Organizational culture is a hot topic- finally. Numerous books, scholarly papers and blogs and articles are being written about it regularly. Down in the trenches of businesses large and small, it is addressed much less often. So it is interesting to observe and see how and where the culture really “sits” in an organization.
Ideally, it would permeate every nook and cranny and be a part of every employee’s DNA. It would guide decisions, actions, tactics and strategy. In actuality, that is usually not the case. Sometimes it is the leaders who lead the culture by words, example and by holding others accountable to it. And other times, the leaders seem to be AWOL on the subject. In those instances the company can lose its way, or it can be kept on its path by others picking up the flag and running with it. Culture champions influence those around them to remember why they joined the company, why they were once passionate about it, and how they can still make it great, even in a cultural leadership vacuum. Instead of complaining about the bosses, they are taking matters into their own hands and setting examples of how to align values and behaviors.
Stories of the machine operator or accounting clerk; or the nurse or a mid-level manager helping to get the train back on the tracks are not just isolated anecdotes. Individuals can lead a few followers and turn them into a movement, which from the bottom up, get the culture to where it needs to be. Don’t jump ship if the company’s executives have culture amnesia. You can be the big dog and get the culture wagging again.
Founders and leaders of companies may find it easy to work for the love of it. Their time spent creating an idea that becomes a company is full of passion and love. They have a strong sense of pride and investment in the organization. It is like they have given birth to something that they want to nurture, cherish and grow to become something great. What if they could pass on that same sense ownership to their employees?
Consider Bobby Jones who was the most successful amateur golfer ever to compete at a national and international level. When asked why he never went pro, he answered, ”for the love of the game.” How powerful would it be to have a full staff complement of employees want to sign up for something that gives them meaning and purpose? We can look at the individuals that join the Peace Corps or VISTA and want to capture their passion. We can stand in awe of the doctors that go to the front lines of war with Doctors Without Borders; and the lawyers fighting the death penalty for convicted felons. They have passion for what they do. They are joining established organizations because in their gut, the organization represents who they want to be.
Company leaders ideally want to hire people who can be that passionate about their work. It is not an easy task. It is easier if the leader exhibits the passion, paints the vision, sets the example and shares the values that will enable a prospective employee to get it intellectually and then feel it. As the organization grows, every person doing the hiring needs to be able to do the same thing. And it can’t be phony- it is not just for the purpose of an interview. Every company needs to live it, breathe it and reinforce it continuously. It can be done. It takes work, it takes awareness, it takes mindfulness.
People want believe in something. They want their time spent at work to be meaningful. Help them make it so. Is your passion shared by your employees? If not, are you willing to do what it takes to get them there? Are you willing to build a culture of employees who work for the love of It?
Leaders are people too. They react to triggers, they get their buttons pushed just like everyone else. But one of the competencies that a leader is supposed to have is the ability to ignore it when those buttons are pushed. They are supposed to know that bad decisions happen when they are purely emotional, based on anger or some immediate unexpected event that provokes them.
Organizations expect their leaders to be able to make smart decisions under all circumstances. Decisions need to be rational, whether they are based on a lot of data points or one view. Leaders need to always remember that their decisions are signals to their employees and to those outside the organization who may be impacted by them. That, in decision making there is a thought process at work and there is consistency with the vision and mission of the organization.
Leaders who are reactive and who shoot from the hip might like to think of themselves as “cowboys” in the heroic sense, while they be petrifying everyone around them. Leaders need to give their teams a sense of security, of predictability, and of caring- caring that the decisions will be made with their well-being in mind.
Knee jerk reactions are the antithesis of the above. They create employees who are afraid to be in front of the boss and afraid of what the boss may do when others are in front of him or her. And fear does not fit in a strong culture
If you are leader with a quick trigger, learn to count to 100, giving you time to think before you act. You will make better, more consistent decisions and you will get better results all around. What are your thoughts?
When we think about the word “fit” with regard to business, it could be used in several ways. The simplest could refer to actual dimension – fitting physical resources into a given space. The more complex definitions address whether a given business fits into its marketing or brand niche or even in the community in which it resides. These and other measures in between are all important ways “fit” is critical in the business. A previous blog post discussed the need for employees to fit in their roles within a company. This is crucial to productivity and team effectiveness. And employees must align with the company as a whole on vision, values, behaviors, attitude and ethics for the relationship to work.
Typical entrepreneurs starting a business and then gaining traction are not overly concerned with whether each customer or client they are working hard to acquire actually fits the narrow profile of “ideal customer.” The idea is to grab customers whenever and however possible and not look too closely at each one at the time. Twenty first century companies are capturing as much data as they can about each customer, which they will, at some point, examine to discover macro-trends. They may use that data over time to hone their marketing pitches but they are not normally using it to decide whether they should or should not do business with a given customer.
An online retailer may not have any way of knowing if a first time shopper is a good fit. But what about the return shopper who has a track record of buying and returning multiple items and never keeping anything? Or the one who returns items after wearing them saying they don’t fit or are poor quality? Or the one that always takes advantage of the lifetime guarantee?
A service business should know after a single engagement whether a client is one they want to do business with again. A client changing his mind all of the time, or asking for “do overs” can be costly and frustrating.
