Good leaders understand that an inspirational Vision, supported by enduring Core Values, with Goals that are in alignment with the current mission are all critical factors in a successful organization. They understand why they do what they do, and are clear about their purpose.
This month Fortune Magazine featured two articles on culture trends in the professional services sector. In the first, '20 Companies with Great Workplace Culture', authors Ed Frauenheim and Kim Peters describe characteristics of a great place to work within the sector. The second, which lists the 20 Companies, is based on a survey of 255,200 employees, and is titled 'Best Workplaces in Consulting & Professional Services.' by Christopher Tkaczyk.
One of my favorite fresh food stands in Seattle is The Pike Place Fish Market just West of Downtown. I love to stand and watch as customers begin to experience their offerings from the salt waters of Puget Sound, brought in fresh each day from the last original hunters and gatherers, the fishing fleet based in nearby Ballard.
The seafood is displayed carefully with great pride on ice. Anyone who has been there remembers the colorful display of salmon, crab, shrimp, other finfish and bottom fish, and lots of Oysters. If you wish to ship your prized purchase home, the Fish Market Guys will carefully wrap your 'catch', pack it in dry ice, and send it to your destination.
What is your company’s culture? How would you describe it? Are you able to say that everyone in your company understands what you mean by culture? Are they completely aligned with it? Do you communicate it during your recruiting, interviewing, hiring, on-boarding and training of all employees?
A definition of culture that I like is from Jim Collins, author of Good To Great, Built to Last, and numerous other books and articles … Culture is a combination of core values, core purpose, combined with the BHAG, or Big Hairy Audacious Goal, which is a very aggressive stretch goal set for a long timeframe. Another is what people are saying about their company to others, including customers. Culture is either intentional by active design and promotion, alive in the organization and cause for continued operations, or it is unintentional and largely ignored by passive default.
Most companies have two cultures. The first is the one reflected by your view of the world as a CEO. It is written on your website, and discussed in your annual retreat. It is a corporate worldview that may be shared by your Senior Leadership Team. However you have a big problem if that view of culture is not shared by the majority of employees in your company, who are actively supporting Culture #2.
- Developed at the annual strategy retreat by the senior team a number of years ago.
- Mission, Vision, and Core Values written on a sign on the conference room wall.
- Posted on the website, and sometimes on the back of business cards.
- Descriptive words are similar to Integrity, Quality, Innovation, Responsive, Customer Focused.
- Listed on certain company documents, like an employment intake form, to be signed after reading indicating the new employee has read and understands the mission and vision statements, and agrees with the core values shown on the conference room wall.
- Not frequently communicated, or clearly understood or remembered by anyone in the company
- A somewhat cloudy vision of culture the leader believes exists in the company.
- Something that is separate from day to day operations.
- Not used as a strategic differentiator, recruiting tool, or weapon with which to dominate markets.
- Informal, default, risk averse, and protective of the status quo.
- Alive in the organization at levels below the senior team.
- Unwritten, but clearly understood by all employees, at levels below the senior team.
- Accepting of triangulation, where it’s ok for folks to talk about others when they are not present.
- Completely different than the words used by the leaders to describe it.
- Protective of the group, who desires a paycheck for time spent working each day.
- Promotes job security, and a strategy that says ‘Don’t rock the boat’.
- Confused by efforts of leadership to enforce Culture #1, which few if any understand.
- Could be a blend between #1 and #2
- Could be something entirely new and different, but clearly understood, adopted, and promoted by all employees.
- Should be used as a competitive advantage in recruiting talent and acquiring customers.
With culture #1, you will have difficulty scaling your business, and will be stuck and frustrated each day working ‘in’ the business instead of ‘on’ it. And employees will not have the same view of culture that you as the leader and your Senior Team have if you do not consistently and frequently communicate the core values and core purpose, and BHAG of your company to others.
If your company’s culture looks like culture #1, then you are not consistently and frequently communicating the purpose and core values, and your goals. The generic words you have written on the conference room wall have no viability and are basically useless. In fact, having two cultures takes a lot of energy to manage, drains the organization of creativity and innovation, and creates tension. It definitely hurts your credibility as a CEO.
If this resonates with you, it is a problem… your problem. You created it, and you need to fix it. Your big job is to create a new culture, one we’ll call Culture #3. Culture #3 could be a bridge between what you would like to have as a culture, your ideal state, and what actually exists within your firm.
My guess is that if you don't do something about it, your company will be challenged to be relevant going forward.
I would like to hear your thoughts. Feel free to connect and we can discuss how to create a high performing culture you would be proud of.
Can the authentic behavior of a CEO or senior leader be a strategic differentiator?
In a word, YES, however it’s a little more complicated than just saying you are authentic or transparent within your work relationships. If you are the CEO, or a member of the Senior Team, your job is to communicate authentically, showing your people what you do, how you do it, constantly demonstrating with your words and actions about your core values and core purpose. Done well, this can truly be a differentiator in the competitive marketplace.
Congratulations! You’ve just been hired as CEO of a company in deep financial trouble. The ownership and board of directors have given you free reign to do your job, and you feel up to the task of leading the effort, but you have limited time to turn this ship around, and get it moving in a different more profitable direction.
What will be your plan starting Monday, your first day on the new job… the first month…the first six months. How will you evaluate and manage the company and its processes. How will you engage with the customers?
The most important and long lasting decisions you make as a leader have to do with the people you hire. How you shape the job posting, and then recruit, interview, hire, on-board, and train new people, and how you position them will have an enormous impact on the effectiveness and value of the organization. If you are hiring the right people who might be different than you and have great capacity to do things you can't do, then the organization increases in capacity. You need to model this behavior and drive it throughout the leadership team. Diversity of ideas will promote innovation, growth, and eventually creation of great value.
Strategy, Structure, and Culture... Get one wrong and you might have a chance for success. Get two wrong and you are out of the running before the race starts. Get all three right, and you'll be sure to succeed. It's important to get back to basics to discover what you are doing and where you are headed. Do you have a Culture of Trust in your organization? If not, you are missing one of the most important links to the ongoing success and value of your company.
Quotations from luminaries whether in business, sports, medicine, law, or politics can inspire and clarify. A great quote is concise and crisp, capturing a thought or idea in an entirely new way.
Great quotes can speak directly into our own unique situations. One quote from Peter Drucker on leadership said ‘Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.’ Of course, he is right about getting results, but in my own view Drucker leaves something on the table for debate.