The Curse of the Start-Up . . .

rabbits

If you chase two rabbits, you will lose both.

Start-Ups are fascinating.  Those who found or join a start-up company find it exhilarating, inspiring, creative, fast-moving, hectic, exhausting and thrilling at the same time. There is always something exciting and new to work on, new ideas to develop into products or services, new people to meet and pitch to, late nights and of course, a mountain of pizzas.

So with all that creativity, energy, excitement, passion and hard work, why is it that so many start-ups fail? It’s not for lack of trying.  The normal answers are that they run out of money or fail to get their product to market fast enough.

But Why?

I have to ask, “Why do they run out of money? Why do they fail to get to market quickly?” It’s the answer to these why questions that can provide great insight for other start-ups and entrepreneurs.

The curse of the start-up is lack of focus!

In most start-ups there are so many cool and exciting things to work on, new ideas to bruce-leepursue, new functionalities to add.  One of the most frequent phrases heard inside many start-ups goes something like this: “Wow, wouldn’t it be cool if we could  . . ?“, or another version, “What if we added this . . . ?”  One entrepreneur I spoke with recently said this about his company: “It’s organized chaos around here, with an emphasis on the chaos!”

I believe many start-ups fail due to lack of focus on the few key success factors that will get them from start-up to sustainable business. Not because they don’t know what these key success factors are, but because they don’t religiously focus on them enough. Chasing new ideas and new functionality may be exciting and stimulating, but it wastes time, energy and cash, and all the while the market keeps moving away from them.

An Execution Roadmap

Discipline and focus are hard things to instill in a start-up and they need help, an execution process if you will, to avoid the “what if we . . .” syndrome. Too may start-up are long on ideas and short on process, yet a few appropriate business processes can be critical in moving from start-up to sustainable enterprise.

One important process for the start-up is to implement and use a robust Goal Alignment and Execution Roadmap.  Using such a process keeps the important tasks and initiatives in constant focus and aligns the entire organization around those few critical success factors.  Once a Goal Alignment and Execution Roadmap is developed, it becomes easy to check each new idea or proposed functionality against the roadmap, using the simple questions: “Is this critical to our overall success?  Will it help deliver our end goal, or is it just a cool idea?”

A good Goal Alignment and Execution Roadmap has the following elements:

strategy flow

Which can then be easily turned into a Roadmap, with a traffic-light system for keeping everyone focused on the overall delivery of the business results.

SoaP traffic

Such an execution roadmap helps not only keep everyone focused on the important activities and goals, but is an excellent tool for communication, getting everyone on the same page, real-time updating, accountability, governance and open transparency.  One of the joys of working in a start-up is knowing everything that is going on and seeing how each person’s actions fit into the overall goal of building a successful enterprise.

That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.  ~Steve Jobs

To learn more about the organizational benefits of an Execution Roadmap and how to build one for your company, see FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution, available in paperback and eBook from Amazon.

Thanks for joining the conversation.

 John R Childress
Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s Blog:

John’s Business Books Website

Just Published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

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Just What Do You Mean by Leadership Development?

dunce

One of my favourite business stories:

 One day Little Johnny came home from school and asked his mother why Dad was always working late and why he had to bring work home as well.  Mommy replied that daddy has a very important job and can’t get all his work done at the office so he has to work in the evenings as well.

Little Johnny thought for a moment: “Then why don’t they put Dad in the slow group?”

In a recent Deloitte study  on UK Human Capital Trends 2014, leadership development ranked the number one concern for UK companies.  I suspect a global survey would find the need for more leaders and leadership development to be high on most senior executive’s wish list.

But what exactly do we mean by “leadership development”?

When I look across my years of experience and talk with senior executives, I find a wide range of differing definitions.  Some are adamant that leadership development means finding and training high-potential managers and executives for senior executive roles. Giving them the various experiences, jobs and advanced business training required to step up into senior leadership positions.

In other cases, “leadership development” is seen as either coaching for special needs, training for skills, personal development and communication training, and even team building programs get lumped under leadership development.

And who are the most likely recipients of the majority of leadership development? Managers and mid-level executives of course!

