Culture is a Verb Part I
By Dave Turgeon
Culture is the latest buzzword that is tossed about in organizations and teams. “Culture eats vision for lunch;” “Cultures win championships, MVPs don’t;” “Their culture is one of excellence;” to name a few expressions you may have heard. By Webster’s definition, culture is the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations. It is the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious or social group. It is also the characteristic features of everyday existence shared by people in a place or time. It is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization. This Webster’s definition is a lot, so let’s simplify. Culture is the way you and your team do things on a regular basis. The key word here is “DO!”
THE FIRING ORDER OF CULTURE: LEADERSHIP DRIVES THE CULTURE TRAIN
Establishing a culture starts with LEADERSHIP. I am currently a part of the most dynamic and forward thinking culture I have ever been a part of in my entire life. An appropriate quote that describes our culture is one from Gandhi: “Be the change in the world you want to see.” This resonates with me because our culture is one of action as well as being. After establishing what the culture is, none of that vision matters without the “action” and “being” behind it. It is great to have inspiring words and posters on the walls, but without the substance of the “act” and “be,” it is nothing. The Pirates “act” and “be” on an elite level. Know this. Leadership of your organization or team creates the mindset, energy and environment that will either lead to or stagnate growth.
CAROLINA LEAGUE CHAMPS
When considering my past leadership and team models that I have learned from, I always think of the 1989 Prince William Cannons team I was a small part of. This story is one of the most extreme and dramatic culture/leadership turnarounds I have ever seen or been a part of. It also became a special group that was at first disjointed by its leader and then brought together another leader that recognized what the group needed immediately. The ‘89 season started out with high hopes, as we had plenty of talent and personality on the club. Breaking from Spring Training, the expectations were high (always high expectations with the New York Yankees organization – they are a winning culture!), as was the morale of the club. Things fell apart quickly, and at the midpoint we found ourselves finishing dead last in the league.
Stump Merrill came in and reset the culture. He freed us up (mindset) to just go play (energy) while holding us accountable to the Yankees standards. He connected with us. He encouraged us. He stayed with us when we hit adversity. His leadership style created an environment to thrive in and at the end of the year we found ourselves dumping champagne on one another’s heads in Durham, North Carolina. We beat the Durham Bulls (Managed by a current Pirates Special Assistant Grady Little) to capture the Carolina League Championship. Stump took the same team that finished last in the first half and won the league championship. You think leadership isn’t the most important piece of the firing order of culture? It drives the train!
CEMENT AND REBAR
Although most want to talk about how their systems and programs are cutting edge and beyond the industry, I will argue that having people who understand how to start and develop relationships will determine whether or not you will have success, or any sustained success. That’s right – I am saying the cement and rebar of any elite culture are expert relationship builders! Coaching and leading teams is a people business more than an X’s and O’s business. The game is played and coached by humans, and not played on Xbox, so our ability to connect and dive deeper into our staff and players ultimately will determine successes on and off the field as they transition into their next phases of life.
Sounds simple, right? Not always. In our industry, because of its global nature, there are the obvious challenges of languages and customs on and off the field. At some point, we can get beyond all of those things in time with our multilingual staff and players and our ability to educate each other on all of the above. Perhaps the biggest challenge is to understand what each individual’s language is. No, not Spanish or Mandarin or Dutch…each person’s LOVE language! What does that mean? We will circle back to this in a bit.
There will always be those who are easier to connect with and always some that seem more challenging. What I have come to realize is that those challenging ones are the ones that are the essence of coaching and leading, and ultimately the ones that make us better at coaching and leading. These are the ones that require intentionality and action and energy. But why?
WHAT’S THEIR LOVE LANGUAGE?
As mentioned, relationship road blockers are not limited to language and customs. Could it be their love language that we do not understand?
One of my mentors, John Blanchard, introduced a book to me called The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, which came with a test. The book was great, and I found the test to be a fun and useful exercise. The basis of the book is that we all have different ways of understanding and expressing our love, which gets broken down into: words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, physical touch, and gift giving. As you can imagine, it gets fun talking about how we MEN express and understand LOVE!
Several huge nuggets came to me from doing the test (please do this with your spouses or significant others as well!), and the first one was self-awareness. Knowing yourself is where it all starts. If you do not know yourself, how can you hope to know others? You must know your own love languages and what makes YOU tick. Now, overall, I had an idea of my strongest love language, but what I realized is that we probably have a piece of all of them in our communication toolbox.
The second “aha” moment came when I realized that if we do not understand the love language of those we lead, we are not leveraging the power of TEAM! It is amazing that, although the people you are communicating with may speak English, you might as well be speaking to them in Russian if you do not have this piece.
If Rosetta Stone offered Love Language as a course, I would buy it right now. Since diving into the Love Languages, I have solved some relationship riddles (although not all… this is just one more tool to find answers) that have allowed both of us to help move our culture forward. What would stop a culture from growing or moving forward? Lots of things, but please believe that poor or stagnant relationships is the biggest. Growing Relationships = Growing Culture!
