Do Less, Better: a Strategy, a Culture, and 20 Reasons Why

Do Less Better

To “do less, better” isn’t something most leaders and their organizations embrace. The seemingly more attractive (and logical) option is to do more and more – the theory being the more markets, products, and businesses a company engages in, the better the results. This is not true.

Do Less Better is a strategy and a culture; it’s also the name of my book. And for organizations and their leaders, the proponents of this discipline worship focus, loathe complexity, and enjoy success.


The Campbell Soup Company has been doing more and more for decades. They have added a vast array of canned goods, juices, fresh and frozen foods, organics, and baby food to their core soup business. These additions account for 70% of Campbell’s sales. You’d think their revenues would have soared. Think again. Campbell’s 10-year sales trend is stagnant and their profits are down. Mired in the complexity of an unrelated product line, Campbell’s leaders keep plugging along trying to do more of the same, only better. They are kidding themselves.

Nike began as a shoe company. Today, 40% of Nike’s revenue comes from apparel and sporting goods. Have they also lost their way? Almost. The lure of more led to the acquisitions of Cole Haan and Umbro. The added complexity and loss of focus on the Nike brand was a lesson well-learned and it didn’t take Nike long to see the error of their ways. They divested both businesses and discontinued several other products including golf clubs and bags. What’s left in apparel and sporting goods is a good strategic fit with Nike’s operations. Nike sales are 40% higher than they were just 5 years ago and profits are up by 65%. Nike is a Do Less Better company. So are Coca-Cola, Lego, In-N-Out Burger, and Patek Philippe.


In the simplest of terms, three words exemplify one big idea. “DO” represents resolve and action. It’s an expectation placed upon us at a very young age. “LESS” is the noun that contradicts everything we see and hear in the busy world in which we live. “BETTER” is the adjective that expresses our desire to do well at whatever we undertake. Bring these words together and we facilitate a culture of clarity and focus.

Specialists beat generalists, but generalists who embrace and practice focus can be wildly successful.
-John Bell


  1. Complexity alienates customers, contaminates cultures, heightens stress, and increases the cost of doing business. Stamping out complexity won’t happen without a strong will to change at every level. Along with the will, you must be rationally and emotionally convinced that focus through sacrifice will take everyone to a better place. This is the why and the how.
  2. Clout is the culture of giants. Surprisingly, the small guy doesn’t need deep pockets to co-exist with powerful multi-nationals. Nimbleness, creativity, and culture go a long way, especially when contraction isn’t feared. That makes an organization operationally and strategically stronger.
  3. Whether you are a start-up or a Procter & Gamble, the ethic of focusing on what you do best and excelling at it is the culture and the identity that sustains an organization’s success.
  4. Human capital is the source from which competitive advantage flows or falls. That’s why Culture is the strategy for so many success stories such as Google and Amazon.
  5. The glue that binds leadership, strategy, and execution is people—at every level of the organization.
  6. Strategy tells you what not to do. The power of the do less better strategy is its capacity to keep things simple and uncluttered, from production and distribution all the way to sales, marketing, and service. The reward is longer-term competitive advantages.
  7. Cutting through the clutter requires giving up something of value such as brands and products for the sake of other considerations. This is strategic sacrifice. And the sacrifices that affect you personally are the ones that require courage.
  8. Leaders must pinpoint and honor their unsung heroes. This is a transparent way to reiterate the organization’s purpose, its strategy, and culture.
  9. Transformational leaders sacrifice the security of the status quo. Is your organization leading or scrambling to catch up?
  10. Boards give a damn about shareholder value. When a leader successfully links corporate culture to shareholder value, there’s a much better chance the board will give a damn about culture.
  11. Every challenging environment presents tremendous opportunities for leaders to excel. Maintaining clarity and cohesion though the tough times differentiates the victors from the vanquished.
  12. Farsightedness is essential to effective leadership. Clear, compelling visions establish the foundation for exciting growth.
  13. When business complexity increases, managerial complexity isn’t far behind. Likewise, when managerial complexity increases, business complexity isn’t far behind.
  14. Carefully prepared, genuine manifestos tell everyone who you are, what you believe in and why your cause is worth the sacrifice.
  15. Whether an organization is sick or healthy, doing more of the same but better is never the means to long-term prosperity.
  16. Specialists beat generalists, but generalists who embrace and practice focus can be wildly successful.
  17. Like gardening, pruning is as important as planting in business. If you plant as well as prune, your organization will prosper. Case in point, Nike.
  18. More balls in the air do not present more chances of success.
  19. Prioritize project lists. More projects run the risk of more people. The goal isn’t more people; it’s less. Fewer, better people dealing with fewer, better, projects is the name of the game.
  20. The do less better strategy must impact every element of an organization – that includes messaging, systems, recruiting, R&D, and employment. Sacred cows cannot exist.

