THE BLOG
10/15/2013 04:31 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Stop Building a Business -- Start Building a Culture

Success in business is as much about knowing what to do more of, as it is about what to do less of. I find that the key to achieving extraordinary results often lies in having the clarity of mind during key inflection points to know what you need to keep versus what you need to discard -- or what growth guru, Verne Harnish, calls the "Stop doing list."

Things like values, culture, vision, discipline, a well-articulated plan, and traditions are important aspects of building a business that often get lost in the shuffle or replaced by much more exciting things, often known as distractions. Distractions in business are like sheep in wolves' clothing. The challenge with distractions is that they sometimes come disguised as strategy -- they look and sound great, you fall in love with them, and they appear to be important and beneficial. But in reality, they are the second deadliest of all evils in business (the first being greed), because they take you off course, redirect valuable resources, and leave you confused as to why you failed to achieve your intended results.

Foundational elements for building a culture-based business include knowing who you are (core values), what kind of business you want to have (vision), and a plan -- one that clearly articulates what constitutes success and how that success will be measured. Do not always assume that success must be measured by financial results. Often, success is best defined in terms of legacy, culture, shared vision, and accomplishment.

Once the foundational elements of your business are in place, it takes mind-numbing adherence to mundane things (discipline) to get it off the ground. The greatest discipline that you will ever have to exercise in business is a discipline around people -- who to hire, who to set free, and who to coach. In order to conquer this beast, you will need to use your values, your culture, and your vision as the litmus test for who is right and who is wrong for YOUR business. If they don't pass muster, that doesn't make them bad people or wrong for everyone else. It simply means that they're wrong for your business. Unfortunately, "experience," which is often your best partner, leads you to hire many of the wrong people first before you finally gain the clarity that you need to realize the true cost of a bad hire: failed objectives, culture confusion, and disparate messaging. The wrong people in your organization are often your greatest distractions. They cost you more than just money. They cost you time.

The truth is that building a business is a lot like raising a family -- although it can be immensely rewarding, it's rarely ever sexy. Raising a family is an all-consuming passion, driven by the need to perpetuate a certain type of existence founded in values, culture, and traditions. To be successful parents, we must articulate a vision, be clear about our values (acceptable versus unacceptable behaviors), and have the discipline to make it a reality -- each and every day. Our children, especially our teens, may see us as obsessed with rules and control, when in reality... we are simply paving the path to a better future.

If you are beginning your journey in business and you have the heart of an entrepreneur, I strongly recommend Verne Harnish's book, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. Although it advertises itself as a book that will help you increase the value of your growing firm, it's much more than that. It's a how-to book on creating an organization that has value from the very beginning. It emphasizes the importance of the basics in business and the dangers of distractions.