Institutionalizing a  Founder’s Legacy

By Founder/CEO, David J. Friedman

The vast majority of our clients are what I would call “entrepreneurial” companies.  That is, they’re usually started by a strong individual with a vision and a passion for creating a great company, and he/she continues to be the primary driving force behind the organization.  In many cases, it’s a family business founded by a patriarch.  While the founder or patriarch has been instrumental to the organization’s success, one of the biggest challenges it now faces is how to carry on that success as the organization expands, and as leadership transitions to the next generation.  Let me show you how the Fundamentals System can play a big role in meeting this challenge.

Leading by example

In almost every one of these cases, if you ask the founder to describe the most important principles that were key to his success, he’ll usually say something like this:  “I never really thought about it.  I just tried to set a good example and show people how I wanted us to do things.  That’s more important than talking about it anyway.”  Does that sound familiar?

There’s no doubt that setting a good example is critical.  But is it enough?  When the company is small, and most employees see and talk to the founder nearly every day, it may be.  But as the organization grows, and it has more people and perhaps even more locations, most employees no longer see the founder regularly.  Merely setting a good example is no longer sufficient to ensure that everyone is operating in a way that’s consistent with the founder’s vision.

Institutionalizing the culture

If we want to make sure that we don’t lose the essence of that vision as we grow, its key elements have to be articulated, written down, and taught with enough consistency that they become “institutionalized.”  In other words, they become baked into the very DNA of the organization.  The Fundamentals System is the simplest and most effective way to accomplish this.

The starting point is to identify the most important behaviors that have been foundational to your organization’s success.  What are some of the sayings the founder is fond of quoting?  What are the behaviors he/she models?  How would you describe his/her essence?  In effect, we’re trying to codify the founder’s legacy so that it can be carried on long past the time when he/she is no longer an everyday presence.

Of course, writing down the behaviors (Fundamentals) isn’t enough.  We have to teach them over and over again so that they become ingrained.  And as regular readers of this blog know, the only way we’ll continue to teach them with enough consistency, without getting bored and distracted, is when we create rituals around them.  This is truly the essence of the Fundamentals System:  articulating the behaviors that drive success and then creating a structured, systematic way to teach them over and over again.

Leadership transition

While growth represents one of the most significant challenges to maintaining our culture, a leadership transition creates the same type of challenge.  At some point, the founder is ready to retire and pass leadership to the next generation.  Here again, the best way to ensure that the founder’s legacy lives on is to capture it in the form of Fundamentals and then to teach it with consistency.

If you’d like to learn more about how to institutionalize a founder’s legacy, just give us a call or shoot us an email.  It’s always our pleasure to help.

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