corporate culture

So Your Culture is Hospitable to Innovation? Here’s One Simple Test to Be Sure.

the joker

“Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.” – John Wooden

Before his deforming encounter with acid, Batman’s Joker (the Jack Nicholson flavor) was preening in front of the mirror and his girlfriend (the Jerry Hall version) says, “You look fine.” He turns, raises an already famously arched eyebrow and says, “I didn’t ask.”

This honest approach would serve many organizations who claim to have a culture that supports innovation, but really don’t. They ask, but don’t change anything. This is frustrating and discouraging to those souls who can’t help themselves and must look for new, fresh ways to grow. And, failure to innovate may lead to a protracted organizational illness (see John Wooden).

There are many moving parts to a creativity engine such as: championing leaders, outside the box listeners, seed time and money, obstacle steamroller, and bureaucracy flattener. These and other parts should be recognized and measured.

But there is one simple test you and I can use to see if we truly are working to bring positive change.

List below the last five intelligent failures you have celebrated.

  1. __________________________________________________
  2. __________________________________________________
  3. __________________________________________________
  4. __________________________________________________
  5. __________________________________________________

Trouble completing the test? Then your organization is probably stuck in some important and potentially disastrous ways.

Here are a few quotes to inspire us to get on with the failures so we can succeed.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy

“Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.” – John Wooden

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing. Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill



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15 Things I want my Grandkids to Know about Leadership

True, godly leadership—in any context—is inspiring another person to reach for his or her potential.

  1. Why they must forever study and work to be accomplished leaders and managers.
  2. Why Christ-like servant leadership is always best—period.
  3. How to be creative, bold, visionary.
  4. Why culture is so powerful; how to create and maintain a healthy, nourishing culture.
  5. To understand themselves, other personality types and nationalities to create teamwork.
  6. That their personal example is the most powerful way to influence others so they must demonstrate spiritual and emotional maturity, trustworthiness, and competence.
  7. About the complexities of human motivation; how to tap into their own and help others to become highly self-motivated.
  8. That, as leaders, they hold the precious potential of other people in their hands and have a sacred stewardship responsibility to detect, develop, and deploy the gifts and talents of others.
  9. That they need a variety of leadership tools and should thoughtfully choose how to act in different situations.
  10. That their leadership role should always include coaching to help others grow and succeed over the long haul (and to resolve conflict positively).
  11. How important it is to communicate (write and speak) effectively so their messages are timely, appropriate, powerful, understood, and acted upon.
  12. That humans really learn by doing so they must share opportunities and skillfully delegate to develop others.
  13. That crafting clear, measurable organizational and personal goal statements are a powerful way to ratchet up performance and invoke mature, self-accountability.
  14. They must persevere for their job will never be finished
  15. They don’t need a formal position to lead. True, godly leadership—in any context—is inspiring another person to reach for his or her potential.
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It is Difficult to Scan the Horizon When Examining a Mole’s Rear

When should we have our head in a tiny mammal’s tunnel and when should we float in the clouds in a small basket suspended from a potential fireball?

I’ve noticed this interesting phenomenon. Succeeding generations of leaders, managers, and volunteer boards seem impelled to make a mark by undoing previous work, adding layers of bureaucracy, or drilling down to examine sub-atomic particles. (To understand “making a mark,” see Wikipedia about our now deceased and sorely missed poodler, I mean, poodle, Mr. Bigelsworth.) There might be a time for such (although developing a form that is always approved without thought and fed to the file’s gaping maw is never attractive to my way of thinking.)

The trick, to me, is perspective. It is difficult to get a bird’s eye view of the horizon when examining a mole’s rear. Conversely, one cannot pull dangerous weeds out of the garden from a hot air balloon—even with a Ronco Inspector Gadget arm.

When should we have our head in a tiny mammal’s tunnel and when should we float in the clouds in a small basket suspended from a potential fireball? (It is not on my bucket list to travel with a bag of gas and a lit flame. My compliments to those who do.) Tough question. One thing for sure—we should never get stuck just doing one or the other.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves if our probing or drifting will make a contribution to improving organizational performance or if it is window dressing. The benefits should outweigh the costs. In the accounting world, the concept of materiality takes into account context and flirts with gushy notions like relativity. (Not the Einstein version, the beancounter version.)

This is the struggle of the ages for the finicky “detailist.” It means there is no set rule. It means $1,000 could be material and $1,000,000 could be immaterial – depending on context. (Make no mistake, I love me some good finicky detailists all the livelong day. Please don’t eyeball it on structural engineering or wing it on airplane design – get it? Wing it…)

Anyway, what is wanted is a bit of judgment. An Accounts Payable manager who worked on my team years ago had a small paper taped to her giant, alien-head shaped monitor. It said, “Will it matter in 10,000 years?” If the context is I forgot to pay a bill and got a late charge the answer is always “No!”

