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Category: Core Values

Real Leaders Find A Way

Getting Core Values right in a business is the #1 way to build a strong and enduring Culture and is the foundation upon which an enterprise is built. Having a list of cool Core Values on a website – and really integrating them into the daily life of the organization based on intentional actions – are two different things.

EFI, an Insight CXO member with 80+ employees, finally nailed their Core Values and actions plans this week during their Q3 Quarterly Planning Session. We started the process in January, and I thought it would be helpful to share what a process can look like in reality. Month 5 is where this gets powerful.

Month 1 – Learn what a Core Value is and use sticky notes to generate a list of potential values.14485059353_8d009d4eb3_z

Month 2 – Review the list and test it against the following questions.

  • Are the Core Values alive in the company today?
  • Would you fire an offender for repeated violations?
  • Would you take an economic hit to defend them?

Some values are great attributes, but don’t make the Core Values cut.

Month 3 – Finalize the 3-5 final Core Values. We know the right values are identified, but the wording is not perfect.

Month 4 – Get the wording right for the Core Values, and get clarity on the specific behaviors and actions that support or violate each one. Begin thinking about how the values will be integrated into the company.

Month 5 – Roadblock!!! EFI’s planning team was supposed to start implementing the Core Values, but even though the values LOOKED right, they did not FEEL right to the team. The team was concerned the employees would not embrace the values and might even reject them. This is a common FEAR in rolling out Core Values that nobody talks about.

Here’s where EFI knocked it out of the park. Admittedly, the team was a bit discouraged, so they really dug and – with great focus – re-worded the values. They did not change the values, just the labels. Here’s what they came up with:

MAKE A DIFFERENCE – This is their overarching, one-phrase Core Value.

Respect every Individual

Lead with Humility

Focus on the Improvement Process

Assure Quality at the Source

Winning Attitude

To help everyone remember, they turned the first letter of the Core Values into this mnemonic: Real Leaders Find A Way.

Month 6 – Create a list and an action plan to integrate the Core Values into the company with real excitement. I will report back in a follow-up blog post on the cool and innovative ways they implement the Core Values.

EFI’s Core Purpose is To Inspire Through Innovation … I can’t wait to see what they do next!

My “One Word Close” at the end of our Q3 Quarterly meeting was GRATEFUL. I’m grateful to be EFI’s coach and get to witness a team who really cares about their employees and was unwilling to move forward with Core Values that did not 100% meet their standards.

Sometimes as a coach I learn more from my members than they learn from me. And I’m very grateful for that.

Image: Flickr

Find Your Never-Ending Energy Source: Core Purpose

Nothing can grow without energy – not people, not animals, not plants, not businesses. Whether you’re an organism or an organization, if you don’t have enough fuel, your growth will be slow and stunted, your potential unreached.

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If your business is rapidly growing (or looking to do so), you need a powerful and renewable source of fuel to sustain that growth, to maintain the willpower to execute on your strategy, to empower the A-players who have the drive to make a positive difference, not just show up for a paycheck.

The strongest fuel you can find is one you can create on your own – your company’s Core Purpose. I like to say, “It’s where the batteries come from.” It’s the organization’s unique and never-ending energy source, its reason for being. It’s the guiding star that fuels you and enables you to make your Breakaway Move™ to beat the competition.

Costner Law, a Charlotte Business Journal #3 Fast 50 company in Charlotte, NC, is very clear about its Core Purpose: Making real estate transactions easy and simple. This Purpose drives Costner’s strategy, the kind of people they hire, the technology they use, the kind of clients they work with, the way they design their internal processes, and so on. As a result of being clear on their Purpose and doing things right, Costner is on track to becoming the largest real estate law firm in the southeast.

Define Your Purpose

If you don’t have a clearly defined purpose, a good place to start is by watching Simon Sinek’s TED Talk called The Golden Circle. It’s been downloaded more than 22 million times. But be forewarned, discovering your purpose is one of the most challenging strategy developments you will make. Not because it’s so hard, but because it’s so uncomfortable. Figuring out why your company exists becomes emotional and it engages the limbic part of the brain that does not have language. It’s where gut feelings come from. It’s why you might like one car over another, even though the other has clearly better specs. One just feels right to you … you just connect with it.

