Business Culture

1. Hire the best talent.
2. Be intentional in talent development.
3. Empower your employees.
4. Re-invest in the culture.
5. Lead with love and discipline.

Business Intelligence

6. Clearly communicate the company's purpose: mission, vision, and guiding principles.
7. Promote and protect the brand.
8. Commit to operational excellence - measure everything.
9. Keep tight control on finances.
10. Thoroughly understand the company's strategy.


Penta Leaders


There are thousands of books as well as hundreds of speakers talking about leadership. However, few, if any, explains in detail how to improve our own leadership ability. How does one become a level 5 leader, a penta leader? Penta comes from the Greek word for the number five - pente. If the ultimate goal is to become level 5 leaders, described by Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, as "one who has a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will", we first need to understand our behaviors, motivations, leadership style and level of emotional intelligence. 

It is clear that successful and 'Best Place to Work' companies tend to select the best talent available in their respective markets. What makes this thought so compelling is that these companies do not have to compete for that talent - these people are eager to get through the front door! Great companies are attracting talent instead of recruiting employees and when they get to choose the best available, the company itself gets even greater - creating a success virtuous cycle. This success that integrates employee engagement with business intelligence occurs with intention and a complete understanding that happy and engaged employees lead to enhanced positive outcomes for the organization. 

A recent CEB survey of C-suite executives indicates that organizations will require significantly higher performance—23% improvement, on average, in performance ratings— from their executive-level direct reports in the new year. How well are executives prepared to rise to that challenge?  Less than 20% of C-suite leaders had confidence their executives could stand the test.

A large part of the problem, our research suggests, has to do with the high failure rate of outside hires. Intuitively, people know it takes longer for outside hires to come up to speed than internal candidates. But our research shows just how dramatic the problem really is. Outside hires taketwice as long to ramp up as a leader promoted from within. Astoundingly, C-suite executives report that only one out of five executives hired from outside are viewed as high performers at the end of their first year in house. And ultimately, of the 40% of leaders who are hired from outside each year, nearly half fail within the first 18 months. The direct and indirect costs of the failures are staggering, far exceeding the cost of the search that found the executive.

Language is the crystallization of thought. But the words we choose do more than just reflect our thought patterns—they shape them. What we say—and how we say it—can deeply affect a company’s culture. To change attitudes and behaviors, it helps to first change the vernacular. To spark innovation, it helps to influence the dialogue around new ideas.

Several years ago, IDEO hosted a visit from Jim Wiltens, an outdoorsman, author, adventure traveler, and speaker, who also teaches a program of  his  own design for gifted and talented children in Northern California schools. In his programs, Jim emphasizes the power of a positive vocabulary. And he leads by example. You will literally never hear him say, “I can’t.” He uses more constructive versions of that sentiment that emphasize the possible, such as “I could if I…” He actually promises to pay his young students a $100 if they ever catch him saying, “I can’t.”

Think Jim’s approach sounds a bit simplistic for adults? Don’t be too sure. When Cathie Black took over as president of Hearst Magazines, she noticed that negative speech patterns had cre­ated an environment hostile to new ideas. One person close to the company reported that the naysaying had become a cynical mantra for the executives. So Black told her senior team that every time they said things like, “We’ve tried that already” or “That will never work,” she would fine them $10. (Note the difference be­tween business executives and teachers: they levy the fine on others, not themselves.) Of course, $10 was a trivial amount for the Hearst managers, but no one wants to be embarrassed in front of his or her colleagues.

After enforcing her rule just a few times, Black effectively wiped those expressions from the office vocabulary. Did the shift to more positive words have a broader effect beyond changing the tone of meetings? During Black’s ten­ure, Hearst kept its flagship brands like Cosmopolitan healthy through an extremely tough period for the publishing industry and launched new mega-successes like Oprah’s magazine. Meanwhile, Black rose to become one of the most powerful women in American business.