The lessons of Do Less Better apply to every leader and every organization, big or small. Good leaders, good strategies, and good corporate values need not cost a penny more than bad leaders, bad strategies and bad cultures. Sure, my heyday as a business leader occurred during an era of less complexity. So I ask you—if the concept of strategic sacrifice and doing less better worked in a less-complicated business world, why wouldn’t it work now?

I look forward to your thoughts on social media. 

The Best Glue in Business: Culture

The Best Glue in Business: Culture

What is the secret to business success? The question has been asked, endlessly. And the answers by both pundits and practitioners bring a multitude of concepts, principles, and theories.

While it is true that one size does not fit all, the general consensus settles on the triumvirate of leadership, strategy, and execution. Without leadership, a business enterprise will eventually fail. Survival is possible without a strategy, but seldom over the long haul. Great strategy with lousy execution isn’t worth the piece of paper it is written on. The consequence of these proclamations is rather obvious; get it right, bring it all together and you have the commercial magic every enterprise desires.

But, how do you bring it all together? The glue that binds leadership, strategy, and execution is culture – quality individuals working together at the board level, in the executive suite, in the general office, on the factory floor, and out there in the field, the domain of the customer.

The glue that binds leadership, strategy, and execution is culture…

Until the information age, companies needed scads of people to run machines in plants and warehouses all over the country. The assets their shareholders valued most were tangible. Today, 80 percent of the asset value of the S&P 500 is intangible. These assets cannot be seen, touched or physically measured. The knowledge economy appreciates the fact that trade secrets, trademarks, patents, knowledge and know-how are what matters. This ethic explains why they spend so much on research and development. Last year, the world’s top 20 R&D spenders dished out more than $150 billion in this regard. Eight of these 20 companies participated in the healthcare sector, seven were in software, computers or electronics, and five were automakers.

In the new world of business, competitive intangibles are the source from which competitive advantage flows or goes, and human capital is the source of every competitive intangible. When it comes to recruiting great talent, the edge goes to organizations known for great cultures. Company cultures continue to become more and more transparent. People know that Southwest Airlines and Google are great companies to work for. Others, the likes of Sears, and American Airlines, not so much.

Finding the right people, motivating them, retaining them, facilitating their personal and professional development continues to be problematic for so many organizations. CEOs come and go. Wall Street demands quarterly results. Recessions thrash astute strategic intent and pressure CEOs and leadership teams into a mishmash of tactical “quick fix” solutions. If those in power are not careful, chaos will rear its ugly head in the complexity that is self-created.

Strong leadership, strategy, execution, and human capital are for naught without the bond of a great culture.

Strong leadership, strategy, execution, and human capital are for naught without the bond of a great culture. Culture is not only the best glue in business, it is also the best bargain in business. Why? Because it is attitudes, and not bank accounts that create this competitive advantage.

Can you add to this discussion? I invite your thoughts and comments on social media.

The Hustle and Bustle Advantage

The Hustle and Bustle Advantage

Should your company be striving for the type of advantage that has become the hallmarks of Amazon, Google and Facebook? In the tech world, it’s hard to imagine success without quick and continuous technological improvement. But, in the frantic race for product or service superiority, another advantage is often overlooked – company culture.

It doesn’t matter whether you sell information or cremation, the right kind of organizational culture can bolster and sustain a company’s performance.

Intense Competition as a Fact of Life

Make no mistake; intense competitive rivalries remain a fact of life in most industries. How leaders address the challenge to create opportunities can be as different as night and day. For example, a great poker player does not play the game the same way as would an astute chess player. Business leaders of the poker ilk value quick, prudent, and confident decision-making. They understand the risk of each play, but unlike chessmen, they sacrifice strategic contemplation and negotiation to establish themselves as nimble paragons of tireless execution. As business leaders, these folks put the pedal to the metal to get the job done; they love the hustle and bustle of the game, and they expect to see it played with vigor throughout their enterprises. The result is a hustle and bustle culture that when properly leveraged delivers results day in and day out.

