Laura Petrolino

The Inside-Out Strategy for Reaching Business Goals

By: Laura Petrolino | December 23, 2013 | 

An Inside-Out Approach to Reaching Business GoalsBy Laura Petrolino

When I was in my early 20s, I went through a phase I now fondly refer to as “relocationitis.”

The symptoms?

About every eight months, I’d suffer a flare-up and decide (rather spontaneously) to move.

I’d convince myself any and all of the irritations, frustrations, and disappointments I was currently facing in my personal or professional situation would…poof… disappear.

This new location would be a utopia where all of my dreams would come true.

Like clockwork about six months later, frustrated and once again facing the same troubles I had in my previous place of residence, I’d conclude this obviously wasn’t the land of milk and honey and be off to find my next utopia.

Change Starts from Within

Some years later, I realized my ill-fated quest for the Promised Land repeatedly fell short because although I wanted change, I was only willing to achieve it through adjusting my external circumstances. I refused to look at the internal change needed to accomplish my goals. Without making internal adjustments, I’d never be where I wanted, no matter where I was physically.

This is a situation many businesses experience when trying to change. They have a goal in mind, which requires internal organizational change to accomplish (as most goals do), unfortunately they are either only willing to change at a superficial level, or have no plan of action in place for successful organizational change.

The internal will always reflect the external. And it is the law of nature that things like to remain how they are. An organizational culture will always support doing things the way they have always been done, which often includes reinforcement of the bad habits and practices hindering growth and progress.

Just as I had to focus on the internal changes I needed to make personally in order to achieve my goals, for a business to create the type of changes needed to achieve their goals, they MUST start by focusing inward, and adjusting their organizational culture.

Cultural change is difficult. It requires unwavering commitment, consistency, strategy, and great communication. Never a one size fits all process, it is different for every organization based on their goals and obstacles. Experts such as Dr. John Kotter have investigated the needs of successful cultural change dynamics extensively and developed processes to help walk organizations through such change.

But these plans only work if an organization accepts they are needed. And in my experience, that’s the biggest hurdle for a business, its leaders, and its teams to overcome.

Identify the Right Business Goals

This is the time of year when most businesses take a hard look at their 2014 goals and what needs to be done to reach them. It also means this is a time to take a step back, stop looking externally, and ask yourself the following:

  1. Can our current structure scale, adjust, and be pliable enough to facilitate the changes we need to make? How is your organization set up? Does this set up encourage innovation, advancement, and a collaborative team environment? Put your engineer hat on here, look at what you are trying to achieve, and blueprint what type of structure fits most effectively and efficiently.
  2. Do the internal goals and measurements of success we use to evaluate our leaders and team members align with the business goals we are trying to reach? This is a big one. Often what organizations measure internally, base team member reviews on, and even measure promotions against are not skills that align with, or help contribute to, their ultimate business goals. These are only base metrics — numbers you might be able to improve upon — with little or negative affect on actual business goals. Evaluating this requires taking many of the micro processes and operations in your organization and continuing to stair-step out until you are able to view their affect on a macro level.A good example might be if you are evaluating handle time for call center staff (i.e., how quickly they complete calls) and are constantly encouraging lower times. You might be able to get through more calls, but in the process, you are also lowering service levels, losing clients through poor or mishandled service (resulting in more repeat calls because of lack of first call resolution), and so on. In the end, the benefits of a lower call handle time are cancelled out by the drawbacks.
  3. Are the right leaders in place to lead the change needed to reach our business goals? Big plans require big leaders. This means making sure people at all levels of management are in place not simply because they are subject matter experts, but because they can lead and motivate teams to excel. Often times, the biggest obstacles an organization will face in pursuing progressive change are managers that block it out of fear of losing power or control. Leaders will help all levels of the organization embrace and adapt to change.
  4. What cultural obstacles do we face that could prevent our success? Every organization has its Achilles heel. Facing obstacles head on will give you the intelligence to plan accordingly to minimize issues.

