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What Dutch Bros Coffee Taught Us About Culture

October 24, 2018
Cohesive Teams
Rusty Chadwick

As soon as I approached Dutch Bros Coffee, I was immediately attracted to the culture.

The shop was full of enthusiastic employees dressed in pink to match the month’s Breast Cancer Awareness theme. Music was playing, conversation was flowing, and staff were engaged. The place was full of life and energy, and that energy carried over to my customer experience in the best way. My barista engaged in conversation, made recommendations, answered questions, and took the time to make me feel welcome. I left with coffee, a free coupon for the next visit, and an overwhelmingly positive impression of the brand.

In The Culture Business

The experience was a vivid reminder of the power of a compelling culture. The coffee was good and the service was speedy, but the stand out component of my visit was the vitality of the workplace and the way it impacted me, the customer. It felt relational, human, and interesting. The Dutch Bros website says, “We may be a coffee company, but we are in the relationship business.” My visit validated this statement.

How would you describe the culture of your workplace? Is it compelling? Would you say it is engaging, caring, vibrant, human, and thriving? Is there a theme that stands out such as diversity, hard work, fun, innovation, individuality, collaboration? Perhaps your workplace culture is stagnant, impersonal, and dull – or maybe even approaching toxic and dysfunctional.

Whatever its current state, the culture of your workplace matters, and it can and will change over time. Culture is not an outside force that directs the actions and attitudes of the people in a particular environment. Culture is created by the collective actions and attitudes of the people within the environment.

Culture is created by you! For those in healthy cultures, this means there is a responsibility to maintain this vitality—you cannot count on riding the coattails of previous culture cultivators. For those in stagnant or toxic cultures, the fact that it can change should be encouraging.  You have the power to play a role in improving its health. Whatever your role is in your organization, you are in the culture business.

Start Your Business

What are you doing to help or hurt the culture in your workplace? As you reflect on this, here are four ways to create a more vibrant and compelling environment for those inside the culture, as well as those on whom your workplace has an impact.

Be Relational, Not Transactional

Too many of our interactions are transactional; people seek to extract value from each other, then move on to the next thing. While this mode of operation can be expedient, it is not fulfilling. The best interactions, by contrast, are relational—people creating value for one another through human connection. Transactions are cold; relationships are warm. Look for ways to be relational, not transactional.

Personalize Interactions With Others

This can mean learning and using someone’s name, finding common ground on which you can connect with another, asking questions and showing interest in others, encouraging others in a specific and targeted way, and looking for the needs of others you are uniquely able to meet. Focus on the person over the product or project. How often do you default to quick and impersonal interactions rather than investing a moment in personalizing your approach?

Keep Things Interesting

Think about the things that engage you. Outside of work we are quick to pursue our interests, but we often set aside the pursuit of stimulation and engagement in the workplace. Things get dull. At Dutch Bros, they play music, have a monthly theme, and allow themselves to have fun while they work. It was the first thing I noticed. Perhaps you could have college football Fridays, play office trivia, or have a pot luck Thanksgiving feast one day during November. Every workplace is different; what works for one culture may not work in another. Find creative ways to keep your workplace interesting using whatever works best in your context. Don’t wait for someone else to take the lead.

Be Kind

Toxic, stagnant, and dysfunctional workplaces don’t happen when people are genuinely kind to each other. Dysfunctional workplaces are often well supplied in office gossip, rumors, unresolved conflict, selfish ambition, suspicion, passive aggressive comments, and aloof attitudes. These destructive, cultural norms can be replaced or dampened by a commitment to kindness. Filter every interaction through questions like, “Is this kind?” and “Will this be helpful?”

Workplace culture is both powerful and dynamic, and it is being impacted every day by your behaviors and attitudes. How can you create a more vibrant and life-giving culture in your workplace? How can you start, change, or continue the culture business in your organization?

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