Company Culture - When You See a Problem Run Toward It

by Chris Young

Companies have a "heartbeat".  They are alive.  How healthy or "sick" they are depends upon their Culture and how senior leadership runs them.

Recently, Mitt Romney shared his philosophy regarding how problems should be handled.  He said, "When you see a problem, run toward it or it will only get worse."when you see a problem run toward it or it will only get worse

I could not agree more.

Yet many companies have a Culture of conflict avoidance - they do not run toward their problems.  They avoid them by literally not talking about them.  The reasons for avoiding the problems are often complex.  Certain types of leaders will run toward every problem they see - others run away.

All problems start at the head.  Everyone largely does what the CEO does.  If the company is run by a "Prozac Leader" who suffers from excessive positive thinking, the management team, company, and bottom line shall suffer as well. 

Unresolved problems cost dearly.  Perhaps you have an employee team member who cannot or is unwilling to do their job.  Perhaps you have a process that worked five years ago but because a favorite team member created it and still owns it - it stays permanently even though it costs thousands daily.  Or perhaps you have a mid-level manager who is a control freak driving good talent crazy.

Unresolved problems today become big problems and big dollar signs as they are allowed to fester and become a semi-permanent part of your business model and Culture.

As the owner and/or CEO of your company, what is your exit strategy?  Every company should have an exit strategy - the plan for what happens next.  Two common exit strategies include:

  • Are you positioning yourself to be bought and merged into another company?
  • Are you going to retire and sell to your employees?

Whatever the case, how you handle problems has a direct impact on not only your financial future but also what happens to your employees and your company today and tomorrow.  

  • Your financial future...  If you allow talent or process problems to persist until they become permanent elements of your business model, you will undoubtedly create elaborate "work arounds".  An example of a "work around" is where someone unqualified to do their job is trying to do so and others are having to work around them.  This is very expensive from a potential headcount as well as morale perspective.  You are not fooling anyone - no matter what you think.
  • If you sell to another company.  Bad process and higher costs due to inept employees hurts your EBITDA.  Businesses are partly valued based on EBITDA.  Companies buy to gain processes, technology, talent and to save costs.  If you will not fix your company - someone will buy it and do so.  When they fix your company - they become worth more.  In a buyout your employees are likely to be realigned and some may lose their jobs or see a dramatic cut in pay.  
  • If you sell to an employee - You may be setting them up to fail.  The Culture - "the way things are done around here" is a very, very powerful force that is quite difficult to turn around if you have been a part of the problem in the first place.

What can you do?  From a consultant perspective, I am interested in knowing the following:

  • Begin a dialogue with your management.  Be careful - this does not always go well.
  • Understand how you lead?  Specifically, what is your Behavioral and Value Style?
  • Is your Culture healthy or sick? 
  • What are your team's "conflict norms"?  How does your team view trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and the achievement of results?

You can change your Culture if you are committed to it.  

Invest in your future today by reading "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" by Patrick Lencioni.  This is a powerful book that can reshape how you think about how you handle problems.  

As the CEO or senior leader of the company, "it is your ship" and while you have control you can shape your Culture to create a long-term competitive advantage.  Actively identifying problems and pursuing them should be part of your Culture. 

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