We hear a lot today about the culture of a business and how important it is for a company to be successful. However, culture is a pretty nebulous term to define. It’s even more difficult to measure and improve upon. I believe both culture and success are not only measurable but that they’re also symbiotic.

Success is a measured (quantifiable and time-able) process

Imagine the Super Bowl being played without the use of a scoreboard. Imagine it further without a time clock, goal posts, sidelines, hash marks or referees. It would devolve into mere exercise, pain, blood, sweat and tears. While some form of culture might survive, success in the form of winning would be eliminated. It would be no more than the equivalent of an exercise class. No one would watch it or want to participate in it.

Business success (or failure) is a measured process. Like athletic events, it has to be quantifiable and time-able (with due dates/times). Tom Peters says it well in his book, Thriving on Chaos: “What gets measured gets done.”

Success breeds success

Navy Seal Admiral William McRaven states in his famous “Make Your Bed” speech, “If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.”

Success, like fire rising in a chimney, creates its own momentum. This in turn breeds more success. Small successes in your company lead to bigger ones. For instance, your two-person mowing crew’s daily revenue goal (with 10% net profit included) for a 20-man-hour payroll day is $1,000. Your job is to ensure that this crew hits this goal not just one day, but every day. Lots of little successes create big successes.

Success and culture are symbiotic

Like Admiral McRaven says, little successes lead to larger ones. They also create pride and self-worth, which are the foundation of culture. Culture then creates an atmosphere where more success occurs. Cultural momentum is what makes the great companies not only great but also sustainable. It’s this invisible inertia that guides and pushes the organization forward. The important thing to remember is that this cycle is data driven. Without timely, accurate data, you can’t measure what gets done (or not done).

How it works in the field (real life).

Outback Landscape in Idaho Falls is a data-driven company. Its President, Chase Coates; Director of Finance, Drew Barton; and Business and Systems Administrator, Arin Chunn, are in the process of implementing a business management software. Launching such a program requires an enormous amount of data entry to ensure its success. Fortunately, the culture at Outback Landscape is built upon a solid foundation of quantitative analysis.

Brian Dumont, president of Yard-Nique in North Carolina, knows his numbers. It was this ability that allowed him to direct his team and company to maximize its EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) prior to doing a private equity deal. Without the data, he wouldn’t have been able to do so.

Three years ago, Brian and his team also implemented business management software. The data that was put into the program was very accurate. However, once up and running, the reports provided by the software allowed the Yard-Nique team to improve the processes and the accuracy of the information in it.

Brian has also been able to open and grow numerous branches throughout the Southeast U.S.

Data in the form of proven benchmarks and KPIs (key performance indicators) allow him to set attainable goals for branch managers to achieve. Without these critical scoreboards, managing these branches would be much more difficult.

Curby Hughes, president of Curby’s Lawn and Garden in Olathe, Kan., is a student of his business and the green industry. I’ve worked with Curby for about five years. The big takeaway for me from working with Curby is how important the financials (the data) are for really successful entrepreneurs like him to be successful. It’s the data that drives the success that drives the profitability and the culture.

Having the right culture in your business is critical for its long-term success. However, it is small successes leading to larger successes that provide the building blocks for doing so. Timely, accurate data properly formatted is essential for establishing success criteria and for measuring it. The successful entrepreneurs named earlier and their teams thrive on quantifiable and time-able benchmarks and KPIs — data. They really do have what I call data-driven cultures.

Travels with Jim follows Jim Huston around the country as he visits with landscapers and helps them understand their numbers to make smarter decisions.