I’ve worked in several closely-held businesses that have a strong culture founded on excellence. In these companies, a key piece of this culture is company pride. In one company I worked with, employees even joked about getting tattooed with the Company’s Pantone color code!
Pride in your workplace is a great thing, right? Pride is an integral part of a high performance culture – a culture with a deep rooted belief in the company’s mission, and how it helps its customers, employees and society. This is one of the things that causes employees to strive for excellence, and for job seekers line up at the door.
In mature organizations, particularly those in a market leadership position, I have also seen where pride can take on a dangerous life of its own. This is where pride is no longer an asset – it begins to morph into something far more sinister: arrogance. Yes, ignorance and arrogance.
I’ve witnessed first hand the dangers of these behaviors. Here’s a few of the warning signs that I have observed over time:
- Companies get sleepy and complacent. Innovation and new product development are de-emphasized.
- In mature companies with long term employees, I have actually witnessed old timers stifle creativity in an effort to protect the “grandeur” of their prior accomplishments.
- Quality suffers – both product quality and customer care. When you’re the best, you don’t have to try as hard, right?
- Companies begin to ignore the industry landscape, emerging trends, and competitive developments. “We’re the best – we don’t care what others are doing.”
- Leadership is unable to see the need to make strategy shifts or reinvent their organizations, or they fall so far behind the curve that they fail at reinvention efforts.
Many of these companies have held a leadership position for so long that they’ve convinced themselves the ride will go on forever. Meanwhile, new and aggressive competitors are capitalizing on business opportunities and stealing your best customers. Even worse, they’re stealing your brightest and most capable employees! Customer perceptions change, and market leadership falters. The word on the street becomes “Yeah, the ABC Company isn’t what it used to be…”When company pride shifts to arrogance, you're running backwards and you don't even know it. Click To Tweet
“Only the paranoid survive” – Andy Grove, former Intel Chairman and CEO
How do you prevent this from happening? The good news (and maybe the bad news) is that it all has to start in the corner office. Leadership can’t afford to relax – it has to maintain a healthy dose of fear (paranoia in Andy Grove’s words) and excitement that fuels creativity, innovation and operational excellence. This has to come from the very top, and a culture of excellence and continuous improvement has to permeate the organization. Along with a top-down emphasis, here are a few ideas that can foster a high performance, winning culture:
- Inspire and instill a culture of excellence – “We play to win!”
- Encourage 360-degree idea sharing.
- Designate a business intelligence function to stay abreast of emerging technologies, consumer trends, competitive data points, and the like. This team should have a direct link to the chief executive.
- Form a cross functional splinter cell or “skunk works” unit. Empower this team to “break the rules” so it can rapidly develop and deploy new products, service offerings and the like without being constrained by corporate processes and red tape.
Stay fresh, stay focused, look to the future….and stay paranoid!