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Mortal Blow #5: Losing Sight of Your Vision and What Made you Great

Culture gives you aim and focus

From “5 mortal blows guaranteed to kill your culture”

By Kathleen Quinn Votaw

Your culture is “right” if you are achieving your goals and fulfilling your vision. If you’re failing to meet either, it’s time to revisit what got you to where you are. As an entrepreneur, you had a long-term vision that motivated you and everyone around you. You created your company culture to support you in achieving it. Is that vision still your driving force? And have you kept the laser-sharp focus and discipline you need to take you to the level of greatness you set out to accomplish?

It’s easy to get caught up in semantics about vision, mission, values, purpose, ideology and other powerful words, or not take them seriously. Some believe these things should never change; others think they need to be reinvented along the way. Great leaders understand the difference between what should and shouldn’t be changed in their organizations. They know by looking back to those early days, making certain they haven’t lost their way.

You hit what you aim at

Vision draws the inspiring picture of what your organization can be and do. It’s the common passion and the rallying factor, giving employees something to believe in, identify with and work toward. Without a clear vision you have no way of measuring whether you’ve succeeded in achieving your objectives.

If you’re a visionary leader, you’ve defined a course of action that’s compatible with your organization’s strengths, set forth a path toward operational excellence, maintained a strong commitment to your employees, and evolved strategies and practices around changing market needs. Sounds ideal but, unfortunately, vision isn’t enough.

Henry Thoreau understood the essence of vision: “In the long run, you only hit what you aim at.” You can’t aim without focus, and you can’t meet your target without discipline. If your vision is the “target,” it’s your culture that provides the focus to get you there.

Culture: the critical vision factor

The collective behaviors, assumptions and values that make up an organization’s culture are often unconscious. They’re also extensive and enduring, so they matter in getting you to your target. Your culture is what made you what you are. Is it what you want to be? And, more important, is it supporting you in achieving your vision?

  •  Are employees expected to work 80-hour weeks, or 40?
  • Are teams pitted against each other to create competition, or are employees hired and fired based on whether they are effective team members?
  • Can employees work from home, or should they be at the office every day?
  • Do employees see detailed company financials on a regular basis, or are layoffs or closings suddenly announced on a Friday morning?
  • Are employees or stockholders put first?
  • Do you offer great benefits or focus on lean operations?
  • Do you wait for the “right” talent to make a hire while leaning on current employees to take up the slack, or do you compromise on new talent to save the old?
  • Do you allow casual Fridays or require suits every day?

Characteristics like these tend to creep into your culture, without your having consciously made decisions to insert them. Yet they are critical factors in determining outcomes. It doesn’t necessarily matter what kind of culture you have, it does matter where it takes you.

It’s often easier for companies to become great than to stay great. Stay focused on achieving and maintaining the level of greatness you envisioned.

Kathleen Quinn Votaw is founder and CEO of TalenTrust, a Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) firm that helps companies accelerate their growth by hiring exceptional talent. TalenTrust LLC is located in Golden, CO. Kathleen is president of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), Denver. Reach Kathleen at or 303-838-3334 x5.

This article is the last in a five-part series on the “5 mortal blows guaranteed to kill your culture,” inspired by A&P CEO Sam Martin.

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