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Too many high-powered and talented executives delude themselves into believing that they can will their organization through sheer momentum and energy to be more successful, more dominant, more talented, faster, more collaborative, etc.
High performance in organizations doesn’t magically happen because what we want it to, it is about the investment spending that you do in laying the foundation. The hard work is the ponderous, repetitive, brick laying in building a foundational culture that is self-sustaining, and self-regulating.
Case in point: I worked with a very focused regional retail chain that had been bought and sold several times and ultimately was absorbed into an amoeba-like larger national chain of stores. The smaller regional retailer had a long list of successful and enviable attributes. They were focused on their customers and their mission, they invested time and money into developmental experiences for their management people, they moved their emerging leaders between many disciplines in order to gain experience, and they had conservative, respectful, people-first culture that was extraordinary. This didn’t happen because of a single leader. The evolution emanated from the courageous and consistent beliefs and baton passing of 6 CEOs.
After 75 years of amazing success, the company was dismembered in a sale of pieces and parts to competitors and in effect became extinct as an organization. The fascinating part of the story is that the soul of this organization continues to live on.
I was honored to be invited to an alumni event for this proud company several years after it ceased functioning. The event was attended by 270 management people ranging from Store Managers to Senior Executives who paid their own way to attend. Five CEOs spoke and told their stories to tear-filled audience of former colleagues that truly believed in their mission and in their collective competence.
The lesson here is simple. Your company’s culture is the culmination of hundreds or thousands of your teammates investing in mutual success. You can’t demand it to happen. You can’t will it to happen. You can only create the right atmosphere and then carefully nurture the success by courageous, repetitive, and consistent behavior.
I saw it firsthand and I will be forever imprinted with this important lesson.