Culture Journey: Achieving Sustainable Innovation and Principled Performance in a Morally Interdependent World

Born out of the Clinton Global Initiative, LRN's Practice Forum for Principled Leadership, Performance & Operations is helping institutions move culture to the strategic center

"If the human race wishes to have a prolonged and indefinite period of material prosperity," Winston Churchill declared in a speech in 1954, "they have only got to behave in a peaceful and helpful way toward one another." Considering the fact our society is more interconnected—and in many ways more transparent—than it was sixty years ago, the British Bulldog's prescription for a healthy society is arguably more relevant today. 

Behavior is central to LRN, a good governance company whose research has found that "trust, shared values, and a deep understanding of a purpose-inspired mission are the three fundamental enablers of self-governing behaviors that produce competitive advantage and principled performance." Over the course of its 20-year history, the company—which has offices in Los Angeles, New York, London, and Mumbai—has worked with over 700 companies and some 20 million employees, helping develop strategies to inspire good behavior, strengthen leadership, navigate the complexities of regulation and foster "do it right" cultures, all with a goal of creating sustainable innovation and growth that translates into economic value. As the company says on their website, "We are not a business with a mission, but instead a mission with a business."

In advance of the recent Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting, LRN took some time to reflect on a CGI commitment they made in 2011 to extend their mission to pro bono work with the NGO sector. That commitment entailed launching two very different non-profit organizations on what LRN calls "culture journeys"—journeys to make culture a core part of their strategy for flourishing in the new dynamics of the 21st century. In a case study released in September, LRN describes their culture journeys with the two selected non-profits—Population Services International (PSI), a global health organization with programs targeting malaria, child survival, HIV AIDS, tuberculosis and reproductive health; and Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), an international organization that provides entrepreneurial training and educational programs to young people from low-income urban communities. The case study explains the commitment, the challenges, the objective of the journey, the lessons learned, progress updates after two years of work.

LRN's $1.5-million commitment is rooted in the launch of the "Practice Forum for Principled Leadership, Performance and Operations," which is designed to help the forum's corporate members "strengthen and advance how they behave, lead, govern, operate, consume, engender trust in their relationships, and relate to others, helping each build out programs that meet their specific needs."

PSI has many strengths, including being highly mission-driven, strongly focused on making a positive and sustainable impact in the world and high levels of employee engagement and passion. But they also have their challenges, including increased regulatory demands that make it more difficult to operate globally, more stringent donor requirements; achieving greater collaboration across organizational boundaries, addressing the cultural factors that limit their capacity for operational innovation, and a mismatch between what sickens and kills poor and vulnerable PSI consumers; and what interventions or disease areas donors are willing to fund.

"PSI’s work with LRN has been eye-opening, provocative and action-forcing," said PSI CEO Karl Hofmann. "We are a large mission-driven NGO that works to save and improve lives, so how could any culture inquiries improve on that, we reasoned. Boy, were we wrong…we can get a lot better at driving our outcomes higher, and I think we are just at the start of an LRN-inspired journey."

To learn more, see my interview with LRN's CEO Dov Seidman and PSI's Director o...

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