Companies that Hustle Get Results

Hustle companies deliver superior performance to thousands of customers, retailers, restaurants, and service organizations. California-based In-N-Out Burger chain epitomizes this quick and nimble culture. Unlike competitive fast food restaurants, they deliver the “fast” in the category’s nomenclature. In-N-Out Burger keeps it simple in order to deliver a great product, quickly. Their menu is limited to three beef burger offerings, fries, shakes and soft drinks. If you want chicken, salad, pizza or wraps, get out of the line-up to the counter and go elsewhere.

Equally nimble are some of the world’s most successful private label brand manufacturers. Store brands, particularly in the US are doing better than ever. In 2014, private labels generated $115 billion in sales, an increase of +2.5% over year ago – more than twice the gain of national brands. While In-N-Out Burger thrives on doing less, private label manufacturers prosper by doing more. They have to do more (and do it better) because the secret to success in this business is a wide array of products and packages in countless shapes, sizes, and flavors at costs substantially below branded competitors. This is just an entry chit into the private label industry. Success comes from the ability to satisfy America’s powerful retail chains with flexibility, service, pre-defined quality, all at the lowest price. This does not leave much room or time for these players to pioneer new technologies or develop their own brands.

Pedal to the Metal Mentality

Companies that thrive on a fast culture are obsessed with reducing costs and improving operations. They don’t use their precious time to strategically hypothesize or intellectualize. They map a course of action and hit the accelerator. From top to bottom, everyone knows what is expected.

These companies are known for their ardent attention to the details of day-to-day activity, but don’t for a minute think they lack far-farsightedness. Visions need not be so narrow that they are repressive. On the contrary, they are broad enough that employees who thrive on perpetual motion have the breadth to pursue and create wonderful new opportunities.

Do you agree or disagree with these insights? What else can you share that’s important to learn? I invite your comments.

At the Heart of Culture: Work That Matters

At the Heart of Culture - Work That Matters

To most of us, the phrase Work that Matters infers job satisfaction. Our intended outcome is a workplace culture characterized by lower stress, lower turnover, and higher productivity – in business, a ‘win-win’ for employees, customers and shareholders. The logic is infallible. So, I ask you, why is there such a gap between the theory and the practice? Why are so many organizations and so many employees struggling to find workplace nirvana?

Work that Matters is a key success factor for every business. But, as a concept, it is no different than a long list of other key success factors that organizations strive to achieve. We read about these factors in the quintessential mission statements that occupy real estate in annual reports and gather dust in reception lobbies. Companies say they want to be customer-centric, to be innovative, to produce outstanding products and services, to be environmentally responsible, to be socially responsible, and so on. But, they continue to fall short of these superlatives. Herein lies the difference between objectives and strategy.

Matters that Work

It’s impossible to find Work that Matters without implementing Matters that Work. Some of these matters are the responsibility of the company, others are shared between the company and the employee. Without 5 core prerequisites in place, Work that Matters will be continue to be elusive.

  1. Matters of Vision. The starting place is a corporate purpose that will not only resonate with employees, it will bind them together. Sure, we’d all prefer a moral purpose, such as working for a company that is saving lives or saving the planet. But, that’s not to say you can’t be inspired by a company vision that thrills customers the way Zappos does.
  2. Matters of Values. For the nearly 5,000 employees who work at L.L. Bean, the idea of selling really good merchandise at a reasonable profit and treating customers like human beings is worth the effort. For Wegman’s Food Markets, it’s all about caring, high standards, making a difference, respect, and empowerment. Those who walk the talk create Work that Matters.
  3. Matters of Teamwork. Teamwork is more than the ability to work together toward a common goal. It is the opportunity and a privilege to do so – a matter of allowing ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results. When they do this, they collectively celebrate the results.
  4. Matters of Excellence. If you strive for mediocrity, you’ll never be happy in your work. Likewise, if you strive for excellence in an organization that blocks your ability to realize excellence, you’ll never be happy in your work. A matter of excellence is a shared responsibility. The company must create an environment in which achievers can achieve.
  5. Matters of Focus. Is vision, values, teamwork, and excellence, enough? Not if you are working on a plethora of matters that aren’t adding value. So why do you do them? Is it because you cling to tasks that make you feel busy or important? Look at your daily tasks and decide which ones can either be dropped, delegated, or outsourced. Ultimately, when you do less, better, you’ll find yourself doing more of the things that make a difference.

