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When I'm with groups of CEOs, I'll often ask them why they think culture is important. It doesn't take long for them to rattle off all the ways in which culture affects their people's performance. They'll tell me that the culture influences how their employees deal with customers, the quality of their work, the degree of innovation, the amount of teamwork, and lots more.

Then I take them through a series of questions that yields a fascinating result. It goes something like this:

      Me: "Given everything you've just told me, on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the highest), where would you rate the importance of culture to your bottom line?"

      CEOs: Most will rate it as a "5", while a few will give it a "4".

      Me: "How many of you have a written strategic plan that outlines the most important priorities for the year and the key initiatives that need to be accomplished?"

      CEOs: Virtually all will raise their hands.

      Me: "How many of you have a written sales plan that identifies your sales goals for the year, quotas, most important prospects, and key marketing plans?"

      CEOs: Virtually all will raise their hands.

      Me: "How many of you have a detailed financial forecast or budget that identifies month-by-month line items of projected income and expense?"

      CEOs: Virtually all will raise their hands.

      Me: "How many of you have a written, actionable, culture plan for the year that outlines the key steps you're taking to intentionally drive a culture of high performance?"

      CEOs: Sheepishly, almost no one raises their hand.

      Me: "So on a scale of 1 to 5, most of you told me that your culture was a 5 in terms of its impact to the bottom line, and yet hardly anyone has any meaningful plan to purposely and systematically do anything about it?!"

Why Don't We Have a Plan?

So why don't most companies have a systematic plan for driving their culture? In many cases, leaders simply have never thought about it. They understand how important culture is, but they assume culture just sort of "happens." It never occurred to them that they could do anything more concrete about it.

For many others, their lack of planning can be traced to the difficulty they have in defining or measuring it. Other areas of their business, like sales and finance, are much more concrete and quantifiable. These areas are far easier to sink you teeth into. Culture so often feels squishy and intangible to people. And yet, it clearly has a huge impact on the bottom line.


Larry Hart

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