Business is a numbers game—right? In MBA programs, in investment circles, and even in our popular conception of what defines a successful business, we value financially driven estimates of performance, health, and worth. If you can break even in three years, you’ll make it. If the profits and loss statements are sound, the business is healthy.
But a business’s financial standing is only half the story. The other critical factors that contribute to an entity’s inevitable success or failure don’t appear in the annual report: the quality of leadership and the health of its culture. When I speak to corporations, one of the biggest challenges is pushing them to break through the surface level of jargon—what I refer to as “pink clouds, unicorns, and the Easter bunny”—commonly used to describe corporate culture and get to the meat of what their company’s real-life culture is and how it is shaped.
The truth is that while firms might tout an exceptional culture to attract new talent, many of today’s companies prioritize numbers-based performance and incentives above all; they turn people into calculations instead of investing in their personal development as long-term assets. Within such cultures, it’s difficult for talented workers to evolve into future leaders and company champions. In these environments, it’s hard for people to be themselves.