How Great Leaders Manage Underperforming Teams

How Great Leaders Manage Underperforming Teams

Congratulations! You’ve earned a reputation as a highly effective leader. Now, your organization has thanked you by giving you a challenging new assignment that no one else can seem to figure out.

You’ve been assigned to lead a team that has a track record for underperforming, and it’s your mission to get things turned around.

Some may view this as being punished for a job well done. Others may take this as a true leadership challenge. An opportunity to have real impact on themselves, their team and their organization.

Whether you view it as a positive or negative, however, your job is to make it happen. So where do you start? Here are a few ideas to help design your approach to transforming this team from underperformers to superstars. Read More…

The Power of Pattern Disruption as a Vehicle for Change

pattern disruption change

Every day, billions of people around the world wake up to a daily routine. Take a shower. Get dressed. Grab their favorite double tall latte from Starbucks on their way to work.

Humans are creatures of habit. Some more than others, of course. And while some patterns have positive impact on our lives, like scheduled sleeping times for children and adults, production of manufactured goods and weekly schedules, we also know that NOT following patterned behavior can be just as important. Read More…

What Sports Can Teach Us About Building Better Teams

What Sports Can Teach Us About Building Better Teams

According to the Corporate Learning Factbook 2015, U.S. corporations reported a 10% increase in training expenditures last year, to $1,004 per employee. Included in this expenditure number is training in team building.

Given these huge sums of money that companies sink into team building exercises every year, why do these trainings have such difficulty sustaining effective outcomes? The answer may lie in the fact that team building and team training cannot be seen as a one-size-fits-all proposition. They must be specially tailored to fit the kind of team you are a part of. Instead of simply throwing money at more training, leaders of these organizations should be asking, “how can I tell what kind of team I’m on?” and “how can I build my team accordingly?”

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What I’ve Learned In Ten Years as a Bootstrapped Entrepreneur

What I've Learned In Ten Years as a Bootstrapped Entrepreneur

2006 was a memorable year for a lot of reasons. Facebook opened its doors to the general public. Zinedine Zidane headbutted Marco Materazzi during the World Cup Final. And for some reason, Americans paid a total of $62 million to watch Snakes on a Plane.

But the most important event for me in 2006 was founding my company, gothamCulture.

Last month marked my company’s ten-year anniversary. And as I reflect upon my journey of bootstrapping and growing a professional services firm, I came to the conclusion that what I’ve learned might benefit other entrepreneurs out there who may be growing their own businesses.

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What Are The Greatest Priorities For Rapidly Growing Companies?

What Are The Greatest Priorities For Rapidly Growing Companies?

Leading a successful, rapidly growing organization can be one of the most thrilling, liberating and stressful things a person can do. Those of us who have taken the plunge into the world of entrepreneurship know, firsthand, that this life is anything but boring.

As I’ve watched my business grow over the years, I’ve often reflected on the sheer number of decisions I made each day and the priorities that had to be juggled in order to stay nimble in the face of tremendous competition. And I’m not alone.

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End of an Era: Thoughtfully Planning the Departure of a Founder

End of an Era: Thoughtfully Planning the Departure of a Founder

I recently sat down with a good friend and fellow entrepreneur to catch up. We get together on a fairly regular basis and I value our time together as a chance to share our experiences, challenges and successes through our respective careers. And because we are at very different points in our entrepreneurial journeys, we are able to provide each other with a new perspective.

During our last conversation, my friend made a reflective observation that I really admired. He told me that he’d been recently pondering the impact of his inevitable departure from the company he has run for the past thirty years. Although he has no immediate plans to retire or leave, the truth is, he won’t stay in his role forever.

In a recent town hall meeting, he came to the stark realization that the way he behaved every day sent messages to his team. Whether intentional or not, his people took his cues on how to behave within the company to heart.

Faced with this immense influence and responsibility, my friend realized how deeply his departure would impact the organization he had worked most of his adult life growing. As a result, he has become very intentional in planning his departure in order to minimize any negative repercussions.

The Impact and Influence of Founders

Founders have enormous influence on the culture of their organizations. Their personal beliefs and assumptions about the right and wrong way to do things takes on a life of its own as they onboard new employees during the startup phase. If the beliefs of the founder don’t make for good business, the organization will fail to thrive and will likely shut down. If the organization succeeds, that success only serves to reinforce for members of the organization that those ways of working are, in fact, the right ways to work.

