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Coffman Heads Up Madison, WI Seminar on Engagement Culture

“Embrace your biggest headache to make culture a competitive advantage,” emphasized Curt Coffman, Principal of The Coffman Organization, kicking off the Engagement Alliance regional meeting held Nov. 20 in Madison, WI. Sponsored by the Engagement Agency and one of its founders, FIRELight Group, which organized the event, the half-day program brought together executives from a variety of businesses in the Madison community.

A Regional Introduction to Enterprise Engagement

The program was kicked off by Coffman with a presentation on culture and engagement, followed by Bruce Bolger, Managing Director of the Enterprise Engagement Alliance, who presented the Enterprise Engagement curriculum introduction. Said Sandra Daniel, Principal of FIRELight Group and co-founder of The Engagement Agency, “our goal for organizing this meeting was to inform Madison business leaders of this important new business strategy. This is a concept that I think makes sense for the many Madison businesses that like to be on the cutting-edge.”

“When it comes to developing a high performing, sustainable culture, engagement is the biggest challenge facing companies today,” noted attendee Craig Hanson, Senior Manager, People, Process and Culture at Springs Window Fashions, a Middleton, WI-based manufacturer of window treatments under the Bali and Graber brands. “Organizations often decouple employee and customer engagement, which can create misalignment, frustration and feelings of entitlement on the part of your workforce. The concepts shared by Bruce and Curt created a common sense approach for aligning and engaging your organization in a way that delivers key business results in an environment where people want to work. I’m excited to introduce these concepts in our organization.”

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The Role of Culture

Coffman spoke in depth about the role of culture in establishing an enterprise brand and approach to engagement. “Over 70% of cultures share the same values, a focus on the customer, integrity, etc.” he said, adding “Great cultures tackle the biggest headaches.” Coffman is founding partner of The Coffman Organization and co-author of the business best-seller First Break All of the Rules, and his new book, Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch, written with Kathie Sorensen.  According to Coffman, “Great cultures find something unique that truly distinguishes them. Look for a headache that people would pay to get rid of.”

Coffman, who is also on the board of the Enterprise Engagement Alliance, an organization dedicated to establishing Enterprise Engagement as a recognized discipline, said that companies often use the wrong benchmarks to measure excellence. “We have a tendency to study the average. When you study average, you emerge with average. When you study excellence, you emerge with excellence. If you want to understand turnover, study the people and customers who stay, rather than studying those who leave.”

The audience seemed surprised when Coffman noted that only 14% of companies hit their sales, marketing and manufacturing goals. “It’s culture that stops goals from getting accomplished,” he said. “The No. 1 job of leadership should be to ignite purposeful energy…Leaders have to focus on being more interested than interesting. It’s about connecting people to purpose."

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Focus on the Positive

Coffman shared unique perspectives on a number of topics, which he expands upon in his book. For instance, organizations have to make a distinction between identifying talent and developing skills. “Talent is the thing that you do that is better than 98% of all others.” Organizations, he said, should focus on identifying the right talent for the right role. Coffman’s message can be summed up as an approach that focuses on finding the best of what an organization and people have and focusing on the positive, rather than the traditional focus on fixing weaknesses. “Develop people by rating outcomes; identify talents and non-talents. Based on that, find the right role for them in the organization and work to help the person strengthen talents and manage weakness. Don’t ignore weakness; find support strategies that address them.”  

As for customers, the objective is to create an emotional connection. “There are only two ways to grow and build value: get more customers and keep more customers,” Coffman said. “Everyone in an organization should be able to quickly explain how they affect those two things. What is each employee’s line of sight? Customers are not loyal by nature but are predisposed to having an emotional connection.” Organizations have to address the fact that customers “are not in control and therefore feel vulnerable. Great cultures embrace this vulnerability.” At the same time, he underlines, “Great organizations fire customers…here’s the test…if you’ve tried again and again to come up with a solution and the customer won’t move out of the problems, it may not be a good fit.”

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The Enterprise Engagement Framework
How to translate culture to specific organizational goals was the approach of the condensed version of the Enterprise Engagement curriculum presented at the event. The essence of the program is that organizations with more engaged people will outperform their competitors over time and that the process involves a formal strategic plan just like any other major business tactic. That plan will work best when based on a framework that includes a well-defined culture and a brand that touches everyone related to the organization; regular assessment; management coaching; communication; learning; collaboration and innovation; rewards and recognition; and measurement. For information on the curriculum, go to
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