The Perils of Careless Cultural Development

Version 3

    It was years ago when I learned of a magical ingredient for company success and survival. Before I started my own business, I was a marketing communications director for a technology company that was the leader in its industry. We were on the brink of going public. I remember the electric atmosphere like it was yesterday.


    As the Wall Street suits made their way through our maze-like offices-a floor plan that was the result of exponential growth-they carried portfolios full of common, number-crunched documents: balance sheets, detailed budgets and other documents that decided whether or not a company was worth something.


    They awkwardly sidestepped boxes, desks and busy people, looking incredibly out of place. It was as if they were from another world, and now that I think about it, they sort of were. The abridged version of the story is that the company went public, the markets cheered and within six years, the company was completely gone. They were absorbed by what was once a "distant competitor." The stockholders and over-optioned employees were left holding the bag.


    By that time, I was long gone. So was the edged-out founder and his cohorts who felt that, after the IPO, the company had lost its heart and the ability to innovate, lead, take risks and win. I was young and impressionable and knew in my heart that the situation was terribly wrong. It wasn't until many years later that I realized the same scenario is played out over and over in big and small companies around the world. What's left in the rubble? People, purpose and performance.


    They didn't call what we lost in 1994 "culture" or "heart." They didn't call it anything. Business simply sputtered until it couldn't last any longer. Today, I know that what they really lost was an exciting "yes we can" culture. It had been replaced with a purposeless, corporate "me first" environment.


    It became clear to me the crunched numbers were virtually meaningless. The true value of the company wasn't on a spreadsheet ... it was in the hearts of the employees. The Wall Street experts missed the company's most valuable asset and the leadership simply dismissed it.


    When I started our marketing communications company, IMS, Inc., I did so with my eyes wide open to the perils of careless culture development. Today, we practice what we preach to our clients: That there are two sides of every company- the heart and the mind. Ignoring either one puts you on the path to mediocrity if you're lucky, failure or worse if you're unlucky.


    Why would our team care about culture? Because we can't build a brand or an image for our clients or ourselves out of smoke and mirrors. It can only be built through people, purpose and performance. The stuff that's off the balance sheet.


    In our company, there are rules, but not without purpose. We demand results, but not without reward. And most importantly, we have fun. Not at the expense of achievement, but because of it. We live the culture of heart and mind in action. And we're successful. It's my dream that every company and every person within every company has the opportunity to work in a positive work environment. One that provides purpose; one that generates results. © 2008 Kathy Heasley, founder and principal IMS, Inc.