Culture isn’t something that someone proclaims or dictates—it’s not something that just happens. The very best cultures are built layer upon layer, over time. They are built by people who are dedicated and committed to doing something extraordinary. The leaders walk the talk. They live it. They share it. And of course, they celebrate it.
The culture my leadership team and I developed at Varsity Spirit is a unique combination of love and support for our colleagues and customers, combined with a fierce competitive spirit that expects and demands every team member’s best efforts—all the time. All managers and employees understand who we are and what we stand for, and they are expected to compete and win. I call it “The Heart and the Fist.”
Here are the five keys to building and sustaining this winning culture:
1. Clearly share the vision. You want your employees to wake up every day knowing why their job is important and what kind of impact it has on the people you serve. Employees want a leader with a vision. They want to know and understand the vision. And then they want to understand their role in making it come to fruition.
2. Create an environment where employees can thrive and feel valued. Imagine a job where all your efforts go unnoticed. Or where you feel like you could be replaced at any moment. If you want to build a winning culture and have your employees stick around, you must be intentional with your words and take the time to acknowledge specific contributions to the team. The more gratitude you bestow on each individual, and the more specific you are about noticing their efforts, the more irreplaceable they feel. But sometimes even a simple acknowledgement from the boss like “thank you for your hard work” goes a long way in affirming that the efforts of each individual are not only noticed but truly appreciated.
3. Focus on the authentic value your company is providing its customers and constantly reinforce this as the key driver in all that you do. World class companies have sound financial discipline, but they don’t allow an excessive emphasis on short term profits to blur the true purpose of the organization. It’s always about the mission and purpose.
4. Hold each other accountable. Everyone has to understand that their best efforts are required and expected all the time, and that a commitment to continuous improvement is essential for the long term success of the company. I believe in putting the team and its mission above individual needs and this value is instilled in every member of the organization.
5. Play to win. This is the fist. Turn your team loose on your competitors. You’ve led with the heart, creating an organization that feels connected and is prepared to always give its very best efforts. Competing and winning affirms to the team that you’re doing the right things. It builds confidence for future battles and underpins a culture that will sustain the organization into the future.
Every employee has a universal human need to feel like they’re a part of something that’s important. The heart and the fist culture has enabled Varsity Spirit to attract and retain amazingly talented and committed team members with a remarkable track record of success, as evidenced by year over year revenue and profit growth for 43 out of the past 44 years. But most importantly, it has resulted in an organization that is innovative, agile, committed to winning and has impacted millions of young people in a positive way.