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Codifying Culture For Operational Consistency

How do you create a culture for operational consistency? Do these things.


Written by: Robert J. Kohlhepp (Are you the author?)
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My career within a single company spanned 50 years as I climbed from controller to the C-suite of Cintas, a uniform rental company. Among the many lessons learned along the way included the need to define and operationalize our culture. To embed culture, it must be institutionalized.

At Cintas, our culture consisted of three components:

A principal objective, which involved taking care of our partners (employees) so that they could do best job possible for customers and shareholders;

Corporate character, which can be summed up as absolute professionalism;

Management systems, or the policies and procedures under which we operated.

Having a principal objective simplified decision-making. Rather than considering multiple factors or weighing many potential outcomes, we only had to consider which approach would result in exceeding customer expectations and maximizing long-term value for shareholders and partners.

Also, we referred to employees as “partners” at Cintas. Defining and articulating our corporate character to our partners and employment candidates provided a clear vision of how we wanted our organization to function.

Additionally, we determined that without management systems and specific guidelines in place, there’s no control within an organization. Management may believe they’ve clearly laid out instructions for how work is to be done, but unless it’s committed to writing and communicated, it’s very likely that separate teams or business units or facilities will operate differently from one another. Realizing this led us at Cintas to write an operations booklet, The Spirit Is the Difference, providing a brief history of the company, describing what it was like to work at Cintas, and articulating what was important to us as an organization.

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