Does Your Corporate Culture Suck Growth from Your Business?

Business Growth

Part One of Two.

Like obesity in America, there is a growing epidemic of ‘eyes bigger than stomach’ syndrome in today’s companies: “We have a vision, plans, and strategies, but we can’t execute.” It is becoming an epic problem:

  • Of 17 million workers surveyed, 2 out of 3 say they are not fully engaged at work.
  • 60-75% – of business improvement efforts fail to take hold and sustain.
  • Innovation is CEO’s #1 growth strategy, but 54% are concerned about their organization’s ability to actually do it.
  • In his new book “Good Boss, Bad Boss” Robert Sutton quotes a 2009 Swedish study tracking 3,122 men for ten years, which found that those with bad bosses suffered 20 to 40 percent more heart attacks than those with good bosses.

Whether your growth plans include merger, alliances, new markets – corporate culture is the dynamic power source that is key to implementing them. Right now your organizational culture (and its alignment to strategy) is either boosting your growth or sucking the life force from it. You can think of culture like your electrical system:

  • The unseen infrastructure that permeates everything you do:
  • Always changing – and when it’s on sub-optimal performance or leaking power you often don’t know it;
  • When it’s “down” it is extremely costly;
  • Solutions can be hard to detect and diagnose if you don’t know what to look for.

The great news is that you don’t need to be the CEO to impact your corporate culture and performance. Every team or department can build its own strong, healthy culture that supports growth and creates competitive advantage in a tough economy. In this series we offer 3 steps to diagnosing and fixing a culture “brown-out” that is unknowingly sucking your growth plans dry.

Step One: What’s Your Business Stage?

If you have been through a stage of growth or expansion (including a merger), added new systems or leadership, or are implementing a strategic shift in direction, a culture tune-up is almost surely necessary. (What happens when you run your A/C system for years with no maintenance?). Usually you will know because there is a dip in productivity, confusion of priorities, or increased conflict about “who’s doing what.”

There are two situations where culture is NOT the most important factor to address:

Situation #1: Your industry is in steep decline, moving toward commoditization, and you don’t have a clearly articulated value-add to your business model. That’s a strategy and marketing problem – a great workplace culture won’t save an ineffective business model. One exception: Your people know the solution, but leaders aren’t listening.

Situation #2: You are in the start-up phase or your main concerns are meeting payroll and making sales. In this stage, everyone in the company can usually still “sit in a room together” and the need for better teamwork and communication is not a big concern.  Unless the place feels really flat and needs an energy boost, in which case “culture” might play a factor.

Step Two: Diagnose.

The first stage of diagnosis is to admit you have a problem. If you really don’t know, find a trusted person who can help you figure it out. Signs of trouble include:

  • Growth has flattened and you are still blaming the economy;
  • You are running faster and harder for less business;
  • People are lackluster and burned out;
  • You’ve lost too many key talented employees.

Below are actual questions from our Culture Health Assessment.  Survey people anonymously and discover where your power leaks exist.  (We find a scale of 1-5 works best). Employees are the best gauge of a culture’s health, not leaders:

  • Our vision/mission excites and motivates me personally to commit
  • I know our game plan to win
  • Our planning process ensures we narrow constantly to the right priorities
  • I am trusted to take appropriate risks to make things better here
  • Our decision process is clear and transparent across the organization
  • People in our company cooperate together to find solutions – no turf wars

If the results on this are anything less than a High 4 – you have culture energy leaks.  If you need profitable growth, get serious about plugging them.

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