A strong productive culture is a superpower behind every long-lasting success. Culture demands artful management and everyday care, which seem to remain a mystery for many. How do you turn corporate culture into a productive force and secure success?
In CORPORATE SUPERPOWER: Cultivating A Winning Culture For Your Business, author Oleg Konovalov discusses what culture is, its functions and roles, why it is important and how to fix it when it goes wrong. The book offers a step-by-step guide on how to manage this incredible asset. Oleg is a management consultant with rich experience of running businesses in different industries and countries. His book is an exceptionally well-done overview of culture and how to turn it into an asset for any organization.
I spoke with Oleg about the book and his findings.
“Culture is a measure of success and a cause of it.” -Oleg Konovalov
Why do you think culture is getting so much attention these days?
We are well into the Knowledge Era, a time for new thinking about people, and appreciate that everyone has a stake in building the future. This is an era of a competition of corporate cultures, not processes.
Culture influences people’s actions, vision, minds, and hearts. In fact, an organization’s culture is its soul, and whoever controls the culture controls the soul and so, organization.
No company can move further than its employees’ competencies, where strategic development is bounded by the development of people. A successful implementation of corporate strategy directly depends on the active involvement and constant improvement of everyone.
Organizational culture is the most crucial ingredient of success, giving life to all of its many processes. Strong culture stimulates the enhancement of productivity by homogenizing the best psychological qualities of employees, the sense of unity and belonging, internal cooperation, and employees’ loyalty. Also, sustainable development depends on an organization’s ability to attract and retain the best people.
“Culture influences people’s actions, vision, minds, and hearts.” -Oleg Konovalov
Mike Rognlien is the founder of Multiple Hats Management, a leadership consultancy. Prior to founding his company, Mike spent fifteen years learning while working at Facebook, as a consultant to Microsoft, and at numerous other companies. In fact, he was one of the founding members of the L&D team at Facebook. After reading his new book, This Is Now Your Company, I reached out to him to continue the conversation.
“Culture is the sum total of all the things that every person in the organization says or does in the process of getting things done.” -Mike Rognlien
Your book about the Facebook culture was released right after Facebook was in the news for its questionable privacy practices. The question many may ask now: Is Facebook really a culture to emulate? Why?
It’s a fair question, but I’d start by saying it’s about much more than any one company’s culture – it’s about the individual’s role in their organization’s culture and how they can really own it. That said, I think that every company makes mistakes, and every company is going to face challenges based on real or perceived issues. Being on the outside of the company now I can say that I was really proud of how Mark and other senior leaders from Facebook handled themselves and continue to handle themselves. They apologized, accepted responsibility for mistakes, directly confronted misunderstandings or incorrect assumptions and have already made some pretty sweeping changes to how the platform operates. I’ve done leadership development work for a long time and think that this is what we want leaders and their companies to do when they mess up.
“You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.” -George Bernard Shaw
What’s a mirror moment and how can they be used to improve our performance?
One of the things that is consistent in the learning field is the push to reflect – and rightfully so. It’s a powerful development tool that we all have available to us at all times. In a 24/7 news cycle / instant meme-ification culture, I think it’s become even MORE important to do this because we are constantly getting so much outward signal (likes, comments, engagements, etc.) on how others see us that we can forget that it’s really important to know how we see ourselves. In so many programs I’ve developed or led over the years – on hard conversations, on bias, on leadership – much of my time and energy has been getting people to stop looking outside of themselves for approval and validation (or blame when things go wrong) and to instead constantly look inward to understand how what they’re saying and doing is impacting the results they’re generating. We need feedback from other people, absolutely, but we can make that process so much easier if we’re willing to have that first hard or reflective moment with ourselves.
How prevalent is Organizational Stockholm Syndrome? What can be done to reverse it?
What do Netflix, Spotify, and Google have in common? They all learn, innovate, and continuously adapt better, faster, and cheaper than traditional companies. Moreover, they use digital technology to innovate, disrupt, and grow in radical and dynamic ways. That’s how they surge ahead of traditional companies.
SURGE is a framework that provides the tools for navigating complex adaptive challenges in large corporate businesses. The digital marketplace continues to be highly disruptive to the ways that companies engage with customers, innovate, and remain relevant. The traditional approach to navigating disruptive change has been to seek out a prescriptive formula and apply it to the whole company. The journey of transforming to a digital enterprise, however, is not a process upgrade or best practice adoption problem.
In our work with large companies, what we saw as a consistent point of failure is them seeking a paint-by-numbers formula—agile process frameworks being a classic example. Despite making significant financial and organizational investments, they’re still not producing the customer experiences we expect from digital native companies like Amazon, Netflix and Google. We saw a clear need to help leaders recognize that this is a journey, not a reboot. Digital has changed the dynamics of the marketplace forever.
“Digital has changed the dynamics of the marketplace forever.” -Brad Murphy and Carol Mase
How do traditional companies versus digital native companies differ when they view impending change?
The most profound difference is that digital native companies are designed for change. Traditional companies are not. If you are Amazon or Google, one of the fundamental principles is that the space you are seeking to deliver products and services into is subject to continuous change. Therefore, the organization itself needs to be competent in enabling this change to occur. Companies can no longer accurately predict the future. They must learn to co-create products and services with their customers by evolving rapidly with them.
Contrast that with most traditional companies that have built a legacy based on a physical experience. Banks have branches, car companies have manufacturing plants, retail stores have buildings. Physical things take a long time to plan, build, and establish. As consumer preferences have increasingly shifted to adopting digital platforms, these companies have bolted on the veneer of a digital experience. Their preference is to avoid change. So you have a conflict between consumers who have gone digital and the fundamental structure of the business, which was built for a physical world.
