Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Mike's post on October 20 Oh, The Culture, combined with the questions we get at many of our leadership session including the one we recently did at West Point, have caused me to spend a significant amount of time thinking about corporate culture. Mike ended his post with the following two sentences. "In a crisis, you reap what you sow from your culture. Address the culture now so it will serve you well in the crisis." As usual, I completely agree.

This post is about the need to nurture the culture and reinforce the values or risk an erosion of the company's culture that can eventually cause the crisis. Let me share some of my research and thoughts on this topic. We should probably start with a definition of corporate culture.

The easiest way I have found to describe corporate culture is how your employees act and the decisions they make when no one is watching. I found two articles with more in depth definitions. Corporate Culture Definition is quite good in describing the various layers within culture. Another article Definition of Corporate Culture is also good and uses an analogy of culture as the invisible energy field or electricity that runs throughout a company and either enables or restricts its ability to achieve strategic objectives. I would submit that the invisible energy source known as culture needs to be constantly reinforced and nurtured or you run the risk of erosion particularly in the area of values and ethics. Another interesting article is about corporate culture and brand entitled Corporate Culture is Brand, and Brand is Corporate Culture which highlights that how your employees act is much more the brand than any logo or advertisement. Lastly, my research uncovered some articles on measuring corporate culture, although I did not find anything that provided REAL measures. The two articles I liked were Human Resources: Measuring Corporate Culture which differentiates artifacts, espoused values, and basic underlying assumptions. This article refers to corporate culture as the Other Bottom Line. In my experience, the erosion happens within the basic underlying assumptions that can change over time. It is fine if it is an intentional change but lax risk management and not reinforcing the values will erode the culture even if not intentional. The other article Corporate Culture covers small businesses and culture definitions. The reason I included it here with measurement is that there were a few questions that are very helpful to assess what the culture is and could over time help you to measure any changes. The five questions are:
  • What 10 words best describe your company?
  • What is really important around here?
  • Who gets promoted here and why?
  • What behaviors get rewarded here?
  • What type of people are the "in" crowd and the "not in" crowd?

During my 30 years in the consulting industry, I learned that I needed to understand two things at each of my clients in order to be successful- what was their corporate culture and how they compensated their executive team. If I knew these two things I would know what they would and would not buy, how to handle myself in meetings, and what problems I could and could not recover from with them and how to do it. In addition to observing the cultures at each of my clients that enabled or restricted performance, I watched a strong culture at Arthur Andersen that truly was the other bottom line (it may have even been the cause of the true bottom line) erode over time and cause the crisis that destroyed the firm. Hindsight has allowed me to see now the signs that were there before the crisis. At Bearingpoint I saw a culture that destroyed value. I know first hand what can and does happen if you do not nurture the right corporate culture. BTW, does anyone know of any good measurement tools for corporate culture?

This is NOT soft stuff. Companies need strong, healthy cultures and CEO's need to focus on nurturing it or the culture will erode and so will profitability and corporate sustainability.

Until Next Time,


Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Every company has a culture. Usually culture is a by-product of how the company is run by the current CEO or how it was run by the last CEO. It is rare in my experience for the CEO to say, "I don't like the culture and we are going to change it." Or to say, "What culture do I want at my company?" Yes, there are the rare CEO's that actually focus on the culture. But for the most part, it is about running a profitable business as if culture isn't that important.

And yet, a company's culture is an invisible force that runs throughout the company and affects everything that is done. Fortune has an article that point to the culture of Bear Stearns and that a few of its alumni may have been inflicted with the dark side of that culture.

Whether that is true or not or whether one can't paint with such a broad brush is neither here nor there. The real questions for today's leaders are the following:

What is your company's culture? Is it the culture you want? How are you going to get the culture you want?

Gail often says that she and her team at Andersen's Business Consulting Group were able to keep the group together because of the culture. In a crisis, you reap what you sow from your culture. Address the culture now so it will serve you well in a crisis.

Cheers, Mike

Monday, October 19, 2009


On Friday, the founder of Galleon was arrested and charged with insider trading. Put aside whether he is guilty or innocent. The remaining managers of the fund have to deal with the resultant crisis.

In a crisis such as this, the remaining managers must decide what individual or small group of individual should be in charge of the fund in the interim. They must realize that the fund is a separate and distinct entity from its founder. Each party will have their own legal issues to address.

Next the management must get the right team on board. This will include at least, special counsel, a crisis public relations firm and a financial crisis expert. One part of the management team should be dedicated to dealing with the crisis and one part of the management team needs to address the day-to-day operations of the fund.

