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F/A-18 patches and how to build your culture.

My F/A-18 patch was given to me at the end of my operational conversion. At face value, it can be viewed as a reward for surviving the years of training required to fly the jet. But, it’s actually much more than that.

Wearers of that patch are identified as belonging to a particular culture; the ‘Australian Fighter Pilot’ culture. And more than a symbol of achievement, the patch reminds wearers that they must behave in a certain way.

The wearers of the patch are fighter pilots. They must:

  • Never be happy with ‘good enough’

  • Debrief EVERYTHING…leave no stone unturned, no matter how painful

  • Be in a perpetual search for improvement

  • Be the noisiest pilots in the bar

  • Always aim to win…everything

In the corporate world, it’s pretty clear…culture is king. Enron and Lehman brothers have shown us what not to do; ASOS, American Express and the All Blacks Rugby team have given us shining examples of culture done right.


How are culture’s built?

How long does it take?

Where does one start?

The ‘HOW’ is always the tricky part. My Air Force ‘Qualified Flying Instructor’ course was a 5 month deep dive into the ‘HOW’. My fellow course mates and I would hear “Use more ‘how’!” hundreds and hundreds of times in our debriefs. The ‘how’ of anything requires digging deep into a concept, working out what we ACTUALLY do, and not what we think we do. The biggest challenge for a rookie instructor, is translating the HOW into efficient instructional technique.

So, what is the HOW of building culture?

Here are 3 ways you can build a strong and aligned culture into your team, no matter how big or small.

1. Spend significant time thinking about what behaviours support your core values

2. Introduce customs, traditions and unique language into your team, which are reminders of this behaviour. This needs to be done very carefully…you need a high level of engagement with your team members, and carefully show them ‘what’s in this for them.’

3. Build the culture in such a way that it will survive your departure from the team. Strong cultures are much bigger than any one individual…it should be your goal to leave your workplace, and have the culture continue without you. This is your silent legacy.

Building culture takes time...12 months at a minimum. But the rewards are easily worth the effort. A strong culture which is aligned with your vision will produce automated behaviour which supports your business objectives.

As they say, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

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