A Starting Place

Of course, there’s a lot more to job satisfaction than these 5 core prerequisites. That said, for those keen to realize a more human way to do business, the starting place is rather simple. Seek out organizations who know that happy employees make for happy customers, and that happy customers make for happy shareholders. These companies are easy to find, but job vacancies in those organizations? Not so much, for the obvious reason.

Can you add to this discussion? I welcome your thoughts and comments.

It Takes Strategic Sacrifice to Trash Complexity

It Takes Strategic Sacrifice to Trash Complexity

In business, there’s a prevailing belief amongst leaders that “doing more and more” is the only way to increase sales and profit. It is an easy notion to nod to because inherent in the assumption is a paradigm – the belief that additional activity such as new brand introductions or entry into a new markets or geographies bring incremental rewards. And, in many cases this is true. But there’s a downside, a nasty one. “Doing more and more” can create cultures of complexity, and left unchecked, complexity stifles, stagnates, and eventually brings organizations to their knees.

No Growth in Complexity

There are plenty of examples of excessive complexity in the food industry where giants such as Kraft Heinz, Kellogg’s, General Mills, and Campbell’s Soup have forgotten how to create organic growth. Without the confidence to grow the old fashioned way, they seek growth the easier way – they buy it. They dig into their deep pockets to acquire new businesses and brands in the hope of boosting their income statements and stock prices. Sure, there’s often an immediate boost in sales and stock value, but at the same time, the resulting complexity smothers clarity, and further curtails innovation. I’ve included links to the 5-year income statements of these companies. There is no growth.

Take Campbell’s, the world’s largest soup maker with a 60% market share of a $4 billion market. The company is very profitable—but there’s a problem, a big problem. Campbell’s is struggling with decades of stagnation within its core soup franchise. Initially, a simple business of shelf stable products, this company’s tentacles have extended to an array of fresh, frozen, organic, and refrigerated foods. With this diversity, comes indigestion. Complexity rears its ugly head from inbound logistics and operations all the way to outbound logistics and sales and service.

Advantage: Focus

Principle number one: the less coherent the businesses, the greater the complexity within the corporate culture and throughout the value chain. Sadly, this erroneous road to growth has become part of Big Food’s DNA. Sacrifice existing lines for clarity and cohesion? Not a chance. It goes against the grain of Big Food to suggest “doing less, better,” so that focus and specialization becomes the competitive advantage over the long haul like it has with Coca Cola. Coke has resisted diversification and concentrated on non-alcoholic beverages. This single-mindedness continues to deliver outstanding shareholder value because they run this business better than their rival PepsiCo, a company engaged in far more than soft drinks.

‘Doing less, better’ hinges on sacrifice. I’m the first to admit that this is easier said than done. Dumping pet projects, reducing the customer list, or turning down new sales opportunities can be incredibly difficult to do. It can feel impossible to ‘think smaller’ when everyone around you is firmly entrenched in the ‘do more’ strategic paradigm. Culturally, enacting the ‘do less, better’ strategy requires accepting the theory that 20% of the effort delivers 80% of the rewards. Focusing on that 20% generates a high ROE (return on effort). Doing less, better can work throughout an organization. It starts with the corporate strategy, includes marketing and sales strategy, and the all-important human resource strategy.

Make no mistake; strategic sacrifice doesn’t mean doing less work. Those who are devoted to focus, work harder because they are passionate and emotionally-connected to a much clearer vision. Bulldozing the walls of complexity in companies and departments is never achieved without sacrifice. The earlier and the bigger the sacrifice, the easier it gets afterward. Sacrifice must remain a part of the organization’s culture to sustain competitive advantage.

Are you seeing this “doing more and more” scenario playing out in your organization? If so, are you getting the organizational results you want? I welcome your comments and thoughts, please share them on social media. 

Knowledge is Power. Data isn’t.

Knowledge is Power. Data Isn't.

Whenever we hear “knowledge is power,” we readily nod our heads. In organizations that thrive on a culture of learning, the theorem and its corollary are seemingly undeniable.

