It’s not rocket science

Somehow running a business or team within a business of more than about 30 people can  appear to be extremely complex.  Of course we have the option to make it complex, but the secret of success is to keep it simple.

Over the last month I have been doing a lot of strategy/culture/leadership work for a variety of organisations ranging from a small but global medical business to a global energy giant – including an international charity.  I have also read Bryce Hoffman’s excellent “American Icon” about the astonishing turnaround at Ford over the last six years.

The totally transferrable secrets of success are:

1 – Have a clear vision of what you seek to achieve that is compelling for all stakeholders. It is absolutely essential that the vision is not a selfish one, like to become the number 1 in your market.  It needs to be something that staff, customers, suppliers and others can be equally motivated by.  It needs to be clearly and briefly articulated in just a few words.

2 – Agree a clear set of behaviours/values/culture and make sure the leaders role model it all of the time.  The values need to be aligned with the vision and the strategy, for example if the vision is requires innovation, the team will have to behave innovatively.  If the vision requires safety, the team will have to behave safely.  Do not compromise on the values – if people are unwilling or unable to live by them, they will leave.

3 – Articulate a strategy in four lines, make it clear and memorable so that everyone knows what they are doing.  Have each discipline (sales/finance etc) break out the strategy into their own four line strategy that delivers on the overall.  Repeat the overall strategy endlessly until it is part of the fabric of the organisation at all levels.  If people cannot remember and repeat it – it is too long and too complicated.

4 – Link recognition, rewards and discipline to behaviours and strategy. Celebrate, recognise and reward behaviours and achievements that are inline with the values and the strategy.  Act quickly on behaviours that are not, this does not mean sacking people, but making it very clear what is desirable and what is not.

5 – Measure stuff and share it.  Identify the key metrics towards the vision/strategy and values.  Have clear responsibility and accountability for each one and have your top team share them with each other, face to face and more widely at least weekly, using a common format.  If there are issues arising from the data, follow up with break out meetings for all who can help and work out what you are going to do about it.  Ensure that there is no blame attached to data that is below expectations – honesty is more important than scapegoats.

6 – Think holonically, and cascade the process through the business with each team having its own vision, values, strategy, recognition and measurements that are complimentary to the overall, ensuring that they deliver their part of the bigger picture.  Every team is both whole in itself and part of a larger whole.

7 – Love, this strongly links back to number one and this is probably the hardest bit to deliver, but unless there is a strong sense of love for the vision, the organisation, the strategy, the results, the stakeholders and each other – none of the above will work.    Love is the bit beyond the rational.  If we run our businesses rationally then everything is transactional.  There is no loyalty, emotion or honour in a rational system – only logic.  People are only as good as their last performance.  This is why the vision has to be valuable (lovable) for all stakeholders.  It is also about caring for people (customers, staff and suppliers) as people.

The businesses and organisations that are able to hold a consistent discipline around these seven areas succeed and while consistency is essential over years, it is also vital to be humble and nimble enough to adjust to circumstances.  The businesses that are able to succeed on these seven areas will also be able to deliver the best returns to shareholders.  Counter culturally keeping the focus on delivering value to all stake holders is the best way to deliver value to shareholders.

As part of the Kraft workshop I made some posters of inspiring quotes featuring Steve Jobs, Lady Gaga, Richard Branson, Sir Henry Royce and Gandhi.  You can download these from my website – just click on the “free” link at  They are good enough quality to print at A2.

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With love


Neil Crofts
authentic business
+34 646391384
Skype – neilcrofts




About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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5 Responses to It’s not rocket science

  1. I agree with you on this. And I’m sure you’ll agree with me that the only way to develop a vision that everyone loves and an agreed set of behaviours/values/culture that can be easily articulated (and actioned!), is for ALL employees – and that means everyone from the Chairman to the receptionist – to be part of the process of developing it. This is what the Inside Out approach is all about. I’ve been developing this over the last 6 months and would be interested to hear your thoughts. Keep up the good work! With love, Julian

    • Neil Crofts says:

      Hi Julian – it is an interesting point. I am doing some of this kind of work with BP at the moment and it is less practical with 80,000 people – there are also lots of contractors, which means it is not always completely obvious who you include and who you don’t. Actually I think there are two equally valid options as long as you are honest about it. One is to include everyone – as you say. The other is for the founder, or the leadership team to do some real soul searching and say “this is what we stand for and this is where we are going – are you prepared to follow whole heartedly?”

  2. Colin Smith says:

    Thanks Neil

    So, so true, it is not rocket science.

    The challenge I feel is that doing what you propose, which I agree with by the way, requires work. Work is not the problem though, the type of work required is, they have to look inside. Therein lies the problem and the challenge.

    The great news is that those companies that do the work will get the results.

    Loving who you are and what you do.

    Kind regards


  3. I like the theory behind these seven secrets, and I’m also interested in finding out about the evidence behind the theory, especially the success of the secrets in the long term. Does anyone have any thoughts about:
    Rate of failure/success of start-ups build on this model
    Typical strength of succession planning within the organisation (e.g. does the model produce new leaders who ensure the organisations continued success)
    Is the model taken up by the organisations stakeholders (e.g. seeing the success of the model, do customers, suppliers and competitors emulate the model)

    As you may have guessed I’m interested in the evolution of (business) cultures. I think this model has been around in a comparable shape and form for several decades, I would like people’s ideas about why it’s not yet the dominant business model, what is it that the other models to “better”?

    • Neil Crofts says:

      To take the last part first – I am not sure that the current norm of business culture is a rational choice. It has to do with many things, not least the way many of the people now leading businesses were educated and their level of personal insecurity. This insecurity leads to decisions that are more based on the individual than the whole.

      For most businesses today culture is an accident not a conscious decision. Once you make culture a conscious decision and you appoint and reward leaders based on that the chances of successors continuing the culture are high, especially if the rest of the organisation are consciously committed to that culture too.

      My evidence comes from a variety of sources, some cited – such as American Icon and my own client work. Other company cultures that bear tracking and analysis include – Netflix, Zappos, Amazon, Patagonia, Google, Interface flooring, Apple. European examples include: Novo Nordisk, John Lewis, innocent. Books on the subject include my own (Authentic and Authentic Business), a more recent and thorough version is “Firms of Endearment”.

      It is worth saying that culture alone does not make a successful business – all of the regular business disciplines of good financial management, strategy, execution etc are still essential – it is just that a great culture makes everything easier and more effective.

      With start-ups, culture is a minor issue, at less than about 30 people culture is organic, people spend enough time with each other that it just happens and unless the leaders are particularly careless it will be appropriate to the needs of the business. Where culture becomes critical is over about 30 people when it cannot be relied upon to happen naturally. Having said that there are also plenty of examples of companies of less than 30 people where careless leadership has lead to toxic cultures.

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