Getting the Order Right

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Biochemists and civil engineers know that the order in which they do something matters. For the biochemist, combining substances in the correct order can can mean saving a life. Combining them in the wrong order can produce a deadly poison. Civil engineers understand the importance of order as well. If a civil engineer ignores the proper order of operations when solving an equation, it may result in a bridge collapsing.
Like biochemists and civil engineers, Sterling Integrators understands that order matters. That is one of the key assumptions we operate with. Growing leaders and strategically transforming organizational cultures always requires a process. The “ingredients” may change, but the order does not.
At Sterling Integrators, we’re convinced that leadership development and cultural transformation should proceed in this order:
  • Step A) Know who you are
  • Step B) Taking into account Step A, develop a mission and vision
  • Step C) Taking into account Step B, design and build a culture to achieve your mission and reach your vision
Put into a sentence, these three steps could be translated as: Who you are should inform your personal/corporate mission and vision and then your mission and vision should dictate the specific type of culture you should design and build.
Going from step A to step B makes sense to a most people. Who you are – your passions, values, and beliefs – should align with your corporate mission and vision. But the jump from step B to C is often poorly understood. What does “your mission and vision should dictate the specific type of culture you should design and build” mean? First of all, it is important to understand what culture is and that culture will develop whether or not you want it to. If you have an organization, that organization has a culture. Sterling Integrators believes is that your culture needs to be built intentionally instead of simply letting it form on its own.
Q. What kind of culture should you design and build?
A. The kind that will facilitate the achievement of your organization’s mission and vision.


An Example of Getting the Order Right

Let’s say we have a business owner named Joe whose company builds tooling for the Medical Device Industry. After working with a leadership coach, Joe learned that he values making a contribution to society, excellence, and teamwork. Taking these things into consideration, he created the following mission and vision statement:
a. Mission – We take seriously the responsibility of being an important link in the medical device value chain – people’s lives and well beings’ depend on us.
b. Vision – Working as a team, our company will become recognized by our customers as the best tool builder in the West Michigan Medical Device Industry.
We can see that he did a good job of writing a mission and vision statement because they both resonate with his values of contributing to society, excellence, and teamwork.
Now, how does he “design” and “build” a culture that will align with and facilitate that mission and vision? Next week I’ll write about specific and concrete ways to alter or construct an organization’s culture. For now it is enough to say that organizational culture can be the conscious and intentional result of leadership style. By “leadership style,” I mean stories that leadership promotes, policies that are enforced (not just talked about), sacrifices leadership makes, the type of furniture the company purchases, behaviors that are rewarded, beliefs everyone shares, systems that are implemented, words that leadership uses, jokes that leadership laughs at, jokes that leadership doesn’t laugh at, how the facility is laid out, compensation structure, etc. These are all drivers of culture and that culture can be either conducive or detrimental to reaching the organization’s goals.


What If You Get the Order Wrong?

What if you start building a culture (Step C) without carefully thinking through and defining your organization’s mission and vision? You simply won’t know what type of culture to build. Do you have a hierarchical or flat organization? How do your sales team’s compensation incentives work? What should the company’s logo convey? How much autonomy do you give your employees? Do you use many or few internal systems? Do you use the word mistake or misconduct? Who is accountable to whom? These are all organizational culture questions that you can answer only if you know what kind of organization you are leading and where you are trying to go.
Or, let’s say you start by creating your vision and mission statement (Step B) without first learning about yourself. Your mission states why your organization exists and your vision states where it is headed. Based on these pieces of information you will have a good idea of the type of culture that you should build. It will be one that facilitates the preservation of your mission and the achievement of your vision. Imagine you spend the next five years building your culture and pursuing the company’s goals, only to realize that you really don’t care about the mission and vision of your organization. If the mission and vision of your organization do not match up with who you are or what motivates you, you will lack the drive, fortitude, and resolve to get any traction.
We can have all the right pieces for developing leaders and transforming organizational culture, but if we do not perform them in the right order, our work is futile. In fact, just as the biochemist knows, doing all the right things, but out of order could end up doing more harm to your organization than good.

Image credit: “Chemist Holding Sample Of Liquid” by somkku9 at

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