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Why Your Business Culture Eats Business Strategy For Breakfast (And How You Can Improve Yours)

Here are three key principles that current and past masters of culture have applied to help build and sustain a successful culture.

Dirk Coetsee

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“The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture.”- Edgar Schein

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

How did Nike create a culture of innovation and transparency that stood the test of tumultuous decades? The All Blacks loom large as opponents and play rugby with a consistent high velocity of attack and creativity, how do they maintain their courage, almost inhumane levels of skill, fitness and drive to be the best in the world? What amount of hard work and what level of quality was the asking price for iconic entrepreneurs such as for example Steve Jobs’ success?

It is an impossible task to even attempt to answer these questions in one article.  The goal of this writing is instead to focus on a common “golden thread” that flows through the sustained successes of most iconic companies, teams, and entrepreneurs. This “golden thread” is a delicate, sophisticated, yet extremely rewarding concept when applied with skill and perseverance and it goes by the name of Culture.

There is much more to culture than simply observing what the collective habits, dislikes, symbolism, language use and preferences within that specific business or team culture is. For simplicity and clarity, I will only focus on three key principles that current and past masters of culture have applied to help build and sustain a successful culture.

“Accustom yourself to tireless activity” – Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov.

Principle 1: A successful culture can only be built and maintained by consistent, effective, hard work and perseverance

General Suvorov Russian Supreme commander

General Suvorov – Russian Supreme commander

It was recorded in history that General Suvorov, a Russian Supreme commander never lost a battle. He ensured that his soldiers went through consistent training and tireless activity and kept training activities as close to real battle conditions as possible.

Suvorov was a “disciple of discipline” and created a culture where his men was taught relentlessly to pay attention to detail and maintain a high level of awareness of skill requirements.

“He who is afraid is half beaten”, Suvorov maintained in his memoirs and knew that by ensuring that his men became fearless of harsh battle conditions through innovative training methods their courage would instil fear in the hearts of the enemy. A culture of excellence can only be maintained if everyone committed to the cause is already or becomes excellent at what they do.

The practical application of the first principle is to incorporate training programs that are pragmatic, inspirational and as close to real life situations as possible. Make these training programs challenging and provide mentoring and coaching to those that struggle yet show determination to improve.

It is very hard to give up if you have put in sustained hard work. Ensure that hard work is a matter of fact in your organisation, company, or business as it builds perseverance.

“NIKE INC FOSTERS A CULTURE OF INVENTION”

– Statement on Nikes’ website.

Principle 2 : Over time and in general the workforce does and follows what the leader/leadership consistently does

Mark Parker

Mark Parker

To establish and maintain a culture of success the leader/leaderships’ behaviour must be consistent with the vision, purpose and values of the company.

Mark Parker the CEO of Nike is reported to daily block off time in his calendar to spend time on fostering the Nike Culture of innovation and transparency. He visits the Nike dedicated innovation teams regularly to inspire them to create inventions to meet the purpose of enhancing the experience of whomever wears / uses their products.

Nike is legendary for the level of transparency in their communication and reports to employees and stakeholders. This ensures that a high level of trust forms part of their culture and that they can go forward and work together as a team at the impressive “speed of trust.”

Parker is said to have the habit of not allowing any of the Nike team members reporting to him to simply just state problems and challenges. A problem or challenge is an obstacle to their culture of invention. Therefore, he immediately poses the question: “What are we going to do about it?” to the team member who stated the issue to foster action to overcome the issue that stands in the way of invention.

To apply principle two in your business, organisation or team. Have a clear Vision, Purpose and value system, act and behave accordingly, hire for character over just talent, and fire and promote per the company values.

 

“It is not the strongest species that survive nor the most intelligent but the ones most responsive to change” – Charles Darwin

Principle 3: Adapt to change quickly

the-all-blacks

The All blacks have established a passionate learning culture, their coaches currently and in the past mostly come from a teaching background after all. Per James Kerr the author of “Legacy” The coaching staffs’ contracts allow for overseas trips with the sole purpose of studying other successful teams from other disciplines with the result of constant improvement and small changes to their ever-evolving training methods. As an example, the All Black scrum coach visited Japan to study Sumo and Jiu Jitsu grappling techniques which could be subtly adapted to enhance certain scrummaging situations and skills.

