The right balance

Smart operations and healthy culture lead to organizational success


TEC hosted its annual Inspirational Leadership event recently for more than 600 people.

Keynote speaker Patrick Lencioni, a best-selling author of several books on business management and corporate culture, had much to say about how the organizational health of a company is critical to its success.

Bad process destroys good people

Empirical evidence shows companies need, but few have, a healthy culture. And being smart about what you do and how you do it isn’t enough. Lencioni says organizational health is “the most powerful, untapped source of competitive advantage.”

Yet organizational dysfunction is far more common, he adds, and “its insidious effects are unquantifiable but real.”

Culture, generally defined, is how people behave toward each another within a company. What people say or believe matters far less than what they actually do. In a healthy culture, people aren’t inclined to waste time with internal politics. They understand the priorities. They feel a sense of belonging because management encourages their suggestions and acts on them.

In a healthy culture, Lencioni says, people “throw themselves into their work and are eager to contribute to a mission that is bigger than themselves.”

If they had a theme song, it would be the ’60s hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

How Wisconsin ranks

The February 2017 “State of the American Workplace” report by Gallup ranked employee engagement among U.S. workers from 28 to 37 percent.

Wisconsin ranked in the lower middle range at slightly more than 30 percent.

Companies with fewer than 25 employees have an average engagement level of 41 percent. The level of engagement continues to drop to an average of 29 percent for organizations larger than 5,000 employees.

A strategic plan isn’t the be-all, end-all

To be successful in hyper-competitive markets, you must have a deep well of knowledge and expertise to make the smartest strategic decisions. Some even say strategy trumps everything.

But investing time and resources to develop the perfect strategic plan isn’t going to be the best path, particularly because a “perfect” plan doesn’t exist. The speed of change, limited barriers to entry and the accuracy of crucial data for planning give newer companies that are more agile and innovative a better chance to compete.

A well-developed strategic plan is important. But it takes people who view their work as fulfilling and have an “all in” mindset for the continuing success of the company. After all, who doesn’t want to be on a winning team?

An aligned culture and strategy matter most

Instead of locking onto an inflexible plan, the better approach is to improve your ability to pivot by adjusting to changing patterns of the business environment and discarding things quickly that aren’t working.

Involve people in helping to reinvent the business, especially those closest to the customer. A balance of being operationally smart and culturally healthy is the Holy Grail for a company that wants to be successful.

Change the internal environment and behaviors follow

Organizational transformation, according to Lencioni, is built on the foundation of a cohesive leadership team that can communicate clearly and consistently. He says building a team requires these five factors, in this order:

  1. Trust on a deeper level.
  2. Conflict that’s open and honest.
  3. Commitment to action for the team.
  4. Accountability to the team.
  5. Results leading to organizational success.

Change starts at the top

The quality of a business can never exceed the quality of the minds that comprise it, the saying goes.

If employees within a company are team-focused, driven by performance and goal-oriented, it’s because the culture demands it. They’ve discovered the “why” of their organization, not just the “what” and the “how.” That starts with outstanding leaders, because a great culture won’t develop in a vacuum.

Companies can be unstoppable with the right team doing the right things all the time and bringing real value to their customers.

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George Satula is an executive leadership coach working primarily as a Vistage chairman, leading three CEO mastermind groups in southeastern Wisconsin. He is also a speaker and leadership development consultant. He can be reached at (262) 786-7400 or

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