3 Reasons Culture Matters

3 Reasons Culture Matters

Lots has been written about the value of a defined and healthy culture in an organization.

In Good to Great, Jim Collins’ research showed great companies had values, everyone knew them, and they were built into everything they did. He also coined the phrase right people in the right seats, which connected the concept of getting people that fit a particular culture (right people) doing the work that fit their natural strengths and passions (right seat). More recently, in their book The Purpose Revolution, John Izzo and Jeff Vanderwielen made the business case that companies having a strong purpose are retaining people, more profitable than their peers, and are making a visible difference in the communities in which they operate. A purpose, cause, or passion can be a key part of defining culture.

My goal in this post is not to debate if culture matters, but to start a conversation about how it can solve some of your challenges and invite you to listen to 5 experts I have lined up to share their wisdom. I hope the outcome is a plan for your business in 2019 to be more intentional about growing the culture.

Here are the three reasons culture matters, based on my time working with successful entrepreneurial leaders and leadership teams:

  1. A defined culture is the only way to attract and retain the right people.  In a yearly survey of leaders using EOS® (Entrepreneurial Operating System®), the number one issue identified that keeps leaders up at night is people. As an EOS Implementer™, I have seen organizations struggle with hiring smart people that take a lot of management time because they treat others so poorly. I have also witnessed the relief that happens – and the amount of great work that starts getting done – when the focus changes to hiring people that align with the values of an organization. A focus on culture makes this happen.
  2. A strong culture is an ethical balance to a ‘profit first’ message.  The lure of more profit takes organizations down a dangerous path. The irony is that most leaders don’t intend that message to be the only thing people hear, but it happens too often. The recent struggles at Wells Fargo and Uber are public examples of this. We all have local businesses that we loved, and then something changed. Over time our experience changes because the people are not excited about working there anymore; how they treat us and the quality of the product/service we receive reflects that shift in culture. Have you had that experience? I have, and when I’ve been in a position to learn more, there was always a leader change who thought the choice was profit or culture, not profit and culture.
  3. It provides a constant reminder to love your neighbor.  A big topic in the United States is coming together, despite our differences, to solve big problems facing us. In my book, People-Centered Performance, I share my belief in more love and less fear in our work relationships because love takes you farther. I don’t mean the sexual version of love that is represented by the Latin word for love, eros. The unconditional love of family (agape) or friendship (philia) are the bonds that get created when we treat each other in a way that places value on how we treat our neighbor/teammate at work. A defined culture enables this.

Do any of these reasons resonate with you? As you look to 2019, where do people and culture fit into your goals?  What is your plan to get there?

The goal of my upcoming culture series is to present the concept of culture in a way that any one of you can identify some actions to do tomorrow to cultivate and build a stronger culture in your organization. Now is the time to start thinking about this, before the holiday hits and the personal resolutions cloud our minds. If you have not signed up to receive the series, join the mailing list here. I adhere to international standards related to personal information and spam, so at any point I make unsubscribe as easy as subscribe.

If you care about the culture of your team and organization, I guarantee the conversations with our panel of experts (Rich Sheridan, Jeff Disher, Matt Jung, Mandy Brower, and Amy Kraal) will help you become more of a Chief Culture Officer than just whatever title you have today.

The first post comes out on November 13th – Sign-up here to receive the blog post in your inbox!

Does Your People Process Include a Stay Interview?

Does Your People Process Include a Stay Interview?

We ask people questions when they leave, it is called an exit interview.

We ask people questions when they get hired, it is called onboarding.

Do you ask people questions each year designed to explore how they feel about their work and to ensure proactive action is happening to make their job more desirable?

If you don’t, you should. This is called a stay interview.

Stay interviews can be a crucial part of your people process, because it focuses on your best people and it allows leaders from other parts of the organization to get to know them and help identify potential changes that would make them more engaged and your business more successful. Does that sound like a win/win?

