its impact, and continually reinforces the company vision, mission, and values. The system should be strategically-founded and action-directed with tactics built in to put the strategies into effect. 

A system begins with a plan. The authors recommend the development of a strategic plan for internal marketing, to serve as the blueprint for the cultural initiative. The planning process involves first analyzing the current situation at the company from a cultural perspective. With this information in hand, the next step is to address the key issues identified in the situation analysis and determine, in detail, what to do about them. 

The resulting strategic plan will spell out the cultural vision, mission, goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics. This plan is anchored in a future-first perspective that is meant to rally the company for its culture-building initiative. The plan looks at what will be and works backward to what is. 

Tracing the link between the two points defines the path the company must take to realize its vision. This is what Dr. Charles E. Smith describes as The Merlin Factor, "the process whereby leaders transform themselves and the culture of their organizations through a creative commit ment to a radically different future." 

When the strategic direction is agreed upon, a tactical operating plan must be constructed. This document should detail all the tactical elements (actions to be taken) and assign responsibility and timelines for getting the job done. In his book The Power of Internal Marketing, Lamar D. Berry states, "Mobilization of internal marketing activity is the make-or-break step in the culture-building process. Even the most inspired and brilliant strategic plan only amounts to mental aerobics until it is actually put into action. On the other hand, even a mediocre strategic plan, enthusiastically carried out, can move the needle and make a difference." 

Berry adds, "Mobilization starts with total commitment from top management. The CEO must be convinced that the process is useful, and wholeheartedly embrace the tenets of the strategic plan.  After all of the input and discussion, the CEO probably makes the final call on what the company stands for and what its vision should be. For the plan to succeed, the CEO's conviction must be evident to all of management -- upper, middle, and lower." 

It should be emphasized that implementation and execution of the internal marketing system plan is an ongoing effort, not a one-time event. It should be viewed as a continuum -- once begun, forever done. The system will grow and evolve as the organization's needs evolve, but continuity and consistency of execution are essential to the success of the system. It should become part of the natural rhythm of the culture. 

The evolution of a casino to a superior customer service culture will not occur in a magical moment. It will take time, time for the organization to assimilate, absorb, and ferment the new culture. At the same time, practical results can be expected early on, in behavioral changes for the better, the sense of new adventure that rolls through the employees, and increased profitability from reduced turnover and higher customer retention. 

An internal marketing system is the most effective way to establish a strong cultural identity for a casino, a clear and appealing identity that bonds the organization together and energizes its cultural evolution.

(This article appeared in the April 1997 issue.)