Tim Ohai Wants You to Forget About Changing Your Business Culture — Focus on Driving Clarity

Business culture is the beating heart of your operations. Yet, this subjective concept is often hard to define, assess and, most important, influence to help lead your teams to sustainable revenue performance.

We at Mereo spoke with expert Tim Ohai, a leading growth consultant and founder of Kupu Solutions who formerly served in leadership roles at Workday, Shell Oil and Pennzoil, about what leaders like yourself can do to foster a healthier business culture in 2024. Read our condensed conversation below.

There is a lot of discussion about the importance of fostering the right business culture, but let’s start by taking a step back. How do you define culture in the terms of businesses and selling?  

Tim: Culture is such an overused word, and, frankly, I’m a bit of a contrarian when it comes to defining it. Culture is technically defined as the spoken and unspoken values of the organization, and some form of how the group makes decisions as a collective.

In reality culture is not the organization — it’s usually groups or teams. Finance has its own culture, and sales has its own culture. Marketing has its own culture. HR has its own culture. I find that you can literally go from function-to-function and feel like it’s just a different set of values or principles that drive how they make decisions. And that’s what you’re looking for: What is going to drive decision-making in that organization in both positive and negative ways.

How can leaders support these localized, tribal cultures, while also nurturing alignment for their organization across departments and geographies?

It’s ultimately about what you are trying to achieve as a group, as a collective. The fracturing occurs when you start seeing breakdowns in how individual groups define what success looks like. But if you have really strong goal clarity — and I mean really good goal clarity where people know goal No. 1, goal No. 2, goal No. 3, and are empowered to achieve those top three goals — you will find the culture will come alongside to support that entire journey. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Oregon or Texas or New York or wherever. If you can get people all shooting for the same goal, they will actually align in how they make their decisions. Then those commonalities, core values and principles will start to overlap. And when you can do that, you start building what I would consider a stronger culture.

You’ve written a lot in your past thought leadership about how individuals can only motivate themselves. As leaders hold their 2024 sales / revenue kickoffs this first part of the year, what would your advice be to leaders for getting their teams to buy in to their 2024 vision? What can they do beyond that to inspire a sense of greater purpose in their people?

I’ll be blunt: Stop de-motivating your teams. And when I say de-motivating, I mean stop creating barriers to their effectiveness. The four most common de-motivators are (1) isolation, (2) information overload, (3) task difficulty and (4) unrealistic expectations.

When we as leaders allow isolation (both physically and functionally), our people start to feel alone and that de-motivates. We give people way too much information — too many emails, too many announcements, too many priorities — that de-motivates. If we ask people to do something too hard and we haven’t given them the empowerment or training or resources to do it, that de-motivates. If we have unrealistic expectations about what’s going to happen, not only do we set our people up to fail, we then punish them when they don’t meet those expectations, and that de-motivates.

How often should leaders assess their culture, and what are some warning signs that a selling culture has turned toxic?

The easiest way is to use the model I have built around strategic execution. If there’s a lack of clarity, a lack of empowerment, a lack of engagement, a lack of accountability and / or a culture that you clearly see is just not working — those are your signs. But when the culture is off, and you don’t know where to start, I go back to clarity. Lock clarity into place first. Make certain that everyone has the exact same definition of priorities, goals, and roles – because without it, the team will begin to suffer.

I just planted a lemon tree in my yard. It was a Christmas gift. It’s a beautiful dwarf Meyer lemon. I love being able to walk into the yard and pick fresh fruit from the garden. And we had some great rain, and it was doing well. Then it stopped raining. All the top leaves curled down. And I realized all I need to do is start watering it. I didn’t have a bad tree. I just wasn’t watering it enough.

I think a lot of times we think our culture has gone toxic for some reason and the reality is all we need to do is add clarity and empowerment. And all of a sudden, the culture starts to come back to life again, naturally.

What final thoughts do you want to leave revenue team leaders with about supporting a strong business culture in 2024?

Culture is impossible to change — that is without clarity, empowerment, engagement and accountability. And a lot of people want to hit the easy button and go straight to fixing culture. It doesn’t work that way. Then they say, Alright, well, we’re just going to get some accountability around here. It doesn’t work that way. We need better engagement; we’ve got all this quiet quitting. It doesn’t work that way. You have to start with clarity, then empowerment. You do those two things first and you will earn the ability to start tackling your culture.


 Having a culture that embraces Seek to Serve, Not to Sell® stands out in a buying environment that can feel forceful and void of relationship. Seeking to serve buyers builds trust and relationships — the true currency of a successful business. Download the game-changing Seek to Serve™ eBook to enable your workforce toward serving buyers as a true trusted advisor.  

If you’d like to explore this idea even further, check out Tim’s podcast episode that that goes much deeper and shares some of his best practices here.