For the St. Louis Cardinals, culture is no game

I was eating breakfast one day last week while working my way through the latest issue of Sports Illustrated and I came across an article about the St. Louis Cardinals. It seems the Cardinals are about to make their 5th consecutive postseason appearance (their 12th in the last 16 years), and are sporting the best record in the majors by a pretty good margin. While that’s certainly impressive, the more remarkable thing is that they’re doing this despite having lost their best starting pitcher and their top setup man for the season, and playing much of the year without their usual #3 and #5 hitters, all due to injuries!

The article goes on to attribute part of their success to the diligent way in which they’ve built depth, but the “the rest of their success lies in an ingrained organizational culture that can, among other things, lead incumbent veterans to nurture their successors, even if the future benefits to themselves are nebulous.”

Unlocking discretionary effort

Everywhere I look, I see this same story repeating itself. Whether we’re talking about athletes, office workers, truck drivers, teachers, or healthcare professionals, the story is the same. Beyond the minimal effort necessary to get the job done, there’s a tremendous amount of discretionary effort waiting to be unleashed that can generate extraordinary performance. And the key to unleashing that effort is culture.

The culture is the single biggest factor that causes people in one organization to just get by, while those in another consistently go the extra mile. To be sure, there are extremes on either end of the bell curve. Some people will do amazing work no matter where you put them and others will do the minimum necessary no matter where they work. But the vast majority of people are heavily influenced by the culture of the organization in which they operate.

No additional cost

Here’s the really interesting thing: unlocking that discretionary effort rarely costs anything extra! It’s simply a matter of giving people the opportunity to work in a place where they’re engaged, they feel connected, they’re appreciated, and they can find meaning. And this is all about the culture.

In a competitive and largely commoditized world, it’s more important than ever to create a culture that inspires extraordinary performance. Quite simply, it’s the biggest opportunity that exists to develop and sustain a winning advantage.

Of course, knowing that your culture is critical is not the same as knowing how to do it.  If you\’d like to learn more about the practical and proven process we\’ve used to help scores of companies more intentionally create high performing cultures, just give us a call or shoot us an e-mail.


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