I once heard business culture described like a soup. Each ingredient you add to the mix alters it just a little bit. Add something bitter, and you’ve soured the whole thing. Add something sweet, and everyone is eating it up.
It was a typical Tuesday morning when I arrived at work that day. I was going through my normal routine of readying the store, a process that had become so second-nature that most times I was still half asleep as I did it. I approached the computer stations to fire them up, and that’s when I saw them. Otters. Yes, otters. There were postcard-sized pictures of these marine animals taped to the front of each monitor. What the?…. I thought to myself.
Is this some kind of joke?
It had been a slow month for sales, and the team had been feeling a bit down the past few days. Usually this is where I would step in, offering encouragement and motivation to keep morale up. I have learned over the years that culture is one of the most influential components in a business. When the culture is suffering, so is the business. Unbeknownst to me, I had also unintentionally instilled these values in my team. Prior to closing the night before, one of my employees had printed off pictures of an otter with his webbed paws framing either side of his mouth. The caption, “You otter make us proud” was written in a text bubble drawn from his face. Without any prompting from their leader, this team was able to recognize that a pick-me-up was needed to turn the tables. And so the otter was born.
A few weeks later while traveling on a business trip, I came across a North American River Otter (stuffed animal of course!) in one of the airport gift shops. I snatched it up before rushing to the gate to board my plane. Just before takeoff, I snapped a quick shot of the otter and I and sent it off to my team with the caption, “You otter know I miss you!”
That was it. The otter (named Ottie, no less), became the unofficial-official mascot of our team. Ottie proudly sat on the back counter of our business, overlooking the team and keeping them motivated through tough times. Of course Ottie couldn’t actually speak, but don’t tell my team that! Having a bad day? Tell Ottie all about it. Celebrating a recent success? Ottie is your biggest fan. From the outside, this probably seems absolutely ridiculous, and reminds you more of a preschool classroom than a business. But let me tell you, that otter was the most powerful culture booster I have ever found-I was not about to take that away.
In business, culture is what defines your successes and failures. It is what sets your company apart from those around you. Have you ever walked in to a coffee shop where everyone is smiling, and they remember your four pump, nonfat, extra shot drink without you even asking? But the same coffee shop down the street can’t take the time to put down their iPhone when you are trying to place your order? That’s culture. Sure you can argue that it has to do with policy and procedures, and one must enforce their rules more than the other. But I would argue that when the culture is good, business is good. It’s what makes people WANT to do better. Trust me, I otter know!