IDEO’s favorite antidote to negative speech patterns is the phrase “How might we…?”  It was introduced to us by Charles Warren, now’s senior vice president of product design, as an op­timistic way of seeking out new possibilities in the world. In a matter of weeks, it went viral at our firm and it’s stuck ever since. In three disarmingly simple words, it captures much of our perspective on creative groups. The “how” suggests that improvement is always possible. The only question remain­ing is how we will find success. The word “might” temporarily lowers the bar a little. It allows us to consider wild or improbable ideas instead of self-editing from the very beginning, giving us more chance of a breakthrough. And the “we” establishes own­ership of the challenge, making it clear that not only will it be a group effort, but it will be our group. Anyone who has worked with IDEO in the past decade or participated in OpenIDEO’s social innovation challenges has undoubtedly heard the phrase.

We’re also careful about how we critique ideas. As we explained in this HBR article, our feedback typically starts with “I like…” and moves on to “I wish…”. We refrain from passing judgment with a simple thumbs up or thumbs down. When you open with the positives, then use the first person for suggestions, it signals to everyone that you’re offering your opinion in an effort to help, which makes them more receptive to your ideas.

As adults, we sometimes forget the simple power of words. Try fine-tuning your group’s vocabulary, and see the positive effect it has on your culture.

This post is adapted from our book Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential within Us(Crown Business, 2013).

by Tom Kelley and David Kelley  

Link to this article (HBR)
On November 11th, NCIEDI in partnership with i2.Intergrated Intelligence hosted a 1/2 day workshop at the Cardinal Club.

 Tony Hayes welcomed the attendees and honored veterans since we were meeting on Veteran's Day.

Mr. Stewart started the meeting by defining "Organizational Health - An organization is healthy when it is whole, consistent and complete..." Attendees completed a Five Performance Criteria Survey to determine their organization's health. Mr. Stewart continued by explaining Behavior & Assessments and then Learning Styles. We took the Learning Styles Assessment to determine our individual learning style and why this is so important. Melissa Wood, i2's Business Manager, had a delicious lunch prepared for the attendees. Mr. Stewart wrapped up the workshop by discussing Benchmarking & Metrics and Root Cause Analysis.  The class was so interactive and informative, that all materials could not be covered, so NCIEDI would encourage attendees to contact us or Mr. Stewart for additional consultations.

As an added bonus, Mr. Stewart presented each attendee with a personalized autographed copy of his book, FIRE YOURSELF [as your own higher power].
There is a great scene in Godfather 2 where Kay (Diane Keaton) complains to husband Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) about his unfulfilled promise to make his business fully legit and quit being a mafioso. Michael responds that he is still working on it, reassuring Kay emphatically: “I’ll change, I’ll change — I’ve learned that I have the strength to change.”

Although most of us aren’t part of the mafia, we are still a bit like Michael Corleone in that we overestimate our capacity for change. In theory everyone can change, but in practice most people don’t… except for some well-documented changes that affect most of us.

For example, most people display antisocial tendencies during adolescence and slower thinking in late adulthood, but these changes are by no means indicative of a psychological metamorphosis. Rather, they are akin to common lifespan changes in physical traits, such as gains or drops in height during childhood and late adulthood, respectively — they occur to everyone. Likewise, there are typical changes in personality, even within 5-year periods. A seminal review showed that we become more prudent, emotionally stable, and assertive with age, while our energy and intellectual curiosity dwindle after adolescence. In other words, as we grow older we become more calm and mature, but also more passive and narrow-minded.

A more interesting question is whether categorical changes are feasible. Can someone be extremely introverted at certain age, but super outgoing at another? Can someone transition from being a self-centred narcissist to being a caring and giving soul? Or from being exceptionally smart to being incredibly stupid?

On the one hand, there is no shortage of famous case studies to illustrate radical transformations in people’s reputation (their public persona). Sometimes these changes — like Miley Cyrus’s transformation from innocent Disney star to tongue-wielding twerker — seem more like carefully planned PR campaigns than true psychological journeys. But others do make us wonder if there’s something deeper going on inside. Bill Gates started as a stereotypical computer nerd, then turned into a talented entrepreneur, then morphed into a ruthless empire-builder, and then became the most charitable person on earth, giving away most of his — and his friends’ — wealth. The late Nelson Mandela, perhaps the least disputed moral figure of our times, had an arrogant, aggressive, and antisocial youth before inspiring everyone with his path of nonviolent resistance.