Ask Five Times

Another method is to start with a simple statement describing what your business does, then ask “why is that important” five times. Ask yourself and your leadership team: “why is that important? – why does that matter? – why is that important? – why does that matter? – why is that important?” This should reveal the organization’s Core Purpose. If you think you have gone too far, just back up one level. You’ll know when you got it right, because you will emotionally connect to it. It will feel right.

Reach for the Stars

Just like a star, Core Purpose is not something you can actually reach but is something that keeps you on the right path and constantly motivated. So, to find your never-ending energy source to sustain your journey, develop and leverage your Core Purpose, and set your course for the stars!

 

Image credit: Jason Boyle / Flickr

Winning Culture With Core Values

Well-defined and leveraged Core Values are one of the most powerful mechanisms to grow a company, especially as it passes 50 employees and gains complexity.

Core Values define the character of your firm and create the foundation and frame upon which the organization is built. A company’s Core Values can exist by default or be developed and supported by design. “By default” is a dangerous way to run a business because employees won’t have a clear should/shouldn’t framework in which to make decisions. Well-designed Core Values are a simple set of rules that define the kinds of behaviors you want to see inside the business. They also eliminate the need for countless, more complicated rules and operating procedures that can destroy a company’s culture anshopping-list-707760_1920d chase off the A-players on your team.

The number one mistake I see with Core Values is they are rarely mentioned, and most employees don’t know what they are, let alone the key behaviors tied to each Core Value. Yet, getting Core Values right – and integrating them into every aspect of the business – generates huge leverage and saves a tremendous amount of time and trouble.

How To Leverage Core Values

1. Use Core Values as a baseline and a test for developing strategy. Does a growth strategy idea work within the Core Values? Or does it violate any of them? This is an effective method to screen out ideas that could pull the organization in the wrong direction.

2. Use Core Values to evaluate talent as part of the recruiting process. Drill deep into the behaviors that define each Core Value for your business. For example, the word “teamwork” may have different meanings to different companies and different people. You must have clarity on the specific behaviors that reflect each Core Value. You can teach Core Values to employees, but you’re better off hiring people who already share your organization’s Core Values. Most companies hire for skill and fire for fit. Getting clear on the Core Values and integrating them into the recruiting process can reduce the chance of poor hires due to wrong fit.

3. Use Core Values as an easy method to manage employees. Clearly defining Core Values and the behaviors that support them makes it easier and more productive to have difficult conversations. Employee problems are almost always due to a fit issue or some type of behavior that is getting in the way of production. Often, problem employees have the right skills, but the people dynamics get in the way of things. Well-defined Core Values are an easy way to help managers address problems early, get someone back on track or even make a more difficult decision clearer, faster. And the employee receiving the feedback is less likely to be personally offended or upset if you tie the behavior back to the Core Values.

4. Use Core Values in dealing with clients. Try to attract clients who share your view of the world and how you do things. And when a client becomes difficult or antagonistic with employees, use your Core Values as a framework to have a difficult conversation. Using a Core Value as a talking point takes the sting out of the dysfunction and makes the conflict less personal.

5. Try to use Core Values for marketing leverage. Look at Whole Foods. Shoppers are willing to pay a premium based on what Whole Foods believes… who they are… their Core Values. They will not buy certain species of fish to resell because of overfishing in certain parts of the world. They are willing to risk an economic hit to retain a Core Value. And look at how well the market responds to decisions like that.

6. Tie public praise for great work or deeds back to a company Core Value. If this can be done weekly, it can really imprint the Core Values into the mind and behaviors of everyone in the organization.

You can’t over-communicate Core Values. All employees should be able to name them, describe the key behaviors for each and tell a story about someone in the company living a Core Value in the past 90 days.

During facilitated planning sessions, we always open the meeting by asking about Core Value activity in the past 90 days. It’s a great warm-up exercise and a way to reinforce the concepts. One of the best early warning radars for anticipating trouble in a company is when no employee can tell a Core Value story from the past 90 days. Core Values are one of the best lead indicators of organization health. And healthy teams are winning teams.

