4 lessons about success from Hawaii and the #CommunityLIVE Executive Forum


I moved to Hawaii right after college graduation. I didn’t know anyone, nor did I have a job. I just wanted to go somewhere warm that didn’t require a passport to get there. I was fortunate to find a good job within a few weeks of arriving on the island of Oahu, and was excited at the opportunity it afforded to make some friends.

I was also relieved to find a steady source of income. That always helps.

As a server at the Halekulani Hotel in Waikiki, I learned many lessons, but two have stayed with me through the years. The first was how important customer service is – something that guides me in my work at Hyland every day.

The second and very important lesson I learned that still serves me today was about culture. The Hawaiian culture is very different from the one I knew growing up in Chicago. This is something I also keep front of mind as Hyland’s Director of Worldwide Field Marketing.

As we continue to expand globally, with offices in seven countries, to be the best partner we can be, we need to make sure we understand the culture – both in the business world and socially.

To be successful, you need to know the culture

On Oahu, I was very good at my job. I was skilled at my tasks. But I spoke too fast, my mannerisms were too aggressive, and I used colloquialisms that didn’t make sense to my coworkers. I quickly learned that to be excellent in my work, I needed to slow down, listen, and learn the culture not only of the islands, but also of my workplace.

You see, it wasn’t just an average waitress gig: our guests included celebrities, royals, heads of state, billionaires, executives and people requiring a lot of discretion and flawless service. Management tolerated no drama and made sure we understood that we were ambassadors for the hotel in every interaction we had with a guest.

Needless to say, being an incredibly energetic, overly “helpful” 21-year-old girl who had a lot of brilliant ideas on how to run the place better didn’t endear me with my colleagues right off the bat. But I clawed back and eventually made some great friends.

Watching a presentation and panel discussion on the topic of culture at CommunityLIVE’s Executive Forum event, led by Forbes publisher and author, Rich Karlgaard, reminded me of this important lesson. Karlgaard, top executives from several Hyland customers, as well as Hyland EVP of Sales & Marketing, Ed McQuiston, all provided key insights into the approaches they use to align strategy and culture to thrive in an ever-changing environment.

How successful executives ensure success

Here are the four lessons I learned about corporate culture from this fascinating discussion:

1. Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Peter Drucker said that. I think it’s brilliant. If only I’d known that when I landed in Hawaii.

Heeding this advice, all of the panelists warned of the risk of making major changes to an organization’s systems without taking into account the people affected by the change. If the changes will impact the way people work, you should carefully weigh the benefits and drawbacks.

Then, once your organization has made a decision, strategic change management is paramount for the long-term success of the initiative.

2. It starts at the top

Any change is difficult, and in any organization there will be a set of people who are attached to the “old way of doing things.” Proactive communication from the executive team is key to influencing these employees, according to Deb Kline, SVP of Strategic Initiatives at Civista Bank.

The top leaders of the company must be on board to communicate the change, the reasons why the change is necessary, and provide a way for people to provide bi-directional feedback. Your leaders need to lead from the front and provide clear direction and communication as they do so.

3. Listen, listen, and listen some more

Karlgaard cited a study from Forrester Research of Marketing and IT managers, which found they quite literally speak different languages; their taxonomy and expectations are significantly different. He asked the panel how their IT staffs ensure they are providing the right service to their business stakeholders.

The most effective tool IT uses to partner with the business is listening, noted Mike Gager, VP of EDM Operations at TeamHealth, a physician-led, patient-focused company. The people delivering technological change must truly listen and understand the desired business outcomes and collaborate along the way while developing and implementing a technology project.

Otherwise, they’ll end up with a shiny new tool no one uses.

4. Focus on your customers’ success

A clear focus on customer success is at the heart of any healthy corporate culture. In fact, Gager stated that better patient care drives all major technology decisions at TeamHealth.

McQuiston cited Hyland’s weekly Monday Morning Meeting as a way of reminding the whole company why each employee goes to work every day: to help improve the lives of our customers.

Taking the time to understand and consider workplace culture when making decisions that may impact that culture will reap rewards in the adoption of new systems, and foster a more engaged, invested workforce. To learn more, check out Rich Karlgaard’s book, The Soft Edge.

As I learned in Hawaii, and the Executive Forum reminded me, to be successful anywhere, you have to know the rules – both the stated and unstated ones. Because you can’t lead if no one wants to follow you.

Gina Hortatsos

Gina Hortatsos

Gina Hortatsos is the head of Hyland’s Global Integrated Marketing team. She’s worked in the software industry for more than 18 years in many capacities, including market intelligence, operations, demand... read more about: Gina Hortatsos

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