Today is the final day of the 2015 Calgary Stampede, billed as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. It isn’t too much of a stretch to believe that it just might be that. For 10 days each year something more than 1.25 million people pass through the gates of the Stampede Grounds for a variety of reasons. Some attend the rodeo – one of the world’s richest with over $2,000,000 in prize money. Some come for the chuck wagon racing, an exciting and uniquely Western Canadian sport. Some come for the Midway’s rides and games, while others want to soak up the atmosphere of the Western saloons, music and dancing.
What truly makes the Stampede the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth is what happens in the City of Calgary outside of the grounds. For these 10 days each year, a very high percentage of the citizens set aside their traditional work outfits and dress like cowboys and cowgirls. Jeans, denim skirts, boots, big belt buckles, cowboy hats, Western shirts, vests, bandanas, bolo ties … you see it all. In addition, free pancake breakfasts pop up all over the city, and every bar and restaurant brings in hay bales, barn board and Western cartoon art to transform the city. The Stampede makes Calgary truly unique … like Oktoberfest for Munich or Carnival for Rio de Janeiro.
I had an impactful, personal experience with the Stampede this year. I headed off for work on Monday morning, parked at the C-Train station and hopped on for my ride downtown. Something felt different, and I realized that here I was in my dress shirt and jacket while everyone else was in Western wear. I had forgotten it was Stampede! I felt so out of sorts that I got off the train, walked back to my car and drove home to change. I finally got to work about an hour past my normal arrival time.
I had thought about it for the duration of the train trip into downtown. What compelled me to go to such great lengths to be a part of this thing called the Stampede? A couple of things came to mind.
First, I wanted to fit in. I didn’t want to be the curiosity in the office being asked constantly “where’s your jeans and boots?” A part of belonging is following the rules and I felt offside with that!
The second realization was actually more powerful. I WANTED to be a part of it. I love the culture of this city and I wanted to participate. I look forward to Stampede every year to express openly that I’m a Calgarian and proud of it.
This experience led me to thoughts of how this situation applies to creating a great organizational culture, and it was immediately apparent to me that there are strong parallels. Here are five signs from the Calgary Stampede that can teach us about creating a great culture:
- It is uniquely identifiable. Any great culture should be instantly recognizable. People should know what it is and what it stands for. That doesn’t mean we have to like it – in fact we want to use this unique identity to draw in those who do fit and dissuade those that don’t. It brings to mind the old Groucho Marx line “I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me as a member.”
- We feel good about the identity. When we are a part of a culture, it will have norms that we assume. When we are inside those norms, we feel good. When we are outside the norms, we know it and want to get back in line with them.
- It leaves room to be an individual. When there is no room for individuality, it isn’t a culture … it’s a cult. We need the latitude to express ourselves authentically. In the culture of Calgary and the Stampede, it isn’t about a perfect Western outfit. It’s about showing that the Western roots of Calgary are important by looking the part in some way.
- It is something that binds people together. It is said that you can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends. I think this adage is appropriate here, in that a great culture is like a great family, where you are bound together by common roots that make you want to be friends as well. When we see a great organizational culture, I think we see these same characteristics – a joy of belonging and a tremendous sense of loss when we consider leaving.
- It draws others in. Any great culture attracts attention and people who want to join. In the case of Calgary this is easy. In fact the Stampede is designed to allow outsiders in. Come to our city, pull on some jeans and boots and have some fun with us for a week! Of course, joining permanently is a bigger decision that isn’t as easy to make happen, but this is the same as a good organizational culture. Those organizations attract talent easily. In fact the talent generally lines up to join, which makes it easier for the organization to select those that are great fits with amazing talents and experience to contribute.
This last item is the culmination of this whole process. In fact, I’d call this the sure sign that your culture is working and the prize for getting it right!
What’s your organizational culture like? How does it stack up against these signs?