Recently Ken Savage, who has accountability for people at Cascade Die Casting Group, shared the questions he implemented as part of their stay interview process. It is targeted at their most valuable people, and it is a way for him to go out into the business to listen.

  1. What about your job do you like the most?
  2. What about your job frustrates you the most?
  3. Do you feel like you get recognition for your performance?
  4. Where are you being under-utilized?
  5. What about your job would you change?
  6. Could anything tempt you to leave this organization?

The caveat Ken shared is the questions are not exact, but a synthesis of a conversation that would include natural follow-up questions based on responses. If you would like to learn more about how Cascade Die Casting Group uses the stay interview, let me know and I will connect you with Ken. He has graciously agreed to talk individually with people wanting to know more.

Additional Note: Pure EOS® Moment

The process component of the EOS model requires you to name the handful of core processes in your organization, define them, and then implement them to the point they are followed by all (FBA). Refer to the following pages in your leadership team manual:

  • The 3-Step Process Documenter™ – page 30
  • Followed By All (FBA) Checklist™ – page 31
  • The H/R Process – page 32

A great process design quote I heard to support the 80/20 rule is to design your processes for your best people. That will be enough for them to get it done well, and if they don’t get it they are probably in the wrong seat.

3 Questions to Test for Trust

3 Questions to Test for Trust

I believe that great conversations start with a question. One of the questions I ask all leadership teams during our EOS® annual planning is:

What role do you want in this organization in 3 years?

I can see the discomfort right away, and I let it stay there. This is part of the process of building transparency within the leadership team about how they want to contribute in the future.

I can vividly remember the faces of one leadership team as they shared their answers. It was clear they were being at least 80% honest because they all mentioned different roles than they were in today, but clearly aligned with what they were interested in doing. They smiled as soon as the words came out of their mouths, as if some sort of internal pressure had been released.

People-centered leaders work hard at finding powerful questions to ask that will reveal truth and test for trust. These leaders mine for feedback and view this feedback as an action item for themselves – and a measure of how much their team trusts them. Here are three powerful, people-centered questions:

  1. How have I made your job harder in the last 30 days?
  2. What role would you like to be doing in 3 years?
  3. What questions do you have for me?

People stay safe and vague when they are afraid. The first question focuses on telling you which feeling is winning – fear or trust.

Maturity and safety allows people to be honest for the second question. One answer I love is the same role. My follow-up question for them is: If you stayed in this role, tell me a little more about the challenges you would like to help fix or how you want to be challenged?  Staying in the same role is okay. Lack of interest in changing or improving is not if I am a leader challenged with accomplishing more. When you invite people to help in a more significant way, most will respond. Questions invite them to help.

Finally, the last question helps judge the depth of their thinking about your work and how much they are willing to challenge your decisions. Both are indicators of how much passion they have for your work, and whether they will help you make better decisions. It takes courage to come back with challenging questions, and this creates space for that.

I work with a leader who has become a mentor for me. He has become a mentor because he is so grateful when I challenge his thinking or bring a new idea. My idea does not always win, but he listens. I trust him enough to tell him I am having a busy day or a terrible day. I learn something every time I am around him and it feels so good to be able to be transparent with him. I have found that it takes so much energy to pretend.

Trust is about not having to pretend.

Create space for authentic conversations by using powerful questions and listening.

Lead well . . .

Teambuilding 101 – Enter the Danger (and I don’t mean find a ropes course)

Teambuilding 101 – Enter the Danger (and I don’t mean find a ropes course)

It was one of the many moments of an EOS® session where a big question was in the room which everyone has a chance to answer. Today the questions were: What are the problems, obstacles, barriers, ideas, opportunities you see as you look around your business? What’s frustrating you?

The Ops leader broke the silence: “Our sales are struggling and it looks like we will be faced with layoffs this quarter unless something changes. And we don’t have a plan.”

A hard conversation ensued, and before our next break a tired leadership team looked at me. The Integrator spoke up with the observation, “We must be one of your most messed up clients.”

