RIS Editor’s Note – Culture Vulture April 2007

by Joe Skorupa, RIS Group-Editor-In-Chief

The dominant theme at the recent Retail Executive Summit in Las Vegas was corporate culture – what it means, how it works, where leaders fit into it and, ultimately, the impact it has on the success of the organization. Several speakers hit home runs with this topic, including former Wal-Mart executive Michael Bergdahl, Best Buy SVP John Thompson and Tractor Supply CEO Joe Scarlett.

Joe Skorupa
RIS Group-Editor-In-Chief
Joe Skorupa RIS Group-Editor-In-Chief

Several other speakers also scored well with attendees at the three-day event hosted by RIS.

But the speaker that hit a grand slam was Marty Allen, CEO and President of Party America, who last year completed a turn-around and sale of Party America to Berkshire Partners, which in 2005 also purchased the chain’s main rival Party City.

Allen is not your typical number-crunching Wall Street-obsessed CEO. He’s a straight-talking people person who understands that corporate success depends on people. “Your company isn’t a products company,” Allen says, “It’s a human company selling products. The pivot point on which any strategic success rests is the discretionary effort of your human organization.”

By corporate culture, Allen means “your employees’ shared beliefs about survival and prosperity.” And he also notes that it means their survival and prosperity and not yours. “You’re not part of their culture,” Allen explains. “You’re management selling something to them. No matter how friendly you are and no matter how closely you work with them, don’t ever make the mistake of thinking you’re a member of their culture.”

“You’re not part of the culture. You’re management selling something to them.
– Marty Allen

So while you can’t stop a culture from existing and you can’t tell people what their culture should be, you can work the culture to make sure it supports your strategy. And if this happens, if the culture adopts your strategy as a key to their survival and prosperity, then they give their all to make it happen.

Allen offers several tips to executives who want to influence their corporate culture. Create corporate legends where the retelling reinforces important company values; sell new strategies like a consumer product to each segment of your employee population; convert your managers into leaders; bring your core values to work; create a better place for your people to work; inspire trust through consistency and passion; embrace mistakes; know that the successful battle is fought for your employee’s hearts and not their pockets; and finally, promote values instead of strategies and learn the difference between the two.

Allen’s presentation was filled with takeaways, too many to list here. Look for a deeper dive into his talking points in next issue’s Insider’s Insight Column.