 

The Winning Team

For a sports team to win the big game and stand atop the podium with the big trophy, it not only needs the best players at each position, but also all of the individual athletes working well together toward their ultimate goal: winning. To be the champ, an athletic team can’t just have the best players on the field, coaches on the sidelines or front-office staff to manage the day-to-day business. It also needs everyone who influences its success – vendors, sponsors, ticket buyers, consultants and the league office – to buy into what it’s selling.

The same things are true in business, and, just like in sports, a poorly functioning team will prevent you from achieving your version of the Ultimate Podium Finish™, the goals you’ve set that will determine whether you’ve beaten the competition and won the game of business in your field.

Just like in sports, your team isn’t just the people who work at your organization, but also your entire universe of customers, vendors, contractors, advisors, coaches, consultants, etc. You want to attract and retain A-players – the people who are onboard with your Core Values and achieving (or beating) performance goals – and weed out the players who drag your business down.

Build A Team Of A-Players

We’ve all heard stories about locker-room issues that prevent a sports team from winning games. This also happens in business. To build a team full of A-players you must address the things that repel A-players from your business. Often, this is management not taking any action to fix problems with B or C players, bad processes or customers who are more trouble than they’re worth to the bottom line.

A-players maintain your Core Values – the rules and behaviors that define your culture and personality – and are repelled by co-workers whose bad or inappropriate behaviors cause workplace tension or reflect poorly on your business.

First, make sure that everyone on your current team knows your Core Values and has a fair chance to show whether they can live by them.

Next, you need to identify your A-players and deal with the B- and C-players. Place everyone on an ABC matrix.

  • B-players: weak job performers, but their behavior reflects your Core Values
  • B/C-players: strong performers, but they have behavior problems
  • C-players: poor performance and poor behavior

Now you need to deal with what you’ve learned. Let’s tackle this in reverse order:

  • C-players: eliminate them, either by terminating them or finding a new role that will give them an opportunity to become A-players.
  • B/C-players: clarify behavioral expectations and give them an opportunity to change the attitudes or actions that are keeping them out of the A quadrant.
  • B-players: offer job training to help improve their job performance. (Consider Laurie Bassi’s exhaustive research, which showed that training and development produced a 672% ROI, more than any other investment a business owner could make.)
  • A-players: take actions to keep the A-players happy and engaged. (Dealing with the B- and C- players should help.)

Get Your A-Players Working Together

Building a team of A-players isn’t enough for small and midmarket companies to achieve the Ultimate Podium Finish™. Those A-players must work together, driving as a team toward your goals. The technique to breaking down those silos is creating cross-functional responsibilities. During your quarterly planning, identify quarterly Rocks, and the Tasks needed to achieve them, that involve multiple departments. Although one person is accountable for each Rock, he or she must work with people across the business to achieve it.

This strategy encourages leaders to work together, and it also exposes any interpersonal issues or other below-the-surface things that are preventing your people from being a team. As those issues surface, they must be quickly addressed with team-building exercises or other interventions to get healthy.

Why It’s Important

Just like in sports, your team can make or break your ability to achieve your Ultimate Podium Finish™. Take steps now to ensure that your team is full of A-players – high-performers who reflect your company’s Core Values and are committed to the business’ success.

The Career Path

When Life Leads Your Career Down an Unintended Path…

The Career Path

How do you cope with the unexpected detours of life? We’ve all had them in varying degrees. They can frustrate us in our quest to control our journey or become a surprising source of adventure along the way. I think it’s all about perspective.

In this article, I hope to provide some encouragement, a wink of humor, and possibly some helpful insight for anyone who has also experienced a few unexpected twists, turns, and speed bumps along your own journey.

Finding the blessing in the unexpected. Even though I’m sometimes embarrassed by my non-traditional career path that seems to be a rather humorous example of, “I planned and God laughed”, I’m actually thankful for the rather unusual journey that has unfolded. (One look at my LinkedIn profile and you’ll understand that it isn’t one that fits inside a nice and neat little box!)

Believe me, I have had my moments of fighting some of the detours that seemed destined to sabotage my once-meticulously formulated plans. However, I’ve found that the more intentional I am on finding the blessings and the things for which I can give thanks even in the midst of disappointments, tragedies, threats, and less-than-perfect circumstances, the more joyful, satisfied, effective, and fulfilled I become.

