Smooth Is Fast, But Fast Ain’t Smooth

When I was a young Army lieutenant training at Fort Knox, Kentucky and learning how to take the fight to the enemy with a 68-ton Abrams battle tank, I had the good fortune to cross paths with a person whose simple advice sticks with me all these years later. His name was Gunnery Sergeant Mummey and he was just about the most crusty, battle-hardened Marine I had ever come across. Gunnery Sergeant Mummey spent his days and nights reveling in watching the newly minted officers who were his students flail hopelessly within the confines of their tanks, trying their best to manage a withering onslaught of tasks and priorities. He had many a good laugh watching us, I’m sure!

One day I was learning how to direct my tank crew in preparation for a field exercise at the gunnery range where we would finally get to test our skills with live ammunition. This was a big milestone for us and it was a test of our ability to direct the three other members of our crew against a series of “enemy threats”. In order to succeed on the gunnery range, each student would have to react to unknown situations and quickly issue clear orders to the crew to successfully manage the situation. Needless to say, new lieutenants are not so great at making all that happen at first go-round.

I was no exception. As I sat in my commander’s hatch trying (unsuccessfully) to get my crew to quickly respond to my orders before the presenting targets vanished, I felt a jolt to the top of my helmet. I ignored it at first, focused solely on getting my crew to do what I had so elegantly envisioned in my head for months prior to this moment. Again, I felt a jolt to the top of my helmet and this time I looked up.

Sitting above me was Gunnery Sergeant Mummey in an instructor chair that had been bolted to the top of the tank so that he could observe us in action. The heel of his boot staring me in the face he said in a surly and disapproving voice, “Lieutenant, smooth is fast, but fast ain’t smooth!” Not understanding exactly what he was getting at, I nodded in approval and went back to work at a frenetic pace. It only took one more kick to the head for Gunnery Sergeant Mummey to get my attention and reiterate himself a way only a senior sergeant can, “Lieutenant, smooth is fast, but fast ain’t smooth!”

I nodded again but this time something changed. As his advice made its way into my brain I realized that in my efforts to speed things up I was only slowing things down. Me yelling to my crew louder and more frantically didn’t actually have the positive effect I was looking for (go figure!). I took a moment to collect myself and I began issuing out orders in a clear, confident, and paced manner, which enabled my crew to understand what I was saying and execute. By slowing down and operating more smoothly, I was able to significantly increase the speed of execution of my crew.

I’ve taken that lesson with me over the years. Through combat and through my career in civilian life, the concept of slowing things down to speed things up has served me well time and again. In a culture where “speed is of the essence” and where “time is money”, I often find myself getting caught up in the fever of the moment. But a lesson learned many years ago in Kentucky comes back to me and I remember to slow things down and to challenge the assumption that we fall victim to on a seemingly daily basis, that fast is good and faster is better.

The next time you’re feeling frantic, I challenge you to take a moment to collect yourself, slow it down and smooth it out. I think that, like me, you’ll find that you will accomplish things much more quickly and effectively and you will feel much more in control and at peace with the demands of your situation.

Remember, smooth is fast but fast ain’t smooth!

The Culture Grinder in Mergers and Acquisitions

I recently posted a blog entry discussing the concept of the Culture Grinder, our term for organizations that attempt to drive strategies that are in conflict with the culture despite countless examples of how this just doesn’t work. Having recently supported a client with a culture integration of a recently acquisition it reminded me of how the Grinder can rear it’s ugly head no matter what the strategy.

In this case it was a growth strategy through acquisition. The purchasing company sought to expand its reach and to expand its service offerings with current clients by acquiring a small organization that had expertise in a particular area. The strategy was sound and people approached the situation from a positive perspective of mutual gain through working together.

Through facilitated conversations with the senior leaders of both the acquiring and the acquired company, we were able to make explicit the underlying values and “keystone habits” of each organization. By doing this, the team was able to discuss the role of culture as an enabler or detractor in their collection ability to drive the strategy that they envisioned. Continued dialogue helped the leadership team identify areas in which the culture of the integrated organization may need to evolve in order to reduce risk and increase the likelihood of continued success and growth.

Only time will tell.

The Culture Grinder

Peter Drucker, one of the most respected authorities on the topic of leadership, has been noted with coining the phrase, “culture eats strategy for lunch”. This saying permeates any discussion about organizational culture, but many leaders fail to realize the true reality that this statement has in day-to-day life.

We call it “The Grinder”. Over the years, we have worked with clients around the world who struggle to understand why they can’t seem able to actually execute their business strategy. For most, it’s not that their strategies are weak or ill-conceived; quite the opposite. Many have done thorough business analyses, engaged high-profile strategy consultants, and developed powerful strategies that detail out how the organization needs to evolve in order to achieve future success.

Unfortunately, when it comes to actually rallying the troops in order to implement the plan, oftentimes, things fall short. Sometimes they fall way short. I am reminded of the countless times I have walked into a client’s office to see binders full of gorgeous, well thought through strategies that never even made it off the bookshelf.

