Culture Impacts Performance

This week, the sage of Omaha, Warren Buffett, one of the more savvy investors of the past three decades, made a bold and profound statement in his recent annual letter to the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders:

“Culture, more than rule books,
determines how an organization behaves.”

It’s amazing to think that when we first began researching, writing and consulting on corporate culture in 1979, my then partner Dr. Larry Senn and I had an uphill battle even getting CEOs and serious business people to meet with us to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of their corporate culture and how they could improve their business through culture change.

Thirty years later and  you can hardly pick up a business article or book without some mention of corporate culture.  I just did a Google search for “Corporate Culture” and got 15,100,000 hits!

So, I have a question:  Why don’t more CEOs and senior executives understand the power of corporate culture and use it to their advantage to improve business performance?

I have spent the last 30 years of my business and consulting career seeking the answer to this question.  And what I’ve found is that there are multiple reasons.  That’s why I’ve started this blog to help clarify corporate culture (and to have a public place for my thoughts and ideas).

Culprit number 1 in the search for the lack of understanding and respect for corporate culture as a business tool,  the culture gurus,  who for the past three decades (ever since the publishing of “In Search of Excellence”) have been focusing entirely too much on the outward manifestation of culture, that is observable behaviors, and not enough on what really creates corporate culture in the first place!  I believe that the majority of those involved in consulting and writing about corporate culture and culture change have been far too focused on behaviour, with culture trainings and executive coaching as their antidotes, and have missed the two primary shapers of corporate culture: repetitive business processes and the activities of the senior leadership team.

I’ll talk more about these in later posts.



About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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