Delivering earnings reports, working with the board, providing the proper balance of capital and people resources, developing and executing effective strategic plans. These are all the actions of a CEO, but what do all of these disparate actions have in common? You can see them. They’re visible to the naked eye, in some cases, in plain black and white.

The truth is, today’s leaders need to worry about the things they can not see even more than the things they can see in their organization. What do I mean? While not observable, an enterprise’s culture can dictate whether or not a strategy, however well fleshed out, can be successfully executed on. On top of that, there are naturally occurring inhibitors to your enterprise’s capacity to be innovative. Acting much like our immune system that keeps us healthy, or the gravity that keeps our feet planted firmly on the Earth’s surface, there are forces that keep your enterprise from achieving success.

I am willing to bet that your company has an immune system. You can’t see it but you can feel its impact whenever some new threat emerges, an innovative idea is presented or a new person joins a team. I’m also willing to bet that your company has a certain inertia or gravity to it. Again, you can’t see it but you can feel its tug against your strategic initiatives. When I was in the military, in combat situations we used to say: “you can’t shoot what you can’t see.” Here is a pair of night vision goggles for the CEO to see their culture:

Your enterprise is a relic of the past

Your corporate culture is an artifact of past success and acts like an immune system. Everyone in the company has learned from the past and continues to do what worked in the past, a little better and a little faster. Your corporate immune system will attack anything that does not fit with the past. Be willing to look for the origin of certain habits or norms in order to see if the conditions that were present in the past, (conditions that gave rise to these habits and norms), are the same conditions present today. This critical reflection helps people to question and possibly give up elements of the culture that are no longer relevant or effective.

Corporate culture: the unwritten rules for success

A company’s culture is comprised of the (predominantly) unarticulated rules for individual success within the company. People pay attention to your actions. No matter what you say your values are or what you say is important, your people watch what you actually invest in. Your staff notice whom you promote and fire (and why), and they see what you do and do not acknowledge people for. Are you operating in a way that demonstrates the culture your want? Simply put: the fish rots from the head. What do your actions say to others about what is really valued?

What invisible forces could be holding your enterprise back from success? Chances are they exist somewhere in your enterprise, killing off innovation it perceives as a threat, holding you back from background conversations like gravity, all this and the unwritten rules for success inhibit your enterprise’s ability to act dynamically, think innovatively, and produce the results you know they’re capable of.

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