New Normal Consulting | Culture eats strategy for lunch
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Culture eats strategy for lunch

Culture eats strategy for lunch

A conversation with Sheldon Romer about the real equity in our businesses.

Sheldon Romer is a Boulder, Colorado-based consultant and owner of SB Romer Inc., a consultancy focused on executive consulting and coaching. Sheldon was a founder of Rudi’s Organic and its CEO for 24 years. New Normal Consulting’s Geoff O’Keeffe sat down with Sheldon for a discussion in the mountains outside Boulder recently.

NNC: We’ve talked a lot about how teams work and how they break down, and the creative engine of organizations. What differentiates your approach to coaching leaders and teams from the rest of the business world?

Sheldon: I make an assumption that the products and services of the organization are wanted in the marketplace. If you have that traction, then it’s all about people and culture. Once that is established, we focus on leadership and teams. Together, these are the engine that makes the company go. These create culture. Culture is how we are with one another, which translates into how we are with our customers and our vendors. Culture emanates outward in concentric circles from a core of how we treat each other and how we live or don’t live our values. As an example, if you say you have a trusting environment and culture, then you have to ask, “How deep do these go? Are team members open enough to admit mistakes? Will they seek others’ support when they need it? Are they comfortable being vulnerable?” If answers to these questions are “no” then it is most often the leader that is adversely affecting that culture.

My focus is on top leadership. Do we have the guts to look in the mirror and accept total responsibility for what is going on during our watch? If we are, then we have a shot at success.

NNC: What are some of the most common blockages or impediments you see recurring in companies?

Sheldon: The first that comes to mind is, are the leaders “learners” or “knowers”? What I mean by that is knowers are convinced that because of past successes or due to their tenure, they can replicate past solutions and get similar results. With the speed of change these days, what often is required is to slow down and reflect, to be aware, and then take action, then repeat, being open to new information. This is the learning model. This creates a learning organization, where we grow from our actions, even from our mistakes. This learning model can only be built on trust, and a willingness to “wrestle it out” together by putting our ideas, opinions and feelings on the table alongside everyone else’s.

NNC: What do you see being the key characteristics of a strong leader?

Sheldon: First of all, taking total personal responsibility for everything that goes on in the organization. Next, leaders need to be continual learners. Are you living the cultural piece that you are supposed to be modeling? Finally, a secure leader needs to be comfortable mining for conflict. By that I mean, asking those involved with decisions what they really think and being able to hear their answers, no matter what.

NNC: You’ve told us about  Lencioni’s five functions and their importance in organizations and in your work.

Sheldon: I use this model (pictured above)  because I think it is elegant and effective. When you look at the model, you see that results occupy the smallest part, up at the top. Of course results are important. But to get to good results, you have to look deeper.

Trust is the foundation and nothing is more critical than trust. Trust needs constant attention and work, because we are human and we make mistakes. Trust has to be built, re-built and nurtured. Sometimes leaders have to make decisions that ding trust. How leaders communicate about decisions is key to maintaining trust, and the culture that creates results.

The next part of the model is healthy or productive conflict. It needs to be safe for team members to give heart and mind, knowing not everyone will agree.

Trust and healthy conflict foster commitment. Commitment comes from being involved, from being part of the process. Most people don’t have to win. They simply need to be acknowledged. Once heard, they can feel safe committing, even to the other guy’s idea.

Commitment leads to accountability. What is that? Accountability in strong organizations is the ability for peers to keep their peers accountable. Real accountability doesn’t rely on the leader to “triangulate” authority. One of my favorite quotes is from Fred Kofman, and it goes something like, “An organization is nothing but the strength of the commitments that people have made to each other.” I see this being true.

If those four pieces are in place, results happen. They happen through hard work, to be sure, but it can be fun because we are giving the best of what we have to offer.

There are a lot of ingredients that go into the stew of results: market conditions, product quality, macroeconomics, and yes, of course, strategy. What I like to focus on in my work is leadership and teamwork and the dynamics that bind them together as the major ingredients in the stew.

-Geoff O’Keeffe

For more information about Sheldon and his work, please contact us.

Geoff O'Keeffe

Geoff O’Keeffe is an outdoor industry professional with over thirty years’ experience in every aspect of operations and management. Geoff has served as president of four companies, held executive roles in five others, been part of two start-up teams, and has operated in branded wholesale, brick-and-mortar retail, e-commerce, manufacturing and non-profit environments. Geoff’s unique areas of expertise include general management, strategic planning, project management, merchandising and inventory planning, sourcing, and supply chain. Geoff takes a particularly keen interest in the subtle dynamics of building, training and sustaining the “human engine” of creativity, teamwork and commitment within organizations. Geoff has served five non-profit boards, including ORCA (early Outdoor Industry Association), the Conservation Alliance and Paradox Sports. Geoff was a founding member of the organization that became the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance.

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