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The PeopleCap Playbook

Timely insights and actionable people strategies for leaders.

#21 Culture Decision

In their first baseball tournament of the Spring, my son’s team found its way into the Championship Game. Late in the game, we had runners on first and second. We needed to move the runners around, but stealing was out of the question. Their catcher was throwing everyone out.

#21 came up to bat. He had gotten on base every at bat during the entire tournament, and this was his chance to remain perfect. The coach gave him the green light; but he didn’t swing for the fences. He laid down a beautiful bunt. The third baseman charged, and #21 was out. His “perfect” on-base percentage no longer perfect. The runners, however, both advanced and were now both in scoring position.

As #21 headed back to the dugout, his teammate who was now on third pointed excitedly, and his coach ran to high-five him. The coach turned around to the dugout and yelled: “Guys. He did that on his own. Guys, he did that for the team!” The dugout greeted him with a hero’s welcome. They went on to win the Championship, and in the post game huddle, the coach specifically included #21’s sacrifice bunt in his list of great plays that helped them win the championship.

The moments surrounding #21’s sacrifice bunt capture what we all aspire our culture to be – and how leaders should create the culture they want.

Employees make thousands of decisions every day. Leaders can’t be present for every decision, and play doesn’t stop before every decision to give a leader time to give instructions. How do you make sure the decisions they make are the decisions you want them to make.

The answer lies in large part with the reaction of his coach and his teammates. The coach immediately praised #21’s decision to put the team first. He held the decision up as an example to the entire team. And, perhaps most importantly, when the moment had passed, and it was time to recognize individual players, #21’s bunt was recognized with the same enthusiasm as a teammate’s triple that drove in two runs.

To establish the culture you want in your business, you have to Define It, Reinforce It, and Defend It. Of the three: Reinforcing the culture we want is often the most overlooked and underrated. It’s important to remember that what we recognize and reward gets repeated.

Often we say we value certain things – teamwork, collaboration, etc; but then we focus our recognition and rewards on individual performance numbers and achievements. If the coach only praised batting averages, #21 would have had little incentive to sacrifice his own batting average for the benefit of the team. If the coach hadn’t praised #21 openly, the team wouldn’t know how much he truly valued the decision.

When you recognize employees, do you praise behaviors consistent with your values or individual achievements? Do your incentive programs reinforce the culture you want or encourage individually-beneficial behaviors? In your company, are employees better off if they are a team player or if they undercut others to succeed? Are you reinforcing the culture you want?