What is the single strongest factor creating long-term productivity, coherence and strength of your network organization? What one characteristic, more than any other, dictates whether or not you will still be drawing a check from your business ten years, twenty years from now, and how significant that check will be?

Is it your product? Your comp plan’s super-duper triple-up back-end bonuses? Your current momentum? Your company’s ability to produce really swell DVDs and web sites? I don’t think so.

I posed this question ten years ago in an article entitled “Build to Last” (you can read it in my book, The Zen of MLM), and here’s how I answered it then:

“There are two major factors to look at: product and company. Making this choice is crucial, because once made, it is fixed in stone: you can’t do anything to change product or company. But there is a third factor, and it is one you can do a great deal to change: in fact, you can determine it—and it has everything to do with the health and longevity of your business. That factor is your organization’s culture.”

Ten years later, nothing has convinced me to change that answer.

This issue we had an unparalleled opportunity to talk with the leaders of two extraordinary billion-dollar corporations, Zappos and Southwest Airlines. Both are industry leaders flourishing during times when so many of their competitors are struggling, and both owe a great deal of their success to their unusual approach to creating a culture. When we asked them how they manage to promulgate and maintain that culture within their huge organizations, they both had essentially the same answer:

“First, we figure out who we are. Then, we screen all our potential newcomers to make sure they fit that description.”

How simple! How obvious! How brilliant! But of course, we can’t do that in our network marketing organizations, can we? Because we don’t exactly interview people to see if we’re going to hire them, right? In fact, we pride ourselves on the fact that anyone can join our business, right? We don’t screen people out, we go to any lengths to get them in … right?

Or should we perhaps be rethinking every one of those assumptions?

What if, rather than pleading, groveling and begging people to join our organizations, we clearly established our own criteria, based on the amazing culture we wanted to create, and then interviewed only the very best candidates—and held them to that standard? What if we brought in only those people who genuinely fit that description?

Who knows. We might start looking a bit like Zappos or Southwest.

JOHN DAVID MANN is Consulting Editor to Networking Times.