Organizational Effectiveness: CEO as Gardener

Your culture must support your strategy

I’m not much of a gardener. The only green thumb I’ve ever been accused of having is when I’ve stuck it in pesto. I have noticed, however, my efforts to have my lawn match my wife’s well-cared-for flowers are only rewarded when I combine the right amounts of enabling and prohibiting – the right conditions to enable fescue and also prohibit the weeds.

If you run an organization, you might think of your culture as your lawn.

I’ve run into executives who haven’t given much thought to their culture and that is a shame. If you bought a house and yard with no landscaping and just let it evolve, you’ll eventually have ground cover and probably even some trees, but they will not be what you want. If you run an organization and likewise don’t play an active role in managing your culture, you’ll have one, but it won’t be what you want.

Before you try to manage your culture, you have to determine what you aspire to. As CEO, you’re the landscape architect at this stage. What are the values you would like to see represented by the behavior in your company? Pick three critical ones, not a laundry list.

If you value performance, efficiency and speed above all else, you’ll have a much different culture than someone who values creativity, collaboration and relationships. The first might be great for a company that has a low-cost provider strategy, the second for a consulting firm.

Your culture must support your strategy.

Once you’ve identified what kind of culture you want, you need to enable the right behavior and prohibit the wrong behavior. It is more effective to think of yourself as a gardener at this point rather than a machine operator.

If you create an environment where your desired values flourish and the undesired behaviors die a natural death, you’ll end up with a healthier culture. I recommend that you spend more time on cultivating the right behavior. Find the heroes and publicly reward them! Put in programs that highlight and foster the right behaviors.

Do you need to use the weed whacker and some Roundup occasionally? Of course. Those who violate your values should be corrected or shown the door. However, a scorched earth environment will not allow the right culture to grow. Weeds occur and so do bad behaviors. They always will, and you’ll always have to deal with them. Just make sure that you are enabling and cultivating the good stuff!

Categories: Management & Leadership