Creating a culture of excellence

  • Published
  • By Air Force Col. Michael Grismer
  • 3rd Wing vice commander
Culture is the most important indicator for success or failure in any organization. It's no accident Apple's innovative culture of excellence is as distinctive as their products are revolutionary. Apple's culture is evident in every aspect of the company - it drives their success.

You've seen the impact of culture firsthand. Think of the last Southwest Airlines flight you flew on. You also know the few, the proud, the U.S. Marines. Their culture is so strong it glues them together and provokes a sense of pride, which makes them unparalleled in adapting and overcoming any adversity.

Consider also Zappos, one of the fastest companies to reach $1 billion in sales. They are an organization fueled by a diverse culture, which is inclusive, encouraging, and empowering. Their CEO clearly values culture over strategy, personally indoctrinates new hires on company culture, and offers employees several thousand dollars to quit anytime they feel the Zappos culture is not a fit for them.

Yes our Air Force culture is just as important to our success and to our future relevance for America. Contemplate the culture in your unit. Do the attitudes, beliefs, and actions result in sustained excellence, high team morale marked by dignity and respect for teammates, strong internal communication, and an acceptance of a risk to achieve fresh innovation?
If not, ask the person in the mirror, "why not"? Our Air Force - including both civilians and blue-suit Airmen - is accountable to strengthen a vibrant culture and increase our legacy of excellence for the greatest Air Force in the world. Getting culture right takes hard work and true commitment. Following are a few basics to reflect on.

Engaged leadership: Positive culture is fueled by leaders at every level who are passionately engaged and living it by example. They are enthusiastic communicators and motivators who set a clear vision, mission, values and goals while they create the environment for them to flourish. Engaged leaders also empower every Airman to be a leader by innovating and leading positive change in any processes, program or person they touch.

Live Our Core Values: To firmly embed Air Force core values into our culture, we must empower our people and ensure everyone understands exactly what is expected of them. "Integrity First" forms the basis for trust and confidence in our Air Force. Without it, we will fail. "Service Before Self" and "Excellence in All We Do" are both values, which must be firmly embedded in our culture. Strong cultures empower people by identifying their talents, and deliberately mentoring them to reach their full potential. These cultures also convey a clear role of personal and professional responsibilities their people are accountable for.

Establish a culture of discipline and respect for human dignity: Good order and discipline are prerequisites for creating an environment where everyone is recognized for the value they bring to the team, and they are treated with the dignity, respect, and kindness all wingmen deserve. Practically speaking, this begins with eliminating any coarse or offensive talk, which has the potential to quickly turn toxic. Swearing and sexually or racially explicit innuendos have no place in any professional organization. Unprofessional behavior, even the perception of unprofessional behavior, cannot be tolerated. We must never forget the honor and privilege it is to wear the uniform and to be held to a higher standard.

As Airmen, we have a duty to get our culture right. If we fail in this regard, we will no longer attract America's finest sons and daughters to join our ranks.

Watch your thoughts, they become words.

Watch your words, they become actions.

Watch your actions, they become habits.

Watch your habits, they become your character.

Watch your character; it drives the culture in your unit and in your home.

If each of us does our part, we will instill a winning culture - one which makes Airmen love their work, and reflects their inspiration through mission excellence. Our long-term success is dependent on sustaining a culture alive and relevant for an ever-changing world. What legacy of excellence will
you inspire?