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<p>There’s been a lot of chatter about company cultures recently. Unfortunately, that includes lots of bad examples.

  • Google employees are arguing about gender bias.
  • Airlines have opened up a debate about what enables great customer service.
  • Restaurants are starting to figure out that the roots of food contamination often start with how their workers think of their role in the company.
  • These events have increased the realization that businesses are more like organisms than machines. They’re based on how people believe and behave as a group.

Many people seem to think that “culture” is just a thing that happens to societies and very large groups. That’s it’s something that is unchanged for generations, and therefore outside anyone’s control.

But culture also emerges when you have just a handful of people interacting. It describes what the group considers normal for making decisions, communicating, rewarding and punishing. On the other hand, group goals describe what they’re trying to do together, and processes describe how they go about it. Read the rest of this entry »

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alex-blajan-99325There’s a lot of exciting progress happening. Property values are up. Unemployment is down. Communities are growing.

I’m honored to work with clients in an amazing diversity of industries, and I’m seeing that optimism is generally much higher than it was last year.

Of course, as business leaders, we’re charged with looking at the big picture and taking the long view. So we know that good news tends to blind us to problems, and an up-cycle will surely be followed by the down-cycle.

That’s not a bad thing. It’s how the world works.

Read the rest of this entry »

deniz-altindas-38128Running a business is hard work, and you don’t have enough hours in the day. Big surprise! Your attention on self-care is one of the first things to go.

You know as well as I do that this is hurting the business. And it may well put you in the hospital at an early age.

So how do you maintain health and balance as a leader?

Physical health

Your mental state reflects your physical health. I’m not talking about extraordinary health care, either, just attending to health issues quickly, eating wisely and maintaining a good weight.

Read the rest of this entry »

tribesWho’s your tribe?

In 2008, Seth Godin wrote a powerful book titled, “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.” It digs into the concept of leadership by influence and attraction.

Some of the strongest leaders I work with have their own unique twist on this concept. Specifically, they map out the spheres of influence around their company’s mission.

This is powerful because businesses on a mission usually feel like they’re so unusual that nobody understands them. It starts feeling like nobody really cares.

That’s not true!

The fact is that if you’re working to make the world a better place — through people, products, services, or influence — that there are others who align with your values. They have a desire to help you succeed, even if they haven’t heard about you yet. Read the rest of this entry »

azyq0zd8zai-averie-woodardIt’s possible to lose your way in business.  Maybe the market doesn’t need you so much anymore.  Or processes that used to work well have been surpassed by the competition.

Perhaps you’ve lost your mojo and are just turning the crank.

It’s time to make a big decision.  You can follow the inevitable decline into irrelevance, or maybe just shut the company down because your heart isn’t in it.

Or you can reboot the business.

Read the rest of this entry »

wordsLeaders often struggle with the capturing their “bigger why,” the compelling thing their organization is trying to achieve. One challenge is that there are multiple ways to represent it:

Purpose:  A statement of purpose focuses on how you relate to the world around you, capturing the unique and powerful role you want to play.

Mission: A mission statement conveys a sense of movement and accomplishment. You’re going toward something important and even exciting.

Vision: A vision describes an inspiring “end state” that, paradoxically, is usually unachievable.  But it captures a future scenario that is beautiful and compelling. Read the rest of this entry »

Mission ProfitYou’re on a mission to achieve great things in your business, even to change the world. But the truth is that you spend more time worrying about how the economy is doing, and whether you’ll be able to make enough money to survive.

There’s hope for you!

The first question to ask yourself is: How essential is your mission to your business success? Read the rest of this entry »

power plugYou can have the best strategy on the planet, but nothing gets delivered without your people. They are the powerful core of a great business.

What happens when your workforce isn’t pushing your strategy forward? Well, two things are happening. Some people are headed off in random directions, so you end up with chaos. Others are too afraid to take any significant action at all, so you get nothing.

Neither of those achieves your goals.

We all understand that a team’s actions, individually and collectively, must be focused on the right objectives. That’s what management does.

But out here in the real world, it’s not just about breaking big goals into team objectives and individual actions. If you stick to that, your competition will swiftly overtake you. You’ve ended up with a bureaucracy, where following The Plan is more important than actually moving forward.

This is where leadership comes in. Management operates best with logic and procedure, while leadership calls upon inspiration and emotion. Together, the two elicit focus, dedication, teamwork and self-management.

I’m not saying that your company needs to be overtly emotional. For instance, look at President Kennedy’s moon-shot program during the 1960s. NASA was an amazing engineering organization, and engineers aren’t exactly known to be emotional. But they were absolutely inspired, dedicated and focused — even to the degree that momentum powerfully continued past JFK’s death in 1963.

That’s also a great example of how inspiration is infectious. Congress was absolutely dedicated to the program as well, ensuring generous funding. The Legislature could have done nothing without NASA, and NASA would have done nothing without Congress.

Likewise, your leaders and managers can do little without your workers and partners. They, in turn, will achieve nothing of value without management processes and leadership inspiration.

Together, you can be absolutely unstoppable.

That brings up a major issue, though, with powerful objects. Consider a supertanker, or a freight train, or a rocket engine. They struggle with making quick changes of direction.

Your business needs to operate in a competitive environment, with shifting customer demands and ever-changing technology. In some industries, include unstable government regulation.

Yet your people are good at doing things a certain way, and management structures reinforce sticking to what’s worked well in the past.

This is where true leadership makes the most impact. The best leaders I’ve seen are the ones who refuse to sacrifice the core values and mission of an organization. make timely decisions to alter goals and strategies to keep up with (and lead) change, and drive the management systems to quickly align the workforce around a new direction.

This sounds contradictory: How are we to change direction but not change our mission? We can do it because these are two distinct levels.

Perhaps your deepest personal values are to be healthy and have a long, happy life. Within that, there are many options. A new exercise device comes out that helps you stay healthy while having more fun. Or you get sick for awhile and switch to different exercises. Or you just want to change because you’re tiring of the old routine. All of these changes are perfectly fine for helping you achieve your deeper values.

This is exactly why it’s important to distinguish between the two levels in your business.

If your employees think the purpose of your business is to keep them employed, then they’re operating at a very basic level. You have much bigger goals than that, even ones you would never ever sacrifice.

One way to tell the depth of your goal is with this simple question: Would you rather shut down the business entirely rather than sacrifice the goal? The closer you get to answering “yes,” the more you’ve identified the unshakable foundation of your company.

Does each and every employee understand what that is, and work every day to deliver their part? Is each manager constantly looking for improvements?

Are they inspired?


This article was first published in BizWest.

dierschow-1024x730Robert Kaplan and David Norton developed a powerful concept back in the 1980s and ‘90s for monitoring business performance.  Dubbed the Balanced ScoreCard, it has spread rapidly through large organizations around the world.

Despite this popularity, I’m continually surprised by its lack of visibility among smaller companies.

Perhaps some fear that it’s too complex and requires too much overhead to support. Well, yes, it’s possible to go crazy and create a behemoth which then crumbles under its own weight.  But that’s true of any tool of significant power.

Read the rest of this entry »

Diversity has been given a bad name. There’s an implication that it’s just about government getting in the way of your business. But really, diversity is a powerful and useful concept.

We all tend to seek out people who are similar to us; that’s part of human nature. So when you’re looking for employees, you tend to be most comfortable with those candidates who share your point of view. You get along.

It’s a dangerous thing.

Read the rest of this entry »

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