But could we be missing something important?  What if instead of focusing on high-potential managers and executives, we decided to build a “culture of leadership” at all levels? Which might have the greatest ROI and impact on company performance, leadership training for advancement or developing leadership skills at all levels?

Leadership is taking accountability and solving problems.  ~Colin Powell

Developing leaders or developing leadership?

Every employee can be a leader, no matter what level.  Especially if we define leadership as a set of behaviours and not just job or function knowledge.

Instead of asking: How do we develop key staff for higher level positions and responsibilities; perhaps we should be asking: How do we instill leadership behaviours in all employees?  

drucker decisions

Leadership is not knowledge as much as it is action; being accountable to fix it or see that it gets fixed, help a customer rather than passing them to someone else, solving problems rather than pushing them upwards or just saying, “sorry, not my department”, or “I’d like to but I don’t have the authority . . . “

What if your company had a fundamental culture of leadership? What might that look like?  The benefits are many: fewer lost customers, faster problem resolution, greater teamwork, more innovation and creativity,challenge ideas to make them better, everyone takes accountability for safety, quality, ethics, customer satisfaction.

A Culture of Leadership is far more effective than developing more senior executives.  Think about it.

And thanks for joining the conversation.

John R Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
e: 
john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read  John’s blog
Business Books Website

Just Published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The 3 Wishes of the CEO . . .

Genie

And the Genie said, “I will grant you three wishes, and you can’t wish for more wishes, so choose wisely!”

Across the globe nearly everyone knows the story of the Genie and the three wishes. Each culture tends to have its own set of characters and circumstances (Sinbad and the Genie, the Merchant and the Genie, the fisherman and the Genie, etc.), but the actions of the wisher and the moral of the fables tend to be similar.  Don’t waste your wishes on frivolous things that really don’t deliver happiness or good fortune.

While I don’t have a magic lantern with a Genie inside who grants wishes, I often ask the CEOs I work with what are the three things that keep them up night after night and that they wish they could fix in their business?  While I occasionally get a few flippant responses, such as “a billion dollars in the bank” or “more customers”, more often than not the same three concerns tend to be at the core of their wishes.

1.    Senior Team Alignment

The first is how to get the senior team to work better together, collaborate and focus on delivering the overall business strategy. Many senior teams are not really teams, but collections of highly talented functional super stars that tend to focus most of their time on their functional silos and little time on collectively driving the company strategy forward.

Figure 2

This non-team behaviour often results in lack of resource sharing, hoarding information, lack of transparency, blaming others, squabbles over limited internal resources and budget battles. The CEO just wants to get everyone on the same page and working together to deliver the overall business objectives, since maximising individual functional objectives does not always lead to overall superior company performance. And the constant tension among the team tends to wear people down and has a negative impact on the morale of those below.

 And for a team that is working well together, whenever one or more new players are recruited in, the positive team dynamic often becomes negatively impacted. Most CEOs don’t have a trusted process or robust intervention that can quickly rebuild the team alignment and collective focus.

 2.    Culture as a Business Risk

The second concern is that the current corporate culture may contain significant risk to the business. A good example is the current culture within many global banks that has allowed significant and sometimes widespread instances of fraud, “casino behavior” and unethical business dealings. Other examples include the “profit-centric and cost-control” culture at BP that led to unsafe behaviours and ultimately the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig disaster with its loss of life and significant economic and ecological damage.

 The problem here is that many CEOs and senior executives don’t really know what their current cultural strengths and weaknesses are, and most don’t really understand what culture is, where it comes from, how it positively or negatively impacts performance, and how to shape or reshape corporate culture.

If you don’t understand your corporate culture, you don’t understand your business!

The risks inherent in a unguided corporate culture range from lack of competitive agility to fraudulent business activities that can bring down even the biggest of organisations.

 3.  Greater Employee Engagement and Accountability in Execution

The third is how to create better alignment for executing business and strategic objectives. Every CEO realizes that employee engagement and loyalty are currently at all time lows and unengaged (either actively or passively) employees are not fully productive. In addition, innovation and customer service suffers. Also, unengaged employees are more resistant to change and less agile when external market circumstances call for changes in the business. How to increase engagement and improve the ability of the organisation to execute on its strategy is a key CEO concern.