Knowledge Theorem: Information + Knowledge = Better Decision-Making

Power Corollary: Better Decision-making = Power

The Allure of Information

The “knowledge is power” idiom was originally attributed to Francis Bacon in the late 16th century. But like many time-honored theories and beliefs, the premise isn’t as simple as it appears; too much of something that is deemed “good” often ends up turning “bad.” We see this too often with excessive wealth and stardom. The concept also applies to limitless appetites for information. Take note: information is the first rung on the ladder to power.

Thanks to technology, we have access to an endless source of data at our fingertips, at any place and at any time we choose.

Be Careful What You Wish For

There comes a point where the insatiable thirst for information does not bring power. Pass this point and data overload starts to work against you, reducing the power that you were working so hard to achieve in the first place.

Four reasons why an ascending power curve flattens, and then turns downward:

  1. Overwhelming amounts of information breed complexity. Technology gives us more and more data, but analyzing and understanding ‘more and more’ is arduous and time consuming. In today’s busy world of biz, time is also power. Entrepreneurially-minded leaders who move quickly and decisively enjoy an edge. Then, they build on that advantage by keeping things simple to maintain clarity. These are the trailblazers that drive their entrepreneurial spirit to every nook and cranny of the organization.
  2. Information overload obstructs prudent decision-making. When leaders rely on excessive research data to reduce the risk of critical decisions, vibrant environments concede to morose cultures of risk-aversion. Sadly, in their race to learn more before taking that difficult choice, that other race, (the strategic race to the future), slows because stagnation sets in.
  3. Information doesn’t necessarily mean understanding. Understanding comes in many shapes and forms. One of the best sources of understanding is experience. This includes marketplace know-how, familiarity with competitors and customers, and expertise in leading during turbulent times. Excessive information gets in the way of understanding. Less is better, strategically, managerially, and culturally.
  4. Too much information ruins instincts. It is experience that improves a person’s ability to take action. Moving on your instincts is not seat-of-the-pants leadership. Rather, it is using judgment at the right time and in the right place to seize the competitive edge. Competitive advantage, and not information is power.

Tough & Timely Decision-Making

Now, I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t value information technology of big data. I do. But, I’m a disciple of point #4. When I was a CMO and CEO, I operated with an entrepreneurial mindset that required taking decisions as early as possible. That meant making the call without all of the information, and not fretting about it, but being glad of it. To be fair, the ‘act early’ ethic prevails in corporate cultures that worship entrepreneurial thinking.

Not everyone or every organization can, or should work this way. The crossing of every “t” and the dotting of every “i” is critically important to thousands of companies. None of us want to see pipelines, oil rigs, or airlines compromising safety for speed. These industries need all of the information. But, there is nothing stopping decision-makers from making early calls to improve ways to efficiently source information and enhance analytical acumen.

At Apple, Steve Jobs never wanted research from focus groups or quantitative usage and attitude studies. He knew what to do, and he did it with conviction. Can you point to a better example in which experience, intuition, and instinct created power?

Have you experienced an unusual level of information burden? If so, what coping strategy have you adopted? Share your comments on social media.

Goodbye Mission Statement. Hello Manifesto.

Goodbye Mission Statement. Hello Manifesto.

Is there a difference between mission statements and manifestos? Yes and no. Their intentions may be the same but that’s where the similarity ends. In practice, the outcomes of mission statements and manifestos are miles apart. Though manifestos and missions are crafted to bring people together behind a cause, manifesto’s have a much better track record of igniting action. The best are so emotionally charged that their catalytic influence can endure for centuries. Such was the case for the Ten Commandments, and the Declaration of Independence. As recently as fifty years ago, an emotional speech delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial established a clear and convincing purpose for American Civil Rights. ‘I Have a Dream’ is arguably the most inspiring manifesto of our time.

Manifestos Can Work for Companies

Manifestos are best known for political movements, but the emotion of such texts can also motivate people to excel in the world of business. Apple is a good example. CEO Tim Cook stated the Apple Way six months before Steve Jobs passed away. That declaration left employees and investors believing that Apple could go on without Steve Jobs. Here was the gist of that text:

Apple is on the face of the earth to make great products. We’re constantly focusing on innovating. We believe we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so we can focus on the few that are meaningful to us. We believe in deep collaboration and cross pollination in order to innovate in a way others cannot. We don’t settle for anything other than excellence in any group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change. Regardless of who is in what job, those values are so embedded in this company that Apple will do extremely well.