My response was easy. “We are right where we need to be in this conversation, and I know this team can get to some action plans after break. As for what I see when I look at you? I see a group of people becoming a leadership team.”

One of the things EOS® has taught me is to celebrate when the team goes into what we call entering the danger. It’s a place with risk to egos, relationships, and outcomes; it is also a place where groups become teams. This is where respect and trust are built, which are foundations for great teams and teamwork. Nobody loves to enter the danger, and yet healthy teams who want to leave with a meaningful plan go there sooner rather than later.

Some teams head to a ropes course or a team-building event, but actually there are danger zones to walk by or walk into every time they get together.

As you go through your next leadership team meeting, do you see your team going through the motions or entering the danger and emerging with action plans that the whole team is behind? If you want to work on this with your team in 2019, a good place to start is with Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable.

One final thought: stop calling it team building and always refer to it as TRUST building – because all leaders and leadership teams need more of that.

Lead well . .

Stress – is it bad?

Stress – is it bad?

Last month I shared my 5 favorite leadership TED talks. Today I want to add one:

How to make stress your friend ~ Kelly McGonigal

I work with leaders of growth-minded organizations, and one of the most important questions is, “Do you have time to do the accountabilities of the job/jobs you signed up for?” It is a core part of the EOS® (Entrepreneurial Operating System®) process. It is during this conversation where the leaders who feel overwhelmed say it, and it is over the next six months of working together that I can tell how they are handling it. Stressed people can still be happy and productive, and yet some get so buried in it that rocks don’t get done and they start to withdraw from the work of the leadership team. This video puts some perspective on it, and it is really a life or death situation.

My favorite part of the video is the last six minutes, where we see the impact of reaching out to others to help you with stress or reaching out to friends that you know are under stress. One big aha: Caring for others creates resilience.

Stress is not bad in itself. What is harmful is how we process it. When we process it by connecting with others, it actually makes us stronger.

Lead well!

Leaders: What their questions will tell you

Leaders: What their questions will tell you

Recently I was invited in to lead an EOS® review session with a group of next level leaders. I believe great conversations start with a question, so every session I lead starts with, “What questions do you want answered today?”

When I asked this group of leaders, here is what they shared. As you read these questions, what themes do you see and what gaps would they reveal if this were your organization?

  1. Data/Scorecards/Measurables/Issues: How do you make things more visible and knock them out forever?
  2. What is the biggest hurdle when companies go to EOS®?
  3. Agile is a software design approach of cross-functional teams. How does EOS® fit into this?
  4. Does EOS® work for all companies/organizations?
  5. What happens when Rocks are not hit?
  6. How did EOS® come about? Why did we decide to use it?
  7. When did our organization start using EOS®?
  8. How challenging should Rocks be?
  9. How many companies have implemented EOS®?
  10. Accountability: Is it dependent on my manager?

As I listened, a few things hit me about this group:

  1. There was a gap in teaching around Rocks and people were still a little uncertain about them. (#5, #8)
  2. When helping adults learn, it is important to connect new concepts/words with something they are already familiar with. This should be part of onboarding, and I wondered if that was happening well? (#1, #3, #10)
  3. It is easy to forget to talk about the ‘Why?’ when teaching and spend too much time focused on the ‘What?’ and ‘How?’. Someone on the leadership team needs to be a storyteller, and in this case not enough time had been spent talking about the journey. (#6, #7)

Empathy is not a talent that all people have, and trying to become an expert in reading behaviors or all the subtle hints that get passed along in conversation is something most of us will fail to master. We can all ask questions, and if we couple that with creating a space where we can listen to the answers, it becomes easier to understand the needs, wants, and barriers of the person sitting across from us.

That is the main belief behind my people-centered leadership motto: Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!


Here are some valuable tips on listening using the Johari Window in a short video.

Here are a couple of tools I use to script questions for leaders:

Key Leadership Skill: Sharpening the Saw or Clarity Breaks – 2 Tips to help you get started

Key Leadership Skill: Sharpening the Saw or Clarity Breaks – 2 Tips to help you get started

We are all too busy.

