Tag Archives: Corporate culture

Target is Learning it is More Difficult to Retain Success Than to Attain it.

Target is not the first successful company, nor will it be the last, to learn that failure to continue to do the things that created success will lead to an “agony of success.”

Have you ever heard of a company – I mean, any company – that turns away a customer because he or she wanted to buy too much? I had not either, but I swear that what you are about to read is true!

This past December I walked into a Target store intending to buy Christmas “gift cards” for our kids and their young families. Much to my frustration TargetGiftCardand consternation, I was told that the number of cards and the amount of total value I wanted to purchase exceeded “company limits” and Target would not sell me the cards. After going through three levels of management – including one who claimed to be the “store manager” – all of whom rejected my effort to purchase the cards, I was forced to leave the store empty-handed. The result?  Target lost a nice sale while earning the animosity of another customer.

What was even more troubling and revealing for me, was that every customer service rep I spoke to in the store seemed simply blasé about either creating more sales for Target or satisfying the needs of a customer. The person who claimed to be the “store manager,” for example, did say that I could “get around the rules” if I went to different Target stores on different days, and make smaller purchases at each store. Unbelievable, but true!

With such relentless indifference to customer service, it’s fair to say that I was not the least bit surprised when deep problems at all levels of Target began to emerge this year culminating with the recent resignation of its CEO. Sure, you can blame his departure on the massive payment card breach or the costly missteps when Target tried to expand into Canada. But it would be a mistake to believe that these problems and related declining revenues “just suddenly appeared” and are merely coincidental.

Target has been a great success story, succeeding when many others failed. Target has benefited from a strong management group; a culture built to achieve success and a solid base of earned customer loyalty. In reality the problems being exposed now are simply the public manifestation of what has been a long-term corrosion of Target’s “culture of success.” It is clear now that once success was achieved, the leadership of Target simply stopped encouraging and doing the things that had driven the company to success. What we are seeing at Target now are the obvious symptoms of a company suffering from the agony of success, brought on by a failure on the part of management to recognize that it is even more difficult to retain success, than it is to attain it.

The travails of Target can be a positive learning opportunity – not just for Target management – but also for anyone who wants to learn how to deal with and survive success. I have written about this phenomenon of an “agony of success” over the years, but this real-life example of the agony being experienced by Target is good reason to reinforce what it takes in attitude and action for anyone or any organization to continue to be successful.

At the start, the management of most companies focuses on the quest to become leader in its field, but once that is achieved, few understand that success creates its own set of distinctive problems and new realities. The challenge becomes doing what it takes to stay on top and few managers recognize the subtlety of this change. When a successful company begins its slide away from success, management will often point a finger at changed markets, increased competition, technology advances (or criminal computer hackers), reduced productivity of workers and even government interference, but these are superficial excuses.

Successful companies start to die when they stop doing the things that made them successful in the first place. Successful businesses and the executives who run them become comfortable, lazy, complacent and less tolerant of risk and innovation. In short, they lose the very culture that produced the initial success: doing the right thing at the right time, and doing it first, fast and often.

Protecting success once it has been achieved starts with understanding a very simple apothegm: If you are not making history, you are history. Making history as a leader or company means stepping up and proving the value of new ideas, outflanking the competition, challenging the established order and doing what others either could not or would not do. (It also means allowing a customer to buy as much product as they want!) It takes a yeoman effort to move out front and get to the top, but as difficult as it is to become king-of-the-mountain, the truth is that is the easy part. The effort required to achieve success is nothing compared how difficult it is to maintain success. And as soon as an individual or organization loses the burning desire to make history, they are history.

Chances are good that when a company achieves remarkable levels of success – as Target has – it did so due to a unique spirit and “culture of success”Wooden mannequins pushing puzzle pieces into the right place developed by the company leaders. It is this distinctive spirit and culture that drives, fosters and feeds achievement that makes history. However, this “culture of success” is fragile and will exist only so long as it is cultivated and protected by the leaders of the organization. If management fails to do that, then not only will the spirit that drives the success break down, but the very soul of what the group is about will be lost and the organization will be history.

