All Clear.

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A friend recently forwarded a link to “Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch,” Shawn Parr’s contribution to the Fast Company blog.  The title, of course, is a riff on Peter Drucker’s famous maxim that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  (But then Drucker was probably more of a morning person.)  As I consult and conduct workshops with hundreds of companies in the digital advertising and marketing world, the wisdom and urgency of this shared theme is inescapable.

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As the marketplace continues to morph and convulse at an astonishing pace, company leaders and sales managers are constantly adjusting their strategies, if not changing them outright.  But as wrenching and deep as these strategic shifts may appear at ground level, most end up having little or no lasting effect.  Like a house built on sand, they lack the solid foundation that a quality culture can provide.  Parr rightly points out that “culture” is misunderstood (considered intangible and fluffy) and mismanaged (relegated to Human Resources) in most companies and in most industries.  But I think it’s a particularly acute shortcoming in our world….and I think I know why.

Prisoners of Our Own Success. Many digital CEOs and sales leaders came into their own during times of prosperity.  It all came together for us “in the day,” so everybody just do what we’re doing and we’ll all be OK.

Rapid Ascent, Rapid Change. Ironically, we point to the pace of change and rapid buildout of our companies – the very reasons we so desperately need to establish cultures – as the reason we can’t afford the time to develop them.  Culture is something we’ll focus on once we’re established.

Perhaps some of this is inescapable:  given our backgrounds and the ever-changing landscape, maybe textbook culture development isn’t attainable.  (I don’t completely believe this, but I’ll go with it for now.)  But maybe it’s time to meet Peter Drucker halfway and focus on the one principle that will establish a beachhead of stable culture within most any company or team.

Clarity.

In “The One Thing You Need to Know,” Marcus Buckingham points out that great leaders may not always be right, but they are always clear.  And the thing they are most clear about is “Who Does Our Company Serve?” There’s only one right answer, but you’re likely to hear a half dozen if you informally poll your team members.  A clear statement like “We serve brands” will go a long way.  While you’re at it, here are a two more topics on which you should be aim to be especially clear:

What Business Are We In? The railroads famously got this wrong.  Had they said “logistics and transportation” instead of “running trains,” they’d be FedEx and Delta Airlines today.

How Do We Create Value? The operative word here is “create.”  The answer to this question is often masked by the mindless pursuit of product advancement.  Far more often, we create value through service innovation, insight generation and synthesis.   Good topic to spend some time on.

You may not be in a position to establish the culture of a Starbucks, Zappo’s or Home Depot, but you can convene your management team for a couple of hours around these three points of clarity.  If you don’t,  you may just continue throwing strategies at the problem without ever addressing its underlying cause.

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