And yet scientific studies indicate that categorical changes in character are unusual. When there is change, it usually represents an amplification of our character. In other words, even when our patterns of change are unique, they are predictable: we simply become a more exaggerated version of ourselves. This happens in three different ways. First, we tend to interpret events according to our own personal biases, which only reinforces those biases. For instance, pessimists perceive ambivalent feedback as criticism, which, in turn, enhances their pessimism over time; the opposite happens with optimists. Second, we gravitate towards environments that are congruent with our own default attitudes and values. Hedonists seek pleasure and fun-loving people, which, in turn, makes them even more hedonistic. Aggressive people crave conflict and combat, which only augments their aggression. Altruists hang out with caring people and spend time helping others, which enhances their empathy and reinforces their selflessness. Third, our reputation does truly precede us: others (including strangers and acquaintances) make unconscious inferences about our character in order to explain our behavior and predict what we may do next. These intuitive evaluations may be inaccurate, but they are still self-fulfilling. With time, we morph into the person others think we are; their prejudiced and fantasized representation of us turns real and becomes ingrained in our identity. Reputation really is fate.

As a consequence, deliberate attempts to change are far less effective than we like to think, which is why most New Year’s resolutions are never accomplished — and why our long-term happiness levels are fairly constant and relatively immune to extreme life events (whether it is a painful divorce or the joys of winning the lottery).

Needless to say, some people are more capable of changing than others. Ironically, those individuals tend to be more pessimistic about their very chances of changing. Indeed, neurotic, introverted and insecure people are more likely to change, whereas highly adjusted and resilient individuals are less changeable. Likewise, optimism breeds overconfidence and hinders change by perpetuating false hopes and unrealistic expectations.

So, how can we change? The recipe for self-change is fairly straightforward — it is just hard to implement. In order to change, we need to start by building self-awareness, which is best achieved by obtaining (and believing) honest and critical feedback from others. Next, we must come up with a realistic strategy that focuses on attainable goals, such as changing a few specific behaviors (e.g., more eye contact, less shouting, more smiling, etc.) rather than substantial aspects of our personality (e.g., interpersonal sensitivity, empathy, and sociability). Finally, we will need an enormous amount of effort and dedication in order to both attain and maintain any desired changes — or we will quickly revert to our old habits. In short, change requires self-critical insight, humble goals, and indefatigable persistence. It means going against our nature and demands extraordinary levels of willpower.

So think carefully before you promise to change. And if you have tried to change and failed — well, you’ve got lots of company.

by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

By Rafael Aparicio

In today’s world, where competition is global and products so similar, brands go to great lengths to differentiate themselves from the rest, looking for new ways to attract customers to buy something that is essentially the exact same product as their competitors. Think soap, sneakers, electronics, even advertising agencies, almost everything today, including ideas, has become commoditized and has left people relying solely on one thing to make their decisions: brand. Some go for a nicer identity, smarter packaging, better customer service, the list goes on. Companies are constantly trying to find the slightest edge that can ultimately mean their key differential and set them apart.

Now imagine your group of friends being that differential.

Let me start off first by asking you this question: are you a brand? Yes, you. Do you consider yourself a brand? We accept David Beckham and Michael Jordan as brands, but somehow we tend to think “us mortals” are not, just because we’re not recognizable enough and don’t even have our own line of underwear. Just as the old saying goes, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?” – well, “if you walk out to the street and no one recognizes you, are you still a brand?” I have to say the answer is yes, of course you are. Regardless of the power of your brand, it will still trigger a perception to those around you, and that’s what branding is all about: perceptions. It is up to you to go ahead and take control of how people perceive you, because if you don’t take control of your own brand, others will.  The way you talk, walk, behave, all adds up to that brand called you. Think of your group of friends, each has a set of traits that makes them – “them.” Are you the cool friend? The nerdy one? The jock?