End of an Era: Thoughtfully Planning the Departure of a Founder As the organization continues to grow, new members will either adapt to the culture or fail and depart. More time and more success only serves to further embed the culture and way of doing things as the ‘right’ way. Even when founders leave an organization at this stage, their legacy can continue to drive thinking and behavior in the organization for years to come.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The danger arises when the organization is reliant on the embedded ways of working despite changes in the environment that change the game. Being great at baseball is fantastic so long as the game doesn’t suddenly change to football and you’re left wearing a batting helmet.

A Challenge or an Opportunity?

When founders have been successfully leading their organizations for long periods of time, their departure can be extremely challenging. It may come at a time when the organization finds itself at a crossroads; a point where the old ways of doing things may not be the best path to the future.

In these cases, the culture may need to evolve in some ways to better position the organization moving forward. But a founder’s poorly planned (or unplanned) departure can leave the organization they created set on autopilot as the remaining team members continue on the path that was established for them.

This type of situation can bring an organization to its knees as people grapple to make sense of the departure and try to understand how they will continue without them.

While certainly challenging, this does provide the founder with the opportunity to be proactive about preparing their organization for the time when they finally make their exit.

How to Prepare for a Proper Exit as a Founder

Here are four things to ensure that your departure as a founder goes smoothly:

1. Take the time to properly reflect. Consider the beliefs, assumptions and values that you hold and how they have shaped your organization. This may require seeking the help of others as you reflect on the current culture of your organization and all the strengths that may come with it.

In order to do this right, founders and their leadership teams need to understand the culture in which they operate and think deeply about how it may serve the organization well, or potentially derail them, in the future.

Founders can then begin an intentional process of shaping the culture over time, by role-modeling needed future behaviors, by shaping recruiting processes to hire the right talent, by shaping the compensation structure to reward and reinforce the needed behaviors in the future, and by evolving other key systems and processes to carry the organization forward and yield sustainable success.

2. Don’t wait to develop your plan. Waiting until your departure is imminent will only leave you regretting the chance you had to plan ahead. More importantly, it puts the sustainability of your company at risk. If for nothing else than to mitigate risk, planning for your exit now helps ensure that no matter what, your team will be able to carry on in a sustainable way.

3. Select a successor early enough to implement a thorough transition. Often, founders will wait too long to identify and begin grooming their heir. Take the time to engage your successor in reflecting on the current culture and how it may need to evolve to help drive the behaviors required for success during their tenure. By partnering with your successor in this process, you can reinforce your underlying beliefs and assumptions about what is important. Then, you can both understand how those beliefs may or may not need to evolve to set the organization up for success once you are gone.

4. Keep your team engaged. As the time of your exit nears, take the time to engage your team to help them understand what is happening and what it means for them and the organization’s future. Culture is a collective concept; so actively engaging team members in understanding the culture, the strategy and the ways in which things may need to change can be beneficial. It allows people to become a part of the process rather than sitting back and feeling like something is being done to them. It also helps align them around what may need to change and what must remain stable in order to succeed in your absence.

Whether by design or default, no founder can guide the ship forever. Eventually, things will change. Preparing for this eventuality can have a profound effect on the future of what you and your team have worked so hard to build.

As a founder, you and your team have all had a hand in building a solid foundation that has weathered many storms. You’ve all seen it grow and evolve over the years and the foundational culture that you’ve created together has helped drive that success. Being thoughtful about your departure is like adding that final coat of varnish on the house that will help team members seal and protect that foundation as they carry on in your absence.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.

M&A Integration Drama? Don’t Start With Culture!

M&A integration culture

We’ve heard it dozens of times: Not focusing on culture in M&A integration will lead to immanent deal failure. That can’t be good, especially considering the amount of M&A activity happening these days. According to Deloitte’s M&A Activity Index, there were $1.8 Trillion USD worth of deals in the first half of 2015. Yet, most studies say that only about half of mergers and acquisitions exceed shareholder expectations.

We’ve all heard the stats on M&A, and they only serve to reinforce the idea that deals are destined for failure. So, forcibly combining two corporate cultures into one feels a lot like a mad social science experiment.

