“Sensible” in a Charlatan world? Damned Faint Praise?

LeverageMy business book, LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, was (surprisingly!) recently reviewed in that esteemed and venerable world news, political affairs, business and finance magazine, The Economist (January 9, 2014).  Continuous publication of this weekly journal began in September 1843 and today it has a print circulation close to 2 million, most in the US.  And their digital footprint at http://www.ecomonist.com is growing rapidly.

According to a business associate who is the founder of one of the topThe Economist cover PR firms in the City of London, “The Economist reviews only a tiny percentage of the business books published each quarter, so to get the main slot is a real accolade!”

That’s the good news!

But a quote from the reviewer at the end of the article got me thinking even more about the world of business and especially, leadership and management.  Here is the quote:

John Childress, a management consultant, has written a sensible if somewhat flat-footed guide to the subject. . . “Sensible” might not sound like particularly high praise but, for a business book in this charlatan-infested field, it is an accolade worth having.

The Question?

So my question, to myself and others, is why does the business world, as represented by the highly acclaimed Economist Magazine, as well as CEOs and the majority of leaders and executives, consider “corporate culture” a charlatan concept? In fact, most executives see corporate culture as “fluff”, nice to do if we had time, an “HR” thing!

From my own 35+ years of executive advisory and consulting I can attest to the fact that only a handful of (enlightened?) CEO’s and senior executives understand, value and leverage corporate culture to help drive sustainable business performance and David_Novak-2outdistance the competition.  A few come readily to mind.  David Novak, Executive Chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands (Pizza Hut, KFC, Taco Bell), who was recently named 2012 CEO of the Year by CEO Magazine, understands, values and uses the levers of corporate culture to energize and focus employees on delivering great customer value and service.  Ask David whether the strong, high-performance culture of YUM! Brands is a result of performance or that performance is a result of the culture and he will look at you like you’ve just asked the dumbest question in the world.  Corporate culture is a key lever that makes high performance possible.

But David, and a handful of others are the exception.  Most executives ignore or give lip service to culture. Why?

I believe, as I articulate in my book, that the consultants and academics who promote themselves as “culture advisors”, culture change agents and developers of culture metrics and assessments have made a confusing mess of the concept, with academic jargon piled on top of fluffy platitudes.  They have confused the busy business executive and CEO with weak and often contradictory advice and literature.

Few concepts in business contain so many powerful truths, and at the same time so much crap, as corporate culture.

Somehow the David Novaks of the business world have been able to find and utilize the powerful truths of corporate culture and avoid the crap.  But executives shouldn’t have to work so hard to find the useful principles and truths about culture.  We need to make it easier for everyone to use culture as a lever for performance, engagement and sustainability.  It’s time for the consulting and academic world to get its act together, to come together and make corporate culture as accessible and useful as other powerful business tools and to teach it properly in MBA and Executive Education courses.

We seek performance, not platitudes!

John R Childress, aka, Mr. “Sensible”

Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution, available from Amazon in paperback and eBook formats.

About johnrchildress

John Childress is currently Visiting Professor in Strategy and Culture at IE Business School in Madrid and 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 john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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