All of the stakeholders have to be identified and addressed. The stakeholders will include, investors, employees, lenders, companies invested in by the fund, SEC, state regulatory agencies including the attorney general, and other parties.

The communications from the firm must be carefully managed and critically previewed with counsel. All the stakeholders will have questions, some of which can be answered and some of which cannot be answered at this time. All employees need to be briefed with a list of questions and answers and instructed to send parties to a central communication point. If this does not occur, misinformation will cause additional problems that will have to be addressed.

The interim fund management may also have to decide whether it must pursue its own internal investigation. This will be a very sticky wicket which will require constant legal advice every step of the way.

It is not what the innocent managers bought into. But it doesn't matter that they don't like it, they have to deal with it. Such is the challenge of dealing with a crisis.

Cheers, Mike

Friday, October 16, 2009

US Military Academy at West Point

Yesterday, Mike and I were invited to be guest speakers at the US Military Academy's Eisenhower Program on Cross Cultural Leadership. It was an honor to be asked to speak by the department head and a friend of ours, Col. Tom Kolditz. This was a group of over 20 participants, mainly Army Captains that have all had some form of command responsibility and have served all over the world.

As always, Mike and I had fun and were happy to share our experiences and lessons learned. But as always, I received more than I gave at the session. It was inspiring to be there. Lately, I find myself disappointed with the lack of leadership demonstrated by many business "leaders" and by many politicians. But this visit was inspiring and a source of renewal. I was in the presence of leaders striving to be even better leaders in the future.

It reminded me that there are many great leaders doing great things every day. And, the Dow stayed above 10,000. A great day!

Until Next Time,

Friday, October 9, 2009


There is an article in the WSJ entitled Are Most CEO's "Wusses"? The author explains that being a "wuss" has nothing to do with being willing to fire people for poor performance. Instead, it is not b eing willing to hold employees accountable for their behavior before the poor results register.

To me this is about being a leader and having the courage of your convictions. If all a person does is wait for the poor performance results to show up in the numbers before they take action on an employee (especially an executive), I would argue that by definition they did not lead but rather followed the numbers. Anyone can take action after the fact. A leader is someone who is looking at the quality of the person and the quality of the numbers. We have certainly learned from this recession that very good numbers can precede very bad numbers. This is particularly true if the individual is sacrificing long term value for short term results or taking unusually high risks without the correct risk mitigation steps. This brings us to the courage part of the discussion. It is difficult when an employee is driving strong financial performance, to fire them for bad behavior. It is human nature to not want to risk your own srong financial performance. But that is exactly what a good leader must do.

Holding people accountable for financial results AND proper behavior is a leader's job and key to long term value creation. If an individual is driving strong financial performance but has questionable business ethics the risk is too high that long term they will destroy value. Also, I am a strong believer in the concept of the shadow of the leader. If you say something but do not follow through with action, the bad behavior can spread like a virus through the organization. The opposite is also true. If the leader demonstrates by their actions that their ethics and corporate values are not just empty words, the entire employee base will follow that lead. So you get a bigger benefit than the one employee for which you took action.

If all leadership required was looking at the historical financial performance to determine action, companies could be led by computer spreadsheets. Leadership requires judgement and courage but most of all action. I have heard too many times someone say that they know someone is not exhibiting the right behavior BUT their numbers are great and so no significant action is taken.

Be the courageous leader. Don't be a "wuss".
Until Next Time,

Monday, October 5, 2009


I have always found it quite interesting that for the past 20 years, top management for larger bankrupt companies require handsome retention and success bonuses for getting a company through a bankruptcy.

Here is an article from the NY Times setting the stage for the Chicago Tribune bonuses. The Tribune is in bankruptcy as the newspaper industry fights going the way of the slide rule and the typewriter. The theory of these bonuses is that people have to work very hard and they should be rewarded. And if they don't get a bonus, the good people will leave.

While some bonus may be appropriate to retain people, the total situation should always be considered. For example, yes, the people have to work hard. I am unaware of many jobs where you don't have to work hard. And yes, they need to rewarded for their efforts. Yet many people have had their wages frozen or reduced due to the lack of profitability afflicted thousands of companies.

And, yes, the good people will leave. Although, who is hiring in the newspaper industry? My experience is that the really good people may leave anyway. For them the issue is not the golden handcuff known as a retention bonus. For them the issue is the certainty of having a job. Put aside whether anyone has employment certainty anywhere these days.

So, retention bonuses for large groups of managers who were at the helm when the ship was grounded? You could bring in an outside firm to run the company or augment the team. But then, that may or may not be the best bargain either.

Cheers, Mike