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Creating an Open Business Culture

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The ultimate in performance comes in team sports. It’s about so much more than just one person, about more than individual performance. You cannot succeed in team sports without trusting your teammates and your coaches; without a stable organization; without a strong culture. You need a culture that is not about blaming and claiming individual glory, but about executing and winning, about accountability and trust.
It’s the same way in business. To have a successful business, you have to have a plan, execute, and win. If you have employees, you have to be collaborative and build a strong team—not just a bunch of talented individuals—whether you have full-time employees, contract employees, partners, semi-partners, or any other arrangement.
So how do you create that environment?
That was the challenge facing Ashok Subramanian, the CEO of Liazon, an employee benefits company. With 20–30 employees in the company, they wanted an employee handbook. It became the first thing new people read when they joined the company. But a year ago, Ashok decided the handbook was causing more problems than it was solving; it was locking people into a strict set of rules and behaviors, taking away the freedom to innovate and look for different, better ways of doing things.
“We’re not going to be governed by a culture that defines a set of rules,” he said. “We’re going to be governed by a culture in which we hold ourselves accountable for great performance, and for understanding that we trust each other enough that people are going to make good decisions because they’re here for the right reasons.”
The key isn’t having a great handbook; it’s having people of great integrity and ethics. That goes to the roots of transparency, openness, and trust that are so critical to successful innovation. You have to be transparent; that frees you up to think the right way and reinvent yourself. You have to be open to looking at and thinking about what’s working and what’s not working.
A good spur to an open culture is celebrating failure. If you can’t embrace the idea that little failures are steps to big success, then entrepreneurship is going to be a real struggle. Don’t be afraid to fail. Find ways to say, “That didn’t work, but what can we learn from it?” Embrace failure—but fail fast. Recognize when something doesn’t work. Reinvent yourself on the go, looking for new strategies.
An open culture is a key to success. Hire people and find partners who are driven and smart enough to think about how to do things better, not just following in line.
Published: June 5, 2013
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