Making Good Companies Great

By CEO/Founder, David Friedman 

I was talking to a marketing consultant recently, and as she tried to understand the nature of our business, she posed a fairly typical, but surprisingly interesting question.  “What’s the primary problem your prospects have for which you provide an effective solution?” she asked.  My answer stopped her in her tracks, but it goes to the heart of what we do.

Solving Problems

In the vast majority of cases, new products or services are created to solve a specific problem.  Processing payroll can be complex and time-consuming, especially for small businesses, and so payroll companies proliferated.  Pet owners wanted their dogs to be able to roam their yards without running away and so electric fences were invented.  People needed greater convenience and flexibility in finding rides so riding-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft emerged.  Thousands of new products and services are created every year to help solve business or personal challenges.  As the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Who Works on Culture?

But who works on culture and what problem are they trying to solve?  Here’s where it gets interesting.  One would think that those companies with ineffective, and even dysfunctional, cultures would be searching for a way to solve that problem.  After all, it’s affecting every aspect of their business — from low productivity to poor teamwork to their inability to attract and retain top talent to their lack of success in creating a sustainable competitive advantage.  Surprisingly, while these organizations should be the first to focus more intensely on their culture, and should be looking for a solution, they’re usually the last to do so.  Instead, it’s the companies with thriving cultures who choose to make it a priority.  Why is that?

It Always Starts with Leadership

Having spoken with literally thousands of CEOs and having personally worked with hundreds of them, here’s what I’ve discovered.  The best leaders intuitively understand that their culture has an enormous influence on every aspect of their organization, and especially on the performance of their people.  They genuinely care about their people and they treat them in a way that demonstrates that care.  Even if they haven’t been particularly systematic in their approach, they’re passionate about their culture.  When they see an opportunity to take their culture work to an entirely new level, they’re “all in.”

Conversely, when a company has a dysfunctional culture, it almost always has a leader who doesn’t understand, appreciate, or value the role that culture plays in success.  If she doesn’t see it as important, why would she spend any time or money on it?  The only leaders who are willing to spend money on their culture are those who think it’s important.  And if they think it’s important, they’re probably already doing many of the right things.

What Problem Do We Solve?

So let’s go back to where I started, with the question asked by the marketing consultant.  What problem do we solve?  In our case, it’s typically more a question of maximizing opportunity than it is one of fixing a problem.  Most of our clients come to us when they’re already doing well.  They’re passionate about their culture.  They’re winning Best Places to Work awards.  They’re attracting great people.  In most respects, they’re thriving.  And they see an opportunity to be even better.

More specifically, I’ve noticed six areas in which they want to improve:

  • Attracting and retaining the best talent
  • Improving the productivity of their teams
  • Competing more effectively in commoditized industries
  • Preserving and protecting their culture in times of rapid growth or expansion
  • Preserving and protecting their culture in times of leadership transition, often from one generation to another
  • Preserving and protecting their culture when most team members are working remotely

How do they make significant improvements along these lines?  By approaching their work on culture in as intentional and systematic a way as they approach their sales, their finances, and their operations.  We tend to think of those areas as hard-core business processes while we think of culture as being soft or “squishy.”  The best companies, though, understand what a differentiator culture is, and they look for ways to be more rigorous and process-oriented in how they build, teach, and nurture their culture.

There’s a quote from my last book that captures the essence of this thought:

“Good companies have good cultures by chance,
but world-class companies have world-class cultures by design.”

If you’d like to learn more about how to be more systematic in your approach to culture, click the button below, give us a call or check out what scores of CEOs say about the transformative impact of their culture work. 

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