One of my mentors is known for saying, “If it is meant to be, it is up to me.” Well, I can appreciate his perspective but if it had been up to me, my path would have been far more predictable, likely far less exhilarating, certainly less terrifying, and far more boring. I can guarantee you that my pre-planned path wouldn’t have been nearly as filled with the valuable experiences and immensely meaningful relationships that have proven to be more precious to me than coffers overflowing with money.

Is “stability” a destination? Having started my career as a graphic designer and quickly advancing through the creative ranks to management positions in the advertising world, “stability” was never considered to be an option. Accounts were won and we scrambled to add talent. Accounts were lost and talent was promptly shown the door. It was a fact of life that was tough for my dad – an educator who had only worked for two school systems his entire career – to witness, much less understand.

When my young family and I had experienced much of the tumultuous ad agency world, I had an opportunity to take a marketing management role within a Fortune 100 company – a large, national bank. My dad was relieved because after seeing me weather the effects of agencies going out of business or unable to pay their employees after losing huge accounts, he couldn’t think of anything more stable than a bank.

He was shocked to hear my report from the first day of new employee orientation where about 80 middle managers including myself were given a message by an HR representative that went something like this: “The days of retiring from the same employer with a gold pocket watch after years of service are pretty much a thing of the past. We have identified skills and experience that you currently possess that we presently need. There are no guarantees that we’ll need those same skills in the future so while you are here, we suggest you add to your ‘tool box’ of experience and keep yourself relevant for the time when you are no longer needed here or choose to find a different opportunity with another company.” That was an eye-opener. Welcome to Corporate America.

Trail marker #1: Loyalty from a company to an employee is a largely a thing of the past. While I believe we are to be good stewards and demonstrate loyalty to our employers, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment if we think that businesses are going to reciprocate to the same degree. The sooner that we understand that there are no guarantees, the sooner we can embrace the need to keep growing and appreciate the blessings of today.

Is “True North” relative? The movie star from the 1940’s, Irene Dunne once said, “If we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything.” I’ve experienced first-hand the devastation resulting from trusted leaders who ultimately descended down a dangerous road covered with the black ice of situational ethics. As I’ve witnessed, oftentimes these “falls from grace” were generally decent people who ultimately bought the lie that “True North” was relative. The wreckage caused by “ends-justifies-the-means” mentality embraced by once-admired leaders isn’t pretty and isn’t limited to just the perpetrator. Many times, their families, partners, co-workers, and even their businesses have paid unimaginable penalties.

I believe that once we are immovable in what we value most deeply, we can be flexible in the things that are less important. When I was in the ad agency business, an element of my “True North” was found in a simple litmus test: If I couldn’t openly discuss or recommend my clients’ product or service in the presence of my young children, I refused to advertise it.

Shortly after I had discovered and confronted a business partner’s financial impropriety that left me devastated, a very lucrative job opportunity came knocking while I was trying to figure out what to do next. I needed to find another good job rather quickly given the situation my partner had created and my need to provide for my family. Even though this new opportunity was a great position with fun people and great pay in a desirable area of the country, I elected to say “pass” and walk away. As painful as it was to turn it down, it was an easy choice. Why? One of their primary clients manufactured products known to cause unhealthy addictions that clearly violated my litmus test. Ultimately, I took a role that didn’t offer many of my “ideal” criteria but I was able to be flexible in the less-important things knowing that my core values weren’t compromised.

Trail marker #2. Know your own “True North” or you’ll eventually get lost. Knowing what you refuse to compromise and being resolute in guarding these values regardless of the cost can save you, those you love most, and those you are leading from unnecessary heartache. It may be a less traveled and more difficult trail but at least you can sleep well at night. It might even take you to some very cool, unexpected destinations.

So, how do we get there from here? Have you also asked yourself that question when career detours suddenly appear? At one point in my journey, I found myself contemplating my career path that looked more like a random series of cruel pranks than the carefully plotted course I envisioned. In the midst of this introspection, I started asking myself some probing questions that ultimately helped me more clearly articulate my purpose. These same questions have also helped me find the blessings in the unintended paths that weren’t found on my original roadmap.

