Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What Stops Your Organization From Having a Winning Culture?

If the CEO is committed to creating possibilities from “nothing”, he or she cannot transform those possibilities into reality as a lone wolf. If he surrounds himself with the smartest people, it does not mean those people will be comfortable turning “nothing” into something extraordinary. Even the smartest people need to be motivated to produce astonishing results. And, without a culture to support extraordinary, high performance becomes a pipe dream. Therefore, the CEO is also responsible for creating a winning culture.

While there is no silver bullet, the solution is
much simpler than it sounds. Every organization has a culture. Every culture is made up of a network of conversations (social anthropologists say the culture of a country, company or family is made up of a network of conversations). If you listen to what stakeholders – employees, suppliers, community, management, government, media, etc. – say, that will provide insight into what the culture of the organization is. Regardless of what you wish the culture to be, what people say about a company determines what the culture is. Sometimes the water cooler conversations are most telling.

There are 3 main kinds of conversations that make up a culture in an enterprise:

-    Under performing – Like all cultures, under performs use key words. The conversations sound something like: “Things are unfair.” “I don’t like.” “I don’t know how.” “I don’t care.” “That’s impossible.” “You’ll never be able to do it.” “Something is wrong with.” In general, the underperformers tend to be victims and feel powerless to change anything.
-    Average performing – The average performers talk about the following: “If it was meant to be it will be.” “Let’s see how it goes.” “I’ll give it my best shot.” “If they do it first, I will do it.” “Under promise and over deliver.” It seems as though this group is committed to avoiding any type of pressure.
-    High performing – In this paradigm, the people occur as though they are from another planet. To start, they are making unreasonable promises to accomplish the task at hand. They almost appear reckless. Yet, there is a high level of integrity and accountability. Furthermore, they are making unreasonable requests of one another, without complaints. The language would sound more like: “this is going to require real effort to accomplish. And, I am up for it.” “Let’s take care of this now.” “Nothing can stop us now.” “Let’s work on this together.”

As you can see, the language within an organization can predetermine outcomes. If you watch the 3 groups closely, you will see their actions are always correlated with the conversations they have. With that understanding, it becomes clear why some corporations, divisions or teams have difficulty executing easy initiatives.

Therefore, if you are a leader/manager, it is not necessary to control your people. It is, however, imperative to create a network of conversations that will support the possibilities you invent.

While I may have over simplified this method for creating a winning culture, it works. Except, the network of conversations has to start at the top. In some cases, leadership does not have the core competencies to transform culture. If that is the case, it is better to bring in outsiders with the expertise. That way you avoid trial and error and get it right the first time. Like creating possibility from nothing, the CEO gets to create the language of high performance from nothing as well.  What are the conversations in your organization? 

What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know.


  1. Ted....GREAT POST AGAIN !!!
    I can be very short on this one....THE KEY to "high performing" conversations is PASSION.
    It takes passion to turn possibilities into reality. This conversation has to start with the CEO and has to travel all the way top-down the organisation coherently. If one is aksed to do things he/she is really passionate about, there are no unreasonable requests & promises. In their passion, people will almost appear reckless. Passion leads to integrity and accountability. Why would people complain if they can live their passion??. The language will sound like: “I can do this because it's my passion". "I will show what I'm best at", “I'll do this because I 'love' this", “Let’s go for it!”
    Now, passion alone is not enough! You also need talents (usually they come with the passion), strenghts and good "mentors"/coaches/leaders/managers who create an environment to let these passionate people grow in their capabilities.
    It's a completely different culture from what most companies today know and understand !

    1. Thanks, Jan. As always, I enjoy and appreciate your comments to my articles.

      I get what you are saying about passion. That appears to be a very popular belief.

      At the same time, how do you account for the very passionate people who have a new passion every week, month or year? For some reason, even with their passion, they are never high performers. Because most people on the planet are not high performers, most people with a strong passion are not high performers.

      On the other hand, I have seen people with absolutely no passion, skills or competencies for something do an extraordinary job. In fact, they were asked to do something that they did not know how to do. Yet, because they were already committed to being a high performer, the task at hand had nothing to do with passion. They were committed to high performance, regardless of the task. This is a big reason many financial firms hire college athletes. They are looking for high performance and the ability to work in teams.

      In no way am I saying passion is wrong. I am a little lost when people talk about the need for passion and the belief that you have to have passion for high performance. Passion is an afterthought when you have become good at something. If that were not the case, you wouldn’t have so many people who change passions so often.

      The challenge is the observer of a high performer is in the stands watching. Once you get on the field to play, you see that passion is not enough to be a high performer. When things become very difficult, people who are passionate about something will often say this was not meant to be and give up. Highly committed people work through the discomfort. That is the reason the highly committed person can start something they don’t know how to do and become the best. For example, Tiger Woods changed his swing at least 3 times. Each time he changed it, his performance dropped significantly. Passionate people would rather stay with what they do well. High performers work through the discomfort of failure.

      As for unreasonable promises and requests, when you ask someone to do something that they don’t know how to do, that could appear unreasonable. When you ask someone to accomplish something that is known to be impossible or unknown because it has never been done, that is an unreasonable request. Passionate people have a difficult time with this because they only like doing what they are good at.

      High performers are a very different animal. The conversations they have with themselves are usually unfamiliar to people who depend on passion. Those conversations are a great catalyst that allows them to accomplish that which they don’t know how to do.