To win in the marketplace…
…you must first win in the workplace!
Welcome to the fifth and final key to success in our series on "Leading at the Speed of Business". We’ve spent several months now talking about the importance of adaptability as it pertains to staying relevant in today’s business environment. Whether leading a growing small business, an established large business or a non-profit enterprise, staying relevant will always be a concern. In our final installment, we focus on the importance of the right culture that views adaptability as a norm rather than something members of the organization have to do. It is who they are versus and not just what they do. Adaptability is how the organization collectively thinks in order to achieve sustainable success!
It is always important to level-set definitions with the audience so the discussion doesn’t get side-tracked. We define culture as the shared set of beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviors within an organization that guide the actions of its members. Every organization, large or small, private or public, for-profit or non-profit has a culture based on that definition. The question for organizational leaders is, “Is it the culture we need to achieve sustainable success?” Doug Conant's quote in the title sums up the importance of workplace culture as a means to success in the marketplace. The first action leaders must take is how they define the desired culture as well as their role in making it come to life. To create and nurture an adaptable culture, here are a few key themes from my own experiences that must be considered:
Sustainable success can only occur when the organization embraces adaptability as a cultural norm. Business moves too fast to legislate adaptability solely from the top of the organization. In all my corporate executive roles, one of the consistent messages to the organization was “We need 100% from 100%”. It meant that everyone had a voice and any new idea would be acknowledged to help the organization stay relevant!
How are you adapting to win in your workplace?
- Engagement from the bottom up – a predominantly top-down culture (where most of the new ideas come from senior management) can certainly achieve some level of adaptability as long as senior leaders are actively engaged. The reality is that truly adaptable cultures trust and expect new ideas from the people who actually work with clients and generate the revenue that drives the business. I’ve always called this the search for “ground truth” which is a version of what’s really happening that leaders cannot get from reading reports. This concept also greatly depends on how the frontline organization trusts their senior leadership enough to bring fresh ideas based on what they see day-in and day-out. It doesn’t mean every idea is one that will be executed but every idea from the organization must be acknowledged!
- Consistent Culture Definition – One of my favorite questions to ask a leader who I’ve just meet is, “Tell me about the culture of the organization?”. I get a variety of answers ranging from the blank stare/silence to the five-minute ramble in hopes they say something that resembles a good answer. In between are answers that not only clearly demonstrate an understanding of the culture, but also how they contribute and fit within the stated culture. If a leader and their team either can’t define or have widely different ideas around the organizational culture, staying relevant in a sustainable way will likely elude them!
- Promote Proactive Change – How does the culture actively promote proactive change and how does the leader know? Staying relevant is not just about reacting to shifting market conditions; those are table stakes in the game of adaptability. It also means taking the risks associated with proactive change. Being the first one to do anything in business is risky by definition. Promoting a culture of experimentation and ongoing pilot programs sends a strong signal to the organization that being proactive and leading from the front are integral to the organizational culture!