Here are a few key questions that I force myself to answer on an annual basis that I hope may resonate with you…

Beyond financial rewards, what is my motivation? I found that some questions found in Rick Warren’s best-selling book, “Purpose-Driven Life” helped me clarify this. His “Life’s Five Greatest Questions” contained in the book are:

  1. What do I want to be the center of my life?
  2. What do I want to be the character of my life?
  3. What do I want to be the contribution of my life?
  4. What do I want to be the communication of my life?
  5. What do I want to be the community of my life?

If I could have any role, what would it look like? In other words, what are the areas or situations in which you thrive?

If I should avoid any role, what would it look like? In your experience, what are the areas or situations in which you wither?

These can be tough questions that require some vulnerable introspection. However, I find that they help ground me and reorient my career compass so I can be more effective and confident as I strive to make a positive difference wherever the road may lead me.

Perhaps you can relate. Perhaps you also have experienced some challenging twists and turns along your journey. Even though it doesn’t come natural to many of us, I believe we can discover hidden blessings even in the detours.

I planned. Yet, at times God has seemed to laugh. I’m ok with that. I’m learning to embrace it. While I remain committed to dreaming, planning, and defending the things that matter, I’m determined to be flexible in the things that don’t. I’m also willing to laugh along with Him when His plans take me down an unintended path. After all, He might have something far better than you or I could have ever imagined.

Sink or Swim

A Careful Look at Your Company’s Values: Swimming or Flailing?

Sink or Swim

I’m assuming that your company, like many other companies, has gone through the exercise of defining at least one or all of these five buoys for your company’s brand – Mission, Core Values, Brand Personality, Desired Customer Experience, and Brand Position. (If you haven’t gone through that exercise yet, I encourage you to enlist an experienced facilitator to help you do so.)

In this article, I want to simply encourage you to take a panoramic view of your own company’s Core Values from your employee’s perch. Why? Because I’ve seen two specific scenarios at play across a myriad of companies that can have either invigorating or dangerous results:

  1. Active and swimming along? The company’s Core Values have been articulated AND are purposefully (not to be misconstrued with “perfectly”) nurtured and reinforced throughout the entire culture. The employees are expected to know the company values but more importantly, they see management demonstrate, recognize, and reward behaviors that are in harmony with the values.
  2. Frustrated and flailing? The company’s Core Values have been articulated BUT are viewed to be disconnected from the reality of the culture. These values are seen by many employees merely as “corporate mumbo jumbo” found on internal presentations and plaques or external marketing hype via company websites, social media, literature, advertising, and PR because they see the words (and may even be able to articulated the values on cue) but the behavior demonstrated from management is inconsistent at best.

What is your scenario? Get honest with your answers to the following:

  1. Can you effortlessly recite the Core Values of your company?
  2. Can all of your customer-facing employees?
  3. How about EVERYONE in your company?
  4. If not, why not? Are there too many words to remember or to provide focus?
  5. Besides simple mental recall and verbal recitation, are these values visibly and consistently being lived out by management?
  6. How are these values being taught and reinforced throughout the organization?

A high-stakes example. One of my first assignments within a Fortune 100 company was initially viewed by the company as a “communications” issue that needed resolution. This company had a notable track record for completing successful acquisitions with military precision. However, a very large acquisition hadn’t yielded the same expected results as previous acquisitions had and the company suspected that messaging was a major contributor to the sub-par performance in this new multi-state territory. This sub-par performance required attention. It also created a job opportunity for me.

Clear, concise, and consistent. My first day on the job, my boss scheduled a meeting with me to outline the “measures for success” for my new role. A central element of that meeting was her clear articulation of the company’s values and the company’s expectations for me. Not only did she state the company’s values at that meeting, she consistently modeled those values for me and her other “direct reports” throughout my entire tenure at this company.

The first couple of weeks within this company, I experienced similar modeling from executives who, like my boss, were seasoned and well-respected veterans of this company. The culture was THICK and tangible based largely on the three values articulated to me on my first day. These values immediately resonated with me beyond my intellect and hit me squarely in the heart. They were:

  1. Do the right thing.
  2. Foster teamwork and trust.
  3. Have a passion for winning.

Those values were simple to understand, presented with memorable examples, and prioritized. They were freeing, empowering, and aligned with my own values as well as my personal mission to make a positive difference in the lives of others. These stated values transcended corporate mumbo jumbo and helped me find a noble purpose in the midst of working in Corporate America.

