No seriously. I’m not being melodramatic. I don’t mean maybe risk losing your job, or some money, or getting doxed. I mean risk your life. Well, I’m James Fleck, and welcome to the inaugural episode of Corporate Courage, and that is today’s question.
The quote that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” is most often attributed to Peter Drucker; although, after doing a little research, it seems that this is an urban legend, with many apologists offering that Drucker would have shared the sentiment. Undeniably, many others have grabbed the idea and built on it – I particularly like this 2012 article in Fast Company by Shawn Parr: Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch
One of my clients described himself as “pretty risk averse” when we met a few years ago. Fast-forward to today, and this executive and his team have just completed a significant re-invention of their business. Disruptive technology was threatening their existence and they responded with a new platform that has the potential to leapfrog their competitors.
Imagine being a CEO and presenting your Board with a proposal for a major acquisition that could double the size of your company – or destroy it if things go pear-shaped. The Board would expect you to present a detailed valuation, risk analysis, and a clear understanding of synergies before they gave you the green light to proceed. But the dirty little secret is that, despite the perceived comfort of all of this analytical work, changing one or two assumptions buried deep in the spreadsheets could completely change the answer.
I felt myself holding my breath as my client described a particularly challenging board member. He told me how a director had been belligerent and even threatening in 1:1 meetings, and how her aggressive tone had cowed other directors into not expressing their views. Finally he used the word – bully – to describe her, and I forced myself to breathe and relax, even though I felt like getting angry.
It was a cold night at the Louisville airport, two years after the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. I was standing in a taxi line-up waiting for a ride to take me back to my house in Prospect, KY – an ordeal that could last more than an hour when there was any hint of snow on the local roads, as was the case that night. This was all part of my life at the time as a GE executive at Appliance Park.
When I was growing up at GE in the early 1990s, Jack Welch used to write thought-provoking letters to shareholders that were often quoted and debated. One year he wrote about a topic that sparked a lot of discussion because it called out one of the most vexing questions in an organization – what to do about the difficult employee who achieves fabulous results year after year.