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Secret Sauce Recipe

By Scott Ellis, Ed.D.

May 18, 2023


Company culture is the way you get things done by planning and by what happens automatically. The secret sauce is concocted by embracing a system for deploying your values and intentions and sticking with them. At this point, I may be agnostic when it comes to which system is best for your company. The primary objective is to be consistent within a system that fits your values.

There have been many excellent ways of getting things done over the decades, I have observed. The quality systems of Deming, Juran, and Crosby gave us a way of gaining clear requirements and aligning our daily practices to improve our methods and communication. Carnegie taught us to communicate, Greenleaf encouraged leaders to serve their people, and Covey broke down the keys to being effective individually and corporately. The Toyota Production System focused everyone in the company on continuous improvement. In recent years, Holly Green has helped many to develop destination models to organize and reach objectives. Today, the Entrepreneurial Operating System is being used effectively to organize, involve, and engage individuals and teams for greater success. Each script for getting things done seems to have adopted key points from those that came before, adapting to the times.

The secret sauce recipes, regardless of the brand, share some key ingredients that cause allergic reactions in entrepreneurs. Companies founded by opportunistic innovators thrive on the heroic effort but balk at doing the same thing every day. As one such leader put it, “We are great at getting a job out today. We just can’t seem to get one out next Tuesday.” Consequently, most of us need to set up a system and ease our way into consistent deployment. With respect to Jim Collins and all those mentioned above, the commonalities of sustainable execution include the following.


Humble Leadership


The smartest person in the room has been known to serve the team by equipping them through modeling and allowing time on task to develop critical-thinking skills. This is a discipline common to those who lead a team of problem preventers. When problems occur, they ask why it happened before they ask who is to blame. They overcommunicate the vision and model the values to which they aspire. Most effectively, this includes taking responsibility when the company strays from its goals and leading a quick recovery. Recovery time is a key performance indicator (KPI) of cultural fitness.


Educate and Involve the Entire Team


This takes longer than we first expect. It involves showing the team the plan, helping them to understand how they fit in and benefit from the plan, and holding everyone to the same standard in deploying the plan. It also includes a robust system for repeating this process when new team members are added.


Shared Responsibility


Every leader in the company has the consistent deployment of the system as a key component of their performance evaluation. Consistency is essential, and it does not run on charisma or force of personality. If a particular manager is given day-to-day responsibility for incorporating the effort (e.g., quality, process improvement, training, and development), they must be seen as a choir leader rather than a soloist. Their job is not to sing all the parts but to equip everyone to sing off the same sheet of music.


Clear Requirements


Quality has been defined as conformance to requirements. Engaging cultures have clear requirements for excellent behavior, as well as for products. Team members know what it takes to perform well, and they are confident everyone will be accountable to those standards. This can even include attitude if the effort is expended to define target attitudes behaviorally (aka operational definitions).




KPIs help every team and individual keep score and track their own performance. When the requirements are clear, and performance is measured by them, management and improvement are simplified.




Every team member has a communication pathway by which to be heard. This is best accomplished when it is direct rather than channeled through a supervisor. The ability to identify issues, share improvement ideas, and ask questions is key to engagement.




Team members get credit for their ideas. This may include a gain-sharing financial reward. Sustainable programs always include a personal thank-you.


These are offered as observations on common ingredients to secret sauce. Yours will likely include caffeine; mine has high-fructose corn syrup. When a company has the secret sauce, it is evidenced by a purposeful energy and enthusiasm rather than a frenetic pace and frustration seen elsewhere. It has adopted a way of doing things that is consistently deployed regardless of the challenges of the day. It has owned an “our way.”


Scott Ellis, Ed.D., delivers training, coaching, and resources that develop the ability to eliminate obstacles and sustain more effective and profitable results. He recently published Dammit: Learning Judgment Through Experience. His books and process improvement resources are available at AICC members enjoy a 20% discount with code AICC21.


Secret Sauce

Combine all ingredients daily:

  • Humble leadership
  • Educated staff
  • Shared responsibility
  • Clear requirements
  • Measurement
  • Communication
  • Recognition


  • Caffeine
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • MSG