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Soft Traits that Drive Corporate Culture

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, January 16, 2014

How can business ventures grow and retain the commitment, passion and agility they had when they started? Distilling patterns from interviews with more than 200 CEOs, business writer Adam Bryant identifies six elements he believes every organization needs to foster a culture that encourages innovation and drives results.

In his New York Times article "Management be Nimble" he describes what he calls the main drivers of corporate culture-the things that will have outsize positive or negative impact, depending on whether they are done well or badly. Many business scholars and theoreticians support his views.

To start, leaders need to boil down an organization's priorities into a simple plan that also identifies clear goals and metrics. At the insurance company FM Global, he writes by way of example, the operating framework is profitability, retaining existing clients, and attracting new ones. Of course, not all simplification is that easy. The University of Oregon Holden Leadership Center website offers some goal definition steps that can help aid direction and avoid chaos.

Rules of the road, Bryant writes, involve behavioral guidelines, development of accepted values and a commitment to live by them. When people see a disconnect between stated values and real action, Bryant suggests, the cancer of cynicism can metastasize.

Writers from Goethe to Emerson to Tupac Shakur have weighed on in the concept of respect, and much has been written about office bullying and other unproductive work behavior. Bryant quotes Robin Domeniconi, chief marketing officer at Rue La La, a flash sale site, who uses the expression "M.R.I" to describe her firm's cultural guide. That means "most respectful interpretation" of what a person is saying. David K. Williams, author of The 7 Non-Negotiables of Winning: Tying Soft Traits to Hard Results, writes in Forbes about respect as one of his non-negotiables.

Bryant also writes about the importance of teams, the ability to have difficult conversations and the hazards of email. Despite speed and convenience, email can be a dangerous trap. In "How to Avoid Virtual Miscommunication" a post on his Harvard Business Review blog, Keith Ferrazzi writes that we often convey less information than we think, less clearly than we think, and we make more assumptions than we realize about the recipients of our messages. Ferrazzi inveighs against sloppy presentation and cryptic meaning, and urges we remember that the medium is the message: that we think about whether a text, IM, video, or email is suitable for the content we are sending.

Bryant is the author of Quick and Nimble: Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation. He also writes The Corner Office, a regular New York Times business feature. Read his New York Times essay here.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  culture  leadership  organizations 

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