Even if leaders are able to effectively align around a well thought out strategy and they are able to clearly articulate it to employees at all levels, getting people to behave differently becomes the Achilles’ heel. When this happens, a sense of cynicism can develop, only making it that much more difficult to drive strategic change in the future.

But what’s at the core of this regrettable situation? If Drucker’s saying bears weight, then we might come to see that the culture that has developed over the lifespan of the organization may be reinforcing certain attitudes and behaviors that are in conflict with those that would be required to ensure successful execution of the strategy. If leaders do not realize this, or worse yet, make the conscious decision to downplay the role of culture on performance, they may find themselves being chewed up and spit out of the Culture Grinder.

gothamCulture Announces SDVOSB Certification

gothamCulture announced certification today from the Department of Veteran Affairs as a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB). The SDVOSB Program allows the Department of Veterans Affairs to set aside contracts or award sole source contracts to veteran owned small businesses.

As a certified SDVOSB, gothamCulture will offer their cutting edge leadership development and culture change services to government buyers interested in awarding prime and subcontracts to businesses owned and controlled by service disabled veterans.

As gothamCulture extends their decade of experience enhancing individual, team, and organizational performance in the government space, they will pursue independent contracts and welcome opportunities to collaborate with businesses that provide synergistic service offerings.

gothamCulture supports full-spectrum change efforts from vision and strategic planning through instructional design. gothamCulture offers increased alignment, engagement, and support for their government, public, and private clients. For more information, visit Follow us on Twitter @gothamCulture.

A Story of Comair’s Historic Change

An article published in the Ascend magazine, a publication created by and for airline executives, features the story of Comair Limited’s historic transition from a disintegrated technology platform to a customized technology system created by Sabre Airline Solutions, tailored to the airline’s specific needs. The Journey: Operation Crossover highlights gothamCulture’s guidance around commonly overlooked aspects of change management, including leadership development and employee participation in supporting the change.

To ensure the success of a system-wide technology change, Comair Limited engaged gothamCulture to surface resisting forces within the airline’s culture that could stall or stop change in the process. After a thorough analysis of cultural factors, gothamCulture designed a change management plan to ensure successful change implementation. Relying on employee engagement strategies and involving internal change agents created the buy-in necessary to ensure the airline’s “soft” side would support its change in hardware.

A full summary of gC’s culture change efforts with Comair Limited can be found on the gothamCulture web site.

gothamCulture supports full-spectrum change efforts from vision and strategic planning through instructional design. gothamCulture offers increased alignment, engagement, and support for their government, public, and private clients. For more information, visit Follow us on Twitter @gothamCulture.

View Full Press Release Here

Mayer’s Call to Office

Last Friday Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, released a controversial memo to the employees at Yahoo telling remote workers that they had until June to begin working from a Yahoo office or quit. The memo sent by Yahoo’s head of HR Jackie Reses said that, “to become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.”

Since the announcement, there have been quite a few people weighing in on the salience of Ms. Mayer’s decision. Some feel that this is the right move as it is the only way to truly enhance communication and build a “winning team”. Others disagree, arguing that this mandate will reduce productivity, destroy morale, and otherwise spell disaster for the already struggling tech company.

Culture Matters – How Yahoo Does Work

Whatever your take on the recent happenings at Yahoo, I think we can all agree that there are some serious underlying values and assumptions at play here regarding how work should be done. This most recent corporate play calls attention to the basic core beliefs about how work ‘should’ be done at Yahoo according to Mayer. Let’s dig a little deeper into those assumptions, which will inevitably shift the culture of the organization at its most foundational level.

The assumption: for people to perform effectively, they must physically co-located at all times. The deeper belief: people can not be trusted to do the right thing and to perform at their best unless someone is standing over their shoulder. The yet deeper belief: management of people who can’t be trusted to work effectively from home is the way to turn around a company.

Treating the Symptom

We must ask ourselves if the root issue is that employees are not productive when working remotely or if managers are not effectively managing their people? At the end of the day, the lack of trust and lack of effective management is not going to be solved by having people work side-by-side in an office. There are many examples of organizations that have learned to effectively leverage technology to run highly successful businesses with remote workforces…and they’re not tech companies like Yahoo. In today’s fast-paced, global economy, for tech companies to devolve back to this type of “in residence” model seems a bit antiquated and, possibly, a panicked attempt to solve for a symptom rather than the problem at hand.

gothamCulture to Co-facilitate Denison Consulting Certification Workshop

gothamCulture, a hailed leader in the space of organizational culture assessment and change, has signed on to co-facilitate the Denison Consulting Certification Workshop at Denison Consulting Headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan on March 13-14, 2013.

The workshop combines face-to-face and multi-media learning platforms in a comprehensive program that prepares consultants, senior and mid-level business leaders to propel business success through high-impact culture change and leadership development. The two-day interactive live sessions will allow attendees to learn how to use Denison tools to increase business performance, align cultural dynamics, develop leadership capabilities and create a “tool kit” of best practices from experts in the field. The sessions include an interactive experience analyzing actual data from attendees’ organizations within the context of business challenges, strategies and change priorities.