Apple is Thriving without Steve Jobs

Fast forward six years, and the proof is in the outcome. Apple is going on without Steve Jobs. The style of CEO leadership may have changed, but not the culture of the Apple choir that continues to hit the high notes of innovation, and financial performance.

Crafting a company manifesto is far more difficult than crafting a mission or vision statement. It takes plenty of thought, hours of collaboration, and a very good understanding of the business and the existing culture. Below are 6 critical components to a potent manifesto:

  1. State Deep Emotional Principles. Apple’s compelling purpose is about existing to make awesome products, and operating under emotional principles.
  2. Capture Core Values. Tim Cook’s manifesto is loaded with core values – admitting error, innovating, collaborating, and demanding excellence.
  3. Be Truthful. Most mission statements are full of illusionary visions. Great manifestos touch the emotions when they are authentic.
  4. Link Business Life to Personal Life. Apple’s manifesto doesn’t do this. It likely doesn’t have to, because unlike most industries, tech life and home life are intertwined.
  5. Be Inclusive. The manifesto must touch (and move) everybody. I don’t know if Disney, Nike, Cirque du Soleil, or the New England Patriots have a manifesto. But, they sure act like they do.
  6. Differentiate. There is nothing more powerful than differentiation in a competitive arena. When defining differentiation, do it in simple terms.

Manifestos, unlike the stereotypical mission statements, tell everyone who you are, what you believe in and why you are prepared to invest of yourself in the cause.

Is your company ready to enact a potent manifesto? If not, where are the constraints and what can be done about those constraints? Is it possible that a manifesto that meets the above criteria might do just that? Please share your thoughts by commenting on social media.

Board of Directors Resolution – Pay Attention to Culture

Board of Directors Resolution – Pay Attention to Culture

21st Century corporate governance is a busy job. Acting on behalf of shareholders, boards of directors are paying attention to an escalating list of risks and rewards from a firm’s undertakings. Like many activities within any organization, “the squeaky wheels get the grease.” Other than in desperate situations such as ‘turnarounds,’ culture seldom ranks as a pressing matter in the boardroom. That’s a big mistake.

During my tenure as a CEO, my Board of Directors never posed questions pertaining to corporate culture. I wasn’t surprised in the least. Jacobs Suchard Directors expected me to run their North American operation as an entrepreneurial enterprise, and as long as the returns were favorable, they assumed I was doing just that.

Boards Pay Attention to Shareholder Value

As with most Boards, their primary interest was shareholder value. As such they were keen to discuss the ‘hard’ variables – profit margins, efficiencies, headcount, labor climate and strategic initiatives. Maybe it was the times; a quarter century ago, culture was beginning to come of age. And even though culture is a vital determinant of business performance, today’s Boards fail to give it the attention it deserves.

That is not the case at Google, Zappos, Whole Foods, and several other new age companies. Envision Google without innovators, or Zappos cutting corners on customer service. Imagine Whole Foods selling processed foods loaded with saturated and trans-fats. This is difficult for us to do because of the cultural disconnect to what these organizations stand for.

Founders Infuse Corporate Values

Founders infuse corporate values. In the early days of Zappos, Tony Hsieh asked his employees to help define the company’s culture. Ever since, employees submit a few paragraphs on what Zappos means to them. These musings are added to a culture book that is updated annually. Zappos gladly ships this book anywhere in the world at no cost. Has the Zappos culture improved business performance and shareholder value? Jeff Bezos thought so. In 2009, Amazon bought Zappos for $1.2 billion. Bezos wanted Hsieh to stay at the helm, for good reason. In 2013, Zappos continues to amaze under this culturally insightful leader.

John Mackey of Whole Foods understands culture. In 1986, he instituted a policy whereby any employee can look up the salary and bonus of others, including the top management. Seemingly, if workers understood what types of performance and achievement earned certain people more money, he figured, perhaps they would be more motivated and successful, too. Mackey admits to being constantly questioned about salaries. “People want to know why they aren’t earning as much as someone else.” Mackey tells them it’s because “that person is more valuable. If you accomplish what this person has accomplished, I’ll pay you that, too.”

