Welcome to the third article in our series, “Why your company culture must change.” In this series, we’re discussing why your business culture isn’t a fixed set of values you scribbled with your mission statement on a napkin one night but is actually a dynamic set of hierarchical values. I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s pick up where we left off in the last article. It’s time for the single most significant cultural change your business will experience, stage 3 of the Predictable Success model.

Culture in Whitewater

To be honest, I cringed when I wrote the heading “Culture in Whitewater.” Culture in Whitewater can be summed up in one word: awful.

It’s really that bad. For you who have been there, you know what I mean. For those of you who haven’t, you probably think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. That said, there is a reason for all the chaos.

Why does this happen?

Whitewater and these symptoms are so predictable because they are the direct result of the buildup of complexity from all those years of saying yes. Saying yes to everything is precisely how you survive in Early Struggle and grow in Fun, but it simply doesn’t scale. At some point, the just-get-it-done culture maxes out. If you try to force it and push through, it only makes the problem worse. 

As leaders, we intuitively pick this up. Internally we know we have to start implementing systems and processes so we can scale. We begin to bring in Processors lower in the organization (like a bookkeeper), and that helps. We then realize we need Processor leadership as well. We hire a CFO or a head of human resources, or whatever the position, what we are trying to do is systematize the company.

However, what we mistakenly believe is that the Processor should think the way we do. We believe we have the right culture; we just need to add a skillset. This belief couldn’t be further from the truth, but it’s not easy to see. What ends up happening instead is we hire in a big gun processor, sometimes we hire a fancy consultant from a fancy firm; other times, its just someone we know and trust who seems to be good with numbers or processors. Whatever the case, it is destined for failure. 

Is the Processor the problem?

Initially, there’s a breath of fresh air. There’s a solution to the problem. We’ve figured it out; we’ll fix it and get back to growing. However, in time, the cracks start to show. Our new Processor, our great hope, just doesn’t fit in. They say no all the time; they try to tell everyone what to do; they’re condescending and rude; they’re a total buzzkill. 

Then you realize what should have been obvious all along; they are not a cultural fit. The choice then is simple, fire the Processor (or maybe just ignore them until they quit) or change the culture.

Here’s where 90% of business owners get it wrong. They fire the Processor. I get it; I do. It makes sense at the moment. The culture got us this far, and the Processor is brand new. Sure, things were a little uncomfortable before the Processor, but now that they’re here, things are even worse. Instead of just screwing up, like we were before, now we’re screwing up and taking the time to document it. Work was getting tough before the Processor, but now I just hate it.

The experiment fails

So the experiment fails, the Processor goes, a small reset happens, and a brief period of relief ensues. But it doesn’t last long. Sooner or later, everyone is spinning too many plates, and they start to drop. Believing we learned our lesson last time around, we take more care and time to find a Processor who is a better fit. Despite all our due diligence, we come to the same choice as last time: change the culture or get rid of the Processor. The Processor goes while the real culprit is left unaddressed.

While all of this is happening at the leadership level, things are getting ugly on the front lines. The turnover at the top, half-implemented systems, competing demands, and a systemic lack of clarity are transforming the company from a fun, cohesive team, to a bitter, disappointed, and disillusioned enterprise. It’s miserable and confusing, and it’s no surprise that sales and profitability start to suffer.

The decision you must make

After you’ve unsuccessfully tried 2, 3, or maybe even more Processors, you realize it’s not just the Processor’s personality, and at some point, the moment of decision arrives. You either need to change your culture, your very way of doing business. Or you need to let off the gas enough to go back to Fun and limit your growth so you can stay there.

The only way out of Whitewater and into Predictable success is to expand your culture, making it big enough to not only include Processors but to make the Processor style co-equal with the Visionary and Operator styles.

Values in Predictable Success

The values from Fun must give way to the values of Predictable Success

  • Innovation 
  • Improvement
  • Individual Ownership
  • Accountability
  • Sustainability

Wow, take a moment to compare that to the values that work in Fun. It’s a very, very different list.

The change from Early Struggle to Fun is easy and natural, even automatic, but in Whitewater, it’s no longer about making your speed boat faster. To get to and stay in Predictable Success you need to build an aircraft carrier (Don’t worry. You don’t have to build a cruise ship, you can leave that to the companies who’ve lost their way in the big rut.) It’s that big of a change, and all that change is why so many companies with unbelievable potential never make it past Whitewater.

Still, it’s worth it. Making this admittedly painful transition will create more potential in your business than you even currently believe is possible. Doing the hard work of synthesizing and synergizing the Visionary, Operator, and Processor style will allow your company to scale for the very first time. 

The path to Predictable Success is not an easy one, but this very reality is what makes it so rewarding for those who make it.