How Do You Know the Difference?

Feb 21, 2023

You’re driving down a two-lane road and a string of cars passes you going in the opposite direction.  How can you tell the difference between the gas-powered cars and the electric cars? That question came to me as I was working out one morning. I was clueless about the answer, so I called the best mechanic I know, Adam Wood. “For most vehicles you can’t tell the difference just by looking at the car,” he said.  “On the outside, they all pretty much look the same.”

Adam’s comment made me think about organizations in a similar light. Can you tell the difference between an organization that has a Growth Culture and one that has a Performance Culture by looking at the outside? No. On the surface, most organizations look basically the same. One may have a bit more technology or better marketing and sales, but on the surface they all look very similar.  Most banks look the same, most investment firms do the same things, most gyms have the same equipment and classes. Maybe that’s why banks, investment companies, gyms, and every other business spend so much time explaining what makes them different – because on the outside they all look very similar.  Back to Adam Wood’s comments.

“What’s different,” Adam said, “Is on the inside – the fuel source and the drivetrain.” The fuel source is obvious: gas, diesel, hybrid, or electric. I was curious about what’s included in the drive train, so I went to Google: The drivetrain is the system in a motor vehicle which connects the transmission to the drive axles. So, the fuel makes the engine run. The engine sends energy to the transmission which moved the rods and gears in the drivetrain, which turns the axles, which turns the wheels!  I started thinking about the Organizational fuel source and drivetrain. 

The Fuel Source

So, what is the fuel source in every organization?  CULTURE

Culture is the set of beliefs or norms that causes people to think and act as they do. The equipment and technology may be identical in two organizations, but one organization will outperform another based on the culture.  Let’s compare a Performance Culture and a Growth Culture.

Performance Cultures reinforce “doing,” because they focus on tasks and goals. Tasks and goals are the Holy Grail in a performance culture. Another interesting fact about Performance Cultures is that performance usually plateaus at how the leaders define success. From a workforce standpoint here's the main point - Performance Cultures create “doers,” a disadvantage in an ever-changing market.

Growth Cultures create something else. Growth Cultures reinforce “role growth.” The Holy Grail in a Growth Culture is insuring that people are growing in their role. Why? Role growth drives performance growth. By helping people grow in their role, you move beyond “tasks and goals” to master “what drives tasks and goals.” That’s the real difference between a Performance Culture and a Growth Culture. When people are continually growing in their role they become “thinkers & innovators,” a real advantage in an ever-changing market.

The Drivetrain

So, if culture is the Organizational Fuel, what’s the Organizational Drivetrain? SYSTEMS, PROCESSES, PROTOCOLS

The Organizational Drivetrain consists of the systems, processes, and protocols that exist within an organization. Communication, collaboration, problem solving, decision making, innovation, and daily work processes are the main drivers, but there are many more.

The Organizational Drivetrain is where most organizations breakdown.  Philosophically most leaders want a Growth Culture. We want “thinkers & innovators,” but the systems, processes, and protocols used create “doers” not “thinkers and innovators” - the opposite of what we need today.

Here's the important thing to know about the Organizational Drivetrain. Most of the systems, processes, and protocols to support a Growth Culture already exist within most organizations. The issue is that they are currently designed to support a Performance Culture. Repurpose them to support a Growth Culture, and you can quickly see performance improve.


That’s the topic of the next blog – What you need to know about people.  



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