“We understand how important our culture is to success, and we’d love to be more intentional and systematic about our approach, but we have so many other initiatives going on right now, that it’s just not the right time.” Does this sound familiar to you? It’s one of the most common responses we hear, even among truly outstanding leaders. Let me offer some thoughts in this blog that may be helpful as you struggle to prioritize a variety of legitimately important initiatives.
In Patrick Lencioni’s great book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, he talks about the 2 things that are required for business success: being “smart” and being “healthy.” Being “smart” refers to the traditional business disciplines – good marketing, finance, operations, etc. Being “healthy” refers to the culture and how effectively people work together. While both are absolutely required, Lencioni concludes that being healthy is the far more important and impactful of the two. Why does he say this?
The Multiplier Effect
It turns out that the health of the organization has, what he calls, a “multiplier effect.” In other words, for any given level of strategy or operational capability, your organization will go many times as far if you have a highly functioning group of people and will only go a fraction as far if you group is dysfunctional. You could have the most brilliant strategy and the most innovative product, but your ability to execute on that strategy is only as good as the group of people you have and their ability to perform together in extraordinary ways. And that’s mostly a function of your culture!
In fact, working on your culture is the very foundation for how you do everything else you want to accomplish. Every other initiative you want and need to make happen is directly influenced by the effectiveness of the culture of your organization.
But here’s the real problem: Working on your culture is rarely an urgent issue. It’s one of those jobs that we know is important, but its lack of urgency allows us to focus on other, more pressing things, even if they’re not nearly as impactful.
Quadrant 2 Thinking
We’ve all seen the illustration that places all tasks in one of four quadrants based on its degree of urgency and its degree of importance. Most organizations tend to spend the bulk of their time responding to emergencies and crises (Q1 activities) because, by their very nature, they’re urgent. They demand our attention. The problem is that, while urgent, these tasks don’t prepare the organization for long-term success, and frequently, they leave the organization vulnerable to bigger issues that lurk beneath the surface.