12 Aug Moving on.
I had an interesting conversation the other day.
It was with someone whose organization had turned on its ear. (Well, no surprises there – right?)
Spirits were low. Downsizings had devastated. The survivors questioned if they wanted to be there anymore.
This person described it as “hopeless” and trending downward – if that’s possible.
But not for the reasons I might have first guessed.
No, the mourning wasn’t so much for the cutbacks – or the increased work demands – or even the uncertainty of the future.
The grief was over the loss of just ONE PERSON.
One person that those left behind considered the cultural backbone of their organization – the spirit, the courage, the moral compass.
Swept away in a tidal wave of change – leaving those still onshore no longer sure they wanted to stay on the island.
Now in the grand scheme of things there’s a pretty good chance the company knew the individual cut was of high caliber – produced results – got things done.
There’s an equally good chance the company did NOT know they were infinitely more important than their title suggested – but they will in due course.
For some reason that conversation made me think of an experience early in my career – as my family and I hopscotched around the country to fulfill various organizational needs – and my own ambitions.
I was on a house hunting trip – and had found, in my opinion anyway, the perfect home. Beautiful, spaciously appointed, and with the yard we wanted for our sons to play.
My agent – though eager to sell – cautioned me. “Wrong area,” she said. “You’ll regret it when you have to sell it.”
I pushed back. This house had EVERYTHING.
And so, she fell back on the timeless advice all of us have heard before. “The 3 secrets for buying real estate,” she stated matter of factly, “are location, location, and location.”
Despite what I considered to be my better judgment, I finally agreed. We moved on.
Two years later – when we sold the home we eventually decided on – and garnered a nice profit, my original choice still sat on the market.
I’m involved in a LOT of conversations around “homes” these days – only in my case it involves the displacement of companies – and the “cultural families” most affected.
I’ve described culture in the past as “that thing that happens while we’re all out trying to run a business.”
My decades in industry have taught me a lesson in that regard – it might not be as time tested as the Real Estate Principle but I’ll put it up against it anytime.
The 3 secrets for culture are character, character, and character.
- Hire people of great character
- Develop people of great character
- Retain people of great character
Companies love to talk about culture – to wave the brochures – to place the impeccably worded posters in the hallways.
But the truth is that we really know nothing about a company’s culture until it comes “time to sell” – when crisis comes knocking. That’s when we find how much value has been built – or whether all the appointments are just “window dressing.”
A few years ago the late, great writer, director, producer, and actor Mel Brooks was asked what made his movies so successful – why flics like Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles had become iconic.
He paused for a moment and then smiled and said, “Gene Wilder…Gene Wilder…Gene Wilder.”
The same is true for leaders who “build” a great culture.
Most of them know the real truth – it begins and ends with one thing – finding people of character – and then doing everything in your power to keep them.