Part 3: Culture & Capabilities

Blossom - Pixabay 030416So far, we’ve looked at behaviors and key actions that support leaders in guiding their businesses out of a flat or declining stretch. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the organization itself, specifically, your organization’s culture and capabilities.


Culture is one of those things that often feels nebulous – like trying to hug a cloud. And for most organizations, it also feels like too massive an undertaking to do anything about.

There are times when there is no way to ignore that a major transformation is required. When I was at the Wrigley Company and the fourth generation of the family, Bill Wrigley, Jr., became President & CEO following his father’s passing, it was evident that his vision for the business and his style of leadership was so different from his dad’s that maintaining the exact same culture simply wasn’t do-able. Certain elements carried forward – the values of Trust, Dignity & Respect that had guided the business for generations – but there was a clear need to define how that would come to life going forward under new leadership.

With a rigorous and broad approach, we introduced High Performing Principles and Leadership Behaviors based on a refreshed vision and strategy for the business. It didn’t happen overnight, but within a relatively short time frame (probably about 12-18 months to reach every associate around the world) the language, focus and energy around Wrigley’s global offices were palpably different than before … and incredibly consistent. To achieve the growth targets that Bill and the leadership team had set, this shift was non-negotiable. Ultimately, it propelled the company towards massive growth in the realm of billions of dollars.

A transformative overhaul isn’t for every organization, though, and it isn’t always what’s needed.  You need to be clear on what you intend to build or address.

I’m a big fan of simplicity, so unless there is an obvious and significant disconnect between who the company (e.g., its leaders) says it is versus who they actually are on a day-to-day basis, or who they need to be to achieve their aspirations, sometimes what’s needed is a tighter focus on one or two key themes within the existing Culture-Values-Behaviors framework.

Begin by revisiting your strategy. What are you setting out to achieve? Consider how people, teams, functions and regions operate today versus how they need to operate in order to hit these targets. From there, your communications and performance goals become clear.

I have a client in an industry where constant innovation and strict adherence to quality and safety are central to maintaining a competitive edge and to retaining clients. A slight downturn within one quarter combined with rumors of being sold to a competitor created such distractions that the proverbial eye came off the ball. Instead of focusing on their R&D efforts and collaborating with sales and marketing to exchange knowledge and develop new ideas, people became obsessed with ensuring they looked good and were “safe” in the event of potential organizational changes. In addition, tightening budgets led to frustration, which led to poor judgment calls in production. Significant mistakes were made.

Big problems? Yep. Massive overhaul of the culture required? No, actually.

In this case, there’s a clear need to educate employees around the business strategy. It’s also essential to reinforce the company’s core value of innovation and its key operating principles of discipline and excellence in production. The framework already exists to guide employees’ behavior; it simply fell off the radar. A combined approach of robust management communications and a return to tighter monitoring of performance and protocols can bring this organization back online to their prior levels of excellence without overhauling the entire culture.

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A culture is a living thing that will sustain, morph or decline based on how we nurture it. As a matter of course, every organization should periodically assess their culture and proactively shape it to enable the business strategy and the people.



To me, this piece is always straightforward … when we remove the personal element that all too often accompanies a capabilities review.

Many management teams see their talent review and succession planning processes as the primary driver for capabilities planning. Of course, these processes are invaluable in assessing current performance levels and establishing talent pipelines for the future. They help identify where you have robust pools and where you have gaps so that you can design meaningful action plans to buy or build talent where needed. This is essential to organizational planning. Yet it’s not the whole story.

Having prepared and facilitated many Talent Review & Succession Planning processes with leadership teams, both when I was inside corporate and now as a consultant, I see it a little differently … particularly so when a company is struggling financially and missing targets.

Why? Missing targets may mean that the business or the role have outgrown its incumbent. You want to begin by identifying the skills, knowledge and experience a role requires, THEN match your leaders to it IF they bring the essentials. Otherwise, you may be force fitting leaders into roles that they aren’t qualified or ready for.

Executing this approach is fairly simple. Once again, we have to begin with the organization’s strategy.

Your “Core Strategic Choices” – the initiatives and opportunities you prioritize and pursue aggressively and with great focus – will naturally demand a specific set of skills, experience and knowledge.  Your very first step, before even considering who on your team might lead an effort, is to catalogue those essential skills, experiences and knowledge.

This creates an objective filter for each key leadership role. The filter is then used to assess every possible internal candidate for best fit. “Best fit” based on the demands of the position will always be a more powerful approach for moving key talent than, “Well, this initiative will originate out of Jane’s region, so we should give it to her to lead” or “Kevin’s never led something of this scale and it’s a little sooner than we had planned to give him this kind of responsibility, but …”

Does any of this sound familiar?  Putting someone in charge of one of your critical strategic efforts shouldn’t happen just because they’re in the region or almost ready. Leadership alignment should take place because the individual is qualified, competent and ready to meet the demands of the role.

Now I can hear many of you disagreeing with irritation: Sometimes these roles ARE the development opportunity we’re looking for to grow a top talent leader!

And yes – that is absolutely the case at times. Notice, I said, “at times.” In these cases, the vetting needs to be quite thorough, the track record of development and performance solid, and support mechanisms around the developing leader identified and formally engaged.

Read that last sentence again – support mechanisms around the developing leader identified and formally engaged.

We’ve all seen top talent moved into a developing leadership role with the best of intentions to guide, coach, mentor and monitor them, only for the incumbent to be left to their own devices, struggle and fail, then be moved out of the position or sometimes even the company.

If a business is thriving, maybe this can work. But when in a downturn and with pressure to elevate performance and achieve turn-around results, a less-than-fully qualified leader could be a poor choice – for them and for the business.


So let’s set our people up for success with confidence and support. If your business is navigating choppy waters and you could benefit from a fresh perspective on the way forward, please call me. One of the most consistent pieces of feedback my clients give me is that I always bring a different, valuable perspective and readily see ideas and opportunities that change the game for them in meaningful ways. I’d welcome the opportunity to bring that to you and your organization!


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