This is Not Set in Stone

Published: December 12, 2012

Sitting in the lobby waiting to be greeted by the company's chief human resources officer, I took in the decor. Workspace design is often the first clue to an organization's mission. This particular organization was the parent company for over a dozen global businesses. Each business logo was proudly displayed on a sign attached to a post embedded deeply into a massive foundation of granite. The message was clear.

The discussion of our future partnership arose from a conversation of the evolution of culture. Because the historical growth of this company was driven by mergers and acquisitions, they were continuously challenged by blending missions, values, and visions. Often, there was common ground. Sometimes, however, there was significant disparity in organizational philosophy despite the wisdom and business sense of the acquisition. Either way, blending differences and managing change was woven into the fabric of the corporate culture.

Further exchange revealed the secret sauce of their success. Their growth was made possible by ongoing strategic decisions about whether to invest or divest. Selling a company often had greater advantage than buying one. On any given day, an associate of this organization could learn that they were hereby either now employed by this company or hereby no longer employed by this company. The business logos that filled the signs embedded deeply in the granite foundation were easily interchangeable.

The granite foundation, however, never moves. Sign posts move in and out as strategic business decisions are executed from year to year. The overall philosophy, mission, values, and vision of the organization, however, remain anchored and stable. When changes occur, whether expected or unexpected, everyone rests upon the strength of the foundation that, for decades, has guaranteed the sustainability of the business. While everything always changes, some things don’t.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.