For us how about: Will my mark—whatever it is—make a measurable, positive difference to all concerned? Is it material—meaning the benefit is greater than the cost? If yes, proceed. If no, maybe dial it back and rethink.

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Is a Clean Desk a Key to a Messy, Creative Mindset?


I lived most of my life with stacks of paper on my desk, which I think is wood, and piles of manila folders on my floor, which I believe has a rug somewhere.

Create a peaceful space to be completely present, engaged, and focused on whatever you are doing.

I used to boast I knew where everything was or that for a creative person to clean and organize would be like cutting Samson’s hair.

Not true now. Maybe never was.

Perhaps it is a blessing of the busy-ness of growth or the curse of aging, but I found myself wasting more time looking for stuff.

Worse, work-life felt like Steve Martin being jolted awake by John Candy driving on the wrong side of the road careening toward two semis and cackling like a denizen from hell. “You’re going the wrong way! You’re going to kill someone! Those aren’t pillows.” [···]

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The Benefits of Smallness


Small businesses fuel much of the U.S. economy and are the soul of the American dream.

I recently read an article in Inc. magazine that surprised me. It was about employee engagement, an important topic. The surprise was that small startups, immediately known for their fun cultures and engaged teammates, soon enough struggled with their fair share of unmotivated employees. The traditional costume days, Ping-Pong tournaments, and free organic lunches no longer did the trick.  What happened? [···]

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Define irony: most jobs like a proctology exam


Define irony:

There have never been more books, blogs, articles, tweets, white papers, PDFs, posts, columns, videos, Ted talks, keynote speeches, workshops, webinars, podcasts, seminars, retreats, and courses on leadership.

Yet most people are unhappy with their job and even fewer are engaged in their work.

That’s ironic, don’t you think? So much knowledge—such poor results.

There are many fine definitions about what excellence in leadership means, but it’s a pretty safe bet common themes include unity, teamwork, high performance, and happiness or fulfillment.

My definition:

True leadership—in any context—is helping people reach their full potential while accomplishing important work together.

There, I said it.

Leadership is building great people!

So, given that 62,000 bits on leadership are published every moment, knowledge must be all that is needed to build great people. Right?


Otherwise two-thirds of the American workforce would not be going home each night with a ton of left over energy and thankful to be getting away from a job they can’t afford to lose—but either dislike or are ambivalent about. It’s how we all feel about, say—proctology exams.

That’s it. Perfect metaphor:

Nurse: “Did you find your proctology exam to be inspiring, meaningful, and personally fulfilling?”

Patient: “Well, I would say it is something I know I needed, and it was definitely personal, but in all candor—and I don’t want to hurt the Doctor’s feelings because he seemed intent on being so thorough—I would have rather been doing something else.”

THE Core Competency

Unless your business is run by robots and staffed with drones—much like the DMV (with apologies to the thirteen nice, friendly, caring, helpful DMV employees scattered across the US)—you and every other business on the planet have one thing in common—people!

No matter what else you do, if you want to be best in the world at something you better first be best in the world at building great people.

 “We build great people, who then build great products and services.” –Jack Welch

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12 Things About Great Coaches


I love Daniel Goleman’s article, Leadership That Gets Results (March-April, 2000 Harvard Business Review). You should re-read it. Goleman teaches about six leadership styles, but his take on coaching really resonates with me now.

“Although the coaching style may not scream ‘bottom-line resuts,’ it delivers them.” – Daniel Goleman

I am blessed to moderate an upcoming event sponsored by the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce about building great teams. The accomplished and highly-successful panelists are Walter Merrill, Tom Slone, and former NBA coach Del Harris. After meeting these men last week, I am very impressed with all of them, but have long been a fan of coach Harris thinking his courtside manner to be stately and dignified. (Stay tuned for more details about this event and the distinguished panel.)

Since teambuilding is on my mind, here is an excerpt from a column I wrote many years ago:

To cultivate a healthy, nourishing culture, leaders and managers have to be great coaches.