All Blacks management has studied successful companies, business coaching strategies, Formula one teams, and basketball and American football teams for them to have an arsenal of strategies and techniques available to them to pro – actively adapt to changes in rugby rules, conditions, and skill requirements.

Complacency births stagnation even if you have maintained a rich and successful culture up to that point. The practical lesson provided by principle three is to empower yourself, your company and team to be change adaptive by providing tools and skills for all committed to the common cause to quickly embrace changes to market conditions and external factors.

When the leadership of a company, business, or any team have created and maintained a culture of hard work, excellence, perseverance, behaviour that is consistent with the company values, and have empowered all to embrace change, this culture is likely to withstand the test of time. 

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How To Make Speedy Decisions As A Leader

Whom of us has not been held prisoner by our own devices of procrastination and fear? Whom has not used delaying tactics purely to play for time only to learn the true practical meaning of Shakespeares words: “I wasted time and now time doth waste me”?

Dirk Coetsee

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“Trusting one another, however can never mean trusting with the lip and mistrusting in the heart.” – Mahatma Gandhi


“Self-trust is the first secret of success” – Ralph Waldo Emmerson

Whom of us has not been held prisoner by our own devices of procrastination and fear? Whom has not used delaying tactics purely to play for time only to learn the true practical meaning of Shakespeares words: “I wasted time and now time doth waste me”?

Rapid decision-making

Harvard research has identified amongst other key traits of the most successful CEOs’ of Fortune 500 companies the ability to make decisions quickly and act on them at a rapid speed albeit with the inherent acknowledgement that they might get it wrong forty percent of the time.

Related: 7 Strategies For Development As An Entrepreneur

Why is speedy decision making and a rapid pace of execution so critical? Top leaders know that making quick decisions combined with swift execution creates a much better chance of success as opposed to very slow and bureaucratic verdicts underpinned by little or no action.

When there is a high level of distrust amongst the stakeholders in any entrepreneurial venture literally everything slows down as negative arguments ensue and takes up an enormous amount of precious time. Forced action underpinned by distrust loses quality and speed and can potentially bring a business to its knees.

“The speed of trust” is therefore an extremely valuable principle that all Leaders should live by, that is if they wish to serve a higher purpose than themselves and others. Those Leaders whom have developed a high level of self-trust and have earned the trust of their team members have put themselves in the very advantageous position of being empowered to move towards their vision at a rapid pace through quickfire decisions positively multiplied by confident and competent execution.

“The speed of trust” does not mean that decisions are made without careful consideration and stakeholder input putting the level of quality of execution at imminent risk. It simply means that the decision-making process is quicker than most as mistrust does not cast unnecessary shadows of doubt over the intentions and ambitions of all the stakeholders.

A Leader or Leaders whom has fostered self-trust within themselves will not go through lengthy spells of procrastination that those whom lack self -awareness and suffer from severe self- doubt has to go through.

How do I execute at the speed of trust?

How do I practically bring the principle of the “speed of trust” to fruition within my business? Firstly, ensure that this critical principal is applied throughout all business processes which starts with hiring trustworthy people and by working those out of the business whom cannot be trusted.  Secondly, as  a Leader your actions and words echo throughout every aspect of the business therefore do what you say you are going to do. Admit to your mistakes and fix them.

Thirdly be authentic in your pursuit of the vision of your business. One of the possible ways to achieve that is by being a visible and living example of the business values that you advocate as a leader.

Related: Sales Leadership: The New Frontier

Lastly in order for you to be trusted as a leader you must first show trust in others. Trust others by giving them more responsibility and verbalise your high level of trust in your team members. Passionately speak about this principle and its positive fruits at every opportunity. Make the practical display of this principle by employees or any other stakeholders known to all stakeholders and be lavish with your praise when anyone is willing to earn the trust of other team members.