Looking internally, and honestly evaluating the internal and cultural obstacles it faces, is one of the toughest and the most important things an organization can do to as it looks to grow and progress.

What other questions do you suggest business leaders ask themselves when doing these internal evaluations? What questions do you ask?

About Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is the director of operations at Arment Dietrich. She is also a ninja. When not working with clients, collaborating with the Arment Dietrich team, or practicing her roundkicks, you can find her walking her dog, working out, or exploring the great outdoors.

  • Not only are cultural obstacles hard to identify sometimes but they are hard to change (and it is difficult sometimes to ascertain if a cultural issue needs changing – not all do). 

    To me, after leadership, culture is the greatest challenge and advantage to any organization.

  • Culture is so huge. And so easy to disrupt. We’ve all worked somewhere where one bad apple has succeeded in upsetting the whole cart.

  • ClayMorgan I totally agree. And leadership directly affects culture, so in many ways they are one in the same.

  • belllindsay Ugh, yes! And its amazing how rottenness just spreads like wildfire. I actually plan on writing another article soon about the different important personas in understanding and improving organizational culture, the ‘bad apple’ is definitely one!

  • lkpetrolino

    JohnMTrader Thank you sir! And a very Merry Christmas to you! 🙂

  • I think there’s a temptation for organizations to dive headfirst into the open, collaborative culture endemic in some of the best technology brands without fully considering the implications of those shifts. 

    The reality is that many organizations just aren’t ready for fundamental cultural change, so *any* disruption can really throw them for a loop.

  • lkpetrolino

    ginidietrich Oh there are many more ‘tales from the Petro’ just waiting to be told 🙂

  • jasonkonopinski you are right, like anything there must be a plan. You can’t just bulldose in and knock out the foundation without making the entire house collapse

  • ginidietrich

    lkpetrolino For some reason, that scares me.

  • I think your relocationitis should bring you to Chicago.

  • ginidietrich I would absolutely LOVE to make this happen. I just need one of two other circumstances to occur.

    1) Find a way to work out of the ‘Florida office’ November-April
    2) Global warming

    Due to some other potentially nasty side effects of #2, I’m going to focus on #1 for now.

  • @lkpetrolino I can relate because I went through a similar phase in my 20’s.

    Internal communication is essential for a collaborative team
    environment to prosper. I’ve worked for companies in the past who had teams
    that wanted and needed to collaborate, but they were never quite able to break out
    of their silos to make it happen. This obviously kept them from moving forward on many levels.

    Internal goals are important because they allow teams to
    strive for success and celebrate and reflect once they achieve their goals. I
    worked for a company that cut us a check each quarter if we hit certain dollar
    goals. You can believe we hit those goals and the money was sweet to receive
    each quarter.

    Leadership is important because if you don’t have the right person or people
    in place that knows what it takes to succeed, most likely your team will
    fall short of their anticipated goals.

    I’ve not come up against cultural obstacles in the workplace
    that prevented our team from achieving success. I’d like to hear an example of
    this, and what was done to overcome it.

  • LauraPetrolino  Agreed,   I think one of the responsibilities of leadership within an organization is to help foster or facilitate a culture conducive  to the business goals of that organization.

  • LauraPetrolino belllindsay   Apples and Oranges…Bad Apples and Lulu Lemon Leadership… (I just wanted an excuse to say “Lulu Lemon Leadership” )   –  A bad apple  falling from the very top of the tree…

  • Laura Petrolino

    Thanks lady! And yes….change is hard. I think the whole idea of ‘new year’s resolutions’ are because change is so hard so if we attach a holiday to it and do it with a group we feel a bit more ‘official’ about making the change.

  • LauraPetrolino ginidietrich  No….your relocationist diving rod is pointing north east of Chicago towards Toronto!  We have hot politics, ice cold covered trees, and  every second house has electricity…..