Positive reinforcement. The values weren’t merely words. They were reinforced in the culture. Within the first few days, peers informed me that there was even a rare, prestigious, and highly coveted award (a Waterford crystal hand grenade) that was given by the Chairman and CEO to exceptional employees who exemplified these values in above-and-beyond situations.

Trouble on the horizon. After my first couple weeks of orientation at the corporate headquarters, I hit the road and began my quest to uncover why the messaging wasn’t helping the company realize the same results it had in other substantial acquisitions. I met with general consumers, customers with specialized business needs, front-line customer service personnel, mid-level sales people, in-market marketing professionals, and regional executives across an 11-state footprint. In doing so, I discovered two notable things:

  1. There was in fact a messaging “disconnect” that impacted internal audiences and external customers differently. Frankly, that was the easiest thing to fix.
  2. There was a marked difference between transplanted, legacy executives who were strategically placed in leadership positions throughout the new footprint by the ACQUIRING company. The transplanted execs knew and modeled our values in the same manner I had witnessed at the corporate headquarters. They modeled empowerment. However, it also became clear that members of the ACQUIRED company had been greatly impacted by the negative press surrounding the historic acquisition and the natural fear of the unknown. They weren’t fully aware of the surprisingly entrepreneurial culture that was suddenly available to them and the empowerment that our Core Values enabled. This was a huge disconnect but I saw it as a huge opportunity if we addressed it as thoughtfully and deliberately as my boss treated my first day on the job.

Benchmarking the Ritz-Carlton. Since cloning my boss wasn’t really an option for systematically conveying our Core Values to the thousands of newly added associates, I decided to look to a company I had observed and deemed to set the gold standard for articulating, reinforcing, and consistently demonstrating their Core Values: The Ritz-Carlton. We had already defined our Core Purpose, Core Values, Brand Purpose, Desired Customer Experience, and the Role of Associates. We just hadn’t been consistent, deliberate, and systematic in our training and communication throughout the organization. We used the Ritz-Carlton as a benchmark for conveying this information via a simple wallet card given personally, one-on-one, cascading throughout the organization in attempts to recreate the experience I was given by my boss (and now long-term mentor).

Tangible results. While we didn’t necessarily reach the consistency and same standard of excellence set by the Ritz-Carlton, this effort contributed to some significant results. The 18-to-24-month assignment initially presented to me turned into a less-than 12-month assignment as we saw a turnaround in some key metrics we were measuring shortly after the company-wide roll-out of our “brand conversation” with the brand wallet card as a reminder of the conversation. A few results included:

  1. Products sold per day/FTE increased by 31%.
  2. Core product sales grew by 220%.
  3. Unaided brand awareness grew by 357%.
  4. Brand preference grew by 415%.
  5. Brand consideration increased by 600%.

Granted, these results weren’t due solely to this initiative as we had many talented associates focused on addressing the challenges. We modified our advertising messages along with other initiatives. However, leaders at the highest levels of the organization acknowledged the importance of this particular initiative as it was central to who we were.

Application. I wanted to bring to our executive team something that was proven, aspirational, and applicable. The Ritz-Carlton provided the example we needed. I still maintain that The Ritz-Carlton set the standard for the consistent delivery of their “Service Values” (Core Values) throughout their organization. They work diligently on training and reinforcing these values as well as other articulated elements of their brand experience. Clearly, there are other companies doing a great job out there but I am grateful for what I learned from The Ritz-Carlton in the midst of this critical assignment as well as the experience I’ve enjoyed every time I am fortunate enough to stay at one of their properties.

Solomon once wrote, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” Given that truth, we can enjoy great results by learning from others who have succeeded in areas we long to improve. By taking an honest look at our own situation and adapting, refining, and applying things that have proven to work for others in order to address our short-comings, we can positively impact our employees, customers, and our bottom line.

Good Name

The Battle for Your Good Name…

Good Name

The man credited as being one of the wisest (and wealthiest) men to have ever walked this earth, King Solomon, is credited with saying, “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth.” Given his credentials and time-tested wisdom, it seems as though we – as individuals as well as stewards of our companies and their respective brands – would be well-served to probe a bit deeper into this insight and seek applications for our own situations.

