Lift & Shift

Last week we looked at the 5 Traits Of Highly Humbitious Leaders. A lot of the feedback I received during the week centred on what are some useful leadership hacks that could amplify these traits. And more pertinently how to put these ideas to work inside their organisations and in their careers. As a result, some you special people put forward some questions that you would like solved. And like Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi stated: “Lift and Shift” those ideas out of the arena in which they took shape and apply them to your company and industry. What better way to fuel your imagination than to look for inspiration beyond your field?

Hence, I’ve assembled this all-new Passion Workbook – questions that define the core challenges of change for leaders in any field, along with exercises to meet those challenges and do the hard work of making long-lasting progress in fast-moving times. Today I will present Part 1 with next week bringing the rest of the feedback received to life. Here’s hoping these questions and exercises unleash energy and inspire answers for you and your colleagues.

If there is a core theme at the heart of the past few blogs it’s that the most successful organisations don’t just offer competitive products and services, they stand for important ideas – ideas that shape the competitive landscape of their field, ideas that reshape the sense of what’s possible for customers, employees, and investors. For so long, we lived in a world where the strong took from the weak. If you had the biggest factories, the deepest pockets, the most established brands, you won just by virtue of showing up.

That world is finished. Today, the smart take from the strong. The most successful organisations don’t just cork to outcompete their rivals. They aspire to redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world filled with me-too thinking. What are the ideas that define your company and its offerings? How are those ideas shaping how you do business? How do you, as a leader, personify those ideas?

Choose a small team of people to serve as your research brigade. Encourage them to interact with lots of their colleagues at every level of the organization, from senior marketers to mid-level finance executives to front-line service personnel. Have the team ask those people to explain, as crisply and persuasively as they can why customers should do business with your company.

Then ask yourself: Do your people as a group have something clear and compelling to say? Do they as individuals more or less say the same thing – is there a shared understanding about what your organization is trying to achieve? Is what they say meaningfully different from what their counterparts at your two or three toughest competitors would say? In other words, what do you promise that no one else can promise? What do you deliver that no one else can deliver? If your colleagues don’t have compelling answers to those make-or-break questions, what does that say about the ideas your company stands for, and why you expect to win?

Even the most creative and transformational leaders recognize that strategy and performance are not just about thinking differently from other companies. They are also about caring more than other companies – about colleagues, about how the organization conducts itself in a world with endless opportunities to cut corners and compromise on values. Sure, new business models allow innovators to transform the sense of what’s possible in their industries. But sustaining performance is as much about cultivating a spirit of grassroots energy, enthusiasm, and engagement as it is about unleashing a set of game-changing ideas.

In other words, you cant be special, distinctive and compelling in the marketplace unless you create something special, distinctive, and compelling in the workplace. As an organization or a team, your strategy is your culture; your culture is your strategy. The most successful companies work as distinctly as they compete. Does yours?

Organisations of all shapes and sizes create artifacts to explain themselves to the outside world, from annual reports to shareholders to slick marketing collateral for customers. But leaders who want their colleagues to work as distinctly as they compete also create artifacts that explain the organization to itself – language and rituals and materials that capture what it means to be part of something special and communicate the kinds of commitments that people make to another.

Perhaps the most compelling workplace artifact I’ve come across is the annual Zappos Culture Book published by the fast growing online fashion retailer. It’s an amazingly creative and energetic document that runs to hundreds of pages, and serves as a platform for rank and file employees to explain what makes them tick as people, what makes Zappos tick as an organization, and how their personal values are in sync with the value proposition around which Zappos has built its business.

The ten ‘core values’ that define life at Zappos area touch off-beat – ‘create fun and a little weirdness’ or ‘be adventurous, creative, and open-minded.’ The Zappos Culture book which gets bigger and weirder every year, is truly off the charts – a blend of art, poetry, and assorted riffs and rants that describes how Zappos people work and live. CEO Tony Hsieh works hard to get the most heartfelt and outsized contributions from his colleagues, in part by vowing that he will not tone down or edit what they write – and that he will make the book available to any job candidate, customer, or supplier who asks for it.

What would a ‘culture book’ at your company look like? How would people at every level explain why they have signed on to be part of the organization and why they could not imagine working with any other organization? How would they express the sense of camaraderie that holds them together, the sense of identity that connects how the company behaves in the marketplace with how they operate in the workplace? You don’t have to make your ‘culture book’ available to the outside world. But what if it became everybody’s favorite read inside the company, a shared expression of what it means to be part of something meaningful and do something important.

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