Don’t Manage People, Manage Culture
A while back, I read a marvelous essay by August Turak about how Trappist Monks at Mepkin Abbey run their business. The piece was called Business Secrets of The Trappists, and it contained amazing insights and prescriptions into the inner workings of the Abbey’s business. What really surprised me, however, is that the way we run TEOCO has some parallels to what was described in the essay.
For example, Turak explains how the Trappists run their business with a higher goal in mind – serving God. And that they achieve profitability simply by being loyal to this goal. When I started TEOCO, I didn’t have a specific product or industry as my target market. I was focused on creating success in an environment of joy. I wanted to create a positive corporate culture where we cared for each other and enjoyed working together.
Over time, we came up with the right words to describe our purpose: To Advance the Practice of Principled Entrepreneurship. This meant building a successful business while adhering to our core values, which are:
- Alignment with Employees, Clients, and Community
- Integrity, Honesty, and Respect
- Acting with Courage, and
- Drive for Progress Through Ownership
Turak also writes of how Trappists don’t try to manage people – they just manage the culture, and everything else then systematically falls into place. At TEOCO, we put a high degree of emphasis on our corporate culture. We focus on treating employees with respect, and in nurturing an environment that puts a premium on creating joy. We don’t always succeed, but we continue to try. And while I can’t say we never manage people, we put at least an equal amount of effort into managing culture.
As I continued reading, I found many more themes that strongly resonated with me:
- Unethical behavior is unacceptable,
- Real leadership is based on persuasion, and persuasion is built on trust,
- Healthy organizations depend on values and attitudes, not skills and knowledge, and
- Always put the interests of others ahead of one’s own interests.
After reading this essay, I felt reassured about the path we have chosen. I believe our values are a recipe for how to become a good leader and successful entrepreneur – and for fostering a positive work environment. Our journey is indeed our destination, and while we will never achieve perfection, if we live each day trying to enrich the lives of those around us, it will be a life worth living.