Just as nothing in the universe remains static, I believe that the same holds true for our names (and brands). We are actively reinforcing, improving upon, or tarnishing our name (or brand) through every word spoken (or lack thereof) and in every interaction (or inaction). With the proliferation of social media and instantaneous access to a myriad of information and opinions online, our words and actions can get more quickly noticed and they can have a more expeditious result than ever before.

We’ve seen recently in the news how quickly a brand’s reputation – either as an individual, company, or brand in the classic sense – can be tarnished or even destroyed by one misstep (or a series of them). Aside from the news that is frequently riddled with politicians, newscasters, sports celebrities, Hollywood stars, etc. who have seen their once good name lose substantial equity, lists such as “The 10 Most Hated Companies in America” (http://247wallst.com/special-report/2014/01/10/the-10-most-hated-companies-in-america-3/2/) also demonstrate that brands are also subject to the same swift judgment.

So, what are some of the contributors to ensuring that your (or your company’s) good name continues to grow in value? Though this short list is not exhaustive by any means, here are a few that I think are worth emphasizing as we evaluate how we can nurture a “good name” in our spheres of influence:

Integrity & Trust. I think they go hand in hand. Does your name stand for doing the right thing even if it costs you something to do so? Are you known for treating others like you want to be treated or does the Golden Rule get twisted to mean, “He who has the gold rules?” Is your company’s brand known for fulfilling its promises and claims? Can your vendors count on you to pay your bills on time? Is your company known for telling the truth or do you routinely live in shades of gray?

Conviction. Have you defined your “True North” – the mission, values, tenants, and behaviors that are uncompromisingly immovable? Or, do you change directions every time you dissect a new opinion poll or each time a new CEO or CMO takes the helm? You can’t please all the people all the time and it’s easy to accept that truth if you are solid in your convictions. I think Shakespeare was onto something profound when he said, “To thine own self be true.” To do so, it is important to know WHO you are and for WHAT you stand.

Consistency. This is a big contributor to trust (or lack thereof). It also is a barometer for the strength of your conviction. Is your company’s behavior consistent with your stated mission, core values, desired customer experience, etc. across all customer touch points, media outlets, venues, and scenarios over a span of time? Or, would those who know you best (employees, vendors, loyal customers) say that you SAY one thing and DO another?

Humility. Can you take input or even correction from those who know you best? How about taking suggestions from someone who just interacted with your brand, had a bad experience, and “flamed” you online? Are you willing to admit a mistake and address it? Can you forgive others when they’ve wronged you? Humility doesn’t mean weakness. In fact, I think it demonstrates tremendous power. It is the opposite of unapproachable arrogance. I think humility is one of the most beautiful attributes a person, company, or brand can exhibit. It is approachable, welcoming, vulnerable, and endearing.

Others-focused. Go beyond brands and think about famous leaders, heroes, beloved coaches, and selfless humanitarians that you admire. One of the common traits that resonate in each one of them on my list is being “others-focused.” They seem to be driven more by “How can I help?” than the “What’s in it for me?” mentality that seems to run rampant. They consistently transcend the self-absorbed, unholy trinity of “Me, Myself, and I.”

As part of my rather unusual career, I was privileged to serve a unique community of approximately 300 ultra high net worth individuals and their families via a private equity firm that acquired my consultancy. These are some of the most notable and accomplished people I’ve ever known. I continue to be struck by how “others-focused” these successful people are in the midst of such rarified success. Knowing most of their stories, they didn’t simply wake up one day after they “made it” and suddenly, they became altruistic. They nurtured and became increasingly proficient at these “good name” attributes throughout their oftentimes difficult journey.

I think Solomon was right. A good name is to be more desired than great riches. Wealth may come from fostering a good name but wealth isn’t necessarily the litmus test. There are plenty of wealthy individuals and companies who are a mess.

A good name doesn’t just happen on its own. It takes a heart-felt commitment, diligence, and dedication from all who represent that name to nurture it into something that can be called “good.” A good name takes a lifetime to build and yet it can be tarnished or destroyed in an instant. May we (and the companies we represent) be so rich to have those who know us best call us by a name that is synonymous with “good.”

