CEO Summit: CorPorate culture

Kirk Dando

Kirk Dando has always been fascinated by what makes leaders effective, and what makes companies grow. What truly makes a difference, good or bad? In truth, CEOs are often forced to embrace ambiguity. However, Kirk believes there are best practices and tools centric to company culture that can tip the scale in their favor, yielding better decision-making.

After moving to Texas, Kirk spent a lot of time with Enron. There were four values chiseled in their marble entryway: respect, integrity, communication and excellence. The problem was, those (seemingly) concrete values weren’t reflected in conversations amongst employees of the organization. The discrepancy between stated culture and real culture ultimately deterred him from taking the job.

At the end of the day, culture has an immense impact on company growth.

Every successful organization passes through a series of developmental phases:

1. Startup
2. Rapid growth
3. Market leader

Many leaders assume that vision and strategy are what fuel a company through their greatest periods of growth, but Kirk stressed that this belief isn’t always true. Great companies come to learn that culture eats vision and strategy for lunch. Vision and strategy are future-gazing, while culture is focused on today. If there is a disconnect between vision and strategy, you often end up with a stated culture versus a real one.

Kirk believes executives can either treat company culture as a “nice to have”, or as mission critical. There is a subtle (but very real) difference in each approach.

Alignment between culture, vision and strategy is key. There are three steps needed to achieve this:

1) Assess
2) Align
3) Act

Strategy and vision are hardly ever the true reasons for failure. Instead, failure falls in execution. Company culture must support a system that recognizes and rewards successful execution, generating goals that are real and attainable.

In response to Kirk’s discussion, the audience explored how CEOs of growing companies get to a point when they don’t know what they don’t know anymore. Kirk stressed that everyone has blind spots, which underscores the need for alignment. Bringing in like-minded people with different perspectives can combine to provide a 360 degree view. Many CEOs are embarrassed to admit they’re making it up as they go -- but that’s the definition of an entrepreneur. If you support your culture, it can inform your decisions more than if you turn a blind eye.

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EF CEO Summit

Presented by Rackspace

The CEO Summit is an ongoing series designed to support Austin-area CEOs in strategic, high-impact areas of their business. These invite-only events bring together CEOs from ventures of all stages to share tips and unusually candid advice based on real experiences.

For the first CEO Summit, held this spring at Austin's Capital Factory, we asked six executives to share their insights on CORPORATE CULTURE. Successful corporate cultures are key in attracting and retaining the best talent, promoting innovation and driving performance. As the stewards of corporate culture, CEOs must understand better than anyone else what promotes great culture, and what doesn’t.

The CEO Summit is organized by the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Central Texas, and is made possible through the generosity of companies like Rackspace and the Capital Factory.