unCUlturers: musings on organizational culture & development (and stuff about credit unions too)
There was a soda brand a few years back that labeled itself the "uncola." It wanted to be different. It wanted to be better.

Southwest Airlines also appears to get it. They've taken concrete steps to establish a culture altogether different and unique. They've embraced the idea of being silly, odd, even irreverent. Their corporate culture is unlike any other out there. They've built an unculture. They know who they are organizationally, and aren't afraid to let the world know that they're different, countercultural, counterintuitive, etc. They're glad to be the unculture.

And don't think for a second that it doesn't matter. If you don't think that type of attitude and cultural climate have a positive effect on both their employees and their bottom line, you're kidding yourself. You know those silly commercials on TV that show bag handlers ripping open their shirts to display the words "Bags fly free" on their chests? Yeah, those are all actual Southwest employees. When asked why they chose not to hire actors for the commercial, Southwest's response was basically something like "Well, we didn't really think actors could capture the spirit, passion, and attitude of our employees." You think choosing the unculture just amounts to wanting to be silly? Think again. Southwest is full of passionate, engaged employees.

And lest you think this is all just a bunch of touchy-feely nonsense, I should mention that this unculture is one of reasons that Southwest is now widely regarded as the most successful and consistently profitable airlines out there right now. Even through the economic downturn they've managed to be innovative and progressive, attracting top talent from around the nation and world.

But isn't cultivating an unculture risky? Sure it is. It's messier. Things don't always fit into nice little boxes like you'd like. But organizations that understand that their culture can be a huge competitive advantage, both in the consumer and employee markets, will actively cultivate a healthy, unique culture. They'll cultivate an unculture.

Am I saying that every organization out there needs to be just like Southwest? No, of course not. That would kind of defeat the purpose. It's OK not to be like everyone else, or anyone else for that matter. It's OK to be different. It's OK not to be just like every other soda brand. It's OK not to be just like every other airline. It's OK not to be just like every other financial institution. It's OK not to be just like every other non-profit. It's OK not to be just like every other church. 

So figure out who you are as an organization, and who you want to be. Then take active steps to build that culture. Be bold. Be courageous. Be innnovative. Develop a distinct organizational and cultural identity. Then celebrate and cultivate that culture. The effects will be seen in your bottom line for sure, but as a byproduct of more passionate, engaged employees.