Saturday, April 9, 2011

Five Questions Every Leader Must Ask About its Corporate Culture

 If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me ‘A faster horse’.
- Henry Ford

Analyzed by Main Street, the Better Business Bureau recently released their Top 10 list of the most complained about companies of 2010. As reported, consumers in the United States and Canada filed 1.1 million complaints against businesses last year, a ten percent increase from the year before.

The financial and automotive industries experienced the biggest year-over-year growth in the complaints, but it was the companies selling everyday products like electronics that garnered the most complaints overall. As for the most complained about companies, the top five include television – cable and satellite, cell phone service and equipment, auto dealers, banks, and collection agencies.

In his book, 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney, Lee Cockerell says, “The Disney Institute defines a corporate culture as the system of values and beliefs an organization holds that drives actions and behaviors and influences relationships. Whether you recognize it or not, your organization has one. So the question isn’t whether you have a corporate culture but what kind of culture do you have.”

The culture of your organization is a reflection of the values and beliefs embedded within the system. It is embraced on all levels by those who understand that the organizational culture rises and falls on leadership. Cockrell added, “No matter what industry you’re in, one of your challenges as a leader is to evaluate the structure on an ongoing basis and not be afraid to break the mold. Remember, a great leader never settles for good enough.”
What is the status of your organizational structure? Is it sound? Is it thriving? Are there cracks in the structure? In order to assess the structural strength within your organization, consider these five questions as you look for structural damage.

Have you grown complacent? While complacency is a sure sign of structural damage, it is often hard to diagnose. It has been said that the first symptom of complacency is satisfaction with things as they are and the second symptom is rejection of things as they might be. It makes people fear the unknown, mistrust the untried, and abhor the new.

In order to get an honest appraisal of whether your organization is complacent is to invite feedback not from the ‘yes men’ from within but from trusted advisors with fresh eyes from the outside. The strength of your structure must be grounded in reality.

What are you doing right? When evaluating organizations often the first temptation is to ask or look for what is wrong. While it is important to have that information, why not begin with the premise of what you are doing right? Evaluating the culture of your organization begins with the gifted and skilled people who are the face of your organization.

You would not be the success you are without strong leadership skills and talented people around you. Begin your evaluation by looking at what you have been doing right all along.

How can you do better? Armed with this information, look at ways in which your organization can be stronger, more efficient, and more productive. Make feedback and review a standard organizational procedure. Again, complacency can be your downfall when you believe that there is nothing more you can do to improve. Structural damage is a risk when you stop asking how.

Are you listening to your people? While there are many variables when it comes to structural damage within your organization, a common thread of the damage can be traced back to a lack of listening to your people. A leader does not need an ear to the ground or spies, he needs face time. It is through relationships that trust is established and organizational strength is built.

What happens if you don’t change? Structural damage is simply the collateral damage of a leader who has grown complacent, stopped improving, stopped listening, and has not built relationships.

Cracks in your organizational structure appear slow and over time and can be very subtle. But the strength of your structure is reflected in the pride of your people, the service you deliver, and the character of your organization reflected by the values you espouse.

How is your organizational structure?

© 2011 Doug Dickerson

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