Many of your friends make up for what you’re lacking. You might be shy, but thanks to that idiotic extroverted friend of yours, you now have a girlfriend. Now hold on to that thought and raise it to a professional level. We’ve all have had situations with clients or bosses where you are lacking some vital knowledge and you remind yourself of a friend that can help. So you call him up and voila! Problem solved. When they ask you how you managed to solve the problem you answer, “I just called up a friend.” Ah, the power of friendship: people sharing valuable knowledge and know-how just for the sake of friendship. That friend might just have helped you close a deal, and not only was he pleased to help you, he doesn’t expect much in return other than a beer or two – after all – ‘that’s what friends are for’.

Now imagine if instead of saying, “I called up a friend” as the reason of your solution, you tell your boss or client “I’m part of a knowledge network.” Not only that, you go ahead and put a name on that knowledge network and even slap on a logo and a slogan to it; You brand it. Suddenly the informality of “calling up a friend” transforms into this tangible, solid institution that can differentiate you.  Your clients don’t only think, “this guy has a friend” but rather, “this guy has access to knowledge.” You might think your personal brand is pretty cool, but your brand as part of a group brand might be even cooler. Both personal brands and group brands can leverage from each other. A personal brand might sell well, but people often overlook the potential group branding has.

Think of Marvel’s carefully thought-out 5 year plan to make box office history. Each “personal brand” was given its own spotlight to then conclude with the climactic ‘The Avengers’ movie, which went on to be the 3rd-highest grossing film of all time. Captain America, Thor, Hulk, and Ironman – all of them built as solid personal brands – had movies launched year after year, knowing that the idea of having them together in one final movie would be irresistible to fans worldwide. That’s basically why the 1992 US Olympic Basketball team, better known as “The Dream Team” packed stadiums.  Michael Jordan was already amazing, but the idea of MJ alongside Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley and the likes, was mind-blowing.

During my executive MBA at the Berlin School of Creative Leadership, not only did I meet some of the world’s top advertising creatives and executives, I met true friends. Later on, back home in Bogotá, Colombia, working at my recently founded advertising agency, Raf & Mike, I had three occasions where “I called up a friend” needing their help, each for a special reason. Every time I came back to the client telling them “I talked to this person from this city” they were more than impressed. I thought to myself, “what if this calling up friends thing was more than that, what if it was organized and managed? What if it was branded?” They say behind every good brand there’s a good story – we already have the story, we are just missing the brand.

My thesis went on to research, not only branding but also the creation and management of knowledge networks, the academic foundation I needed to establish this new network and have the structural groundwork for a fluid knowledge network, not just a group of friends.

So tomorrow, I can walk into client boardrooms presenting my agency as part of one of the world’s most exclusive advertising and creative Knowledge-sharing Networks, ‘The Berlin Exchange’… 20 of some of the worlds top advertising creatives and executives at their reach. They let me pick their brains and I let them pick mine. It’s one big brain-picking fest, all because we believe in each other’s talent and good faith, something only friendship can build.

So think of your friends on a professional level, what can they bring to the table that you are lacking or that can reinforce and complement your knowledge? More importantly; what can you bring to the table? How could you brand your friendship?

You never know, that brand might be the one who sets you apart.

Rafael Aparicio Gómez is Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Raf & Mike, an advertising agency based in Bogotá, Colombia. Rafael is the first Colombian graduate from The Berlin School of Creative Leadership and has done award-winning work with brands like Coca-Cola, Unilever, SAB-Miller, and the Colombian Football Federation, to name a few. He is an Advertising and Marketing professional from Jorge Tadeo Lozano University and has work experience as General Creative Director for a local BTL agency and as copywriter for ad agency J. Walther Thompson. Oh, and he believes in friendship as well. 

