August 25, 2015 Chris Fuller

Tighten Up, Lighten Up or Both?


For the past twenty years, I’ve had the honor of working with some of the most seasoned and dedicated leaders around, from both small boutique companies and large conglomerates. Over these years, I can confidently say that I’ve never met a leader who doesn’t want to see his or her company succeed.

Yet, even with the best intentions, leaders can find themselves needing assistance in developing culture that establishes practices and habits for success. Most often, I’m called in to help existing companies address a “situation.” They have a problematic department; they aren’t hitting their ideal performance metrics; they have relational dysfunction; they want to diversify or open new branches; they want to expand their horizons…but something is holding them back. In these situations, most company’s leadership simply needs to be reminded of what will make the company fire on all cylinders—from both a results-oriented standpoint and a relational one.

When the leaders are sound, solid people, with every good intention for their company, the problems come down to a basic imbalance—overplaying a particular strength, or a focus on what some have called “the tyranny of the Or.”

This imbalance can be hard to put your finger on unless you’re trained to look for it. But once you understand what you’re looking for, the signs are quite obvious (and often more widespread than anyone realizes):

1. Highly productive companies with a workhouse atmosphere, where well-paid employees eventually feel inadequate valued. This could be from a personal/work-life balance or a what have you done for me lately feeling. (We need to “lighten up” the culture and value the contributors)

2. Highly relational companies whose people enjoy the perks, the camaraderie and pats on the back but eventually become frustrated with the lack of achievement, feel an inadequate sense of purpose, accomplishment or momentum. (We need to “tighten up” the culture)

3. Highly confused companies with an inefficient mix of highly relational departments and highly driven departments whose people eventually never find enough identity to establish any sort of lasting loyalty. (need for both)

In every situation above, the problem is not an utter lack of success. It is simply that a incomplete culture had taken each company as far as it could go. The prescription for achieving that next level of success isn’t a matter of completely discarding what they already have; instead, it’s time for each company to embrace what I like to call an “And” mentality:

Relationships AND Results

People AND Process

Connectedness AND Individuality

Sprints AND Strategic Rests

Service AND Profits

Security AND Accountability

Systems AND Innovation

Today, it seems as though much of the content on company culture focuses on either greater results or better relationships. I would like to propose that these two parts should be of the same discussion. As a result, I have decided to break up this blog post into a 3 part series beyond this intro on the subject. In each subsequent post, I will dissect and exemplify situations in which organizations may need to “Tighten Up,” “Lighten Up,” or do both in order to achieve this “And” Culture!

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