Hope AheadGetting The OC Equation© right isn’t easy, even for a start-up, but it’s even harder if you have an established culture that’s inhibiting your ability to compete in the marketplace. Creating a strong OC won’t be easy, but it will be worth it – in revenue, profit, employee relations and morale. Positive change can happen. If you’re willing to take a risk and instill and reinforce the discipline and commitment needed to make it happen – there is Hope Ahead!

Night is Darkest Just Before the Dawn

Recently one of my long term clients had what appeared to be a crisis emerging – one of their VPs resigned followed within weeks by the mutual decision for another VP to leave as well. In a small company, any sized company, when 2 critical, high level people leave, it can send shock waves throughout the organization and cast doubt in the minds of even the most dedicated employees working in the strongest OC.

This mutual decision had been arrived at because the values and philosophies of the VP no longer matched the values and philosophies of the organization. Now that’s not to say that the VP wasn’t talented or valuable – she was, it was simply the fact that she was no longer a “fit” for the culture of the organization. And sometimes that happens. Wonderfully talented people must be passed over for the right people.

According to Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, talking about his sale and departure from LinkExchange “while competent people with the right skill set were hired, they weren’t a good culture fit. By the time LinkExchange grew to around 100 employees, the culture was lost.” He went on to say it was difficult to get out of bed in the morning to go work at his own company. And that’s how it is if you want a strong OC – you have to be intentional in your decisions to protect it.

After becoming CEO of Zappos, Hsieh was 100% committed to creating the ultimate customer service experience and to do that he recognized that he needed to hire the right people – not just talented people, but people who embodied what Zappos is about. According to Hsieh, “no matter how talented an applicant is, if they don’t fit the culture, then they won’t hire them. They must fit into the company values and be talented; otherwise, they won’t get a job at Zappos.”

Losing 2 VPs in such a short period of time was incredibly painful for everyone involved, but it was like ripping out a loose tooth – it had to be done to make way for something even bigger and better.

Living the OC

In organizations truly committed to an intentional OC designed to drive a competitive advantage, decisions are made based on the commitment to sustain and nurture that OC.; including decisions about what gets hired, what gets rewarded and what gets fired. In this case, the VP’s actions and leadership style had become so toxic to the well-being of the OC, if it had been allowed to continue and flourish it would have placed the organization’s OC in danger of being strangled absolutely to death.

According to Hsiesh, “We’ve actually passed on a lot of smart, talented people that we know can make an immediate impact on our top or bottom line but if they’re not good for our culture then we won’t hire them for that reason alone.

“The reverse is true too. Even if a person is great at their job, even if they’re a superstar at their job if they’re bad for our culture we’ll fire them for that reason alone. And performance reviews are 50% based on whether you’re living and inspiring the Zappos culture in others.”

As evidenced by Tony’s comments, building a strong OC that helps maximize profitability, requires everyone to make tough decisions specifically designed to support the OC in both the short and long term.

Turning it Around

Although it was devastating for the CEO to discover that the OC she had worked so hard to develop and nurture was being eroded, it quickly became evident that out of the ashes of this adversity would come a great opportunity.

No matter what culture you have or how strong a culture may have been eroded, there is hope ahead—if you’re willing to be honest with yourself and evaluate what’s working and what needs to be changed and then take appropriate actions to support both your organizational goals and your OC.

In this most difficult time, this CEO discovered that the VP, one of her most trusted leaders, had built a culture within a culture. She had become so controlling and micromanaging that her department was barely functioning. This realization brought us to the bitter truth that there wasn’t one problem – there were numerous problems – all of them needing solutions. So, in this case we identified all the potential problems that needed to be addressed and then we decided to start at the beginning – with the organization’s core values and philosophies. We began reviewing what they were and what they were supposed to mean and how we expected them to be demonstrated. Then we reiterated our commitment to the OC. It was from those tough discussions that we began to develop possible solutions that would not only address the problems, but would ensure the leaders were living the OC.

When gaps emerge in your organizational structure it provides an opportunity to do one of two things: 1) promote internal talent that perhaps has been previously overlooked or 2) hire new talent from the outside. In this case, this CEO decided on the former. She recognized she had incredible, untapped, highly skilled talent that not only knew the intended OC, but was committed to it. And this previously untapped talent soared once it became apparent that the CEO and the leadership team trusted her and had complete confidence in her ability to turn the department around.

While this solution worked in this particular situation, there is no one size fits all OC or solution. The right answer has to be identified based on your organization’s unique culture or the OC you intend to create. Then the implementation steps can be carefully crafted to be naturally supported by your OC. To do anything else, is to try to shove a square peg into a round hole – it might work, eventually, but it’s painful and there will be casualties.

Finding the right OC and developing and nurturing that OC can and does happen. And when you’re able to strike that delicate balance, it’s like lightening in a bottle! Employees and leaders suddenly feel work is effortless and fun and the higher engagement climbs, the higher profits climb.

So, have confidence, hope is ahead for those with the moxie to reach for it.