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What Feeds Cultural Differentiation

One of the overused and yet most important words used in the world of business is differentiation. There is a lot of chatter about how best to differentiate a business.

The focus tends to be on things like product features, pricing, service, and other common differentiating variables. But what many seem to not recognize is the importance of overall culture in the differentiation process.

For example, suppose a company has identified customer service as its most critical differentiating variable. That’s great, but it begs some questions. How will we use customer service to differentiate us from the competition? Can our people deliver a differentiated level of service consistently? Are we really providing better service than our competition or are we just kidding ourselves? These are but a few of the legitimate questions that should be asked.

Another overused word, but perhaps even more important than differentiation is culture. For any organization to achieve and sustain differentiation, there has to be a focus on its very foundation, or culture. When we think about culture, we think in terms of “habitual organizational behavior”. So we believe that how a company “behaves” day in and out can create a differentiating variable not generally thought about in the true sense of differentiation.

But how does corporate culture impact differentiation? The easiest answer lies in the belief that the evolution and achievement of a culture of excellence provides a strong foundation to achieve differentiation and can, in and of itself, provide some degree of recognizable differentiation. But how? By having in place a culture that focuses on excellence in all aspects of the business, it makes it easier to isolate and take advantage of true differentiating variables.

Let’s take our example of customer service discussed above. So many businesses will tell you they provide better service than their competitors. But do they really? In most cases, it’s nothing more than lip service. In a culture of excellence…one that has as its foundation habitual excellent organizational behavior…customer service would be a focal point and would be relationship-oriented, urgent in nature, responsive, and truly superior to that delivered by competitors (and likely most other businesses).

Here are a few things that feed into a culture that creates a foundation upon which differentiation can take place:

  • A sense of urgency about serving customers at a very high level.
  • The sharing of a common goal of excellence across the organization.
  • High performing employees who understand that external relationship development is important to success.
  • An understanding that everyone is accountable for results.
  • A shared passion for delivering the highest quality product and/or service.
  • Employees who care; who want to excel; who want the business to be highly successful; who work well together; who put their own personal agendas behind organizational goals and agendas and who clearly understand that the business can set itself apart from its competition.
  • Having a plan in place that is focused on gaining a competitive advantage in various areas and that is effectively implemented and one that clearly defines and communicates the important goals of the business.

It’s not easy to create a culture that allows for differentiation. And that’s why it creates opportunities for those who can. Most organizations nibble around the edges of trying to get there, but can’t create the whole package, so to speak. Those that do are usually very successful and are great places to work.