An established business may choose to jettison clients that don’t fit because they recognize that they are literally not worth their time. Younger, hungry businesses may not be able to look through that lens. Their definition of “fit” may need to mature based on experience.
What about vendors? Does a business need to find a fit with its vendors? To answer that, one has to consider what “fit” looks like. The best vendors meet the company’s needs – timely delivery of goods and services, good quality work, fair payment terms, flexibility when needed. Some even find ways to partner with their customers in win-win programs, some may finance inventory during holiday or other seasons and some may offer support via sales and marketing dollars or resources.
In a start-up or early business stage, a business owner may be willing to use any vendor that provides credit or decent payment terms. This may not be enough to sustain a relationship as a business becomes more successful. If a vendor, even a valued one, is discovered to have very different values or ethics it can cause a problem. Having biased views or treating employees poorly can be another reason to end a relationship. If there is not a values fit, there is at the very least dissonance in the relationship. Business practices, even legitimate ones, can sometimes be difficult to accept. Sudden changes in payment terms or delivery times or supply chain logistics can turn a vendor relationship sour. A business owner needs to define what a good vendor is and then be willing to eliminate those that do not fit the definition.
A company needs to fit into its community. A strip club in a residential neighborhood will not cut it. Nor will a junkyard in the wrong location. Business owners need to be aware of where they can fit in as good corporate citizens and fill a positive role in the community. Fit in this arena is usually based on the use of the property, the community’s regard for the activities of the business and how noticeable those activities are, the amount of tax revenue a business may bring to the locality, the number of jobs the business provides and perhaps most importantly, the image of the business and how that impacts the adjoining residents and businesses. If the activities of a business bring down the value of surrounding real estate, there is not a fit. If the activities of a business subject nearby residents to any safety or health concerns, there is not a fit.
If the community grows up around a business and its composition changes, a given business may no longer fit. The leaders have to recognize that and consider the newer needs of that community.
So, in answer to the question asked in the title of this post, “fit” can be relative. A business may find a fit when common sense is buried or desperation is close to the surface. Humans can convince themselves of anything. Look at the number of football teams that will take a chance on a player that blew up his two previous teams. Somehow, they believe they can make him fit in with them. If owners pause long enough to catalogue what is important to them in their relationships and then weigh every candidate against that list, they can have a relatively clear picture of whether the relationship will work. If they choose to ignore the list for other reasons, it may work for a while, but not long-term.
Fit is important. Ignore it at your risk. If you stretch your values and beliefs to create a fit, it will often come back to bite you. If a business owner is in a mindset of abundance rather than one of scarcity, there will always be more customers, vendors, potential employees and even places to house the business. Find a fit.
Time moves on no matter what we do or do not do. We all know it but we may not all register it in the same way. To some there is never enough time and to others there is nothing but time. Some folks find a way to make great use of time and they get much done. Others cannot seem to estimate how much time a given task should take or cannot finish within an allotted amount of time. Gaining an understanding of time is a critical competency for a business leader. Using time wisely and being able to complete projects within the prescribed time are predicates to accountability and credibility.
At the start of a new year, it feels as if there is unlimited time available to complete goals, priorities and plans. It is therefore easy to make excuses to put things off for a month or quarter. Before long that timeline is looking tighter and tighter. Any leader that makes a pronouncement to the organization about what will be accomplished in the year ahead needs to have a plan setting forth how those accomplishments will occur, with landmarks, deadlines and accountability checks.
Every leader should be looking at 2014 and thinking, “If I have to accomplish one thing in 2014, it is…….” Then a plan has to be drawn up as to how that will happen. Picking a way to finish the above sentence will illustrate the type of thought process required.
If I have to accomplish one thing in 2014, it is to complete a succession plan so I can begin easing into retirement. Having said that, the business leader can create a rough plan to achieve that priority. He can break the year into quarters and set milestones for each quarter. In the 1st quarter, he will do an assessment of the organization to determine strengths and weaknesses and get an accurate picture of what the business would look like without him in it. Once that is done, he should have an understanding of all gaps and deficiencies. He then has a choice to make. He can just catalogue what he has learned, or put together a plan to work on those deficiencies to make them strengths. The second quarter can be used to explore the different types of succession- sale to employees or family, sale to competitor, sale to a company outside of the industry, sale to an individual looking for a good business, etc. Once the most likely options are determined, he can proceed based on them. The 3rd quarter can be used to meet with the professional advisors of the lawyers, accountants, financial advisors – and get their input on how to move forward. Maybe it is time to bring in an investment banker or business broker. The 4th quarter can be used to get the financial statements in order, clean up any hard to explain anomolies and build the narrative of the business’s past, present and future.
What is the one thing you need to do? It could be:
Whatever it is, big or small, follow through. Hold yourself accountable. Pronounce your goal to the company and then keep everyone apprised of progress. Create the plan, share the plan, own the plan. And make sure you do what you said you were going to do. Don’t get sidetracked with other tasks that become excuses for not completing the “one thing.” You may buy your own excuses, but others will not. If you can’t complete the one thing you need to do, who can trust you to complete anything? 2014 can only be a success if you successfully complete “the one thing you need to do.”