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Culture, Values, Visible Leadership

by David Brock on August 21st, 2020

So many of the discussions on sales and business performance focus on strategies, competitive positioning, product/service superiority, and even customer satisfaction/loyalty. As we talk about how we execute at the highest levels, depending on what a pundit is selling, the “secret” to success is the application of certain technologies, methodologies, training, programs, content, tools, processes.

In sales, we’ve seen huge infusions of all of these, yet sales performance doesn’t improve, the percent of people achieving quota continues to plummet. More importantly, turnover and attrition is skyrocketing. Average tenure for sales people and managers is down to 16.5 months, and, I suspect, will continue to decrease.

Customer experience and satisfaction with their engagement with sales people continues to go in the wrong direction. Customers, not satisfied with the conversations they have with sales people, look elsewhere to learn and explore new approaches.

To me, it is really curious. Virtually every organization I see is doing similar things, all are exploring and implementing technologies, implementing new methodologies, training, programs, content, and tools. All have great products (those that don’t, don’t survive.). Most have reasonably good and capable people.

But if everyone is leveraging all these things, why are there such profound differences in performance—particularly when viewed over time. What separates good or adequate performing organizations from the great?

This is not really new, I’m not sure my conclusions are different. Folks like Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, Jim Collins, Patrick Lencioni have done far more profound work on this.

To some degree, my discovery process has been made easier by the pandemic and the associated economic and social crises. It has sharpened the differences between great performers and everyone else.

It should be no surprise that the not so secret secret to sustained organizational excellence is based on a strong culture and value system, that everyone lives, and visible leadership based on the culture and values.

Sounds kind of trite and simple, but it really isn’t.

Every organization I looked at talked about culture and values. I could even find webpages that outline their mission, vision, culture, and values.

But when I looked deeper, when I asked sales people, sales support, customer service, marketing, and others, “Tell me about your organization’s culture and values…..,” I’d get blank stares from many. Often, people would start laughing, then launch into stories, “This is what management says it is, this is what it really is….”

To be fair, a majority of organizations, genuinely tried to exhibit some aspects of their culture and values in the way they worked.

And executives always gave it lip service in customer, analyst, and employee meetings.

But I quickly discovered the consistently outstanding companies kept the culture and values at the core of everything they did. Leaders were active and visible, walking the talk. They made themselves role models of what it meant to live the values and culture on a day to day basis. Every decision was rooted in the value system and consistent with their culture.

Those organizations are pretty remarkable, everyone is the same–that is in the intensity of their living and working the culture and value system. It turns out, people who don’t share the same values with the same intensity don’t stay in these companies (and hiring processes tend to focus on identifying these characteristics).

It’s not the superiority of our products or services. It’s not the sophistication of our business strategies or market position (though these high performers are consistent leaders in this). It’s not the tools, methodologies, training, programs, or processes that create sustainable performance differentiation.

These are important, but every organization is doing these things, so they aren’t differentiators in organizational performance. Sadly, this is where the “OK” performers focus. They continue to look for the edge in product superiority. They think if they just get the right tools, or adopt the right methodology, focus on the metrics, and so forth, they will achieve greatness.

Yet they never do–at least consistently, year after year. There may be temporary spikes, but they can’t sustain it. And this should be no surprise, because if all the competitors are doing similar things, how do you stand out?

When we dive into these high performing companies, and learn what they do differently, it’s neither complex, difficult, nor time consuming. Actually the time to results when we pay attention to visible leadership around our culture and values is stunning.

The simplicity of this is stunning. It’s really about commitment, caring, and constant communication, reinforcement on the part of leaders.

What are you doing to demonstrate and reinforces the culture and values of your organization? How do you demonstrate that to your people and your customers every day?

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One Comment
  1. Dave Olson permalink

    It is at least as much how we do as what we do – thanks for your thought leadership Dave.

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