Why Not Start With Culture?

mergers-integrationThe truth is, it’s far too simplistic to say that culture is the only driver of M&A performance during integration.

Culture is defined by the organization’s values and how employees behave. But strategy defines the future direction, which in turn defines how the organization expects employees to behave. By focusing on strategy first, your organization is able to guide the new way employees are expected to behave in the post-acquisition culture.

In my doctoral dissertation, I investigated whether a similarity between strategy, technology and culture was better or worse for M&A earnings, stock price, and P/E-ratio post acquisition. What I found was surprising. Companies had higher stock prices when they acquired companies with a different strategy, and a different culture.

With this in mind, here are some ideas for companies that are looking to tie “the corporate knot”:

  1. Different business-level strategies between the parent and target = better results. Yes, it turns out that birds of a feather do not flock together. It’s critical to start with strategy because that defines what direction you want to go in. Second, the evidence suggests that if you, the parent company, gets value by always building new products, your best bet is to acquire a company that is the complete opposite of you; one who creates value by keeping costs down, scaling, and building efficiency.
  2. Solving the culture conundrum starts when opposites attract. It is critical to align the organization around one single dominant culture. Remember, my research showed that companies had higher stock prices when they had acquired companies with different cultures.

Why Different Is So Much Better

Different is better because it’s easier to force the acquired company to let go of their culture through restructuring and organization redesign. When a clear choice has to be made, the parent organization can easily dominate the target company. A clear path forward is then set.

Additionally, different organizations showed improved financial performance when aligning strategy and culture starting one-year post acquisition. Strategy first, culture second.

Final Thoughts

Strategy sets the direction of where the newly acquired company needs to go. The structure defines what the organization looks like. And culture defines expected employee behaviors. Culture is critical, there’s no doubt about that. However, until you define where you want to go, and how you’ll operate, you can’t define how you expect your employees to behave.

How To Make Training More Impactful During Rapid Growth

training more impactful

Rapidly growing companies, startups or otherwise, are faced with a daunting challenge while they scale. Having the right growth strategy, hiring the right people in the right positions, and having a culture to support them are all crucial elements to sustainable growth.

You may already know that the balance between all of these elements is critical. But there is one component of strategy that is often overlooked in the scale-up discussion for small, growing businesses: Training.

Training as the Linchpin for Growth

training more impactfulTraining is often considered a component of strategy, and is often discussed as part of the balance needed for growth. As your organization grows, you want and need a dynamic, well-trained workforce, and professional development becomes a strategic objective in the company’s overall planning. But there is a place for further–and dare I say more impactful–integration of strategy and training. That is, bringing a strategy component into training.

Integrating your company’s strategy into training ideally produces two key outcomes:

1. Alignment. Your workforce, managers and senior leaders are trained and get better understanding of how strategy works for the company.  This has a positive effect as change (vision, new objectives, etc) is managed across your rapidly growing organization.

Misalignment between culture and strategy can happen in many different ways. For example, if the culture and strategies don’t align, the organizational culture is one of creativity, new possibilities and collaboration, where the strategies are rigid, prescriptive and highly structured. Here, workforce has an opportunity to inform the strategies, helping leadership more effectively tailor the strategies around collaboration and not structure.

Another example exists in the case of an organizational culture that is non-existent or splintered.  There is no hope of aligning with said strategies, because the workforce can’t work effectively together. This provides the organization an opportunity to affect culture change through training, be it related to strategy, process, safety, and/or performance.

2. Input. Your workforce and leadership are provided an opportunity to actually INPUT into the strategic process. For instance, as they learn about vision setting or goal setting, they are brought through an exercise of coming up with goals they can support within the company. This ultimately creates greater buy-in for the entire strategic process. Which, in turn, leads to bottom line results.

Training can potentially act as a bridge to help prepare or refine the culture to understand and buy into the strategy more readily. Furthermore, by integrating strategy into training, real work gets accomplished, and it gives managers the opportunity to talk to their teams after the training, to keep it alive.

At gothamCulture, we talk about culture eating strategy for breakfast. Meaning, you can have all the right strategies in place, but if you don’t have the culture to support them, your best-laid plans go nowhere or mean nothing. Leadership, strategy and culture are inextricably linked, and training may be your untapped conduit for integrating these fundamental business components and help successfully scale your growing company.