By John P. Williams                                                                          October 13, 2017


For twenty years, I wore the uniform of a United States Marine and every day I ate, slept, sweated and breathed the discipline, the traditions and the esprit of what someone once described as “the best public affairs outfit of any of the military services.” At times, the Marine Corps’ propensity to toot its own horn creates inter-service jealousy, but at the end of the day, no one can deny that success breeds success.


Like many high-functioning organizations, the Marine Corps is steadfast in pursuing and protecting the aspects of its organizational culture. In fact, the Marine Corps has stayed true to its brand since it was founded in 1775.


But not every organization understands the impact of organizational culture. With the increasing importance of science, technology and engineering in business today, the value of organizational culture is often pushed down the list of priorities or even overlooked completely. That may be because culture is difficult to describe–you can’t touch it or calculate it with a spreadsheet.  Is putting effort into defining, promoting and maintaining organizational culture worth it? A lot of organizations produce good products and deliver top-notch services, but a successful organizational culture will help retain good employees and drive your customers to return for more.


I am fortunate to run my own company now, and I draw from my experience as a Marine to create an organizational culture that is not only attractive to our customers, but also attracts the talented employees we need to be successful. From the first day an employee joins our team, they understand our organizational expectations and standards, that their hard work is valued, that their input is important, and that innovation and initiative are rewarded. It takes extra time and effort, but since we live in an environment where a six-second-video can be too long, I ensure regular contact with teams and individuals to reinforce our guiding principles that support and grow our organizational culture.


If you are looking to build or strengthen your organization’s culture, here are some recommendations that may be helpful:

1. Define it. Write it down. What is important to you as a company? Putting it on paper and keeping it nearby will remind you of what is important.

2. Leadership sets the tone. Talk about it – often. If the boss doesn’t endorse it, there won’t be any buy-in from the team. Putting your organizational culture on the agenda at every company-wide meeting and infusing it into your interview process will create a steady battle rhythm of reminders and promotion.

3. Actively market it. Not just internally with your employees, but also externally with your customers and peers. You will find that it is easier to relate to potential new clients and other peer leaders when you depend on your key messages about your organization’s culture, because it will be heartfelt and genuine, two emotions that resonate with people.

4. Protect it. Don’t hire anyone if they are not going to be a good fit culturally. It’s too important to risk.


At Powell Strategies, we borrow from the Marine Corps’ time-tested formula that produces a winning culture – we embrace it and we talk about it. We understand what is important to us as an organization, and like the Marine Corps, we amplify it. Focusing on our organizational culture strengthens our team and allows us to continue to grow – together.