What the leaders of many companies fail to grasp is that the company’s “culture of success” is even more important once the size and critical mass that drives success has been achieved. That is because once an organization attains success, the preservation of that success comes from constantly improving the level of performance, more than it does from attempting to get bigger. To put it another way, Target stores long ago earned the nickname “Tar-zhay” for its inexpensive chic clothes, quality goods and customer-friendly approach.  Target was new. It was smart. And the French accent branded the discounter with an unmistakeable je ne sais quoi that made it popular among the shopping masses and provided a cultural rallying call for corporate management. But that was then. This is now. And my, how things have changed.

Maintaining the company culture that opened the door to success is the key to continued achievement because, as the culture developed, it created the environment that allowed and stimulated constant innovation. Success is the child of audacity and innovation. The decline of a successful organization is often the offspring of a failure to innovate. Remember, without constant renewal, the ideas of the past fade, only to be buried by the present and soon forgotten by the future.

Look at it this way. You begin to lose when you begin to be afraid to lose and you continue to win when you’re never content with what has been won. In a competitive environment, if the objective is to avoid failure, as it is with many large organizations, this attitude may actually induce failure since it seeks to maintain only the status quo. The only realistic option for a company’s victory over the agony of success is a constant, concentrated and passionate quest to challenge the changes that the future will bring and strive for more success. Enterprises are rewarded for creating wealth, not for preserving the status quo – and certainly not for controlling costs. The commitment to continued success using refreshed innovation, rather than positioning to preserve is the only antidote against the malady of organizational obsolescence and corporate decline.

There are questions, feelings and signals – that may not have been asked or were missed by the management of Target – that will help determine the temperature of the culture. An individual or company can survive success only if willing to take a fearless and searching review of their current cultural attitudes:

  • Do we spend more time talking about how good we are today, rather than how good we can be tomorrow?
  • Is change resisted, tolerated or welcomed?
  • Is experimentation encouraged, important and constant? Is risk regaled or reviled?
  • Are we satisfied with what worked yesterday, or are we searching to find new things that will work tomorrow?
  • Do we find we are too busy to take the time to do the little things we took the time to do in the past?
  • Have we begun to define success by what we have done, rather than what we could do?
  • At first our actions threatened competitors, now do the actions of competitors threaten us?
  • Have we begun to feel that getting better is not as important as keeping what we have?
  • Have we begun to view process and procedure as more important than performance and progress?

These are telltale signs that any successful individual or company should be constantly thinking about. Being honest and forthright in responding to these questions will help a successful individual or company stay on top and avoid the “agony of success.” This in turn allows a company to continue to make history, rather than becoming history. It would be a good lesson for the management of Target to learn.

Is Corporate Culture Putting Your Job at Risk?

Identifying the Malady of Management Malfeasance and put Your Career on a Successful Path

For those who have jobs and are in the midst of building a career, there are usually two issues that are front and center in their thinking: Is my job secure and does the company I work for provide an opportunity for personal growth?

These are good questions and the only way to really find the answers is to constantly asses the cultural environment, viability and potential of the company for which you work. Unfortunately, the answers will not be found in the past or even current performance and reputation of the company, but only by exploring and understanding the very fundamentals of how the company you work for is managed and led. Even if the company has achieved success in the past, if the company now seems to be going down the wrong path, then you should consider seeking your own path.

The good news is that employees themselves are in the best position to determine the future direction of the company and the potential opportunity for their own career growth. The key is to be observant and brutally honest about what is seen and experienced in the workplace.

It all starts and ends with the attitude and philosophy of management. What type of organizational culture is management seeking to build? Do they even care about creating a positive organizational culture? Or is it something to which only lip service is given? The answers to this question will go a long way toward helping you determine the security of your employment and the potential for your future.

Obviously, the place to start is to determine if the management of a company is ethical. The use of the term “ethical” in this case is not about lying, cheating and stealing. If that is the modus operandi of management then the answer is simple. For the purposes of this piece, ethics refers to the attitude and operating philosophy of management. Do they speak with forked-tongue? Do they talk the talk of good culture, but operate in a closed, self-serving fashion?

A good example of management lacking sound ethics is a management group that incessantly talks about how important the employees are to the success of the company, but when black clouds are sighted on the horizon, the first actions of management are to “downsize” and “outsource.” When challenges arise, managers lacking true ethics quickly herd unsuspecting employees to the twin-alters of downsizing and outsourcing, where they are sacrificed to the pagan gods of illusory profits.

