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  • Sam Decker

How Culture is an “Atmosphere for Success”

Rick Barnes, prior Head Basketball Coach for the UT Longhorns men’s basketball team, spoke to my team once about leadership. Here are some of his principles:

“Today a Peacock. Tomorrow a Feather Duster” – you always need to be improving to stay on top. And sometimes you fail…but you can come back.

He hires people who weren’t “born on second base and thought they’ve hit a triple.” – people who have overcome hurdles appreciate where they are and work hard to stay there and improve.

There were several others, but one of the principles I really like is he wants to create an “Atmosphere for Success” for the UT basketball program.

Rick hired the best assistant coaches and trainer. He built the best practice facility in the country. He’s working to put amenities and entertainment in the stadium to attract people. All of these initiatives to win basketball games.

Of course he needs talent…but talent won’t come without an atmosphere for success. Talent in a poor environment will not thrive. And existing good talent is not optimized without an atmosphere for success.

This reminded me of a story from Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point.

What turned NYC subways around? Gladwell claims the turnaround was due to the "law of the few," and the power of context. The subway was suffering from the "Broken Windows" theory–no one cares; no one is in charge. Graffiti equals public disorder; aggressive panhandling equals an invitation to more serious crimes. The tipping point occurred when a new subway conductor set out to win the graffiti battle. There would be no retreat: once a car was reclaimed, it was never allowed to get dirty again.

The mayor and head of transit police cracked down on the small crimes and the environment that was creating the larger crimes. They created an atmosphere for success.

Gladwell calls it the ‘power of context’. In business, I call it culture.

In a culture for success management must embrace integrity, accountability, communication and approachability. The atmosphere is shaped from little things –surroundings, dress, communication, and process. And most importantly, cultural inputs are created from the people hired, starting with the person running the show. So hire well.

Atmosphere, culture, environment…whatever you want to call it. As Jack Welch said, “Culture counts.” Cultural inputs or easily neglected, but they are the oxygen and protein for a body of people who create the collection systems and processes called business.


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