Inspiring Corporate Culture

What does horse breeding have in common with cultivating an inspiring corporate culture? Before you consider the answer, let’s back up; this will take some explanation.

This past weekend, six of us from the InspireCorps team traveled from across the United States and Canada to attend the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby. Attending the derby has been a collective dream of ours since all three founding partners have familial and professional roots in the Bluegrass state and we incorporated our company there three years ago. We dreamed of attending this important cultural event as a part of our Kentucky-based company experience…and also because we knew it would be loads of fun, which is one of our top five company values!

As a firm whose work is grounded in social science, we found the experience fascinating in many ways. Almost 200,000 people from across the world collided at Churchill Downs racetrack to attend the longest continually running sports event in the United States. A celebration of Southern culture, many of its traditions dating back to 1875 – mint juleps, stunning gentile fashion, elaborate hats, and spectators singing “My Old Kentucky Home”. Wide ranges of fashion surfaced, from the uber-preppy and elegant-chic to the burning man-esque character costume (our favorite was the Pope of the Paddock).

pope-kentucky-derby

When we arrived at the track and picked up a program, one of the first things we saw was this ad (below).

inspired corporate culture - Kentucky Derby AdThe center of the ad says:

Inspired. The Kentucky Derby is the Big Dream that inspires us all and motivates us to work even harder for future success.

This statement struck a cord with our team. We founded our company on the importance of being inspired and sustaining inspiration over time. All of us are able to dream big and be our best when we can inspire ourselves and those around us every day. On this day, we couldn’t help being inspired by the magnificent horses and the jockeys, trainers, and owners who put their collective talents on the line to display over 142 years of evolving extraordinary athletic performance.

As we continued to read the ad, we noticed the fine print at the very bottom that said: Dream Big. YES, we value dreaming big! And then right after that, it said: Breed. Wait, did it just say “Dream Big. Breed.”? This surprising side-by-side assertion stopped us in our tracks. How many companies, outside of the context of horse racing, could place “inspiration,” “dream big,” and “BREED” in the same ad and be wholeheartedly serious?

While we found these juxtapositions very amusing, at first, as our experience at the track unfolded, these collective words began to make more sense to us in new and nuanced ways. While we know what “breed” means in the context of horseracing, we also know that the word has different definitions, some of which translate into how we think about inspiration, purpose, and culture for our clients. In addition to the obvious horse-inspired definition of the word breed, the word can also mean “to cause something to happen or occur, typically over a period of time” or “to train (someone) to act in a particular way or have certain qualities.”

Breed a culture that in turn inspires dreaming big

This is how we see culture in companies – ideally, there are norms and behaviors that are trained in employees over time that reflect the mission and values of the organization. Walking into a Whole Foods feels different than walking into a Trader Joes market – signaled by the environment, the behaviors and dress of the employees, the products, the displays, shopping carts, and even the checkout stands which create the client experience.

The culture at the Kentucky Derby, steeped in tradition and deep historic roots, was clear and signaled through the dress of attendees, the respect that individuals showed for the event through the singing of My Old Kentucky Home, and a collective air of pride, loyalty, respect, and jovial community. As attendees we experienced this culture, we respected it and tried it on for the day, which allowed us to fully appreciate and experience the spirit of this special event.

Most organizations and teams hope to breed a particular culture. And, culture happens whether you are paying attention to it or not; furthermore, it is harder to undo or reshape than to build strategically right out of the starting gate (so to speak).

At InspireCorps, we work with startups and more established companies to design and reshape their corporate culture to support their mission and breed the values that ignite the best in their employees. We want our clients to be inspired, dream big, and – yes – breed: Breed a culture that in turn inspires dreaming big and running the race of their lifetime.

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