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Jack Litewka, Author, THE SOPHISTICATED MANAGER:  Essential Leadership Lessons for Developing High-Performance Team… and Avoiding Critical Mistakes

A CEO creates the Corporate Culture.  This activity deserves and requires careful thought and communication. If this activity is considered a “nice-to-have”, then the resulting culture is random and becomes “cultural transmission by osmosis” – which is not the most effective way to form a great culture that is tightly aligned to a company’s vision, mission, goals, and values.

Creating a Great Corporate Culture requires that dozens of puzzle pieces fit together. Following are three key pieces to the puzzle that need a CEO’s focused and ongoing attention… because the CEO really is the Cultural Excellence Officer.

1. How to Build a Great Corporate Culture

A CEO can’t do everything to ensure that the company is successful.  One of the activities required to achieve success is often overlooked or given short-shrift:  culture-creation.  Creating a Great Corporate Culture is how to ensure that the sum is greater than the parts:  i.e., does your team perform below their talent level, at their talent level, or above their talent level?  You of course prefer the latter.  You are the coach.  You are the leader.  You are the culture-creator.  Here are a few of the things that outstanding CEOs do to create a Great Corporate Culture:

  • Create a Vision and Mission that is compelling and inspires everyone in the company.
  • Be as transparent as possible.  People in your company will often hear about, say, policy changes via one grapevine or another… and the message can be distorted and even altered as it jogs along the grapevine.
  • Communicate often.  You own the message.  Long silences between communications create a gap into which fantasies, inaccuracies, and anxiety can take hold.  A best practice is to have a rhythm-of-the-business communication that establishes a company-wide expectation that the CEO “will speak to me”.
  • Institute a world-class hiring process.  Hiring is expensive.  Hiring has long-term consequences to the company.  So it is not sufficient to have an OK or a good hiring process.  A world-class hiring process – whether for line staff, middle managers, or executives – is required if the end-game is world-class products and services.  Think long and hard about cultural fit:  do the managers that you hire have values, experience, and interpersonal skills that are aligned with the Great Corporate Culture that you want to create?

​2. What Differentiates a Good Manager from a GREAT MANAGER?

Managers usually view their role as being accountable for delivering projects on time, on budget, and meeting the quality bar (aka expectations).  Nothing wrong with that:  those are the basics of being a Good Manager.  However, the basics are not sufficient for becoming a Great Manager – and you need Great Managers to create a Great Corporate Culture (which, of course, is the requirement for developing a highly successful company).      

Great Managers have a broad and deep understanding of their role as a manager, which goes beyond specific factors such as schedules, budgets, and so forth.  They understand that the key aspect of their role is:

Creating conditions that allow others to succeed

If a manager succeeds in doing that, they will have created a Great Team Culture – and they will be rightly viewed as a Great Manager because the creation of a Great Team Culture is the key factor in what differentiates a Good Manager from a Great Manager.  The same holds true for a CEO:  a Great CEO creates conditions that allows others to succeed… and in doing so, a key requirement of a Great Corporate Culture has been met.

Perhaps you’re thinking:  “Each person that we hire is responsible for their own success.”  Of course, that’s true.  However, you want to increase the odds that they will succeed and overachieve.  The best measure of an orchestra leader or an athletic coach to assess whether the team is playing at their talent level, below their talent level, or above their talent level.  As a leader, you want the latter.  Great Managers and Great CEOs create conditions that increase the chances that the team performs above its talent level.

3. How to Ensure Excellent Cross-Team and Cross-Division Collaboration

The more teams that are involved in a project, the greater the chances for failure. Why?  A number of reasons come to mind:

  • It is not always clear where the buck stops.  Complex projects require very clear decision-making processes – which need to be articulated (made transparent) at the start of and throughout the project.
  • Sometimes there is jockeying and grandstanding by managers of different teams.  Each manager tries to take credit for achievements and each tries to ensure that blame for failure has nothing to do with them.
  • Different teams might have non-aligned goals.
  • Different teams might have conflicting cultures.

A transparent process is needed that everyone adheres to – a process that defines roles and responsibilities – which eliminates confusion and less-than-optimal collaboration.  One framework that has worked well is the OARP model.  (Other models exist.)

O = Owner (the hands-on driver of the project’s specifications)

A = Approver (where the buck stops; usually the manager
          or skip-level manager of the Owner)

R = Reviewers (people with relevant experience to provide
          objective assessment of the project’s specifications)

P = Participants (people with skillsets to do the work of
          bringing to life the project’s specifications)

This type of cross-team/cross-unit/cross-division framework for a specific project will prevent many headaches and much heartache.  In particular, this framework minimizes late-breaking DCRs (design-change requests), which are schedule-killers and budget killers – and it makes clear who is responsible for what as well as who makes the final call when there is disagreement.

You are always creating a company culture.  You can do that intentionally… or you can do that in a haphazard manner.  Which is preferable?  (Yup, you guessed correctly.)  You can guarantee your company’s success by giving deep and continual thought to the Great Corporate Culture that you want to create.  If you think that you’re too busy to do this, think again… or select someone to whom you can delegate some of the responsibility for creating a Great Corporate Culture.

About the Author

Jack Litewka has over 40 years of management and consulting experience. He has worked in huge companies and small companies, in high tech and medium tech and low tech, and in for-profit and non-profit businesses. He is the author of THE SOPHISTICATED MANAGER:  Essential Leadership Lessons for Developing High-Performance Team… and Avoiding Critical Mistakes.


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