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As part of our ongoing “As the Leader” series, Vicki Kroviak spoke to the CBS community about the importance of a strong organizational culture as well as leadership lessons learned throughout her entrepreneurial career. Here are some highlights, edited for space, from the conversation, which was moderated by Todd Jick, Reuben Mark Faculty Director of Organizational Character and Leadership.
Establishing an Effective Company Culture from the Start
“I’ve seen in my past experiences, the value that culture can have in terms of that alignment, that momentum that can be created when you have the right culture in an organization. And, I have also lived when it was wrong . . . times where I had experienced integration issues, change management issues, and struggled with cultural alignment and had learned a lot of things.
It goes to my overall philosophy, which is that the soft stuff is really the hard stuff. So, all the people stuff—the leadership, the interpersonal dynamics on a leadership team—that’s the hard stuff and the most important stuff, and it’s why I wanted to focus on it from the beginning.”
Developing a Values System
“One thing that’s good to remember is there are norms and values and culture whether you invest in it or not. It’s going to exist, so naming it and engaging everyone in it is your ability to influence it and to impact the organization.
We went through the whole values exercise, and we started by asking who the stellar employees in the organization were—the people who everyone wants to work with, the ones all the way down on the ground at an individual facility level—who are the ones that you’re happy to work with because you know that you’ve got a real partner in your work that day. Basically, we captured those attributes and created a big whiteboard list that we ran up and down the organization for feedback and input. That’s how we landed on the big five: authenticity, growth, hustle, teamwork, and accountability.”
Putting Women in the C-Suite
“These young professional women, who are building their careers, have expressed to me how much they appreciate our shared values and how it resonates with them. I think when you go to the authenticity value for example, nobody has to pretend they’re not a mom, that they don’t have other demands coming at them. It’s such an important part of our culture that we see the whole person and understand the demands of that and the experience of that.
What’s also been expressed to me is that they appreciate seeing a women-led company. I think a lot of times in certain sectors of healthcare you see the clinicians are majority women and then the executive team is all men or mostly men. They appreciate that it goes all the way to the top.”
Becoming a Better Leader
“There isn’t a single employee at Acorn who doesn’t know that I believe the most important skill of leadership is the ability to have courageous conversations. You can call it a rumble, you can call it a courageous conversation, you can call it a hard conversation. That language just lives everywhere within our organization. We speak to it, we train to it, we challenge on it. We consider it literally the leader of every single facility in the organization.
[When hiring] we assess for a lot of things, but they have to know how to have courageous conversations. It’s just so fundamental, and I would say . . . if there’s a single skill to work on to develop in your career to be a better leader, it is that ability.”