In most cases, lack of execution is the result of a lack of process and process discipline. In fact, those companies with a robust and disciplined “strategy execution process”, that includes employee communication and engagement as well as frequent governance and progress transparency, tend to outperform companies lacking such a process.  Having clear objectives is important, but having a robust execution process is the key to execution and delivery.

Figure 2

From Wishes to Actions

Every problem has a solution, given enough determination and courage.

While the wishes granted by the Genie are a fable, these three major concerns of the CEO can be turned into launching ramps for improved performance with the right understanding, information, processes and discipline.  All that is left is the courage of leadership.

Thanks for joining the conversation.

John R Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
e: 
john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog
Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

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Patience is . . .

mom and dad

My mother was a classy and wise woman and in many ways, thoroughly modern.  Not only was she a beauty queen in college, a high school music and English teacher, an accomplished pianist and organist, leader of the church choir, loved poetry (a descendant of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow), but also the mother of four boys and a girl.  Any one alone is a great achievement, especially in the 1930’s and 40’s. It is a miracle she kept her sanity and sense of humour (with four rambunctious boys  to raise).  But her real gift were “pearls of wisdom” to help us navigate life’s ups and downs.

And one of her favourite “pearls of wisdom” to us boys was:

Patience is a virtue.

Young boys live fully in the moment and having to wait for things, like Christmas or the opening day of fishing or hunting season, was excruciatingly painful. We wanted it NOW!

Fast forward to 2014. You and I live in a world where speed is an asset and NOW is the only time that exists. Texts are instant and seem to demand instant replies. News from around the world flashes across pc screen and mobile phone alerts as it happens.  And success in the highly competitive global marketplace is about being their first. Today’s mantra seems to be something like:

Don’t wait for things to happen, make them happen.

patience

The Good News and Bad News about Patience:

But as I see it, patience has its place today more than ever before, and yet there are also times when patience is definitely not a virtue.  Let me explain.

Many good business strategies don’t get traction because management doesn’t wait long enough for the plan to develop and begin to get traction.  At the first sign of negative results or a missed target, they convene a meeting to revise the plan.  Strategic plans take time for people to understand, to replace old business processes with new ones, for customers and suppliers to get on board.  Strategies are not overnight tactical manoeuvres.

A strategy only works if you stick with it

On the other hand, there are times when patience is definitely not a virtue, but is actually harmful to your company.  Here I am talking about corporate culture. We all know that a culture aligned with the strategy and that supports and grows people acts as a catalyst for achieving business success. And culture is made up of repeatable, everyday behaviours about how people deal with issues, treat each other and treat customers and suppliers.

So imagine the real life example of a VP overhearing a conversation among managers that goes something like this: “I can’t believe those idiots in purchasing. They screwed up my order again, and it’s not the first time and the customer is yelling at me. The next time they want support from my department they can forget it!”

Heard that one before, or something similar? Definitely not the type of blaming, unaccountable culture that makes for success.

Now come the choice, patience on the part of the VP, don’t get involved, mention it to their supervisor whose job it is to manage that area? Or act immediately, interrupt and use the opportunity as a “coachable moment” to talk about culture, accountability, blaming, and working together to fix the problem?

If you don’t get involved, you get the culture you ignore!

Patience, like many leadership skills is situational.  And leaders are paid to make choices!  Choose wisely.

Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.  ~Napoleon Hill

Thanks for joining the conversation.

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
e: 
john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog
Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

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Going Global? Three Keys to Success

go west Go West, young man. Go West and grow up with the country.  ~Horace Greeley

The sage advice of 19th Century journalist and politician Horace Greeley about seeking out new territory and opportunities for growth has become a popular phrase and driving vision for many young individuals and for many businesses in today’s global marketplace.

globalizationThe opportunity for a successful business to expand globally has never been easier and with the rapid development of a number of potentially huge emerging consumer and B2B markets, established businesses everywhere are making plans to pursue more international business. And it’s not just the Western companies, but many Asian corporations are expanding globally in the search for newer markets and growth.

The Grass is Greener, But Watch The Landmines!