Failed Mergers

The Merger Seemed SO Right. So, Why Did It Fail?

Failed Mergers

Thorough due diligence was conducted prior to the deal. The numbers checked out masterfully. The synergies between the two organizations seemed like a perfect fit. The communications plan was executed flawlessly. The management team is proven and up to the task. You know that people downstream are resistant to change but you believe that everyone who makes the final cut for the go-forward entity will surely embrace the change. This deal is going to soar. Time to celebrate, right?

Less than a year into the deal that you thought was sure to be heralded as a best-of-class case study in the perfect “merger of equals” (or acquisition) by Harvard Business Review started to reveal some cracks in the foundation. Operating efficiencies were realized and market growth projections seem to be on track but the sense of a cohesive “team” is becoming more of a battle between two teams, “us” and “them” between the two original companies, “Company A” and “Company B.”

The CEO and the bulk of his management team are from “Company A” but a few leaders from “Company B” were added to the combined management team. Company A is all about decisiveness, collaboration, and nimble execution. Everyone is expected to speak their mind in the meeting and once all views have been heard, a decision is made, everyone salutes, the meeting is adjourned, and the team rallies their respective divisions and executes the plan. Participants are encouraged to speak their mind in the meeting but once the input is given and a decision is made, discussion is over. It is time to take the hill. No second-guessing after the meeting. No sniping afterwards.

Company B is stuffy and highly political. It isn’t known to move so quickly and decisively. The former CEO of Company B is known to issue a direction to his management team. By and large, the team will silently nod in approval or a brave soul will throw out a safe but respectful point to consider and that would be that. The CEO’s inner circle may whisper privately some course corrections to him shortly after the meeting and after additional days (or weeks) of contemplation, the edict is given. Lots of water cooler conversation ensues over the next couple of days and people will speak their minds more freely. People are expected to follow. Factions will develop but eventually, people will fall in line.

Now, do you think there could be an issue festering in this scenario just based around communication, behavioral expectations, and culture differences?

In my experience, cultural compatibility issues are huge contributors to the “perfect M&A deal” that ultimately hits the wall in flames. Curiously, I’ve RARELY seen cultural compatibility systematically assessed as part of the due diligence process of an M&A deal. Why do you think this is?

I don’t know for sure but I have a suspicion that it is largely due to primarily having skilled MBAs and financial analysts driving the due diligence and not including someone with experience in cultural compatibility assessment at the table to drive the evaluation.

Cultural compatibility assessment may seem too “touchy/feely” for some numbers-driven CEOs but all you have to do is look at historical mergers that were eventually undermined by vast cultural differences — the dissolution of Daimler-Chrysler is a great case in point. (An insightful article about this is found at http://www.edmunds.com/autoobserver-archive/2007/05/daimler-chrysler-why-the-marriage-failed.html. It reveals some cultural issues that I experienced first-hand when I did some brand strategy work for the company in 2002 — great people on both sides but vastly different cultures in many regards.)

I remember thinking that, in spite of the tangible cultural differences I experienced between respective Daimler and Chrysler teams, perhaps a merger of that magnitude could overcome what I had seen undermine other “merger of equals” scenarios. In the case of Daimler-Chrysler, the dissolution took longer than others I had seen but the end result was the same. Divorce.

I was tasked with assessing the cultural compatibility of organizations when I was with a private equity firm that did a number of M&A deals. The assessment process doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make it fly. It’s pretty simple when it comes right down to it but it requires a commitment from the CEOs and management teams of the two organizations to commit to the relatively short process and a willingness to get real honest – no matter how great the numbers look or how badly each team wants to do the deal.

When we committed ourselves to the process, it helped us avoid almost certain disaster on one deal and it proved to be foundational to our most successful acquisition. In both cases, I think everyone involved would say to this day that it was worth the two-day investment as part of the due diligence process to address the thing that stands apart from the numbers yet is one of the first things to make the numbers ultimately turn south.

Before you do your next M&A deal, consider learning from the likes of the Daimler-Chrysler deal and consider having the compatibility of the two cultures assessed as part of your due diligence process BEFORE you ink the deal. It might just save a lot of money and a lot of people unnecessary heartache.