Farming, Weeds and Corporate Culture


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

One of my current consulting clients is a large global agriculture equipment manufacturer. Farming is becoming more and more mechanised, not only in the developed countries, but in the emerging economies as well, resulting in increased productivity and harvests, making the life of the farmer more sustainable and greatly contributing to the growing global demand for food.

Not having any background in agriculture or farming equipment myself, it has been interesting to learn about the many modern advances in agriculture. On a recent trip to Australia for a client engagement I was talking to one of the brand managers and he told me of a new and innovative bit of farming technology.  Spot weed spraying.

The old method of spraying a field for weeds was to just spray the entire field. The result was a massive amount of chemicals being used, which eventually ended up in the soil and the water table. Costly in terms of purchasing large quantities of weed killer, and also costly to the environment in the long run. And with such massive spraying on a repeated basis, weeds tend to evolve quickly with spray resistant mutations tending to survive and thrive, calling for more severe chemical treatment. A vicious cycle.

One of the breakthroughs is Spot Weed Spraying. Early in the crop cycle, before the entire crop begins to emerge, a special weed spraying system equipped with digital sensors is pulled over the field with a tractor. The sensors detect the emerging weeds and put a small amount of chemical weed killer right on the exact post.  Pinpoint spraying instead of having to spray the entire fields. Efficient and cost-effective as well.


Corporate Culture and “Subculture Weeds”

It immediately came clear to me that this is a perfect analogy for how leaders can maintain a strong and effective corporate culture that supports both the business strategy and employee engagement.

Corporate culture is not really one homogeneous element across the entire organisation, but instead is a collection of many subcultures.  Each subculture is developed and sustained by one or more influential, informal leaders who establish the groundrules for the group and decide what behaviours and attitudes are acceptable or not. Some of these subcultures are perfectly aligned with the overall vision, values and strategy of the company. And some are not.


And when subcultures that are not aligned with the values or vision of the company are allowed to thrive, it creates an invisible operational risk that could lead to significant business risk.

One of the important roles of senior leaders is to locate the various subcultures within their organisation, to support those that are aligned with the overall values and strategy, and to intervene where the subculture is out of alignment.

You get the culture you support, and you get the culture you ignore.

In farming, eliminating the weeds when they are young and with shallow roots is a lot easier and more effective than waiting till they are strong with deep roots. Building and sustaining a high performance corporate culture means keeping a constant eye out for subcultures that begin to develop resistant or negative attitudes about fellow workers, other departments, the company or other toxic attitudes, and to intervene early with coaching, open dialogues, effective communication, listening and understanding, and even coaching or replacing the subculture leader.

Organisations are shadows of their leaders; that’s the good new and the bad news!

Do you know where the subcultures are in your organization? Are they aligned with the vision, values and strategy of the organization?

Written and Posted by: 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

Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

On Amazon: 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

John also writes thriller novels!

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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