Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Culture Crutch

Company Culture

It's one of those words that conjures up all sorts of images.  I used to think it was a very cool word.  I'd picture the cultures in many of the start-up companies I worked with, and then I remembered the high energy, the people learning, and the ability to move or pivot, as they now say, very quickly.  Culture was the thing that allowed us to get things done. 

Today, after working with many larger and mid-size companies, I find the culture word something that makes me want to throw up.  Culture is fun in small companies, and it's used to get work done.  But more and more I find that culture in both mid-size and large firms is the thing that everyone uses to STOP CHANGE.  Why?  Because culture is the excuse used to describe why new things won't work, why things can't get done, or why the company is stuck. 

Here's the line I run into ALL THE TIME: 

"That would never work here because of our culture." 

Then I ask what the culture is, and I don't get much of an answer.  That's because culture is sacred, culture is the thing that everyone understands but can't describe, and what I really think is happening is that:


Culture has become an excuse. 

So let's quit using the word.  As often as possible, and as quickly as feasible, move the dialogue to one about HABITS.  Let's talk about the way people work, their habits or their behaviors and then dig into which habits will get in the way of the 'new thing' being successful.

When we talk about habits, we start down a path of success.  Most people know that habits can be changed.  They think of pets, children, breaking their own bad habits (e.g. smoking).  There are ways to change habits, and once the conversation moves in this direction, success is not too far away.




Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Building Start-up People for New Jobs and Economic Growth

Every day I get news releases about entrepreneurship and how important it is to create new businesses. Ok, I can agree with that, but I am very worried we are spending a lot of money, time and energy on creating new companies and worshiping entrepreneurs at the expense of supporting the many companies that exist, have products and that are trying to grow.

I recently read a blog that reported data showing 40% of small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) say they are at risk of going out of business in 2013. The answer to this problem was suggested to be creating more companies through entrepreneurship.

Here's the deal -- I teach entrepreneurship. I am an entrepreneur. I coach entrepreneurs. I believe that entrepreneurship can be taught and is important content. But I don't think creating a lot of new companies, alone, will save the day.

Help Save More Small and Medium-Size Firms

There is another answer to the jobs, economy, and wealth creation problem. What if we help those 40% of the SMEs who are struggling to stay in business? Why is the answer only to create more companies?

Introducing the Science of Growth

We know how to help companies expand and grow. The team that I've been doing research with for the last 20 years has been doing extensive data collection and case study work on fast-growth firms. We're not the only ones, but at least I can say first hand that we know how to help small and medium-size firms grow. We know how to help companies turn around. There's science out there that has been applied to real-world companies and that can help save some of those 40% SMEs. We use work from physics, sports physiology, social science, management and organization, and more to accelerate growth and successfully build businesses.

Building Start-up People

At the grass roots level, we are training our students at UNL to not just be entrepreneurs but to be start-up people. Start-up people are individuals who know how to start a business, and they also know well how to support, change and grow a business. Start-up people can thrive in highly volatile, changing work conditions. Start-up people are confident to speak up even when it's risky. Start-up people learn to fight fair and know how to graciously lose. Start-up people are proud of being part of a winning team; they don't need the personal glory. Start-up people are successful in helping new ventures kick off, small start-ups grow, larger companies become more innovative and in starting up new projects that help businesses of any size meet their goals.

If you want to Grow, Hire Start-up People as a Starting Point

Where are we building start-up people? We're starting the movement to build start-up people at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Yes, we're not on the east coast or the west coast; we are dead center in the middle of the United States. And we're doing it at a university with a long and strong history in the science of growth. Of course, I'm talking about growing crops to feed the country. Today we're building strong employees to help grow the country's businesses.

Check out some or our students blog posts

or join our LinkedIn group,

click here to and learn more about our work


Friday, January 18, 2013

Stop benchmarking employee survey data

I am doing some reading on the blue-ocean strategy work, and as I go through the various articles and books I continue to see references to the negative effect of benchmarking on corporate strategies and growth.  The authors of the book "Blue Ocean Strategy," W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, note that companies that benchmark are basically letting the competition dictate their strategy for them.  They are working to be like everyone else rather than jumping ahead and creating competitive advantage.

In the world of employee surveys, HR is doing the same thing.  By taking the results of your survey data from today, using in most cases, the same questions that everyone else is using, you are just pulling down your HR strategy to be like everyone else.  How is that helping an organization get ahead?  Also, is being better at all questions really the best strategy?  

The exercise is like taking your stock price from today and comparing it to the stock price of your competition from last year.  It's an ok thing to do, but what actions would anyone take?   

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

New venture creation is non linear

I've been spending a lot of time revising and tweaking the syllabus for an entrepreneurship course I am teaching this Spring (2013).  It's an MBA course, and students will be working to build their own new ventures and also to help an established company evaluate a new growth strategy.

As I put together the syllabus, review the readings and think about the way we try to teach an orderly, linear process of building a business, I continue to go back to the fact that building a business is non linear.  That's why there is so much press and innovation today in the new business creation process.  There seems to be a bit of a rebellion against long, detailed business plans with the traditional hockey stick financial forecasts.  Books like Lean Startup and Burn Your Business Plan are two examples of alternative approaches to new business building that are extremely popular.  The protests and movement toward creation of something new is important.  However, that doesn't mean that all the components of the traditional business planning process should be thrown out; they just need to be understood with a different lens, and it's the non-linear approach.

New venture creation and growth is messy; you start with an idea, you shop the idea; you develop new products, you fail, you start again, and then sometimes you win -temporarily.  Then you go back to the drawing board and change your idea.  You find new people to talk with you; you teach each other; you learn from each other, and again, you go back and revise the original idea.

We're using story boards in our class, and I find this a very useful tool in living the non-linear nature of the business creation process.  However, I think the next new thing has to be a story board on a piece of paper that's a circle vs. a square.  Why?  The square nature of the paper makes the story board feel like a monopoly game, that there's a right way to go around and win.  There isn't. You have to hit certain goals (e.g. cash flow, design structure of the business, etc.), but how you do it, when you do, etc. all vary.

If I could do the teaching perfectly -every business idea would have its own customized syllabus to go with it. They would proceed around the start-up venture circle differently .. all from the center but taking different paths to reach their temporary "nirvana" and then keep moving around with the rhythm of their business.

Risk Management Strategy as Part of the Employee Energy and Engagement Work

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