In addition to pre-course materials, two days of live, interactive workshop sessions, a Certificate of Completion and access to the Denison Consultant Essentials member-only online tool kit, workshop attendees receive a Denison Organizational Culture Solutions Pilot Package for up to 25 invited participants OR an online Denison Leadership Development Survey Package for one leader.

The workshop co-facilitators have a history of industry success. gothamCulture utilizes trusted Denison Consulting tools to assess organizational culture and leadership and then develops a customized strategy for each client’s stage in cultural development. The Denison Organizational Culture Survey and Denison Leadership 360 have been an integral part of gothamCulture’s successful organizational assessment and strategic change initiatives for nearly 10 years.

gothamCulture offers expertise in creating high-impact action plans to effectively increase organizations’ bottom line performance through the lens of culture change and leadership development. gothamCulture offers clients increased alignment, engagement, and support. For further information, visit Follow us on Twitter @gothamCulture.

gothamCulture Invites MTA’s Senior Vice President of Subways to Speak at Denison Best Practices Forum

gothamCulture, a hailed leader in the space of organizational culture change and leadership development, invited New York City Transit’s Carmen Bianco, Senior Vice President, Department of Subways, and Loriann Hoffman, Chief Officer, Strategy and Talent, to share the Department of Subways culture transformation initiative at the Denison Best Practices Forum.

The Denison Forum is an annual conference for Organizational Development practitioners to share and learn about best practices in the space of culture and leadership.

Carmen discussed his experience working with gothamCulture to create change within a 108-year old organization. NYCT is the largest public transportation system in the Western hemisphere and is responsible for moving 5 ½ million people every day. Carmen shared the journey that he initiated and is carrying out to be intentional about the Department of Subways culture and to preserve what is serving it well and remove what might be getting in the way of high performance.

Carmen and gothamCulture have partnered to improve NYCT Department of Subways performance through the lens of culture and leadership. In an ardent speech, Bianco shared how the Department of Subways’ phenomenal recovery and extraordinary performance in the wake of Hurricane Sandy were largely the result of this culture work.

The 2014 Denison Best Practices Forum will take place on January 29th-31st in Delray Beach, Florida.

New Year. New Look.

As gothamCulture (gC) embarks on its seventh year in business and it expands its reach, gC is refining its purpose and brand as it strives to become North America’s leader in helping companies achieve exceptional performance through the lens of culture and leadership. gC’s solid track record consulting in iconic organizations around the world, providing innovative and customized solutions, positions itself as a trusted advisor with organizations across the country that are seeking to drive positive performance.

For those of you who know us, we are passionate about revolutionizing the field of culture and leadership. By forging even closer strategic relationships with leading experts in the field, such as Denison Consulting, and by hiring top talent around the world, boasting expertise in a wide array of organizational development services, we are capable of scaling and scoping to whatever our clients need. At the core of our work are the relationships that we build, and every member of our team is dedicated to living our Core Values:

  • Unwavering Integrity
  • Maniacal Pursuit of Excellence
  • Committed to the Core
  • Relatable Expertise
  • Authentic Community

As part of our evolution, you will notice a refreshed look and feel including a new website launch that reflects who we are and what we do. We invite you to visit our newly launched, and totally rebranded, website at to meet our team and to learn more about the way gothamCulture is providing value-added consulting services to our clients.

Happy New Year,
Chris, Brian, and Dustin

gothamCulture Announces Board of Advisors

gothamCulture, a hailed leader in the space of organizational culture change and leadership development, has assembled its inaugural Board of Advisors to gain critical insight from a diverse group of experienced business professionals. The Board members are respected executives, providing a wide spectrum of industry acumen and talent. gothamCulture’s Board includes:

Bruce Eckfeldt, CEO, Cyrus Innovation
Trained as an architect, Mr. Eckfeldt is a craftsman in the information space. Eckfeldt founded Cyrus Innovation in 2003 to help people access, think about, and organize information and workflows. Cyrus Innovation develops complex software solutions for the financial services, education, publishing, and intelligence/security industries.

Bryan Adkins, EdD. CEO, Denison Consulting
As President of Denison Consulting, Dr. Adkins is an expert in the areas of organizational culture and leadership. Adkins has been published by the Journal of Organizational Behavior and co-authored a chapter in Advances in Global Leadership. Prior to joining Denison Consulting, Adkins held leadership positions in the manufacturing, professional, and not-for-profit sectors.

Daniel R. Denison, PhD. Chairman & Founder, Denison Consulting
Dr. Denison is the Chairman and Founding Partner of Denison Consulting, LLC. He is also a Professor of Management and Organization at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland. Dr. Denison has written several books, including Corporate Culture and Organizational Effectiveness, published by John Wiley in 1990. He published the Denison Organizational Culture Survey and the Denison Leadership Development Survey, used by over 5,000 organizations, based on this research.

Jerry Doubler, VP & CFO, Burroughs Inc.
Mr. Doubler is VP & CFO of Burroughs Inc., a leader in check and payment processing. Doubler brings a consistent record of trusted financial leadership complemented with hands-on operational experience in service, manufacturing and distribution. Prior to Burroughs Inc., Doubler was CFO and interim COO of an $800 million private-equity owned company where he improved working capital by $40 million in 12 months.