WORDS OF AFFIRMATION
The last little story I have on Love Language happened last summer. I was visiting one of our upper level clubs, and when I walked into the clubhouse, I saw up on the whiteboard that our manager had done the Love Language test with the entire staff and team. Listed under each Love Language was the player’s name if that was his number one Love Language. Boom! What a tremendous cohesion building exercise, as well as a great way for a group of men from all over the world (at least three different languages) to understand each other’s most important language of all… their LOVE language! When I walked into the manager’s office, he was quick to mention the exercise and asked me if I saw what his number one Love language was. I said, “Of course. Yours is words of affirmation. Great job!” Now this was funny, but also powerful in so many ways. If we are building relationships, we are always searching for innovative ways to do it, and the Love Language test is just another way.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
Is the Golden Rule at the top of your list in terms of how we treat one another? Maybe it should be. The Golden Rule of “treat others as you would like to be treated” is a great start to get into some specific standards we all need in our teams, organizations and families. I recently heard of the expression “over the table communication vs. under the table talk,” which I loved. It simply was an expression that meant to have an environment where people felt free to respectfully express what was on their minds in front of all, as opposed to going off after the meetings to have sidebars or “water cooler” conversations that breed divisiveness. The key to this is respect. Respectful communication allows us to get stuff out there in a productive way, rather than have it fester in those small sidebars.
TECHNOLOGY ENHANCES AND HURTS
The advent of text and email has allowed us to expand our speed and breadth of communication. Unfortunately, its convenience has removed much of our intentionality and purpose to connect person to person. It has made us lazy at developing relationships, and what’s more, we may have a generation of people who have not gotten relationship “reps” growing up, because their lives have revolved around smartphones and computers as their main vehicle to communicate. Email and texting are great for getting information out, but when we start trying to solve problems or discuss serious matters this way, we are losing the art of communication because we are not present to see the body language and hear the tone of the message; we are simply guessing at the true meaning.;
I recently read a study by the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University that estimated that in communicating, 2.5% is verbal (the words), 10% is vocal (volume, tone, cadence) and up to 83% is visual (body language). So, if this was even half true (I believe in the science), we are truly stifling not only our messaging but also our ability to learn. Please understand: I get technology. I use it, and it is effective. My point is that expert relationship builders (drivers of our culture) are consistently and intentionally present to build those relationships and move them forward while enhancing them with technology…not the other way around.
Email has also replaced meeting in person for some. Again, this is an excellent way of getting information out there to the masses, as well as being organized in our days. However, when this becomes the primary way we try to fuss and discuss things, we are truly missing the boat. Do you manage, lead or teach INBOXES, or PEOPLE?
THE LUNCH PAIL
The lunch pail is a symbol of the blue-collar worker, the common man who went to work daily to provide a life for his family. It can also describe a mindset of a culture. Part of our Pirates Pride comes from this symbol. We believe in showing up for work every day and rolling up our sleeves to grow our culture so that in turn, we are growing our players and playing for championships. This attitude of showing up every day is about really SHOWING UP every day! Bringing your best every day is not an easy thing to do. The key here is to surround ourselves with people who show up every day, which raises the bar collectively for us to do the same.
I would compare this to going to the gym and working out with a partner who spots you at the end of every exercise you do. He pushes and encourages you to squeeze out that last rep or two to get you stronger. People who show up every day do this for their teammates on a consistent basis. Those extra reps of accountability and ownership of what we do every day is the difference between good and great over a long period of time. Show me a team of good spotters, and you will show me a growing culture.
In the baseball world, most people think of OPS (slugging percentage plus on base percentage) as an offensive statistic. When I first came to the Pirates almost seven years ago, then Pitching Coordinator Jim Benedict changed my thinking. Benny (Now Vice President of Pitching Development for the Miami Marlins) used to preach OPS as: Organization, People, Self. He lived it. Here’s the thing, though, with Benny: he also happens to be an incredible pitching/baseball man. If he did not live his job in the order of his OPS acronym, the seeds would not take hold nearly as well. Benny gets a ton of credit for being an amazing pitching guy (which he is) but it casts a shadow on the true selflessness of the man who coined “OPS.” OPS means people over programs! Thanks for your impact, Benny.
We have laid the foundation for your culture. It starts with leadership. The thermostats of the culture create the environment, set the tone and the energy of all that takes place. For the vision to grow, it requires a team of relationship builders who understand that as we grow relationships, we in turn grow our culture. These people take the time to understand every person’s true language to move things forward. The Golden Rule is another guardrail of the culture when considering rules of engagement. Treating others as you would like to be treated is paramount. The Golden Rule is best exercised in person. Text and email are no substitute for in person and real interaction when it comes to communication and growing relationships. Lastly, the work ethic and care level of a culture will allow it to grow or not. Showing up daily with the blue-collar mentality can overcome so much. And one last reminder…PEOPLE OVER PROGRAMS!
Turgeon is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is the Coordinator of Instruction for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Turgeon played in the New York Yankees farm system from 1987-1990 under Stump Merrill and Buck Showalter after being drafted out of Davidson College. Before playing for the Baltimore Orioles’ AAA affiliate in 1998 he spent eight years playing abroad. From 2000-2001 Turgeon began coaching in the Cleveland Indians organization before entering the college ranks where he coached with Boston College, the University of Connecticut, Duke University and Virginia Tech.