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leadership-culture-strategy

It’s an all too common statistic: 90% of all start-ups fail. Ask anyone who has ever thought about starting a business, or started one, and they’ll tell you, “Yep, I’ve heard that one before.”

According to Failory, 70% of businesses fail between years two and five. And often, years two through five bring challenges that many entrepreneurs fail to recognize and plan for in the beginning.

Businesses fail for many reasons, including misreading the market demand, a lack of funding, or enough operating capital to keep the business afloat. Notably, 23% of businesses fail because of a weak team.

I’ve started businesses, bought and sold businesses, worked in both private and public sectors, and consulted with national and international companies. It rarely surprises me that few start-ups understand the importance, and place significant value on, leadership, culture, and strategy both collectively and congruently.

Too often, I hear founders and business executives relay their strategy. Usually, these are solid strategies with a passionate mission and vision, compelling competitive research, validated addressable market sizing and need, solid products, and great go-to-market ideas. Yet, this remains only half the battle.

When asked about the plan to activate strategy through the business, the response is all too frequently silence. Or worse, “I just tell them what to do.”

The successful entrepreneurs and start-ups that I have witnessed or worked with have understood the significance that most never bother to ask, the value of cultural alignment, and common leadership principles. In fact, the really good ones start with their idea and quickly move on to, “Who has done this before? What can I learn from them?” and “Who shares my passion and buys into my vision enough to help me make this successful?”

Building the right team is crucial. According to Entrepreneur Magazine, 23% of start-ups mentioned that team issues lead to their demise. Those “team issues” are most likely rooted in behavioral dysfunction and or confusion such as a lack of true alignment on vision, or a lack of understanding of the diversity of experience and opinion, and the inability to engage each other in true ideological conflict to reach the best decision (rather than the most convenient one), or these teams simply acquiesce to the loudest voice. A poor leadership team will build a poor management team. And a poor management team will build weak execution teams.

You have likely heard Peter Drucker’s quote, “Culture eats strategy for lunch”. A former colleague of mine, a Chief Administrative Officer for a nearly $3B company, added to that line in a meeting stating, “yeah, but its leadership that prepares the meal.”

Establishing and adhering to common principles of leadership is critical, as is defining the company’s culture, and then, organizing all your employee experiences and supporting human systems around and for that culture. From creating employee brand awareness through talent attraction and management through performance management, all elements of your employee experience must be purposefully thought out, planned, and executed in full alignment with the cultural expectations and strategic differentiators of that business.  In other words, success looks like taking the same rigor, planning, and care for the inside of your business as you do for the outside of your business.

Companies that do this well increase their chances of being “one of the 10-percenters” that survive the rough waters of the start-up phase and see their 10th anniversary.

What are your ingredients for success? How do you approach leadership, culture, and strategy? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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