While the markets are there and many companies have mountains of cash available to fund global expansion, success is not easy or straight forward.  Even some of the best known and best run companies have failed miserably in their international growth pursuits.  WalMart’s dismal failures in South Korea, Germany and Japan, despite millions invested is both expensive and humiliating at the same time. Mattel’s failure to introduce its Barbie line of dolls and toys into China was fraught with marketing and cultural barriers. On the other hand, while Home Depot failed in China, IKEA is experiencing explosive growth.

The bottom line?

Globalization is not plug and play!

There are many invisible forces that can spell success or failure.  Here are my top three:

1.  Understand National Cultural Differences:

Ignore national cultures at your peril. While Home Depot and IKEA both cater to do-it-yourself lifestyles and since the middle class is a huge potential market in China, both saw growth and riches, and took their mega-store strategy into China.  But middle class Chinese mostly live in apartments, without garages or places to store tools, paints, etc., but they do desire the Western lifestyle.  Thus Home Depot failed. But IKEA, pushing self-assemble and not DYI, made it easy for customers to purchase western home decor, without the DYI hassle.

WalMart failed in Germany partly due to the German national culture clashing with the walmart employee meetingAmerican culture. German employees resisted the morning team exercises while chanting WALMART! WALMART! WALMART!  American managers didn’t really listen to employee suggestions. And the Green-conscious German customers resented the excessive use of plastic bags and packaging.

2.  Tap Into Aspirations:

Many products sell well not just becasue of their functionality, but becasue of the lifestyle or social aspirations customers attach to them. Apple sells phenomenally well around the world, even with a much higher price tag, because it fulfils the buyers aspirations to “be cool” and part of the “with-it crowd”.  The cache and lifestyle prestige of Harley Davidson motorcycles and 1st Growth Bordeaux wines are another good example of international success.

3.  Improve Lives and Wellbeing: Be a Good Corporate Citizen

My favourite ingredient for success in international markets is to pursue a noble purpose, along with profits.  And one of the best gifts a company can make in a foreign market is to seek to improve the lives and wellbeing of its employees and customers.

Here is my favourite example, in the words of David Schoch (a former client), now President of Ford Asia Pacific and a veteran Ford CFO on many continents:

 In 1925, Henry Ford took out the attached ad in the Saturday Evening Post. It was not your ordinary automotive ad. It was an ad about Henry’s vision of opening the highways to all mankind – he was selling a dream.

Henry understood how mobility could contribute to the economic value of a society and thus contributing to a Better World. In the last sentence – “The Ford Motor Company views its situation today less with pride in great achievement than with the sincere and sober realization of new and larger opportunities for service to mankind” – in other words, contributing to a Better World.

image003

Throughout my 36 year career with Ford, I have been continuously inspired by Ford’s Better World initiatives. It is not just about making great, high-quality products for our customers, making a sustainable profit, etc., but it is about giving back to our communities where we work and live.

It was this aspiration that motivated us in 1999 in South Africa at SAMCOR (South African Motor Corporation – partially owned by Ford) to do something radical and pro-active against the HIV Aids pandemic.

There was little understanding or education on what HIV Aids was? How it spreads? And what precautions could be taken to protect against being infected?

Nobody wanted to talk about it in open forums – not even the SA government. We knew that our workers were dying of HIV Aids. We also knew that we could not solve South Africa’s HIV Aids problems, but we could do something to help our own workforce.

So we developed a plan to educate our entire workforce and the community about HIV Aids (in 1999).

Initially, there was a lot of push back on the plan – from both the salaried and the hourly workers. We persisted, however, because we knew it was the right thing to do for our employees, their families and our business.

We set up education classes for the entire workforce; offered free and anonymous HIV Aids testing; offered free condoms throughout the site so our employees could protect themselves; we started a HIV Aids center on site at Silverton where the community could come and learn more about the pandemic and prevention.

Over the years, this program has grown and has taken on a life of its own. We have been able to successfully reach out to more communities with training, etc. When I was back in South Africa about 2 years ago, it was so gratifying to visit the center and learn more about all of the great work they are doing.

Engrained in Ford’s culture is the spirit and aspiration to contribute to a Better World.