“The ability to role shift is essential to a successful business in a digital world.” -Brad Murphy and Carol Mase
Many people who write me express frustration about dealing with a different generation. Often the emails I receive are full of sweeping generalizations and accusations. Some are less frustrated, but sincerely baffled, wondering how to bridge the divide.
I’ve defined GENgagement as the state of achieving harmony, mutual involvement and cooperation, flow, and ongoing absorption in work with people of different generations.
GENgagement means getting all of the generations to understand each other, their influences, and their worldviews so they can work collaboratively, loyally, and productively. It is integral to the mission of transforming workplaces into engaged and productive environments for solving problems and being great places to work.
Benefits to organizations when workers are harmoniously engaged include desired talent retention, development of new skills, competitive intelligence, innovative ideas, and smooth transfer of external relationships – and increased profitability. According to an Aon Hewitt study, a 5% increase in engagement can generate an increase of 3% in revenue growth the following year.
Research: 5 percent increase in engagement can generate a 3 percent increase in revenue.
High-performing leaders don’t always lead by the book. They may not be full of praise. They may not celebrate small wins and give positive feedback. But somehow, some way they manage to deliver growth year after year. They can even set the bar for the entire industry. This leadership philosophy is different than what many of us follow today. Since I enjoy studying these various models, I wanted to share it with you.
Stanislav Shekshnia, Veronika Zagieva, and Alexey Ulanovsky have studied them for ten years. And they write about their findings in Athletic CEOs: Leadership in Turbulent Times. I recently asked Stanislav to talk about their research.
“Don’t let anybody work harder than you do.” -Serena Williams
What is Athletic Leadership and what are Athletic Leaders’ unique attributes?
Athletic Leadership is a model, a construct, which describes effective leadership in the specific context, defined by rapid obsolescence, high turbulence, heavy government involvement, high-power distance leadership tradition, and a medium level of development of human capital.
Athletic is a metaphor which we used to emphasize a very important characteristic of the effective CEOs we have studied – mental toughness. Just like top athletes these leaders are super-ambitious, passionate, focused, cool-headed and merciless to the competitors, followers and themselves. This evokes images familiar to all of us: Usain Bolt, Wane Gretzky, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams.
At the same time, business leadership is more complex than sports. Athletic CEOs combine toughness with mental adaptability. They are proactively curious; they constantly reinvigorate knowledge, and they change their mental models. This almost improbable combination makes them effective.
“I love competition, so when you talk and tell me what you’re gonna do, all it makes me wanna do is work harder.” -Usain Bolt
The agendas of athletic leaders – their ambitions and major themes – are complex and multidimensional, with many different overarching themes, time horizons and specific projects. However, there are two central leitmotifs in all this diversity: winning and transforming.
Athletic leaders strive to beat specific competitors – companies and leaders they recognize as such. They work hard to beat their own records, e.g. they want their companies to constantly outperform themselves. They would like to set world records. Their playing field is the world, and their benchmarks are the global leaders. And athletic CEOs want their companies to win championships as well as single matches; they make the long-term success of their organizations a very important element of their leadership agendas.
Leadership is always about transformation, and this priority sits high on the agendas of athletic leaders. Transformation, or positive change for its own sake, has a profound meaning for them. And, as with ‘winning,’ athletic leaders pursue different kinds of transformation at different levels. They change people who work for them, the companies they manage, the industries they compete in, the communities their businesses operate in and the countries in which they live and work.
Athletic leaders also use some distinct iterative behavior strategies for leading people and organizations which I call meta-practices. These practices produce superior financial performance (outputs of athletic leadership) and long-lasting transformational legacy (outcomes of athletic leadership).
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and, most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” -Pele
What do these leaders do that is not necessarily “by the book”?
The model of athletic leadership describes what effective leadership actually looks like in the specific context. This model seems contradictory: it reflects both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sides of leadership. Some specific elements of athletic leadership go against well-established and widely-accepted leadership models. Let me give you some examples.
Athletic leaders do not fit into the well-known ‘Level Five Leadership’ model depicted in Jim Collins’s bestselling book From Good to Great. They are not humble, but openly ambitious. They say ‘I’ much more often than ‘we.’ They do not follow ‘the Window and the Mirror’ pattern that Collins describes; rather, they habitually take the credit for success and may blame subordinates for underperformance. They usually decide on a course of action and only then think about the people who will carry it out (contravening the ‘First Who … Then What’ principle of ‘Level Five’ leaders). They do not shy away from the limelight, but constantly seek it. CEO Vitaly Saveliev appears in every issue of the Aeroflot inflight magazine; Herman Gref has given more than a hundred press interviews since becoming Sberbank CEO.
“I hated standing on that third-place podium. Hated it, hated it.” -Michael Phelps
Athletic leaders do not always demonstrate another recognized attribute of effective leadership: emotional intelligence – at least not in the way described by Peter Salovey, John Mayer, David Caruso, or Daniel Goleman, who write about understanding and regulating personal emotions, understanding the emotions of other people, and interacting with them on the basis of that awareness. Athletic leaders are relaxed about managing their own emotions and give themselves the freedom to raise their voices or threaten followers. They criticize more often than they praise. Providing positive, constructive feedback is not their strongest competency. One of them said to us, ‘My deputies are mature, well-paid professionals – if they don’t understand what they do well, they should not be where they are. They don’t need feedback.’ Athletic leaders do not often reflect on what effect their actions and words have on other people and rarely take any steps to correct negative outcomes. They are so passionate about what they do that they assume others share the same passion, demonstrate the same level of commitment, and therefore do not require any kid-glove treatment. Like top athletes, athletic leaders are so concentrated on winning that they tend to forget about the people who help them to win.
“I don’t fold under pressure, great athletes perform better under pressure, so put pressure on me.” -Floyd Mayweather