For some reason, lots of executives and CEOs get all squirmy when someone says the phrase "corporate culture". It's just too touchy and feely and squishy. Yet it has been demonstrated over and over that improving a corporate culture (or establishing it right in the first place for you entreprenuers) is one of the most highly leveraged ways for a CEO to improve overall corporate performance. As a case in point, yesterday's Wall Street Journal had a good article on the importance - and lasting impact - of establishing a solid culture in an organization.
The article is an interview with John Schuerholz, the General Manager of the Atlanta Braves since 1990. When Schuerholz went to Atlanta, the Braves had been losers a lot more than winners for as long as anyone could remember. Shortly after he arrived, they began a streak that has now reached 14 years of making it to the playoffs, which is a streak of sustained excellence that few sports teams - or businesses - have matched or exceeded. The interview allows Schuerholz to speak about a number of things, including some of the keys to transforming a losing culture into a winning culture.
Some of the key points he makes revolve around the importance of people. Getting people on board who share your vision, communicating clearly to everyone in the organization, letting everyone know they are important to the success of the organization, creating trust, etc. For example:
I have a goal for this organization, and it's clear. And I have a game plan about how we can reach that goal. Did we have to change some people? Sure. Did we have to alter some programs? Absolutely. But the most important thing was to create a level of confidence and reliability and trust. Honoring each other, respecting each other. So that the rookie-league manager knew we cared for him and relied upon him as much as we did on [Manager] Bobby Cox.
It really turns on one significant principle, and that is surrounding yourself and filling your organization with quality people and providing them with a clear vision, an uncompromising game plan.
We don't have some magic dust that we sprinkle on our organization. My responsibility is to hire the guys who sit across the hall from me who run our scouting and player-development functions....You hire the right people in those positions, and you trust them in their ability to hire and to construct processes and programs and motivate people. [If you] communicate with people in an honest and clear and forthright way, you're going to have good results....Sure, we make mistakes. Sure, we make bad judgments. But fewer of them, I think, than is expected in this business.
Some of these comments, and others in the interview, will really resonate if you are a fan of the book Good to Great. And if you are in any business where people are your key assets, where their talent and energy are what make the difference between winning and losing, you should go Read the Whole Thing (as they say). If you're a WSJ subscriber, that is.