Regular readers know that The New York Times’ “Corner Office” column is a perennial favorite of mine. Every Sunday, Adam Bryant interviews a CEO discuss the challenges they see, how they address those challenges – essentially, how they lead.
I was particularly impressed with a recent column, featuring Steve Stoute, chief executive of Translation LLC and chairman of Carol’s Daughter. Mr. Stoute addresses several fundamental issues of leadership, including the importance of having a foundational “belief system” (which I typically refer to as the core values of the organization):
You have to set a belief system in your organization. Once you do that, if you have people who have not bought into the philosophy, you need to identify them and move them out quickly. It’s to their benefit and your benefit. If you ask most executives, they know within the first 30 or 60 days if a person is going to work out, but it takes them seven months to a year to get them out of the organization. That’s a waste of time.
I think that it’s very important, no matter how big you get, to have checks and balances to know when somebody has not bought into the culture, because at some point in your organization, something is going to backfire and something’s not going to get done because somebody’s not paying attention. The beliefs of the organization are not going to be passed along because you have people who have not even bought into the belief system. And here’s the biggest problem: Bad behavior is contagious. And once that starts hitting a company, no matter how big you are, no matter how small you are, that will start the demise of a great organization.”
Enforcing your organization’s belief system
Mr. Stoute makes the very important connection between defining your belief system and being willing to take hard action to enforce that belief system. You have to be just as willing to dismiss employees who do not buy into your belief system as you are to recognize and reward those who do. Not doing so is the fastest way to undermine your core values (your belief system) and create a culture opposite of what you likely want to see. Mr. Stoute continues on this point:
Bad behavior is the blatant act of ignoring the belief system of the company — it means not paying attention to the strategic intent of the company and not being aligned around the goals of the organization. So when somebody has not bought into the system, that becomes very contagious, it becomes a cancer in the organization, especially when you’re talking about midlevel talent. Because any organization is not going to move forward unless mid-tier management helps foster young talent to become better. And then you are actually going to lose talent.”
Aligning your people with your goals is another favorite topic of mine. How can you expect to achieve your strategic objectives as an organization if your employees do not understand how to contribute to those objectives in their daily work or – as Mr. Stoute points out – they simply do not buy into it?
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Does your organization have a clearly defined belief system or set of core values? Is senior management willing to both hire and fire based on that belief system? Are your employees aligned with those goals and beliefs?