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Chris LoCurto

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April 25, 2012

Creating Culture From Your Kitchen

April 25, 2012 | By | 47 Comments">47 Comments

Culture in a business is its lifeblood. Every business has one, and some of them were created intentionally. Others were created naturally—and not necessarily in the best way.

A few years back I was designing the kitchen I wanted in my new house. For some folks, that’s not that important. For me, it’s where I live. You see, I LOVE food! And, I love to cook. In fact, when other people come home late and think to themselves, I can just do cereal, I’m thinking, I can make real food!

Growing up, we always had something that we were creating in the kitchen. As I teenager, I worked in a few restaurants, including a stint as a line cook. The older I got, the more my desire to cook—especially for people who appreciated it—grew. It was so much so, I wanted to create my ultimate kitchen in the new house.

I designed it in a way that was practical for someone doing a lot of cooking. But I also designed it so people could participate or watch from a raised bar that was in a curved shape around the grill. It allows me to “teach” as I cook.

While this all made sense in my head, I received a lot of push back from my builders. They couldn’t see how the flow would work. I also wanted a large open wall that opened the kitchen up into the living room, which they thought was crazy. “You need to have a door separating your kitchen from your living room,” they said. “You’ll hate it otherwise.” 

I knew what I wanted. And when it was finished, the builder told me I was in the wrong business. He loved how it turned out.

Since then, there has been a LOT of people who have come through the house for parties or celebrations. And there’s one thing that happens every single time. Everyone congregates around the kitchen. It doesn’t matter where. They fill every spot possible. My favorite thing is that they experience life together.

We’ve even tried to move people out to another room from time to time, only to find it unsuccessful. People want to hang in that kitchen area and talk, and eat, and talk more.

I was discussing my kitchen with Jon Acuff and he said, “You’ve really created a culture with that kitchen.” The truth is, he’s right. I knew that I wanted it to be the place where people had a blast spending time talking and enjoying each other, but I hadn’t thought about it as culture.

It’s not a question of whether your company will have a culture. You will. The question is: Will you intentionally create it or accidentally suffer in it? You have every opportunity to shape it the way you want it to be. If you don’t like your sink over there, move it. If you don’t like the curtains on the windows, change them. But be intentional about it.

Don’t sit back and wonder why things aren’t going the way you want. You’re the designer. Get your pencil and paper out and draw what you want it to be.

Question: What does great culture look like to you?

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  • http://www.heirloombeds.co.uk/ wooden bedroom furniture

    I myself will honestly say I’m predjudice against certain cultures. If you just so happen to be a different skin color then your a racist? Makes no sense? I know all you scum bag conservatives and liberals will trash talk this and say “we’re all the same” your a racist! But honestly a society that has a different culture does not mean that our morals and sense of understanding are the same.

  • http://www.heirloombeds.co.uk/ wooden bedroom furniture

    Well part of the problem is that many church services are geared towards the things that women naturally relate to. While it’s good that churches are warm, both with decorations and greetings, sometimes, the atmosphere can appear to be rather feminine and to many guys that is a turn-off. So for many guys it’s not so much that they feel like cast-aways,

  • http://www.heirloombeds.co.uk/ wooden bedroom furniture

    They can’t become complete in their spiritual life and maturity apart from fellow warriors. It’s important to encourage the fathers of the faith to invest in the younger men and connect with them in ways and through activities throughout life.

  • LouiseThaxton

    I love the kitchen design!  But even more than that – I love how you stuck to your guns.  You knew what you wanted.  You knew the culture you wanted to create – and you did not allow someone else to change your mind or sway you even if it wasn’t the “in” thing.   And what you created was unique and wonderful!  Just how we can do with our businesses – when we have a vision of what we want – and stick with it – even when criticized.

