Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Peter Drucker

The Golden Rule vs The Platinum Rule

I recently came across the idea of the “Platinum Rule” as compared with the “Golden Rule” while thinking about company culture. We’re all familiar with the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated. The Platinum Rule is different: Treat others as they would like to be treated. The presumption behind the Golden Rule is the treatment you seek is what everyone else wants. From a big-picture perspective, the Golden Rule works. Still, it begins to fall apart when getting into the details of the treatment each unique individual prefers. See this article for more on the Platinum Rule.

Consider how the Platinum Rule applies to business.

Is there a way to help your employees know how to treat one another and your other stakeholders? A business’s core values comprise these rules. They are agreed-upon ground rules for interaction among team members and customers. For example, at Equinox, one of our core values is “Transparency”. Internally, “Transparency” means that we communicate openly with one another about our capabilities, capacity, and needs to create an environment of trust and collaboration. For our clients, “Transparency” has a similar meaning. We communicate openly about our capabilities, project plan, and the related fees. Customers should never be surprised by a deliverable, timeline, or invoice.

“Value” is another expectation for both our team and customers. “Value” means we are thinking about what we can do to provide value in our company and for our clients. An essential component of “Value” to our customers is our understanding of the business’ goal or problem and providing relevant, practical solutions that work for that business. Internally, this requires our team to focus on business solutions and then incorporate legal tools to satisfy them. “Value” also focuses on internal efficiencies so we can better serve our clients.

Initially, the development of our core values was outward-facing – what our customers could expect from us. Over time, we considered whether they worked internally as well and were somewhat surprised to agree that they did. Are our core values reflective of the Golden Rule or Platinum Rule? I’m actually not sure – but so long as they are regularly and consistently applied and celebrated, it doesn’t matter.

Does your company have written rules for interactions among employees and toward customers?

Even if they are unwritten, some rules exist – and the question becomes whether those behaviors are consistent with your vision. Cultures left unfostered will still develop, and once a culture has taken hold, it can be difficult to uproot it or guide it in a different direction.

For example, a CEO is willing to take on the risk because of their experience in the area. The CEO does not expect the other members of the team to take that approach, but the team takes cues from the CEO. A statement like, “I see these documents all the time. There’s no need to spend the money to have our attorney review it” may seem harmless to the CEO. Still, to a team member, it may sound like “We don’t need to spend the money on professionals”.

That team member may choose just to sign these documents in the future – which may not be at all what the CEO meant. They might choose to figure it out themselves rather than asking an expert. This message, regardless of intention, is passed along to new team members, and a culture of “get it done” or “don’t spend the money” permeates the organization. The CEO knows nothing about it until a document comes back to bite them. The CEO is then flabbergasted that the employee didn’t have the document reviewed – at least by the CEO – but it’s too late. No one but the CEO sees anything wrong with the employee’s decision because the culture says, “get it done” or “don’t spend the money”.

What are you doing to understand your company’s existing culture?

It can be scary and intimidating for a founder or CEO to ask about the company’s culture. As the founder of Equinox, it’s my “fault” if our culture isn’t what it should be; and by asking, I put myself in a position of vulnerability. But I need to remember that the discussion is not about me – it’s about what Equinox represents. It’s about what we’re building and fostering as a team to keep us marching to the same drum and focused on developing and promoting our innovative General Counsel Services solution. Without the team’s buy-in to the culture, we’ll struggle to accomplish our goals. Together, though, we have greater success.

This year, our company retreat will focus on what our culture is, what changes we want to make, and how we can instill it in everything we do. We are enlisting Chris Anibarro, founder of Impact Consultancy, to leverage our team that’s excited to build something unique and impactful – and I’m anxious to see the results!

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