  • Great Coaches were (are) first good players.
  • Great Coaches demonstrate the correct way to do things by example.
  • Great Coaches are excellent teachers.
  • Great Coaches constantly help their players to drill, practice, and rehearse realizing it takes 25 times of doing something right to put it into “muscle memory.”
  • Great Coaches creatively craft “game-like” situations to provide relevant learning opportunities.
  • Great Coaches understand that to really develop others they have to sit on the sidelines and let the players play the game.
  • Great Coaches view mistakes as opportunities to learn—not as failure. They aren’t afraid to properly (and privately) correct their player’s mistakes on the spot.
  • Great Coaches are always looking for any sign of positive improvement and are liberal with their praise.
  • Great Coaches are master motivators and tailor their approach for each individual player and for each unique situation.
  • Great Coaches get more out of their players than the players themselves ever thought was possible.

“Admittedly, there is a paradox on coachings’ positive effect on business performance because coaching focuses primarily on personal development, not on immediate work-related tasks. Even so, coaching improves results. The reason: it requires constant dialogue, and that dialogue has a way of pushing up every driver of climate [culture].” –Goleman

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Coming Soon…Book Summary


This book sets out to break a rule first hypothesized by the great Adam Smith and later codified by another brilliant economist— John Maynard Keynes, perhaps? It goes something like:

To be useful, no book about business can also be humorous.

4 Key Cs to Running an Average Outstanding Small Business is full of practical, relevant, hard-hitting, high-leverage advice delivered in a unique style that includes amusing stories, inspiring examples, satire, and an occasional laugh-out-loud funny.

This is an interesting, useful, inspiring, and—dare I say it—very entertaining read.

The four sections of the book, published serially, focus on critical “Cs,” or disciplines that will create the culture and put in place the systems to transform employees into peak performers. Small business owners who Cultivate, Communicate, Coach, and Compensate with skill will move from average to outstanding and reap the financial rewards.

A quick review of the game stats for the U.S. workforce shows that few employees are engaged (in their job, not to be married), most are unsatisfied, distrust management, and the result is poor performance that is costing hundreds of billions in dollars a year. Small businesses make up the largest employment sector and have much to gain in productivity and profits by implementing what I have named a PEAK PEOPLE SYSTEM.

This first section teaches how to Cultivate a healthy, positive, enriching, corporate culture so your business becomes a place where people grow to reach their full potential. I cover what a business culture is, why humans need one, the difference between entitlement and high-performance, and how you can create on purpose.

There are hard questions to contemplate and answer about purpose, passion, stewardship, and responsibility. There are important things to do including leading by example, visioning, and carefully choosing what to pay attention to so your business will become an exciting, positive, nourishing, highly productive place of work.

Don’t settle for average. Read this book and cultivate an exceptional, outstanding, peak performance culture!

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How to Write an Effective Vision Statement

A powerful, compelling vision inspires, energizes and spurs commitment, hard work, sacrifice, and excellence. You should write yours down.

How about? A world where everyone has a decent place to live—Habitat for Humanity

The first step in writing a vision statement is to realize that producing a formal document is not the end, but the beginning of leavening your culture with a compelling vision. The rigor and discipline required to produce a well-written statement will bring valuable focus and clarity. But if you do not plainly describe your vision for your company over and over again without using Jay-Leno-like cue cards, a typeset, framed sentence or two hung on the receptionist’s wall will have the value of an airbag on a motorcycle.

Or? To fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality—Hilton

Here are some suggestions for codifying what you should have internalized as a driving passion:

  • Make your vision big, bold, appealing and include a touch of the impossible.
  • Remind yourself that a vision statement is not a mission or goal statement. A vision statement describes the results if you accomplish your mission.
  • Look forward, not back; look to the future, not the past.
  • Think of the impact on customers, employees, partners, society, and the environment.
  • Paint vivid word pictures that spark imagination.
  • Write in clear, concise terms and avoid jargon.


NOT: Our vision is to leverage our core competencies by operationalizing our human capital to think outside-the-box and proceduralize bleeding edge products that result in transitioning the world into best practices. And, oh yeah, our employees will know they are our most important asset.

Please do not say your product will be “best-in-breed” unless you produce puppies with a dog that won Best in Show at a Westminster Kennel Club’s riveting cage-fighting event. My wife has raised poodles so I happen to know that no athletic male can watch a dog show without taking blood pressure medication.

Rather say, clearly and concisely, that you will build innovative products that lead the competition.

Or perhaps? Our vision is that all people reach their potential in fulfilling work—the McNeely Group

If you have crafted a well written, motivating, effective vision statement—congratulations! You have climbed the first of 203 steps to the top of the Great Pyramid. Unless, however, the vision becomes part of your organizational culture the statement is virtually as useless as Congress.

It is why you must become  a business evangelist–one who cannot refrain from sharing cherished beliefs.

Make your powerful, compelling vision inspire, energize and spur commitment, hard work, sacrifice, and excellence. Start by writing it down.

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