Want to succeed in going global? Make a positive difference in the people and the communities you enter. Be a good citizen. It makes dollars and sense!

Thanks for joining the conversation.

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
e: 
john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog
Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

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Peer Leadership, Courage and Culture Change

Sales_Cartoon_Big_Initiative

The best training program in the world is absolutely worthless without the will to execute it properly, consistently, and with intensity.  ~John Romaniello

Let’s face it, corporate America has been trained, retrained, and then trained again (even trained out!) on leadership and culture change.  Every consultant on earth (and there are mega-thousands) has a leadership development or culture change training, speech, book, Keynote talk, workshop, video or blog. By now, there isn’t one senior or mid-level executive who has not been to at least three leadership or culture change courses or speeches. They can recite the quotes, describe the leadership and change models, and even repeat some of the speaker stories and examples.

I don’t know about you, but if I see another new leadership or change workshop brochure or webinar I just may emigrate to the moon!

Not only is the content pretty much the same (but with different spins, like leadership the Army way, or the Navy Seal way, or the Olympic way, or the NFL way, or from the world’s best CEOs, Leadership Lessons from Genghis Khan, Penguins and Icebergs, etc.).  The models tend to be the same, the examples the same, even some of the same jokes.

Yet more than ever businesses, sports, the military and especially politics cries out for leadership and all are frustrated by the slow pace of culture change, if it changes at all.

Here’s the rub: We all know WHAT to do, and even HOW to do it, but we fail to ACT.  It’s not lack of knowledge, it’s lack of the COURAGE to ACT!

It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.  ~J. K. Rowling

storming gateAnd I am not talking about leading a revolution or storming the board room. The kind of courageous action I am pointing to is to be the first to speak up in support of new improvements, be the first to adopt new ways of working, be the first to step in when colleagues are bullying or harassing others. The first to say and do the right things, the little things that will signal a new set of behaviours. Real change starts with a small number of people who have the courage to act and begin to display new behaviours. Their changes often influence others to follow suit.

Our research and business experience over the past 30 years has found that change, and particularly culture change, does not take place through top-down training or communication programs, or the issuance of new “get tough” or “Zero Tolerance” policies. And certainly not through new regulations.  These are important ingredients and a part of the solution, but not sufficient to reshape behaviour.

Reshaping Culture:

So if culture change is really about behaviour change, what is the most effective way to reshape behaviour?

When new behaviours, ways of thinking and acting are introduced, role modelled and reinforced by respected peers, informal leaders and key influencers,  others in the group (or those who wanna-be) tend to follow suit. It’s human nature, pure and simple.  How else do you explain the quick uptake of fashion trends, facial hair in American baseball, or arm tattoos? It’s not a new law, it’s not a regulation, it’s not mandated by policy. It’s a new behaviour displayed by informal and respected key influencers that becomes contagious, even viral, for those in the group and those who wanna-be.

We human beings are social animals and peer acceptance (fitting in with a group) has a powerful influence on behaviour.  Street gangs are an extreme form of peer pressure and fitting in with the group. In essence, a street gang is a subculture of the youth in an area with a specific set of behaviours that they believe define who they are. These behaviours are almost religiously adhered to.

And there are strong subcultures inside of nearly every company. A company subculture is a group of people, with an informal leader or strong influencer, who tend to behave and think the same way. And surprise! Corporate culture is really a collection of these various subcultures.

The fact is, employees trust their peers and key influencers far more than they trust senior management, especially during times of change!

And herein lies the major lever for courageous action and change.

The concept is simple. To create a sustainable change, locate the informal and respected leaders inside your organization; those who have an inordinate amount of social and behavioural influence on others that far out weighs their position on the organization chart. Beware, many of these key influencers are not on HR’s list of upcoming and promotable. It’s the employees who decide who the key influencers are, not HR.

Then recruit them to become the change champions. As they adopt, display and talk about new behaviours (and new ways of working) this influence will spread.  Combine that with support from senior management in terms of revised policies and internal business processes that promote and reinforce these new behaviours, plus new behaviours role modelled by leadership and management, and you have a perfect Pull – Push – Sustain system for culture change.

