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Behavior is a Choice, Not a Skill Set

I was recently listening to an interview with Frank Slootman, CEO of Snowflake Computing. When discussing his company’s culture and what he looks for in employees, he said, “Behavior is a choice, not a skill set.” Said another way, the culture of a company is the sum total of its employees’ actions. Fancy language and catchy phrases don’t have much of an impact on organizational outcomes. Success and failure are the product of hundreds of choices, made every day, by every employee of the organization.

During a coaching meeting, one of my clients expressed extreme frustration with how long it took to get things done at his company. His examples were many: the budgeting process was glacial in pace, it seemed to take a dozen meetings and interviews to approve a new hire, and so on. And to his bitter amusement, he had recently heard one of his senior leaders espouse the importance of agility!

My client asked me what I thought he meant by that, because from his vantage the organization was anything but agile. This particular client is very perceptive and proactive. He immediately noticed the irony of the senior leader’s statement, which he could only assume was either insincere or naive.

So I gave him the definition of agility that we use at Emergent: flexibility with purpose. Agile organizations solve problems and make decisions at the lowest level, closest to the action. They don’t waste time and energy safeguarding against surprises, or clearing every decision through a chain of command. Rather, they expect surprises. Agile leaders are clear with their employees on what’s important and ensure that everyone, from the bottom up, feels empowered to make decisions by themselves. If the organizational vision is clear, these choices will almost always result in efficient progress toward shared goals.

Things are changing faster than ever, and organizations need all hands on deck in order to keep up. That means we need to de-emphasize the burdensome constraints of old-school thinking. Complicated organizational structures, rigid chains of command, and insincere buzzwords slow down decision-making. A business is not agile because an executive says agility is important. It is agile because it empowers all of its employees to make choices for themselves. Encouraging action at all levels should be a top priority for any leader because culture is created when people make the choice to act in ways that create engagement, results, and growth.

If you are interested in creating a stronger organizational culture by promoting agility, send me an email at

This Post Has One Comment

  1. This article is on target. When the team knows what it’s vision is the path and decisions to it can be made by empowered people quickly.

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