Welcome our guest thought leader: Tim Ohai is a leading growth consultant. He is the Founder and Principal of Kupu Solutions, and previously served as Global Director of Sales Effectiveness for Workday and other sales enablement roles at Shell Oil and Pennzoil. Connect with him and follow his wisdom here. And catch his latest podcast season of How to NOT Execute Your Strategy (and what to do about it) for more.
It can be a very dark moment when you realize — after reviewing every aspect of your execution — that your own company culture is blocking your revenue strategy.
Well, culture eats strategy for breakfast, right?
So, how does one actually change culture? Even more daunting, how does one change a culture that she/he/they did not create?
I wish I had three simple rules that you could sprinkle like magic dust to fix your culture overnight.
However, I do have three concepts that you can apply — over and over again — that will eventually bend your company culture toward improved execution. It’s not a fast process, but it works. Let’s get to them.
1) THE LEADERS OF COMPANY CULTURE
First, we should all recognize that the primary stewards of company culture are its leaders. Therefore, let’s begin by redefining what leadership is about.
To be a culture of execution, remember that being “strategic” is not about having a plan and driving everything against that plan. Great plan-making and project management skills are not the same as being strategic. That is 1900s thinking at best. Rather, because we live in a complex, agile, constantly evolving Information Age, leaders must be appointed for their ability to create an environment of great decision-making. They must be promoted for this. They must be recruited for this. And they must be held accountable for this.
Changing, and especially rewarding, the definition of leadership in this way will guarantee that the culture will shift to better execution.
Side note: If you want to get really good at this, categorize leaders who can (a) spur great decision-making that optimizes the business (thus minimizing disruption) and (b) spur great decision-making that transforms the business (thus creating disruption). This is critical when your revenue strategy is a shift from the previous motion. A revenue strategy that transforms how everyone works will need leaders who are comfortable generating disruption and have the skill to navigate it successfully. Conversely, when the last revenue strategy was transformative (i.e. disruptive), leaders who can optimize and stabilize everything become essential so that the previous change truly becomes the new “normal.”
2) THE VALUES THAT NEED TO ALIGN
The second concept that will help change company culture is this: vigorously identify competing values. For example, when the official values of the company say some version of “be excellent” and also say “be nice,” leadership will need to expose when one value is beating down another. In this scenario, “excellence” might overrun the nice people in the company. Conversely, “niceness” can become a poison that saps the energy from excellence because conflict is avoided and unhealthy issues are allowed to fester and stagnate in silence. It’s okay to have values that create tension with each other. They key is to keep them in balance, not conflict.
Side note: If you want to get really good at this, empower everyone to be able to call out issues. Surfacing competing values should be something the entire organization is passionate about. But make sure that there are clean boundaries for how this is done and tell people to develop some thick skin. Collaboration — the robust, genuine kind — is messy. Water will get in the canoe while everyone paddles. This is healthy — and acceptable.
3) THE EFFECT OF STRESS
The third concept that will shape your culture is based off of this principle: stress changes how decisions are made. Therefore, we cannot change the culture if we don’t address stress and its impact on decision-making.
This is the deepest and most profound concept on this list and, frankly, it’s the foundation of my work as an executive coach. So, while I could create another series of articles on this topic alone, let me point out two aspects of this principle you can use immediately.
First, failure is an option if we are learning from it. When the same mistake is made over and over again, or when the same barrier is put up over and over again, the issue at hand is not about learning from mistakes. It is something else (including competing values). But if we teach people to avoid failure, they will ultimately bog down our culture with fear, which will only feed our sensitivity to stress over time. Make failure an intentional learning strategy and watch how stress will decrease.
Second, stress is not fixed by avoiding pressure. Our ability to handle stress is like a muscle that can be strengthened to handle increased difficulty. Or better said, to not be affected by difficulty. We need to teach our teams how to handle difficulty without reverting to the fear-based parts of our brains. But ask yourself this: what percentage of the company has been trained on this? I would propose that the percentage of people not trained to handle stress equates to the percentage of people not executing well — or even worse.
Now pause. Take a breath. That was a lot of information to absorb — especially if you are trying to evaluate your company, your leaders, and yourself against each concept as you read. It’s perfectly acceptable to go back and re-read the content above before you continue.
SHARE THE VALUE
Are you ready for one final twist? I’d like to show you how to tailor your value proposition for your customers. The good thing is that it is a relatively easy idea to lay out.
Tailor your value proposition to how it helps your customer execute their strategy.
In other words:
- Can you position your value as someone / something that will help create clarity?
- Can you position your value as someone / something that will improve empowerment?
- Can you position your value as someone / something that will generate engagement?
- Can you position your value as someone / something that will support accountability?
- Can you position your value as someone / something that will positively integrate with their culture?
We should already be asking about the strategic objectives of our customers. This approach adds in the element of advising them on how those objectives will be delivered. Or more importantly, how your value can help them make better decisions.
As I said, it’s not a hard idea to understand. But you cannot offer the value of helping them execute better unless you have walked the same path.
I mua. Onward and upward.