How and why “it’s culture that will differentiate your organization and drive real business results”…for better or worse
Those who have read any of Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton’s previously published books (notably The Carrot Principle and The Orange Revolution) and share my high regard for them are no doubt as eager now as I was to read their latest, All In. Based on what they learned from a research study that involved more than 300,000 respondents, it is – in my opinion – their most important book…thus far. Why? Because I think the information, insights, and (especially) the wisdom they share in it will have much wider and much deeper impact than any previous provisions.
Gostick and Elton assert, and I emphatically agree, that it is culture that will differentiate a team or organization and drive initiatives that produce high-impact results. Moreover, they believe – and again I agree – that a “culture” can be any shared community in which there are direct contact and frequent interaction. The Pixar campus in Emeryville (CA), for example, but it could also be the animators within the Walt Disney Company who created classic films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio. In fact, it could be a team of only two or three persons who also have direct contact and frequent interaction while at work. Here’s the key point: In a healthy culture (whatever its size and nature may be), those who share it are nourished by mutual respect and trust. It is no coincidence that most of the companies that are annually ranked among those that are the most admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those that are most profitable and have the greatest cap value in their respective industries.
“For worse?” In Leading Change, James O’Toole suggests that most change initiatives fail or fall far short of expectations because of cultural resistance, the result of what he so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Who wants to be part of a culture with command and control leadership, departments that resemble silos and bunkers, and a workplace in which incivility is ignored and incompetence is tolerated? Such a culture will definitely drive real results….all bad and increasingly worse
The material in the book is divided within three Parts. First, Gostick and Elton create a context, a frame of reference, for “The Seven Step Road Map,” explaining why the belief factor is “the secret sauce that makes a culture contagious.” They assert that 100% all-in employee engagement is not enough. That caught my eye. Hence the importance of the E + E + E formula: Employees must be engaged, enabled, and energized. Gostick and Elton then devote a separate chapter to each of the steps in Part II. I especially appreciate the “Step Summary” section at the conclusion of these chapters, 4-10. This brief but substantial material facilitates, indeed expedites frequent review of key points later. Then in Part III, they provide what could be characterized as an “All-in Toolbox,” accompanied by a detailed “operations manual” that includes an explanation of 52 different ways to get people all-in and productive. Also carefully check out the Appendix in which Gostick and Elton examine the “Culture Works Process” by which to build and sustain a high-performance culture.
With rare exception, the most valuable business books are research-driven and concentrate on explaining what works, what doesn’t, and why. This book succeeds brilliantly on both counts. I consider it “must reading” for C-level executives and for those who aspire to become one; but it is also, in my opinion, “must reading” for business school instructors and their students because the material that Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton provide is relevant to all organizations (whatever their size and nature may be) and to all of those who comprise the workforce in those organizations (whatever the level and area of operations may be). If that doesn’t convince you to buy it, read it, re-read it, and then refer to it frequently, I have no idea what will.
The ROI of “Magic”
According to William Capodagli and Lynn Jackson, “This book tells the inside story of just how Disney’s success was achieved — not by epiphanic flashes of creative insight that produced a Pinocchio or a Dumbo, but by the force of a much-considered, carefully wrought process of managing innovation and creativity and by an adherence to a firmly established system of beliefs.” In his biography of Walt Disney also published in 2006, Neal Gabler explains that the company’s management evolved over time, gradually adjusting to the increasing complexity of its operations that began with shorts, developed into animated feature films, and then added the first theme park prior to Disney’s death (December 15, 1966). Its subsequent growth helps to explain many of the management systems that Capodagli and Jackson describe but it is also worth noting that four themes continue to serve as “pillars”: Dream, Believe, Dare, Do.
The material is organized within 11 chapters, followed by an Epilogue in which the authors observe that the integration and interplay between and among the ten principles they have examined can be of substantial benefit to other companies. The “Dream, Believe, Dare, and Do Process” does indeed have all manner of potential applications for companies in industries wholly unrelated to entertainment. There must be dreams to believe in and courage to pursue those dreams. Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman’s Organizing Genius, one of whose chapters focuses on the Disney animation team that produced classic films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, and Pinocchio.
I realize that the Disney organization has become a vast global network of several “magic kingdoms” but the ten core principles continue to serve as its foundation:
1. Give every member of your organization a chance to dream, and to tap into the creativity those dreams evoke and nourish.
2. Stand firm on your beliefs and principles.
3. Treat your customers like guests.
4. Support, empower, and reward employees.
5. Build long-term relationships with key suppliers and partners.
6- Dare to take calculated risks in order to bring innovative ideas to fruition.
7. Train extensively and constantly to nurture and strengthen the company’s culture.
8. Align long-term vision with short-term execution of what achieves that vision.
9. Take full advantage of storyboarding techniques during brainstorming sessions to generate ideas that answer questions and solve problems.
10. Pay very close attention to every detail.
However vast and diversified the Disney organization is today, all of these core principles are relevant to almost any other organization, whatever its size and nature may be. Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to read the aforementioned biography of Walt Disney as well as v and Jackson’s Innovate the Pixar Way.
I had the opportunity to vote (in 2008) for the best ten films in ten different categories (in a survey conducted by the American Film Institute) and agree with others that all of the 100 winners are worthy, as were many of the other 400 nominees. Here are the top ten ANIMATION films:
1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
2. Pinocchio (1940)
3. Bambi (1942)
4. The Lion King (1994)
5. Fantasia (1942)
6. Toy Story (1995)
7. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
8. Shrek (2001)
9. Cinderella (1950)
10. Finding Nemo (2003)
Question: Is there one especially important business lesson that films such as these demonstrate?
One man’s opinion: Those who have mutual trust and respect and then cooperate and collaborate effectively can accomplish almost anything.
In most of these films, teamwork is the key to success. In fact, there would be no success without it. Most of the victors in these films are underdogs. Their strength is in numbers. “One for all and all for one!”
You can check out the wealth the resources provided by the American Film Institute and the Internet Film Database. Here are links to their Web sites:
Comments? Please share.
In this series, Bob Morris poses a key question and then responds to it with material from one or more of the business books he has reviewed for Amazon and Borders.
The first is leadership. In athletics, that could be provided by the coach or manager and/or veteran players. In business, by C-level executives, other supervisors, or workers whom everyone trusts and respects. Someone has to set the tone for effective collaboration, get everyone productively engaged, determine who does what, resolve conflicts, establish accountability, and in countless other ways help members of the team to produce the desired results. Case in point: J. Robert Oppenheimer who led the team involved with the Manhattan Project.
Because there must be a division of labor, with different tasks requiring different talents, skills, and experience, effective teams have diversity among their members. Case in point: The team of animators that produced many of Disney’s feature films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Bambi.
It is also essential for a team and its leader to have the full support of senior management, including but not limited to financial resources. Members of the team must have whatever is needed and allowed to work together without interference or second-guessing. Usually, the leader serves as a link between senior management and the team. Case in point: Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Program (the “Skunk Works”) whose designers, under the supervision of Clarence Leonard (“Kelly”), Johnson developed more than 40 aircraft.
In Q&A #78, I share some on Patrick Lencioni’s ideas about why a majority of business teams are dysfunctional.
Comments, questions, requests, or suggestions? Please share them. They will be most welcome and I thank you for them. Best regards, Bob