Roller Coasters and Culture

At Lumen Strategies, the focus with clients is on two foundational elements for achieving clarity to accelerate growth opportunities for businesses – strategy and execution.  This year in particular, however, I have come to appreciate the role that a third element of the stool contributes through a client experience.  The third element is culture.  So if you are one to cut to the chase and you want the punch line up front, then here it is — if you want to successfully tackle a growth opportunity there are three things that are critical:

1.  Have a sound and clear strategy (aka view of how you will allocate resources to deliver unique and differentiated value in a prioritized way to achieve a goal).

2.  Execute your plan with tenacity and focus.

and

3.  Build a culture that will nurture and exponentially expand the potential of the opportunity.

“Culture eats strategy and execution for lunch.”  This is a wise quote from Peter Drucker that my friend, Pam Boney, CEO of Tilt reminded me of in a conversation recently.  (Should you ever consider the opportunity to promote an innovation culture that delivers real business value, you should check out what Pam and her team have developed to support employee engagement in professional and personal development!)

Here is the story from my experiences this past year.  I work with senior executives and business owners who are primarily innovating to capture value in disruptive markets. “Disruptive” in that the market is either very new or is not new, but no longer rewards business being done the way it was historically for a variety of reasons.   This past year, one of my clients had excellent ideas about how to serve his marketplace with offers that were both unique and delivered a solid value proposition for customers. Value + Unique Differentiation is formula for a great strategy.  Furthermore, the client had a relentless focus on execution amidst the market chaos.

It seemed a recipe for incredible opportunity.  But then, as I sadly learned though the engagement, there was this issue of the culture.

The environment took on the characteristics of riding a roller coaster with your eyes closed.  You never knew when you were going to go up or down.  Good days brought a surge of enthusiasm and energy.  But things could change quickly, and on bad days individual employees or contractors were likely to endure extreme verbal abuse and public chastising and blame from the stressed and frustrated leader for anything going wrong.  This “toxic culture” ate away at any gains made by the otherwise good strategy and execution rigor and created a revolving door of employees and productivity losses associated with the churn and turnover. But even more damaging was the fact that the culture could not be contained and it seeped out beyond the walls and was felt by clients and potential clients, eroding trust and in many cases business opportunity.

So the key take away here is that every leader has the opportunity to embrace the value of culture – that third leg in the stool.  And, as this calendar year moves through the last days, take a moment to take stock in the culture of your organization and the role you play in creating that culture.  Is there one thing you can do personally in the upcoming year to positively enhance the culture at your company?  It could be just what you need to help all of your hard work and your great strategy and execution to exponentially soar!

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