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ uma_maheswaran

    Chris! I would like to see a culture that nurtures the following qualities:

    — Relationships matter more than structure or systems
    — Attitude is usually more important than aptitude
    — Pull together when times are tough
    — Trust is the crux of the operation and not suspicion
    — Servanthood and humility is the desired quality and not one-upmanship

  • cabinart

    Was your builder the same guy who was wrong about the placement of the house on the property?? If so, you must have liked him a ton to let him continue to argue with you like that!
     
    The kitchen is the usually heart of a home. People want to be where the action is, with other people, where they are comfortable. 
     
    Now I have to think about “culture”, “heart”, and “atmosphere” so I can figure out what the difference is!

    • http://www.bluebridgecomm.com/ JoelFortner

       @cabinart @ChrisLoCurto  You should ask Chris about the stone saga? =)

  • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

    A great culture is one that fosters teamwork, not backbiting and competition. One that respects each individual and their ideas and opinions, whether the CEO or the night janitor. One where there is a clear vision, and buy-in from the team on the vision.
    In short, a great culture is like your kitchen: a place where people love to meet together and find themselves drawn to be.

    • rlawrencejr

       @Skropp Yes, Yes, Yes…fostering teamwork is essential! 

  • http://www.jonahenry.com/ Jonathan Henry

    Ask a philosopher how to make a thunderstorm (you could ask a weatherman, but it wouldn’t be as interesting). Said philosopher would say the components of a thunderstorm are things like dark clouds, wind, rain, lightning, and thunder, and that they are each required for the storm to exist. Wind on it’s own is not a storm. Flashes of light do not signify a storm. Booming thunder is not a storm (it could be your stomach after reading this). 
     
    Same thing with culture. There are tons of paths to culture, but the the end result is usually a combination of things that you can see (dark clouds, lightning), things than you can feel (rain, wind), and things that you can hear (thunder). Great culture is “created” by all three areas, and then takes it even further… in the midst of a storm, lots of wind can take your breath away, lightning can jolt you, and rolls of thunder can lead to a well of emotion within. Elements of culture also often intertwine with how they are spread: wind can be felt, but also can be heard. But none of the things that makes a storm a storm is very powerful when it is experienced on its own.
     
    Of course, if you ask a weatherman how to make a thunderstorm, they would tell you storms occur when certain conditions in the environment are met. The same is true for creating culture too, but the experience of culture sometimes has more significance than its creation. 

    • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

       @Jonathan Henry Dang brother. I like it! Especially the part about needing all three “elements” to create it. Good stuff. 

    • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

      @Jonathan Henry Great metaphor! Really helped me see it!

    • rlawrencejr

       @Jonathan Henry Jonathan, these are some keen insights. It really is a great metaphor to describe how culture often involves several different elements as well as specific conditions. I especially liked your comment about the importance of culture being something we experience. This underscores the importance that Chris and others have made about being intentional when creating culture. Great thoughts!

    • http://www.bluebridgecomm.com/ JoelFortner

       @Jonathan Henry Dude it would have taken me about 16 days to come up and articulate what you said here.  Superb stuff.

  • rlawrencejr

    Culture in the business realm certainly seems to embody several components. Chemistry, workplace environment, and teamwork toward a common goal are usually what come to mind when I focus on a working definition of culture in the marketplace. Chris, I think you hit the nail on the head when you noted how folks “experience life together” in your kitchen. Being intentional about creating culture in the workplace, is about recognizing that a company is going to be a place where people experience life together. So, I guess for me, creating great culture is very much about determining how to create an overall great workplace experience.
     
    Obviously I’m not talking about creating an environment where everyone just hangs out, has fun, and no goals or objectives ever get accomplished. There is such a thing as a group of people with shared values and beliefs who work hard together to achieve great things and who enjoy the adventure the whole way along. It’s called a company that has great corporate culture!

    • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

       @rlawrencejr I’m totally with you! You’re going to spend 8 hours a day with these people experiencing life together anyway. Why not set it up to be extremely productive? 

