Beyond the Financials: What Leaders and Boards Should be Asking
by Julie Miller and Brian Bedford

Are many leaders and board members missing the opportunity to help make their company really successful? You have to think that their intentions are good, but they seem to stick with the same obvious questions:

  • Is our stock value what it should be?

  • Are we keeping stockholders happy with our performance? Customers?

  • Is our strategy the right one? Do we have a sound business plan?

  • Are we missing a market that could be a huge growth opportunity for us?

  • What are we doing to ensure operating at the highest level of effectiveness?

  • Do we have the future leaders prepared to step up?

  • Is a system in place to ensure ethical reporting?

Don't get us wrong, these are critical questions for the success of any organization, but it seems to us that one critical question rarely gets asked. The answer to that one question could be the breakthrough contribution.

"Do we have the culture we need to help us be successful?"

We know that many fear such a "touchy-feely" kind of topic - a little too fluffy! Others don't see how this has any quantifiable impact on the business numbers. The truth is, it may be touchy feely and it may be difficult to quantify, but you can bet that your organization's culture is making or breaking your company's success.

Consider the following issues:

  • Missed customer requirement dates;

  • Quality problems that remain unresolved;

  • Poor execution to goals and objectives;

  • Inability to share constructive feedback to maximize human assets;

  • Productivity which lags your competitors

These could possibly be symptoms of a problem with your culture. We know, you've overhauled the processes, updated the systems, and installed new software, but are still experiencing the same symptoms. Like others before you, you've addressed the most visible solutions. But have you neglected the less visible glue, which binds the organization together? Have you overlooked the issues which may be the actual root cause? A culture which doesn't support the new systems, processes, software or help drive the strategy may be the culprit.

What? You don't think your organization has a culture? Every organization has a culture. Whether or not you have spent time defining your organization's culture, rest assured you have one. Even a company of one will have a culture. An organizations' culture is merely "the way we do things around here". It's those general customs, patterns of behavior that are at work every day.

Think for a moment about the issues listed above and "the way we do things around here". Could the wrong behaviors and actions be why we are:

  • missing customer commitments,

  • not addressing our quality problems,

  • not sharing honest feedback?

Everyone prefers to fix a system, a tool, or a process - anything but address the tougher issue head-on! However, sometimes WE are the reason we are not as successful as we like. And like any individual, changing a habit, or a behavior is not easy. But in order to heal the patient, you must address the root cause. You need to get to the bottom of what culturally is helping the company's success and what is hindering it.

However, working on culture separate from other important business imperatives won't get you far either. Alignment of all these critical factors is the key to success.

  • First - The organization must have a strategy - where is the organization going and what do we want to accomplish?

  • Second - What capabilities must the organization have to help us meet the strategy? What systems, processes, skill sets, etcetera to we need to accomplish our strategy?

  • Third - What culture do we need to have to support or drive our strategy?

Most leaders and board members are very willing to spend time on setting the strategy and ensuring that the organization's capabilities are in line; however, working on culture takes a much more personal investment. It means that you, as the leader, have to help the leadership team define the supportive culture, demonstrate the culture needed, explain it to everyone else in the organization so they understand why it's critical and then hold yourself and others accountable for it. Hard work? You bet! But organizations like Southwest Airlines and Nordstrom didn't get where they are by having an accidental culture!

Stand apart from other leaders and board members. Help the organization focus on the winning culture needed and you'll help the organization build value!

MillerBedford offers this four-step process to install a Values-based culture

  1. Identify the core values
    It's fundamental that the core values chosen should support the objectives of the business. Core values define the makeup of an organization and must reflect the desired culture of that organization. These will be different for every business, based upon companies' missions and business formats.

  2. Bring the core values to life
    For each core value, develop behavioral statements which create shared understanding at all levels of the organization.

    Develop a list of behavioral "Dos and Don'ts".

    Communicate the core values and the behaviors throughout the organization, to customers and stockholders.

  3. Weave core values into the fabric of the organization
    Identify and update existing organization systems and processes. In order for the core values and behaviors to "stick" in the organization, all elements of the company should stress the importance of these values. Such cultural components include all decision-making processes, performance management, reward systems, hiring processes, training and metrics - putting the "teeth" into the process.

  4. Ensure accountability and model the way
    Hold employees accountable for their behaviors as well as their outcomes. Reward employees for correct behaviors and apply consequences to those not meeting behavior expectations. Demonstrate the importance of applying the core values and behaviors by modeling the way, "walking the talk".

In applying these four steps, the absolute commitment of the leadership of the organization is vital. Stockholders, customers and employees will be watching to see if what the leadership does matches what it says, not just in the short term, but in the long haul. Decisions and actions will be analyzed as to how they measure up to the values, and exceptions will be seen as a lack of commitment to the process.

Julie Miller and Brian Bedford are co-founders of the consulting firm MillerBedford Executive Solutions, which specializes in a "no nonsense" approach with clients. They focus solutions around the following topics: Culture Development, Organization Development, Leadership Development and Human Resource Development. You can learn more about what they offer by viewing their website at or by emailing them directly at or .

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