Using an Organizational Culture to Solve Corporate Problems

By Chris McGoff

Jill was pressed with a hard deadline to get a proposal out the door. When she got to the printer, she found it was out of paper, and when she got to the supply room, there was no high-quality paper to be found. She frantically ran to other printers to locate the paper she needed and load her original printer. Once she fixed the problem and sent out her proposal just under deadline, she took a moment to reflect on what had happened. Sure, she solved the problem and got her work done on time. But this was the third time in a month that she had printing issues. What’s more, Jill noticed that the printer wasn’t the only issue. Her organization seemed to be lacking integrity, order, and dependability.

Jill concluded that her company’s organizational culture had begun to tolerate sloppiness and disorder. She wasn’t sure when or how this happened, but she knew that unlike fixing the printer, righting the ship and getting back to a peak performance culture wasn’t a problem to solve but rather a difficulty to manage programmatically over time.

Understanding the Difference Between Business Problems and Business Difficulties

As consultants, we often hear clients talking about business problems as if they encompass everything from Jill’s printer troubles to the demise of peak performance culture within her organization. I’ve found it’s helpful to separate the two so that leaders can take a serious look at both and establish a program to monitor and maintain a culture that addresses each one in an appropriate manner.

First, we have business problems. These are things that can be solved through concrete action. Once that action is taken, the problem is eliminated and everyone can move on. In some cases, these actions are as simple as changing an ink cartridge or instituting a policy to ensure coverage during employee absences. In other cases, the problem may need to be solved in steps, but in all cases, a business problem can be solved.

On the other hand, businesses also have difficulties. These are things that cannot be resolved through action. Instead, they are on-going and must be managed consistently in order to keep morale up, maintain employee engagement, and allow the organization to achieve its goals. It’s important for leaders to recognize the difference between solvable business problems and on-going difficulties in order to handle them appropriately. Too often, I see these difficulties handled like problems with a single-action solution. That may address the issue momentarily, but it always comes back.

While business problems and difficulties, as we’ve defined them, must be managed differently, an organizational culture focused on peak performance can address them both effectively. Here’s how it’s done.

A Deeper Look at Solving Business Problems with Peak Performance Culture

Business problems pop up regularly over the course of an organization’s lifetime.

  • Technology malfunctions
  • Upset customers
  • Broken furniture and fixtures
  • Misspellings on web sites
  • Inaccurate data
  • Coverage for employee absences
  • Unexpected closures

An organizational culture crafted for peak performance will give employees the tools they need to resolve these problems without disrupting the organization’s activities. Employees in a peak performance culture have:

  • Authority to make decisions to solve problems quickly
  • Integrity; they take personal responsibility and ownership to either solve problems or make sure someone else solves problems as soon as they recognize them

In our original example, if Jill’s workplace operated at peak performance, her co-workers would take responsibility for keeping the printer stocked and the supply room prepared. The entire team would understand that doing so would help everyone achieve the organization’s objectives. Instead of procrastinating or waiting for someone else to step up, peak performers take initiative themselves.

A Deeper Look at Managing On-Going Difficulties with Peak Performance Culture

Businesses also are fraught with embedded difficulties. Unlike problems, difficulties can only be managed – never solved. Some common difficulties I’ve seen include:

  • Maintaining employee engagement
  • Evolving product-market fit as the competitive landscape changes
  • Keeping pace with evolving technologies
  • Staying lean and adaptive
  • Hiring successfully over time, as the organization grows or needs a change
  • Maintaining a peak performance culture

Many aspects of a consistent peak performance culture mitigate these difficulties before they become serious threats. Employee engagement, for instance, is driven by characteristics like autonomy, proactivity, and connection, all defining traits of a peak performance culture. An agile culture is prepared to rise to the challenge and adapt to changing technologies or workplace needs. A culture of diversity ensures that staffing needs are met with an array of employees with varying skills and backgrounds, and an overall peak performance culture attracts employees that are driven to lead and succeed through challenges.

Takeaways for Today’s Leaders

The key is to recognize and distinguish problems in your company from difficulties in your company. Too often, when leaders encounter difficulties, they try to solve them with a project. Then they get frustrated when the project ends and the difficulties return. Projects can’t solve difficulties, and it’s futile to take that approach. Instead, understand that the inherent difficulties embedded in your organization can only be managed by establishing a program that is maintained over a long period of time. Acknowledge the difference between problems and difficulties and treat each appropriately.

We know that peak performance culture drives the solving of business problems and the management of on-going difficulties, but it, too, must be managed. Leaders must be honest, intentional, and persistent in their actions to support the survival of a successful peak performance culture. Is your company leading the way? I would love to hear about what peak performance culture is doing for your organization.

What is the ‘So What?’

The key here is to recognize and distinguish PROBLEMS in your company from DIFFICULTES in your company. Too often leaders encounter difficulties but they try to ‘SOLVE’ them with some kind of PROJECT. Then they get frustrated that once the project is over the difficulty returns. Bottom line is that projects CAN’T solve difficulties. So don’t try. The inherent difficulties embedded in your organization can only be managed by establishing a program that is invested in over long periods of time. See the difference between problems and difficulties and treat each appropriately.

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