The turnaround of the dirty and strike-ridden Halewood Ford Escort assembly plant in England into a modern Jaguar plant with showcase quality and productivity was all about getting the respected Union leaders and key hourly influencers engaged as the leaders of the Culture Change Workshops for all employees, as well are replacing those managers and executives who ruled with fear and negativity, plus instituting new policies and work procedures that fostered respect and trust.  Pull – Push – Sustain.

But not everyone has the courage to lead change, either executives or the informal leaders, and at the end of the day, the courage to start is the crucial first step.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step.  ~Lao Tzu

Thanks for joining the conversation.

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
e: 
john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog
Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

 

Posted in corporate culture, Human Psychology, leadership, Organization Behavior, strategy execution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Culture Audits: We Have Been Asking the Wrong Question

stampede

Once the herd starts moving in one direction, it’s very hard to turn it, even slightly.  ~Dan Rather (journalist and former CBS News Anchor)

I grew up at the dawn of the television era and watched intently as Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and other professional journalists commented on the news of the world. I’ve always liked this quote by Dan Rather as it reminds me that once a belief gets started about something, it’s hard for new facts to change that opinion.

The Herd of Culture Audits

For the past several decades in the business literature and academic journals there has been a plethora of writing, talking and consulting around “corporate culture audits”.  While there is no common agreed upon definition of corporate culture by academics and professionals, there are an amazing good number of culture audits on the market.  In fact, by my last count there are over 70 different culture assessment tools (surveys, audits, etc.) available (see LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture)

What is fascinating to me is that while they each measure slightly different aspects of what they call corporate culture, the majority measure them in exactly the same way.  They use a questionnaire given to various levels within the organisation and ask the individuals to score each question, usually on a numerical scale from “least like the culture” to “most like the culture”.  Then they aggregate all the scores, take an average and bingo! A culture profile is developed which supposedly describes the overall corporate culture.

Are we asking the wrong question?

But what if there isn’t one overall culture, but actually numerous subcultures (some strong and others weaker) in a company?  Blending all these subcultures into an overall average corporate culture profile could be missing a lot of valuable information to help understand how culture and performance are related and also understand the levers required to reshape culture.

After over 30 years studying corporate culture in numerous industries (nuclear power, retail, transportation, manufacturing, defence electronics and FMCG), I am convinced that there is no such thing as an overall corporate culture but instead an organisation is comprised of numerous subcultures. In rare cases the subcultures are aligned and in synch with the overall goals and values espoused by leadership.  In most cases, there is misalignment and senior management wonders why execution is so difficult.

subcultures

The Herd Keeps Moving On  

In this modern era of consumer niche identification and targeted marketing that has proven so effective from digital retailers to presidential campaigns, why do business leaders continue to use massive, one-message-fits-all, top down culture change communications and workshops in an attempt to change culture? First of all, it doesn’t work well (see LEVERAGE: The CEOs Guide to Corporate Culture) and secondly, it totally overlooks the fact that organisations are really a collection of subcultures with their own beliefs, interests and leaders.

 There is no one overall corporate culture!

The real leverage to reshaping culture is to identify and understand the strong subcultures that exist within the company and then recruit the “informal leaders” and key influencers within those subcultures as your change agents.  The real fact is, employees trust their peers and the informal leaders for information and guidance far more than they trust management!

We have been asking the wrong question: It’s not “what is our corporate culture?”, but instead “where is our corporate culture?”

We now have the technology, through a special Social Network Analysis algorithm and organisational framework, to map the various subcultures and pinpoint not only where they are inside the organisation, but also pinpoint which individuals are the key cultural influencers.

This pioneering work, conducted under the direction of Dr. Leandro Hererro (author of two groundbreaking books: Viral Change and Homo Imitans) and with the assistance of a group of Eastern European software geniuses, is beginning to give us the vital insights required to truly understand and effectively reshape corporate cultures.

In future blogs I will talk more about the importance of subcultures, informal leaders, Social Network Analysis and culture change.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result!  (popularly attributed to Einstein but probably first penned by author and feminist Rita Mae Brown in her book, Sudden Death)

Thanks for joining the conversation!

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
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john@johnrchildress.com
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Read John’s blog
Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

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