Local Flavor

I was in Kansas City for our annual Sales Summit last week. A great part of travelling is the opportunity to experience local flavor. KC is known for barbeque (specifically burnt ends), but my wife thinks it should be known for narrow winding streets and tiny parking spaces! 

The word barbecue comes from the language of a Caribbean Indian tribe called the Taino. Their word for grilling on a raised wooden platform is barbacoa. The word first appeared in print in a Spanish explorer’s account of the West Indies in 1526, according to Planet Barbecue.

Barbeque, or BBQ as we know it, is meat cooked over a grill or pit, covered in spices and basting sauce. Past that initial, very basic (but important) definition, things can go in a lot of directions. Dry or wet rubs, different binders, temp and time, almost infinite variations of spices and sauces—the list and results are endless. Yet, it is all spiced meat that has been cooked over fire.

As I talked to our team members from all over the US, it occurred to me that their version of our culture included their local flavor. Like BBQ, they took the basic and critical elements of our culture and then seasoned it to their taste.

Resonant and resilient culture is rooted in basic beliefs that can withstand the addition of local flavor. “Everyone is intrinsically and equally valuable” can lend itself to many ways of communicating and demonstrating that value. “Everyone should look and act like me” breaks down quickly when faced with the diversity we find around us.

Local flavor can create conflict if we don’t understand and account for it. If you are used to eating BBQ in Texas and you order it in KC, you may be disappointed. Communication is one of the most critical components of successful culture across different locations. The way we communicate in one location may not translate well in other areas.

We have a team member from the deep south. They were telling a story one day and said they had put the things they were shopping for in their “buggy.” I stopped them and asked what a buggy was. Turns out, it is a shopping cart, only they don’t call it that. It’s a funny example, but it makes the point that clear communication is important and challenging when faced with local differences.

Another thing that inhibits a consistent base culture is an “us” versus “them” attitude. When we fail to be flexible in the “flavor,” we can end up arguing about the definition of BBQ. If we want the basic and critical elements of our culture to be present, we must acknowledge that things can be equal but not the same.

Ironically, this is an extension of our basic belief. We believe people are equal. Equal in value and their right to respect, safety, and care. Yet we know people are not the same. The differences are too numerous to count. Likewise, our culture can be present in unique variations that are different but equal.

I am glad that BBQ is different in KC than it is in Oklahoma or in Texas. Local flavor is one of the reasons I love to travel. I’m also glad that our culture is based on a belief, mission, and values that hold up well through the differences in seasoning. Local flavor reflects the diversity we value and still maintains the Bison Way.