Dan Bruder: “Culture is the path for successful strategy execution”

Define, develop, and disseminate your desired culture. Make the desired culture visible throughout the company, part of daily routines, and part of the internal accountability process. When defining the culture, highlight the organization’s potential to positively impact its employees, customers, and communities. Create a strategic platform that is laser-focused on the company’s potential and culture. […]

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Define, develop, and disseminate your desired culture. Make the desired culture visible throughout the company, part of daily routines, and part of the internal accountability process.

When defining the culture, highlight the organization’s potential to positively impact its employees, customers, and communities. Create a strategic platform that is laser-focused on the company’s potential and culture. Culture is the path for successful strategy execution.

As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Bruder, who grew up in Lantana, a small beach town in South Florida, before going to Orlando to attend UCF. After playing football and graduating from UCF with a finance degree, Dan started his career in the banking industry. At the age of 26, he was asked to start a new bank and was overwhelmed by the responsibility related to being president of a bank at such a young age. After a good run in the banking industry, he transitioned into real estate and hospitality with a division of Marriott, which led to some entrepreneurial and small business executive roles. Dan started Fusion Dynamics, a strategy and leadership consulting practice, in 2008. He continues to lead Fusion Dynamics, helping companies implement the Blendification System.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I initially went into banking because I didn’t know what industry I wanted to work in, and the banking industry would give me exposure to multiple industries and companies. Later, I started a strategic planning department for a division of Marriott, which gave me exposure to strategic planning for new business units. When the market crashed in 2008, I was negotiating the purchase of a company, which ultimately fell through. At that point, I leveraged my background in banking — working in multiple industries — and my strategy experience to develop my current consulting practice.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Several years ago, I was asked to judge a capstone strategic planning class for a professor friend at Colorado State University. After doing that and some guest speaking, I was asked to teach the class. I was excited to learn from the academic research related to strategy and eager to apply my professional experience to help the next generation of leaders. Teaching, while still a hobby, has been one of the most rewarding efforts I have ever undertaken. I was able to develop a proprietary strategic planning system that I use to teach Executive MBA classes, as well as implement the system for companies. It also led to writing a book to document the process and share the system with as many companies as possible.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I just published my book and am finalizing the eLearning system; we are taking the entire Blendification System and putting it online. My goal all along was to make the Blendification System available to everyone, so leaders in all industries can adopt the model to positively impact employees, customers, and communities. Given that we spend more than 50% of our waking time in work- or work-related activities, I believe workplace organizations or businesses should be at the forefront of positively changing society. That is the foundation of our country; business is meant to identify and implement solutions to society’s and consumers’ needs. While profit is the engine for business, the true intent of business is to efficiently solve issues. I took this foundation and created a step-by-step process for companies to make a greater impact on their communities by the way they operate, lead, and treat employees.

Ok, let’s jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

The source of an unhappy workforce goes back decades. It started when business leadership hijacked military strategy. There is a clear winner and loser in military war and, therefore, the focus on annihilating competition and competitive advantage is justified. Business is not war. The narrow focus on creating a competitive advantage was then incorporated into every business school in the US, and all the major consulting firms pushed competitive advantage to differentiate companies. Before we knew it, company leaders became obsessed with competition. The best way to evaluate success was stock price and shareholder value versus competition — everything else became secondary. Leaders didn’t see the link between employee satisfaction and financial outcomes. While that trend is reversing today, it will likely take a transfer in leadership to fully embrace the potential of a motivated and fulfilled workforce.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and well-being?

There is a direct correlation between company productivity, profitability, and employee health and well-being. Inside every person is a desire to make a positive impact. It seems like a moral obligation from birth. Unfortunately, over the course of life, this spark has been doused by bad parenting, coaching, teaching, and work leaders. When a leader deactivates someone’s potential, they retreat or rebel; neither of which is good for productivity nor profitability. This happens when employees see their work as meaningless and justify their job as a means to get paid, nothing more. It has a spiraling effect as employee health and well-being diminishes. In turn, employees become less productive and it negatively impacts culture and profitability. Leaders need to activate potential rather than deactivate it so that employee health and well-being are the catalyst for productivity and profitability.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

  1. Define, develop, and disseminate your desired culture.
  2. Make the desired culture visible throughout the company, part of daily routines, and part of the internal accountability process.
  3. When defining the culture, highlight the organization’s potential to positively impact its employees, customers, and communities.
  4. Create a strategic platform that is laser-focused on the company’s potential and culture. Culture is the path for successful strategy execution.
  5. Make sure employees understand their work has meaning and what they do everyday impacts the company’s culture and strategic outcomes. This comes alive in a meticulous strategic execution model that engages all employees in meaningful work, creating sustained motivation and enhanced well-being.

I call this model the Blendification System, which is the intentional actions taken to create a connected company. I worked with a company where the CEO was interested in enhancing the lives of his employees, but he didn’t have a proven process to do it. He was also concerned that his employees didn’t care about work, since most had not attended college. Gradually, the CEO learned that his desire to enhance his employees’ lives was exactly what they wanted from work. When we blended culture, strategy, and execution, and engaged multiple layers in the organization in the work, the employees became motivated and energized. Their work became meaningful. They began to work together to identify solutions because they understood how they fit into the picture.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture.” What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

I think the real question is, “What can US businesses do to change society?” Since work occupies most of our waking hours, it is time for workplace leaders to embrace the responsibility to enhance the lives of their employees, customers, and communities by their behaviors and actions at work. There is a systematic impact — what happens at work, happens at home. Therefore, company leaders can be the spark that activates potential at work and at home. It is time that company leaders accept and embrace this responsibility and take the necessary actions within their company to improve health and well-being.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

My leadership style follows my focus. Looking back, when I was focused on a single performance metric (like profitability), my actions and behaviors tended to be limited in scope. On the other hand, when my focus is on my impact on the people around me with the understanding that everyone wants to succeed, I then work closely with others to identify solutions and overcome obstacles. It’s funny how my actions follow my focus. I just need to be intelligent enough to be aware of and adapt my focus.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have a personal coach who helps me stay focused on what is truly important in life. His name is Jeff Spadafora — he’s the author of The Joy Model — and he keeps me in check. Whenever I waiver, Jeff is there to remind me to keep a long-term outlook and stay focused on my impact on others. When I was working extended hours on my book, he let me know that the intensive dedication and commitment related to publishing a book was not permanent, but seasonal. He is also there to hold me accountable to ensuring the intense work is just seasonal.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Several years ago, when I was a senior leader with a company, I realized that it wasn’t about me. I switched my focus from doing work to engaging and supporting others in the pursuit of their potential. I believe that I cannot realize my potential as a human being without helping others pursue their potential. This belief has transcended how I work with people and how I lead my students. It motivated me to document the model in my book and use that to positively influence society through business.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I love the quote that is the title of a popular book by Marshall Goldsmith, “What got you here won’t get you there.” The meaning of this is important: I always need to be growing and developing as a person and leader. I applied this more than a decade ago when I took over leadership of a company. I realized I couldn’t do things the way I had always done them and succeed at the level I wanted. As a result, I needed to study, adapt, and advance my leadership skills to a level that I previously didn’t think was possible.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If we look at statistics, about 70% of the workforce works at a for-profit company (others work for government and non-profits). As mentioned, we spend over 50% of our waking time at work- or work-related activities. By connecting these statistics, it seems to me that the best way to impact the most amount of people is to enhance our ability to lead, challenge, and motivate employees at work so they learn and grow. When learning and growth takes place at work, people become more productive, and these skills transition into their personal life.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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