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Success in the balance Featured

9:41am EDT July 22, 2002

Stanley Truskie, Ph.D., knows a thing or two about the importance of a well-balanced organizational culture.

General Electric Corp., IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Wal-Mart and Compaq are just a few of the high-profile companies using his L4 Strategy model, which is explained in his book, “Leadership in High-Performance Organizational Cultures,” published in 1999 by Quorum Books.

As president and CEO of Pittsburgh-based consulting firm Management Science and Development Inc., Truskie says he understands the fundamental philosophy behind successful businesses and the reasons why some businesses fail. It only seemed natural, then, to compile his years of experience, study and research into one comprehensive book that you, as a business leader, could use to improve your organization’s financial and cultural bottom lines.

Among the key issues in Truskie’s book is the concept of leadership over management. According to Truskie, “management” is an outdated concept developed in the industrial age for masses of uneducated workers who needed to be controlled and told what to do. In today’s highly educated information age, he stresses, companies need leaders, not managers, if they are to recruit and retain the best employees.

But perhaps the most important consideration, he says, is whether you are leading your organization down a path that not only creates efficiency and profits, but also a balanced culture that allows all employees to achieve their maximum potential. In this month’s One On One interview, Truskie shares his insight about the kind of leadership required to strike a balance in the workplace and how, ultimately, such balance leads to success.

SBN: Define successful leadership, as you see it.

Truskie: It is performing the two functions of leadership. First is establishing a clear, concise and compelling organizational direction — what I call the three Cs of leadership. And second is achieving organizational effectiveness by having an integrated and balanced culture. Do those two things, and you’ll be successful.

What is a “high-performance organizational culture?”

It’s the culture that’s created within a company that allows employees to perform at their peak so they can help the company achieve its financial and corporate objectives. In the past, we knew there was a link between organization leaders and the culture they created, but we didn’t know what kind of culture those leaders should be shaping. My book lays out an integrated, balanced culture model for business leaders to follow to achieve growth and better performance over time.

Explain your “L4 Strategy.”

There are four primary cultural patterns any leader should try to create within a culture, taken from four institutional groupings. They are cooperation, inspiration, achievement and consistency. Cooperation comes from family, and what are the positive elements from family? Caring, sharing, teamwork and eliminating politics, backstabbing and self-important behaviors. Social institutions, like the church, work to serve a higher purpose, and so should every business. You’re not in business just to make money; you need to be good community members, accept social responsibility. And when you show that kind of concern, you achieve the inspiration cultural pattern.

The positive elements of the scientific community give us the achievement cultural pattern. Always try to be the best you can be in your chosen field, the way scientists are always trying to be on the leading edge of discovery. Maintain superior quality and service, use intelligence and work toward improvement.

Finally, the institutions that get a bad rap are what give us the consistency cultural pattern — military and police organizations. If you have a good product or service, you want to produce that product or service over and over. To do that, you need rules, policies and boundary systems. Managers and leaders need to keep this in mind and integrate these concepts in a balanced way.

How can business leaders apply this strategy to their own companies?

People who become leaders establish the tone of an organization, its culture — from hiring people to policy strictness. Either you will establish the culture or it will establish itself. Culture is the norm of behavior in an organization — what you should and shouldn’t do. This often is taught by fellow employees and not written down. Management means “to control,” and people don’t respond to this approach anymore, so throw the term away.

Establish a direction for your company, whether it’s a small grocer or bookstore or larger firm. Decide what your vision is. What do you want to do? Once you build this passion, then you have clear, concise and compelling direction. A lot of small business owners don’t have this.

Once your vision is defined, written down and understood by employees, now you have to create a culture using the L4 model. Ask yourself these questions: “I know where I want to go, but what are my core values? What does my company stand for?” Treat employees as individuals, pay them a decent wage, train them well, include them in the process. You also need rules — and don’t settle for a mediocre performance.

But once you give this message to employees, you’ve got to live out what you say your culture is all about. Don’t just put it in words because the first time you don’t do it, you’ll lose integrity. The hardest thing to gain and the first thing to go is an employee’s trust. Integrity is an important part of leadership.

How can leaders help their companies become more effective and obtain long-term success?

Unity in direction. Sometimes I’ll ask the top people at a company, “Do you have a vision or mission?” They all say yes, then I talk to them individually. Guess what? Nobody agrees. The first thing to talk about is your core mission. Why does the company exist?

Identify five to eight critical factors for success between now and next year. Everyone’s first answer is to make money. Of course everyone wants to make money, but that’s not enough. These factors will vary from organization to organization, but every company can come up with five to eight critical success factors. This promotes accountability and commitment by all involved.

Identify a particular technique which readers can use now to start improving their organizational cultures and leadership.

Look at personal leadership, the way they handle their employees, and use that model. When talking to an employee, are you thinking of him or her as a team member, are you inspiring that person based on his or her abilities as an individual? Are you setting high standards for that person to achieve, and are rules in place for the person to follow?

Leadership is all about coaching around the four cultural patterns. Help employees succeed, treat people sincerely as individuals, and don’t give any special treatment to one over another. There has been a fallacy going on for years that, once you find out what the culture of the industry is, you adapt to that culture and take off. That’s just wrong. You want to achieve an adaptive culture, one that can roll with industry changes.

Business owners need to avoid becoming unbalanced. We all have our preferences, but if too much emphasis is placed on any of the four cultural patterns, their business won’t grow the way they want it to.

Amanda Lynch is a free-lance writer based in Pittsburgh