  • Hi Laura,  I’ve suffered from relocationitis too, but mine is more a mid-life thing. 🙂  I’m sure there is a support group out there for those us suffering.  I gulped when I read number 3. Specific businesses and leaders came to mind. Managers blocking change has such damaging effects on the company. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how colleagues should address this when they see it.

  • Arment Dietrich, Inc.

    Yes, it’s been a crazy couple of days!! I hope your family arrives safe and sound!! ^lb

  • JohnMTrader

    lkpetrolino And the very same to you Laura!

  • I definitely think number 3 is the trickiest one to consider. Oftentimes, a leader resists change because it means less power for them. (Very similar to politics, huh?) 
    It’s also challenging because some of these leaders founded the company and don’t wish to see their company go in the direction it needs to go to in order to survive. 
    Thankfully I don’t have any of those issues with leaders at my current company per se, but I’ve definitely witnessed work cultures where the problem with the company was the people in management positions. Nothing chokes a company’s ability to adapt more than a leader’s ego.

  • Digital_DRK LauraPetrolino ginidietrich HAHAHAHA!  You all do have a lot going for you right now. I mean Rob Ford alone is a pretty good attraction. Sort of like his very own theme park! Let’s compromise and settle on a summer visit!

  • @ginidietrich lkpetrolino hehehehe

  • Digital_DRK LauraPetrolino belllindsay Lulu Lemon Leadership does have a nice ring to it! I’m including that in my next blog!

  • JRHalloran You are exactly right! And it’s hard, even for the best, to be able to have the agile vision and unbiased judgement needed to accomplish this. However issues like this are exactly what define leaders. Alot of people can run a company or manage a team and do an ‘ok’ job at it. But not many people can successful lead an organization towards a vision. 

    And like you said, we can take some pretty clear case studies from politics….(oy)

  • jolynndeal That’s a fantastic question! And obviously not an easy one to answer (and maybe a great idea for another blog post). I think in most circumstances it requires one part messaging and one part tribe building.

    1) When trying to initiate internal change we often forget that we need to ‘sell’ it, just like we would if we were introducing something to our consumer audience. So the same basic ‘market focused’ communications are needed. What’s the pain point? What does this person ‘need’ to hear or what issue do they ‘need’ resolved to be able to accept this change. You have to message very strategically. I’ve found when there is alot of push back within an organization the problem often simply boils down to really crappy messaging. 

    2) Tribe building. In every organization there are tribes and tribe leaders. It is very important to understand the internal relationship dynamics, find the tribe leaders (which often are NOT the managers or organizational leaders) and make them ambassadors. Much like any other social movement. You must find those key people, if you can do that the rest of the tribe will follow along and the resistant manager will have to join (and often will because of the power of being part of the ‘popular’ crowd, especially for an insecure manager), or leave.

  • LauraPetrolino jolynndeal Excellent response to my tough question. Great input and I love the tribe building concept. I’ve always called them gangs and gang leaders but your label is much more appealing!  Thanks for your your help.

  • jolynndeal LauraPetrolino My pleasure! And I don’t know, in some companies ‘gang’ might be more appropriate


  • @jason_ Well said. I’ll try to think of a good example for you that can serve as a general enough case study to be helpful.

  • Well no one’s going to accuse you of tackling the surface level stuff, that’s for sure. A lot here to consider. 
    Want to point out that the business goals mentioned could just as easily be a checklist for an employee looking to confirm whether they are in the right place, or someone job hunting trying to ID the right place to work. 
    In terms of leadership and culture, definitely agree that these are make or break. Managers look at culture as a byproduct of hierarchy and product, whereas leaders understand if you provide vision, ownership, and culture as the drivers, healthy structure and product follow.

  • JoeCardillo That’s how I roll Joe! 

    And super good point. This type of internal investigation is just as worth while on an individual level as it is for an organization.

  • lkpetrolino

    InNetworkInc Muchas Gracias Senor! 🙂

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