When the founders are gone, the culture baton is passed down a long line of chief executives. These leaders are responsible for perpetuating “the way” or making changes depending on the market environment or the needs of the enterprise. Some do it well. Others do not. Boards can help. They determine that next line of CEOs and they keep an eye on corporate performance. Boards are charged with providing perspective and input into the long-term business strategy, imparting strategic direction to management, and identifying risk and overseeing mitigation. There’s not a better way to deliver against these objectives than bringing insightful cultural discussions into the boardroom.

What do you think? Are corporate boards starting to pay more attention to culture? Do we need a new director recruiting criteria to realize greater attention to culture in the boardroom?

Culture is the Small Guy’s Advantage

Culture is the Small Guy's Advantage

When you know that your company will never be the low-cost producer nor will it ever have enough cash to outspend the big cat, there’s no choice but to find other ways to skin that cat. Thousands of small to medium sized businesses are successfully doing this. “How?” you ask. The answer lies within those factors that do not require fat bank accounts. There are far more than you think.

I’ll start with leadership. A good CEO costs no more than a bad one – sometimes far less when you consider costly mistakes and lucrative severance packages. The same argument can be made for strategies. The very best strategies aren’t generated by outside strategic planning consultants who bill thousands of dollars a day. These strategies come from the inquisitive mindsets of founders, entrepreneurs, and employees who are keen to make a difference.

Culture Separates Winners from Losers

The path upon which I am walking is the one paved by powerful corporate cultures and shared employee values. More than ever before, cultural strength is separating winners from losers. That said, a culture that works for one company might be the kiss of death in another. Monsanto, for example, enjoys the competitive advantage that emanates from a culture of clout. The power they exert from impregnable patents and scale economies is providing unprecedented sales and earnings growth. Clout companies favor acquiring competitors, entering new product or service categories, and expanding into virgin geographies. Ultimately, sales per employee decline as acquisitions are digested, plants are closed, and employees are terminated.

So how does a small player compete against mega corporations? Rule number one: don’t try to copy the giant’s strategy or its culture. There might be elements that are worth emulating, but certainly not the ethic of dominance, because by their very nature, small and medium sized operations have no clout. That doesn’t mean they can’t be strategically powerful. Specialization is the key to thriving against mega corporations with broad scope – generalists the likes of Walmart, Kraft, and Google. In America, several specialist retailers who limit their product scope continue to thrive in an environment dominated by 5,000 Wal-Mart stores.

Stop Trying to Do More and More; Do Less, Better

When an organization enjoys “big company” power, a qualitative culture isn’t urgent. Qualitative cultures are about the creativity, the ingenuity, and the innovation created by the human resource, not the financial resource. But to smaller companies, qualitative strategies are the catalyst to sustainable competitive advantage. This is a culture of entrepreneurial and innovative thinking. Make the right move, shatter market paradigms, and competitors will follow, no matter their size. And while they are scrambling to catch up, you can be working on the next move to alter the strategic game. This type of culture emanates from the top and permeates every nook and cranny of the operation. The leader cannot do it alone. He or she needs other leaders, and they are everywhere, waiting to be unleashed.

With the right headset, there is no reason why a smaller player cannot challenge a giant’s wallop and become a leader within its chosen market. The trick to thriving against the Giants comes down to doing less, better with an arsenal of three weapons— leadership, strategy, and culture. Here are 7 cultural traits that help smaller players thrive in a business world in which big keeps getting bigger:

  1. The big guys are slow. Hustle.
  2. They are bureaucratic. Be nimble.
  3. They are risk averse. Think and act entrepreneurially.
  4. They are generalists. Be a specialist or organize the company to act like one.
  5. They are obsessed with scale. Be obsessed with creativity and innovation.
  6. They are fact-centric; the more data at their disposal, the better. Be fact-selective.
  7. They grow by doing more and more. Grow by doing less, better.

The Law of the Vital Few

At the core of doing less, better is Pareto’s Principle, the 80/20 rule, known as the law of the vital few. The principle is more than a century old and is rooted in Vilfredo Pareto’s simple observation that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas. This led to a more profound assertion by Pareto—that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.  You’ve likely heard this expression in business as it applies to sales, profits, and customers. Generally speaking, 20% of the new initiatives deliver 80% of the rewards. Choose carefully, and you save money, reduce complexity, and ride the fastest race horses to the future.

What’s holding you back from doing less, better?  What are the bottlenecks that limit the potential of the ‘do less, better’ culture? Where is the greatest complexity in today’s companies?  Please comment on social media.