Intentional Does Not Mean Inauthentic

Apr 24, 2024
Kate Walton

Hello from Steyer!

Last time, I turned this column over to Katelyn Reilly, to talk through the strategy that she and her Co-CEO Tony Batista have been formulating in their first quarter at the helm. We received some helpful feedback on that piece, and we’re grateful for it. Please keep it coming!

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For today’s installment, I wanted to make a point in connection with this other recent post, in which I argued that focusing on company culture is in no way antithetical to focusing on the company’s financial health—and that achieving and sustaining financial health is the best path I know towards being able to offer higher pay and better benefits. (External funding is the other path of course, but my experience with private equity is that any breathing room for the operating team tends to be short lived.)

Anyway, one bit of pushback to that piece came from a reader who argued that culture should be “genuine and organic”—and that connecting culture to business results was by definition cynical. To this I say:

  • YES to genuine! Anything that a management team implements to foster a certain kind of culture should be implemented with sincerity—and with a deep appreciation for the intrinsic value of, say, learning, connecting, and belonging.
  • But ORGANIC? That I reject! For sure: a lot of really wonderful things DO happen completely organically within a strong culture: relationships gel, conversations unfold, and (my personal favorite) laughter erupts. But unless you’re talking about a tiny, TINY team (like fewer than five people?!), there’s also a ton of intentionality that goes into culture building. It doesn’t just happen. The work includes thinking through questions like: Where will we gather? When will we gather? How will we interact? How will we handle problems? The list goes on and on and on. It’s real work, and it’s good work. There’s a notion out there that being intentional is somehow the same as being inauthentic, or fake. No-no-no. Being intentional is just another way of saying: being thoughtful.
  • Lastly, there’s nothing wrong with connecting a company’s culture to the firm’s financial goals. For an idea, policy, or program to be sustainable in the context of a corporate team, three things have to be true: 1) the people driving the idea need to believe in it (sincerity); 2) things need to be thought through (intentionality); and 3) the results need to be good in some way, however small, for the business. When this is not the case, the company’s resources—money but also time and energy—will eventually (and rightly IMHO) be directed elsewhere.

Thanks for going another round on this one—it’s dear to my heart!


P.S. What about people who, as one reader said, “only want to do their job and not be involved in anything else”? The short answer: we make everything that has to do with learning, connecting, and belonging optional. We’ve always figured that should do the trick, but because I’ve never met an idea I don’t want to overthink :-), I’ll ponder whether the very existence of certain chats and meetups might make someone feel less at home at Steyer.

P.P.S. For those of you who *do* like to occasionally connect, we have a couple fun things coming up:

  • Tomorrow, that Consultant Spotlight I mentioned on LinkedIn, which will feature Idunne Wolfe talking about swords! Get the link here.
  • A discussion of Ethan Mollick’s new book on AI, CO-INTELLIGENCE. RSVP here. (This will get you the link for our weekly AI Chat, every Tuesday at 8am PT, but the May 14th installment of that series will be all about this book. The facilitator Leslie Phillips says you don’t have to read the book to attend, which is sporting of her, but it’s really good!)

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