The 64-Page Culture Manual to Fraud, Corruption, and Bankruptcy

 In the early 2000s, one company was so intent on building the right type of culture that they decided to build a 64-page “culture manual”. The culture manual outlined their mission statement, core values, and principles of human rights.

They defined their core values as respect, integrity, communication, and excellence. The 64-page document was filled with powerful and inspiring lines like, “We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness, and arrogance don’t belong here.”

That company was Enron.

Who Are You?

Here’s a simple reflection activity I modified from Ben Horowitz’s book, What You Do is Who You Are. How many of the following questions can be answered by your program’s mission statement, core values, or program pillars?

  • Is extra work after practice more important than going home and studying for a big test tomorrow?
  • Should I keep fighting for a starting spot or accept my role as a reserve?
  • Our best player forgot his shoes. Should we take shoes from a reserve player or play without our best player?
  • If I feel I should be playing more, should I challenge the coach or accept his decision?
  • When a teammate is going to be late for practice, should I cover for him or let him suffer the consequences?
  • Should the staff watch two more hours of film to possibly increase our chances of winning? Or should we get home and spend time with our families?
  • When recruiting a player, what is more important: being honest with them or getting them into our program?
  • What’s more important: fancy uniforms or providing special team experiences like a trip away?
  • Should we sacrifice valuable sleep or extra prep time?
  • Is winning more important than how we win?
  • Should we play the players who give us the best chance to win today? Or should we play the players who are the most committed to our program?

The answers to these questions are not easy, and they can’t be answered by picking out your core values or redesigning your mission statement. In fact, core values can often be conflicting.

Just think of the values “selfless” and “competitive”. A competitor wants to be on the court or field every minute, fighting for the win. A selfless player is willing to put others before themselves—even if it means sometimes not playing. But what if that player truly believes they can give the team the best chance of winning? One of those values will need to be suppressed.

Moving from General to Specific

When discussing your team’s culture or the standards in your program, if all you identify are clichés, such as “give your best”, “put others first”, or “win the day”, then people will not have clear expectations of how to meet those standards. Vague standards and expectations pose problems because not everyone is playing from the same sheet! For example, “giving your best” may look different for you as a coach than it does for your players, or even amongst the players themselves. One player may have a strong work ethic instilled in them by their parents and therefore will have a different view of “giving your best” than other players with different parents.

Helping players move from general to specific is one of the most important things we can do on a consistent basis. Here are three ways to do it with your team. (For the sake of simplicity, I will use the standard “give your best”, but you could use any other general standard in its place.)

  1. Pre-Season Meeting: Establish standards by asking, “What does it look like to ‘give your best’ in practice? In games? In the classroom?” Use that question to get players to share more specific behaviors.
  2. Pre-Practice Huddle: Ask your players before practice, “What should ‘giving our best’ look like today?” Often, they will still provide vague descriptions like “hustle”. Continue to drill down to more specific answers by asking, “What are some things we can do to hustle?”
  3. Pre-Drill Question: Before a drill, you could ask, “What should ‘giving our best’ look like in this this drill?” Once again, you might get another vague standard like “communicating”. It’s essential to ask questions such as, “What are two things we should communicate in this drill?”

The strategies and questions shared above can be effective to help establish standards in any area of your program. I’ve even used #3 once in preparation of our team meal at the Olive Garden. When you use questions to get players to create standards, you are moving your program towards a player-led program. This will lead to your players holding each other accountable, and you will be more likely to get follow-through on your standards.