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Best of CoBiz: Is your culture ready for the new world order?

Lisa Jackson //August 21, 2013//

Best of CoBiz: Is your culture ready for the new world order?

Lisa Jackson //August 21, 2013//

“The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” – Carlos Castenada

If you’re feeling like the world is moving faster, you’re right.

Measurements made in Greenland by the Danish Meteorological Institute showed that the magnetic north pole is moving northwards at 20km a year, 10 percent faster than 12 months prior, according to a report in the British magazine Physics World.

While this change may be obscure and imperceptible, what you probably do notice is that it’s gotten harder to lead in an era of greater competition, customer demands for more value with less cost, and tougher access to credit. We are in a perfect storm of societal chaos and transformation based on the internet, shifting demographics, and globalization. No industry or company size is immune from the forces and trends that have made it much harder to lead a business and win in any market.

Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times author Thomas Friedman, in his groundbreaking expose of the new economy, The World is Flat, sheds light on why. He named the current reality Globalization 3.0. “The dynamic force of Globalization 3.0 is the newfound power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally. This phenomenon of individuals becoming super-empowered was enabled by a triple-convergence of the internet, fat digital pipelines, and standards for web-enabled workflow. The result? Individuals from every corner of the flat world are going to plug and play in ways that we have never imagined or seen.”

In Friedman’s flat world, “those who create value through leadership, relationships and creativity will transform their industries. Those who get caught in the past and resist change will be forced deeper into commoditization.”

In this changed world, the insanity of doing more of the same and expecting a different result is increasingly relevant. In that light, there are three important cultural dynamics to get right:

1. It is no longer leaders’ job to tell people what to do. It is the job of leaders to facilitate team collaboration, push decision rights down, and remove obstacles to execution. Command-and-control hierarchy still dominates as the prevalent leadership model, but this outdated militaristic style of leadership assumes the person who decides is more knowledgeable and separate from those who execute. Many more leaders say they understand this than actually know what to do about it. The hallmark of a facilitative leadership environment is day-to-day decision-making by line performers in an environment where the strategic playbook is not a closely guarded secret.

2. If you want your share of the top talent, build a culture that allows more flexible and supportive ways of working. One of our clients said it best “Maybe right now people are sitting still. But I’m most worried about what happens when the economic picture brightens – are the people who will fuel our future growth really happy here? Will they be looking for other jobs in that situation?” Talented people have opportunities in any economy, and they like to work in companies that value their contributions, make room for their opinions and input, make it easy to collaborate and get work done across boundaries, and foster a great workplace environment.

3. Transparency is crucial to the highest productivity. Employees and the regulatory environment of today call for transparency and involvement in matters that used to be the boardroom territory only: Strategy. Vision. Values. Financial performance. These are what give meaning to people’s work. Rare is the company that adequately communicates about what people really want to know: An inspiring description of where we are headed, a clear understanding of the game plan to win, and how success (and their career path) will be measured along the journey.

And still, with all the compelling evidence that a culture of engagement, transparency and collaboration is crucial, too many executives view it as “fluffy” or “black box” territory that has no direct influence on the businesses’ performance.

If that’s your view, consider this: Competitive advantage is harder than ever to develop and hang onto. If you think you’re different because you can market or sell better than anyone else, have better connections, or are on top of the coolest new product – think again. The traditional S-curve of growth is shorter and steeper in every industry. Culture is a source of competitive advantage that takes work to build but is very hard to copy. Ask Southwest Airlines and Zappos whether culture is bankable. Their investment in culture as a strategy has led them to far surpass profits and growth of other bigger competitors in very tough industries.

Leaders who learn what culture is, their responsibility in creating it, how to measure it, and how to make it a driver of business performance unleash commitment and energy across a workforce. By doing so, they increase horsepower and speed ahead of the competition without using more fuel.

Einstein’s wisdom translated to a 2011 world? Commit to doing things differently from what you’ve always done … and that’s something you can take to the bank.

Or maybe you’d rather let your competitors figure it out first.