If you work for a company where management holds the belief that costs will be reduced and profits increased when important functions (and the people doing them) are outsourced to those with no knowledge of the company and with no concern for its future or the future of its people, then it is reasonable to question your job security and opportunity. And, you should do something about it.

Let’s be honest and acknowledge that there are no requirements for management to be open and all-inclusive in their actions. In fact, in most organizations this type of attitude is accepted and typical. But, that does not make it right or, for that matter, the way to develop long-term success. And, such an attitude does not bode well for job security and opportunity.

Those who build business cultures that generate employee job security and opportunity are those who do the right things that are not required to be done; this is the essence of ethical leadership. They rise above average, commonplace leadership because they know that building healthy organizational culture is crucial to the success of the company and to their own future. That is the type of company that people not only feel comfortable working for, but more importantly one they can be their career futures on.

Of course, it is possible climb the corporate ladder working for a company that does not practice ethical management – many do – but to do so, an individual must be willing to sell their soul to this type of soul-less leadership. That may be okay for awhile, but you really have to ask yourself if you want to live your life that way. And, in all likelihood, your future and that of your company will be put at risk.

Here are a few tips and telltale signs an individual can use to determine if their job is secure and an opportunity for career development present.

Communication – Is the management of the organization open and honest in their communication with all employees? Is information about the company considered the exclusive purview of management? Is information provided on a regular and reliable basis? Are employees constantly caught off guard by the actions of management? Is the dreaded rumor mill the primary source of information for employees?

Trust – Do management actions build an atmosphere of trust? Are management actions – especially as it applies to employees – honest, constant and consistent? Can management pronouncements be taken at face value or do employees feel they have to question and read between the lines to determine what they really mean? Are employees comfortable trusting their future to the actions and interests of management?

Parallel Interests – Do employees believe that management makes an honest effort to align the interests of the company with those of its employees? If the company is successful, do the employees believe they will share in the success their efforts helped to create? Is the success of the organization the success of all or is it management that takes both the credit and the spoils for any success?

Power Sharing – Is power concentrated rather than shared? Is the management group so insecure and controlling that they must actually define themselves as the “leadership team?” Are employees given the responsibility for tasks, but not the tools or authority to achieve them? Do employees come to feel that what they do – unless they fail – is not recognized by management and that they are really powerless to make a difference?

Employee Value – Does management constantly talk about how important employees are but treat them only as pawns? Are employees the last to know and the first to be blamed, downsized or outsourced? Does management speak of respect, but take actions that often denigrate the value and importance of the employee?

And The Moral of the Story …

If you are serious about your job security and your future career, it is incumbent upon you to take control of your future. There is no security in allowing others to control your future. Taking control of your future starts by putting yourself in a place that gives you a future. And that means making a choice about the roads before you.

If you find yourself working for a company infected with the malady of unethical management malfeasance, you know you are in the wrong place. You have two choices. You can give up and give in and place your job security and future in the hands of leaders you neither trust nor respect. Or, you can take control of your own future by finding a place where your efforts are respected and offers the opportunity for you to be what you can be. It may not be easy, but it is always better to fail trying than to fail to try.


Over time I have used this platform to rail against the negative aspects and the debilitating results of bureaucratic corporate culture. We have illustrated examples of insincere, insecure, incompetent and incoherent bureaucratic management actions that create an unhealthy and unhappy work environment that consistently destroys corporate value and disrespects the worth of the individual.

Of course, it is easy to criticize, especially when the bureaucratic actions of management are so consistently egregious. But the real challenge is to offer solutions to this problem. In fact, a constant theme of many of those who have posted comments or contacted me directly, goes something like this, “Mac, you are right on! I work in a bad environment, but what can be done about it?”

Excellent question. The good news is that a bad corporate culture can be changed and improved. But here’s the bad news: it is extremely difficult to do so. This blog examines how and why corporate cultures go bad and how to improve them. A future blog will offer some advice about what you should do if you’re caught in a bureaucratic environment.

The Chicken or the Egg?

It has always been my belief that the success of an organization is ultimately determined by the type of culture and environment in which employees work. Successful companies create a culture that stimulates, recognizes and rewards employee effort and permeates the entire organization. But here’s the sticky wicket: the culture of an organization is itself, defined and determined by the beliefs and actions of executives at the top of the organization. Success is from the bottom up, but culture is established from the top down.

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