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March 24, 2014

Culture, Leadership & Caring

We can measure revenue, costs, wins and losses but it’s hard to measure and quantify culture. Yet, when we experience an organization with a great culture we can tell there is something very different about them. We feel it when we walk around the building, store, offices or locker room. We see it in the messages on the walls. We hear it when we talk to the leaders and observe the people of the organization. People who are part of a great culture, think, act, lead and serve differently.

I experienced this first hand when I visited the Pittsburgh Pirates last week at their training camp facility to speak to their leaders and players. A team that hadn’t had a winning record since 1992 won 94 games and made it to the post season in 2013, and I’m convinced their culture is a big reason why.

As I walked around, I noticed The Pirates Creed posted throughout their facilities conveying the characteristics, beliefs, values, and cultural expectations of how each person in the Pirates organization should think, act and approach their work as a member of the Pirates.

When I spoke to Kyle Stark, the assistant GM, he told me that their bigger purpose as an organization is to change the world of baseball by turning boys into men and develop players into professionals on and off the field. He said our goal is to be the most cohesive team in the world and our mindset is to focus on the process of getting better every day. No talk of homeruns, wins or losses; Just purpose, process and teamwork.

The Pirates, like Southwest Airlines, Defender Direct, Northwestern Mutual and many of the great companies I’ve worked with have discovered that it’s not the numbers that drive people. It’s the culture, people, purpose and process that drive the numbers. If you want to win you don’t focus on winning. You focus on the culture, people and process that produce wins.

Kyle and the Pirates also know that it doesn’t matter what signs and messages you have posted on the walls if your leaders and managers don’t model it and your team doesn’t live and breathe it. Culture by itself isn’t enough. You must have leadership that drives the culture and ingrains it into the expectations, beliefs, behaviors, actions and habits of each person.

The Pirates conduct a daily leadership meeting where they have a leadership coach, Rod Olson, share a daily leadership tip with all the coaches in the organization (minor and major leagues). They also bring in a bunch outside speakers like me to develop their leaders and reinforce their values knowing culture and leadership go hand in hand.

When I met and talked with Clint Hurdle, the 2013 manager of the year for the Pirates, I knew why the culture had come alive in the hearts and minds of his players. Clint is a big man with a bigger servant’s heart. A former MLB player he knows what it takes to be a winner but more importantly his players know that he loves them. He wants to win but he’s more interested in helping his players become winners.

Most importantly Clint’s team knows that he cares about them. I’ve found that a leader who cares builds a team that cares. Then together they care about their effort. They care about getting better. They care about each other. They care about the organization. They care about their culture. They care more so they do more. The culture may have been designed in the office but Clint’s presence, coaching and caring makes it come to life in the club house and on the field.

As I drove home with my son I realized the Pirates are a great example that when you focus on culture, leadership and caring you create a culture that strengthens and builds up people and you have people who strengthen and build the culture. And when you have a great culture, great leadership and people who care, you have the keys to sustained success.

I can’t predict how well the Pirates will do this year. Injuries happen and in sports sometimes things don’t go your way. However, after experiencing their culture I can predict that everyone in the Pirates organization will do everything they can to strive for greatness, and more often than not, this will lead to a great outcome.



My son Cole with Clint Hurdle


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