“Some people live and learn. Never was lucky that way,” once sang Boz Scaggs.

If you tremble at the thought of starting another year repeating ineffective business strategies –– or that your management career has somehow turned into a Boz Scaggs song –– here are five critical things that you can do to ensure success.

1. UNDERSTAND HOW A CULTURE WORKS AND HOW TO WORK IT

Way back in 2014, “culture” was Miriam-Webster’s Word of the Year, making it the most searched for word in the English language according the most popular dictionary in the English language. If the Word of the Year had been “banana,” by now companies would understand what a banana really is, how to get the most out of it and that it’s not likely to peel itself to feed you.

An employee culture isn’t a bunch of employees. When your employees formed a relationship with your company they became a culture, and became far more intelligent, far more self-protective and far more resistant to standard methods of corporate influence. This isn’t soft stuff; it is the stuff of hardcore business results.

Your culture will give you anything you want but you have to give it what it wants first. It’s not the responsibility of your employee culture to understand the business logic; it’s the responsibility of your business to understand the culture’s logic. Any company – and manager – that gets this will be unbeatable in any market they choose to own.

2. BECOME BRANDED FOR HOW YOU SELL

There is more mythology, misdirection, superstition and generalized academic babble about branding than most business subjects. Let’s cut to the bottom line: Becoming a brand means transferring sustainability of your company to your customers. Customers will advertise and sell for you, and protect you when you stumble or get attacked. This makes it the most important transformation for any company.

Being a brand isn’t about being big, or Siberia would be a brand. It’s about being best, which turns into big. So it’s not just about what you sell; it’s about how you sell it and why. Whatever claims you make about your product have to be overtly represented in the process someone goes through to buy and use the product, or you have fractured trust with customers and caused suspicion about your product claims. Your customer experience has to be spectacular, signature and sustained to be brandable.

And it has to be driven by real passion – a sure sense of what is right with the world that must be protected and wrong with the world that must be corrected. Regardless of your value proposition the business has to be operated at least in part as a delivery vehicle to build a better world. If your only passion is to make money the cost of that money will prove more expensive and difficult than it needs to be. Your customers aren’t infatuated with your revenue concerns. But stand for something deep and you’ll not only rule the world, people will want you to.

3. BRING YOUR OWN VALUES TO WORK

Your personal values are your very own source of safety, hope and renewal. Why should you live your personal values at work? This is an excellent question to ask – if your attorneys are planning an insanity defense. You spend over half your waking hours at work. Work-life balance isn’t a matter of escaping from work; it’s a matter of living the way you want to, whether or not you’re at work. The source of your emotional commitment to your company – worth more than your financial, intellectual and physical commitment combined – is based on your ability to actually live your own values on the job.

You can live your deepest personal values at work. A company will buy any reasonable manager action that produces business results. Those companies that are most intense about performance become the most maternal and squishy about those who deliver it. The key to getting enterprise sanction for living your own values is to be able to tell a new story of results because you did.

4. STAY ON THE SOLUTION SIDE

“Whining is not a strategy.” “Victim” is not a job description. “Everybody else is in trouble too” is not management information.

The best organizations hold themselves as accountable for their problems as they do for their successes. Their victories are built upon learning from both and growing ever stronger. Once your culture is allowed to blame external conditions for internal performance, all hope of aggressive and creative responses departs and helplessness and cynicism take their place.

There are two things to know about any tough time your business may be experiencing: First, it probably won’t last forever. Second, the story of how you stood up to it will. You’re going to be living with that story for a long time: write it so it ends the way you want it to. Want to know more? Write me at stan@slapcompany.com and ask for the free white paper Tough Times: Tougher Teams.

5. LOOK FORWARD BY LOOKING BACKWARDS

What do you want from your management career? Do you want to build a company, sell products, make money? These are very good things. Do you want to have a legacy impact on the lives of those who helped you do it? This is a great thing.

You don’t have to trade off the good things for a great thing. But you have to want to do a great thing.

Knowing how your employee culture works and how to work it can be the pivotal difference between your career success and failure, or between your success and extreme success. But this isn’t simply about your company or your career.

Culture is where the humans gather in business. It is up to you if you treat what is most important to these humans with disinterest and depress their sense of who they are and what they deserve. Or if you treat them with the honor that humans have earned regardless of most criteria, certainly regardless of their position in the hierarchy of an enterprise, and lift their sense of who they are and what they deserve.

An employee culture’s profound search for safety and meaning is a reminder that we all inhabit the same world; we all have these same concerns. Treating your employee culture with empathy, concern, and respect is not a performance tactic or a job responsibility. It is a mirror that reflects your own true humanity.

WANT MORE?

Listen, there’s only so much I can tell you in a blog. But my company really does all of this work for many of the world’s most successful, demanding organizations and I’ve written several books about it. If you want to know more, formally or just informally, just reach out: stan@slapcompany.com Happy to help.