      • rlawrencejr

         @ChrisLoCurto Yes…as long as we keep in mind that hard work and being productive really can coexist alongside enjoying our work and those who we’re working with. Great blog, and great post!

    • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

      @rlawrencejr Awesome points! I think you’re right, the work and goals must be part of the culture, just like cooking was part of the culture Chris created

  • http://www.lilykreitinger.com lilykreitinger

    I can definitely relate to your kitchen story.  We’ve been married for 8 years and we had been saving to buy a home for pretty much that whole time. We relocated to Minnesota a year ago and we had three days to find and purchase a home.  We looked at 15 homes total and we ended up buying home number 9.  A long time ago  we had written down our wishlist with everything we wanted. 
     
    We looked at over 300 homes for sale over the years and hadn’t found the right one.  When we walked into home #9 our jaws dropped.  It had EVERYTHING on our list, item by item.  It’s a custom-built home designed by the owners who are in real estate and construction.  It’s picture perfect!  We loved it and we closed the deal on our way back to Wisconsin where we lived. 
     
    For some it may seem like impulse buying. For us, the vision had been building for seven years.   When people come and visit, their jaws drop too.  And we tell the story of how we found this house.  One of  our  wishlist items was an open kitchen where people gather around while the meal is being prepared and then hang out after the meal is done.  The kitchen is the heart of our home.    In the same way, your culture is the heart of your business.  If you want it to be warm and inviting, you have to plan for it, draw your plan and make your checklist and then fight for it.   Great post!!!    

    • rlawrencejr

       @lilykreitinger Lily, I love the “kitchen being the heart of the home” and “culture being the heart of the company” imagery!

    • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

      @lilykreitinger This completely applies to your hiring process as well. If I check out 15 companies, I’m going to choose the one with the intentionally prepared for culture.

    • http://epicenterlanguages.com.mx/our-blog Aaron Nelson

       @lilykreitinger Wow Lily, that’s a great story! And like @rlawrencejr points out- great imagery about the kitchen being the heart of your home, and your culture being the heart of your business. Like Chris’ post, so easy to ‘see’ what culture is and why it’s important. 

    • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

      @lilykreitinger I like the idea of the vision creating the culture. Like Chris said, its gotta be intentional, otherwise you’ll miss the mark. You may miss barely or by a mile, but you miss

    • cabinart

       @lilykreitinger Your home’s inviting layout and instant appeal makes me wonder why the builder hasn’t kept re-creating homes with that design. (or maybe he has)
       
      Great to hear how you knew what you wanted and recognized it immediately!

  • http://epicenterlanguages.com.mx/our-blog Aaron Nelson

    This post makes culture so easy ‘to see’ and ‘taste.’ :) Seriously, I could totally see what you were talking about with this. Thank you! 
     
    Everyone has a kitchen. What makes your house different, is how you have yours. That relates to business, doesn’t it? Maybe there are a lot of businesses like yours in the idea of what you do….but how you do it? The culture your company has – can be what makes your business the place where everyone wants to hang out at and learn from. 
     
    Brilliant. 
     
     

    • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

      @Aaron Nelson Thanks Aaron!

    • rlawrencejr

       @Aaron Nelson Very true Aaron…the culture that we intentionally create could very well be what attracts people to our organizations, and keeps them with our organizations, instead of choosing some other company to work for.

      • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

        @rlawrencejr @Aaron Nelson And on the flip side, the culture can drive people away. That’s the spot I’m in. I love my boss, but the culture that has been allowed to “happen” has pushed me into “move on” phase.

        • http://epicenterlanguages.com.mx/our-blog Aaron Nelson

           @Skropp  @rlawrencejr  @Aaron Skropp – man I’m so sorry to hear that. But you raise such an important point – sometimes companies bleed talent because the culture is broken. That sucks. 

        • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

          @Aaron Nelson @rlawrencejr @Aaron You know, it is too bad, but it’s teaching me powerful lessons about the affect a good, and especially a “less-than-good” leader has o a company and it’s culture…

        • rlawrencejr

           @Skropp  @rlawrencejr  @Aaron It must be a tough situation for you; just try to remain positive, knowing that what you do is important even your company culture doesn’t seem to recognize it.

        • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

          @rlawrencejr @Aaron Thanks. It is a definite motivator to find work that I like a lot more. And like I said, it’s teaching me a lot about the importance of proper leadership…

      • http://epicenterlanguages.com.mx/our-blog Aaron Nelson

         @rlawrencejr Totally agree! Culture is vital to always be working on – intentionally as you so rightly say. Consistency is what I’m working on in my company. Being able to consistently build on and reinforce our culture – easy to write, hard to do. :)

  • http://www.lifeofasteward.com/ Loren Pinilis

    It’s amazing how something as simple as the layout of a room can shape a culture. That really makes us think about the small, seemingly incidental things that can have huge effects on our organizations.

    • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

      @Loren Pinilis Excellent! That’s what I was hoping for.

    • http://about.me/jonedlin jjedlin

       @Loren Pinilis True! I recently encountered a problem I didn’t expect when my department changed floors. My team was not happy about the layout and said it didn’t have the same “open environment” as the old one. We lost some of our culture and we are trying to find ways to gain it back.  It was as simple as changing the layout. Crazy! Wish I would have read this before we moved and been more intentional about the new layout we were moving in to.

  • http://lcdublin-myprivateuniverse.blogspot.com/ CarolDublin

    Intentionality as well as communication are key forces, don’t you think? Not only do we need to be intentional in the definition of what we are and also what we aren’t, but the culture we strive for has to be modeled and communicated through every action, every day, by everyone. If we aren’t on the same page, and talking about it all the time, it’s easy to slip back into “what we’ve always done.” Great post Chris, as usual.

    • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

      @CarolDublin Absolutely Carol!! You’re spot on.

  • DevinDabney

    Great culture, to me, means there are elements that make sense to you because you are intentional about them.  Regardless of the opinions of naysayers who don’t catch your vision, knowing what you want, how you want it, and then creating it is important. Often, after you take action on your decisions and aren’t swayed left or right, people respect you more and are WOWED by the end result.

    • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

      @DevinDabney I agree Devin. It’s like children. If they see you being a parent, they fall in line. If they don’t, they feel that have to make things happen.

  • http://www.bluebridgecomm.com/ JoelFortner

    And don’t let someone build a door where you don’t want it. In other words, stick to your guns about the culture YOU want!  It’s your kitchen!  It’s your business!  In this case, you knew what you wanted, had a vision, drew it out and encountered someone who, while an expert, wasn’t a culture match.  You persisted and it turned out to be exactly what you wanted. And in the end, converted them and created the perfect setting for people to “experience life together.” 

    • DevinDabney

       @JoelFortner Great words Joel – “stick to your guns about the culture YOU want!”.  Isn’t that what’s it’s all about anyway?  If you allow others to change every element then it becomes someone else’s culture which you probably will resent. 

      • http://www.bluebridgecomm.com/ JoelFortner

         @DevinDabney Exactly!  Create what you want!

    • http://www.lilykreitinger.com lilykreitinger

       @JoelFortner Love this Joel!  If you have passion and vision, you definitely know where you want the “kitchen sink”.  I’ve you have followed the right steps, received good advice from others that have gone down that path before you, then you are the expert.  I love how you say “converted them and created the perfect setting”.

    • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

      @JoelFortner Kind of like this blog, huh? :-)

      • http://www.bluebridgecomm.com/ JoelFortner

         @ChrisLoCurto Totally man!  It’s just like being in your kitchen minus the Gino Chi!

    • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com Skropp

      @JoelFortner Great point Joel! Of course this assumes that you’ve got a mission statement and business plan and you KNOW what you want. Measure twice, cut once. You’ve gotta put in the time to decide what you want before you’ll have the intestinal fortitude to stick to your guns!