A very good example of this principle in action was embodied by the Supreme Russian commander, Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov whom never lost a battle and was respected by both his men and his enemies. He earned the trust of his men by being amongst them as often as he could, by sharing their hardships and by offering them the most authentic and quality military training known to man within that period of history.

Suvorov was a humble student of warfare and documented every detail of his learning experiences which included setbacks that he faced. He observed the morale of his men first hand and ensured that he inspired them not only through his inspiring speeches but by being a living example of discipline and bravery.

I will leave the reader with an important question to ponder, one that has echoed throughout history: Do you trust enough to be trusted?

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What Kind Of Leader Are You?

Your effectiveness in scaling your business starts with the kind of leader you are. Here’s how you can build yourself up into a leader others will follow.

Nicholas Haralambous

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When you are in start-up mode it’s tough to take a step back and think about the kind of leader you are or want to be. Most of the time you’re fighting to keep your business alive, never mind think about how you lead.

This is especially challenging when it’s faster and more efficient to just step up and do things yourself. It’s easier for you to make the decisions, do the work, check the work, follow up on the work, etc. However, it’s this situation that prevents young companies from scaling to the next level.

Ask More Questions

I work really hard every day to be quieter. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail so dismally that I actually do more damage than good. You see, I like to talk. I like to hear other people talk and I like to bash around ideas until they become something bigger, something better and something that can move from idea into action.

Related: Your Leadership Journey Starts Now… And Go!

Coupled with liking to talk, I also like being right. Who doesn’t? Add onto these two things the fact that I like to read and research and then throw in a teeny bit of ego or pride and it’s a recipe for leadership disaster.

If I am the most well-read, loudest and most opinionated person in a meeting then all that happens is that I end up pitching an idea, getting everyone to agree with this idea and then assigning the work on the idea to become a reality. Basically, I am working with, for and amongst myself. It’s an echo chamber that leads to bad ideas surviving and an unhappy team leaving.

The Collective Is More Intelligent Than the Individual

As a leader and founder, you probably feel like you are the person with the best understanding of the problem you are trying to solve and the best person to solve the problem. This can lead to a dictatorial approach to leadership, team inclusion and problem solving. You have an idea, you tell your team and they do what you tell them.

If this is how you do it then I have to ask you a simple question: Why did you hire smart people? Just so you could tell them what to do? If that’s the case rather hire capable but cheap people, not the best.

Your best people are there to help you scale your business beyond your own thinking and time. There are a set amount of hours in the day. There are only so many emails you can answer in your day.

A good example in my business is customer support. We pride ourselves in our impeccable customer service online and offline. I can’t physically answer every question posed by customers but I can hire incredible colleagues, entrust them with my vision and views on our customers and then trust them to go out and use their good judgement.

Work With The Best

Here’s the kicker to being a good leader: You need to work with the best people.

This is not something I say as a passing statement. I want you to stop reading right now and think about the ten people you interact with at your company every day. Are they the best people you could be working with? If not, why not? How do you find the best people and bring them into your business? Go and do that.

Related: You’re The Boss, So Be The Boss

It’s important to work with the best for two very simple reasons.

Working with the best people pushes you to be better. If you are literally the smartest person in the room in every aspect of your business it means that you are surrounded by subpar players and you are not learning anything. The people around you are meant to educate you and push your business into places you didn’t even know were there.

Second, working with the best people attracts other incredible people. If you have a business full of average team members, can you guess what kind of people they pull towards your business? More average or less than average people. Why? Because average people don’t want to be surrounded by incredible people. If they are, they look worse and not better.

It’s incredibly difficult to be a good leader all of the time. In fact, it’s close to impossible. What you can do is try to be a leader who communicates, learns and grows with your team in an open manner.

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All The Business Wisdom You Need From 4 Famous Entrepreneurs

Combine the knowledge of the greatest entrepreneurs with your own hard earned lessons.

Brian Hamilton

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There’s a lot of deification of entrepreneur “personalities.” The truth is that a few entrepreneurs, in my opinion, are probably luckier than good. But, some of the praise and deification is warranted. There have been some fantastic business leaders in this country, and one can learn a ton from studying them. Below, I’ve compiled a list of the four entrepreneurs who have taught me the most over the years.

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