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CULTURE EATS STRATEGY FOR BREAKFAST

Are you frustrated with lack of consistently good results from your business?

Are your employees a little too good at playing the blame game?

Do you struggle to consistently delight your customers?

If any of these apply to you, maybe it’s time to step back and take a look at the culture of your company.

You may have heard “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” before, but how does it explain the challenges listed above?  Attributed to Peter Drucker and others over the years, it essentially means that, no matter what you plan to accomplish, no matter how much you intend to achieve certain results, the behaviors you tolerate and the values that your company truly lives will determine the results.

Said another way, it’s not your plans or your intentions or the slogans on the wall that produce results.  Rather, the actions you take, the expectations you set and exemplify, as well as the (sub-standard) behaviors you tolerate – these are the things that determine the results you will achieve.

Working in the textile industry early in my career, the mantra, “you inspect what you expect” was drummed into me.  Production was more important than quality in our plant, so the majority of our performance reports focused on all aspects of productivity – with very little focus on quality.  We were the ‘low-cost provider’ and the numbers showed it.  Soon we started losing business due to quality issues.  This didn’t turn around until management started tracking and reporting quality metrics.  What gets measured gets managed.

I had a client recently who is one of the best-known masonry companies in the country.  They win many awards for the design, quality, and execution of their builds.  However, when you watch the owner visit a construction site, you can predict what he will do first – he will always conduct a safety inspection.  If you ask anyone in his company what his number one objective is, they will all say ‘safety”.  Not surprisingly, they also win most of the safety awards for that industry.  The owner’s focus on the discipline of safety enhances the performance of all other functions in the company.

I had a countertop client who proudly talks about how they ‘appreciate and respect’ their customers.  These terms are on their walls and on their website.  However, when you listen to conversations among their key managers about problematic jobs, the derisive comments about their customers are shocking.  The owner tolerates these comments, and the results show up in their online reviews.  Those reviews won’t improve, nor will the bottom line of the company improve until the owner decides he wants to truly live the values on his wall.

So, if you suspect there may be a disconnect between the values you believe are important and the actions taken by your employees, how do you turn that around?  Frankly, the change has to start at the top of the organization.  Having coached and consulted in literally hundreds of companies around the world, I have always found that the culture of an organization reflects the values of the person at the top.  I’ve seen a lot of mission/vision/values statements on lobby walls and on websites.  Very few were evident in the daily actions of employees.  The reason is that people will pay more attention to what you do than to what you say.

If we say we value our employees as trusted partners in our business, should we ask, “Why aren’t you fixing these scratches?  If you can’t do it right, I’ll find someone who will!” or should we ask, “We’re still getting scratches on some of these tops.  What’s the biggest obstacle to preventing those and what can I do to help you make that happen?”  The way we approach challenges like this shows what our true values are.

If we say we ‘appreciate and value our customers’, should we allow our employees to constantly gripe about customers, or should we work hard on improving our processes to make it even easier to delight our customers?

One way to assess how well your culture reflects your values is to ask yourself:

  • What metrics are visible in your operation? While you may say that customer satisfaction is Job 1, what metrics do you display so your organization always knows how satisfied your customers really are?
  • What are the key topics of your management meetings? Your web site may say you are known for your high quality.  How much time is spent finding ways to improve your quality?
  • How do you recognize and reward your employees. Many companies proudly say, “Our employees are our most valuable resource”.  Yet, in the absence of a formal and objective performance review system, employees frequently find significant disparity between pay rates for similar jobs.  Raises are given only when enough people pressure the owner.  The perceived favoritism in this type of system tears down employees instead of building them up.
  • Do you have the same performance and behavior expectations for all employees? Do long-term employees get a ‘pass’ when mistakes are made while newer employees are expected to be perfect?  Are family members held to the same standards as other employees?  (If ‘regular’ employees behaved the same way as family members, would they be allowed to keep their jobs?)

One way to evaluate your culture is to consider your hiring process.  As owners/managers we tend to hire people who are like us.  I’ve watched managers hire candidates with the best GPA and degrees from the ‘right’ institutions because that manager had a high GPA from the ‘right’ institution – and I’ve watched those managers miss out on some truly talented people who didn’t fit their mold.  I’ve seen the same thing with a small business owner hire someone with similar work experience as what they had – and ended up with a lot of clones of themselves.

If you hire people who exemplify the thoughts, actions, and results that fit your culture, and then train them in the technical skills needed, it’s like igniting success. Your business performance can skyrocket.  I have a client who does this well.  He selects candidates that exemplify his values and trains those employees for the task at hand – even if they have no experience in countertop fabrication.  His business consistently beats typical earnings for this industry.

Having implemented tracking Throughput and Operating Expense metrics, the management team realized they were going to miss their monthly Throughput target for December by just 2-3 kitchens.  Without any prodding by the owner, the management team decided to install those kitchens between Christmas and New Year’s – even though they had planned to be closed for the week.  There were no pay bonuses on the line.  There was no request from the owner.  The management team simply exemplified the value of “we hit our goals”.

 

Your business is running exactly the way you have designed it to run.  Your company’s culture eats your business plans for breakfast.  Culture can make your company take off like a rocket or it can cause it to crash and burn regularly.  

How well does your culture support your business objectives?

 

If you need a hand getting started on changing your business’ culture, call at 864-328-6231 or email me at Ed@FabricatorsCoach.com and I’ll be happy to help out. You deserve to have a business that makes you money, but also allows you time to enjoy it. 

This article was published in the February 2023 Issue of the Slippery Rock Gazette, find it at: 

https://www.slipperyrockgazette.net/index.cfm/pageId/4849/Culture%20EATS%20Strategy%20for%20Breakfast/