A company’s culture can have a powerful impact on its performance. Culture is the glue that binds an organization together and it’s the hardest thing for competitors to copy. As a result, it can be a lasting source of competitive advantage. Take these examples: 

  • Kent Thiry builds a values-focused culture at DaVita and transforms the company from a laggard to the world’s leading provider of kidney dialysis services
  • Alan Mulally creates a “working–together” spirit at Ford Motor Company that focuses and re-energizes the automaker, reversing a decades-long slide in market share
  • Herb Kelleher fosters a culture of employee empowerment and cost containment at Southwest, enabling the airline to become one of the world’s most admired and profitable carriers
  • Steve Jobs builds a challenging culture at Apple — one where ”reality is suspended” and ”anything is possible”’ — and the company becomes the most valuable on the planet 
But culture doesn’t always produce great results. In fact, when my colleagues at Bain & Company surveyed more than 400 senior executives from large, global companies last year, they found that fewer than one in four felt that culture was very effective in supporting business performance at their company. The majority felt that their organization’s culture was largely disconnected from what it took to win.

Why this disconnect? In our experience, too many companies think of culture as a way to make people feel good about where they work and not as a way to help employees — hence the organization — perform better. High-performing companies think about culture differently. They know that winning cultures aren’t just about affiliation; they are also unashamedly about results.

Our research suggests that winning cultures are comprised of two interrelated and reinforcing elements. First, every high-performing company has a unique identity — distinctive characteristics that set it apart from other organizations. These characteristics give employees a sense of meaning just from being part of the company. They also create passion for what the company does.

Southwest Airlines is the classic example. Under Herb Kelleher’s leadership, the company became known for its sense of humor, irreverence, and focus on the employee. This unique identity not only made flying Southwest fun for passengers, it made its labor force more productive. Flight attendants, not cleaning crews, cleaned aircraft between flights, reducing time at the gate and improving on-time performance. Maintenance workers routinely devised better ways to maintain Southwest’s fleet of 737 aircrafts, lowering costs and improving up-time. The company’s unique identity reinforced many of the elements that were critical to Southwest’s strategy, such as keeping costs low. As a result, Southwest is the world’s largest low-cost carrier and is consistently among the most profitable airlines in the world.

Culture is more than just a unique identity, however. The best performing companies typically display a set of performance attributes that align with the company’s strategy and reinforce the right employee behaviors.  Our research revealed seven of these:

  1. Honest. There is high integrity in all interactions, with employees, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders;
  2. Performance-focused. Rewards, development, and other talent-management practices are in sync with the underlying drivers of performance;
  3. Accountable and owner-like. Roles, responsibilities, and authority all reinforce ownership over work and results;
  4. Collaborative. There’s a recognition that the best ideas come from the exchange and sharing of ideas between individuals and teams;
  5. Agile and adaptive. The organization is able to turn on a dime when necessary and adapt to changes in the external environment;
  6. Innovative. Employees push the envelope in terms of new ways of thinking; and
  7. Oriented toward winning. There is strong ambition focused on objective measures of success, either versus the competition or against some absolute standard of excellence.
Few organizations exhibit all seven of these attributes. But high-performing organizations typically spike on the three or four that are most critical to their success.

Take Ford Motor Company. When Alan Mulally became CEO at Ford in 2006, the company operated in regional silos. As a result, the Ford Focus in Europe was different from the Ford Focus in the Americas. The company had too many brands, too many platforms, too many disparate parts, too many suppliers, and so on. To turn the automaker around, Mulally focused on building One Ford — a leadership model based on collaboration, innovation, and a desire to win (again). With time, leaders at the automaker started working together to simplify and streamline the company globally. They rationalized brands, consolidated automotive platforms, made options and parts more common and designs more innovative. In just three years, Ford went from losing share and money to gaining share and making money.

Culture plays a vital role in performance. Winning cultures treat performance as an explicit output and foster an environment that is conducive to generating the best possible results — not just for employees, but for customers, suppliers, and, yes, even shareholders.

by Michael C. Mankins