Do you believe that? I see too many leaders struggling with this feeling, and with the health effects that all too often follow this constant state of being.

At this moment, 20+ leaders from my EOS® (Entrepreneurial Operating System®) clients are doing a 6-week challenge to develop or reinforce the habit of taking one hour every week to spend time in what Stephen Covey called ‘sharpening the saw’. Gino Wickman calls it a ‘clarity break’™, and like many of the leaders I coach, I have struggled to establish the habit. I believe it is important, and currently I have two straight weeks of clarity breaks going, so here are two tips that have helped me:

  1. I created a template to make it easy to focus on the most important questions I need to answer each week and the work I need to review.
  2. The place is important. I live near Lake Michigan, and have found that a short drive to the water and sitting in my car helps me detach from my work. The picture you see here is the view that I have. My desk and coffee shops did not work for me.

Clarity breaks don’t fix being too busy, but the impact is to help you see your priorities more clearly so that the time you have will be focused on them. (FYI – check out my LinkedIn article about 3 Things Leaders Should Stop Saying in 2018 – “I don’t have enough time” is one.)

I am thinking of doing a broader Clarity Break Challenge in a few months for all of the readers of this blog and I am open to allowing each of you to invite people from your company. If you have interest in learning more, sign up here; if you would like to explore doing a challenge with leaders/individuals within your company indicate that in the note space. I would be glad to explore the possibility of kicking it off with a webinar or lunch and learn to help jumpstart their success.

Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!

The #1 Skill Your People Need

As I reviewed the most popular pages on my website in 2017, I found that the Rock Project Plan was the most visited page. I was surprised at first, but the more I thought about the leaders I had coached, taught, and mentored in 2017 and the challenges they faced, the more it made sense.

The fundamental thing your people need to understand is how to predict and plan how the work of a project will get done. Creating a project plan is a great way to organize this information and break down a goal into actionable steps and accountable owners.

Two things that are driven by a project plan:

  1. The foundation of accountability, i.e. the goal and the specific work that has to happen to complete the task
  2. Multiple moments where “I need help” can be said

All leaders are helped by #1, because it creates conditions that are easier for them to manage.

All individuals are helped by #2, because the hardest words for the leaders I coach to say are “I need help.” This impacts your team’s outlook because if they see you as resistant to asking for help, they interpret that as not being okay. Here is an example – I did a feedback session with a leader and their team where each person had the chance to give and receive feedback to every other person through answering the question: What is one thing [person’s name] could START or STOP doing in 2018 for the greater good of this team? The overwhelming message people told their leader in the feedback – we see you being stressed and busy, and you need to START asking for help because we want to help you! Hidden benefit – a project plan of any type drives teamwork too!

All this from a little old project plan. Practice and teach this skill in 2018 and reap the benefits of performance AND teamwork!


So you understand the following templates, in EOS® we call the most important work for the next 90 days ‘Rocks’. All Rocks need a basic project plan. Here are free templates I share to help you be the most effective leader/manager you can be.

View all of the 25+ FREE templates. I share them to equip aspiring and committed people-centered leaders. Lead well!

Present and Listen: 2 Things Leaders Taught Me

Present and Listen: 2 Things Leaders Taught Me

Last week I presented a keynote around strategic planning to a group of business leaders. I have made a habit of presenting and then making myself available for questions and coaching for 6 to 24 hours. While I enjoy talking to groups, I get a very valuable perspective on my topic when I interact with people after my keynote and I get to listen. Remember one of my core beliefs: Great conversations start with a question.

Here is a key message I heard: Great meetings are rare, and leaders want to get better at leading meetings. EOS has a meeting called the Level 10 Meeting™. The goal is to make it so effective and engaging that people rate it a 10 at the end. Of the twelve conversations I had with leaders after my keynote, eight mentioned the Level 10 Meeting™ tool as the one takeaway they wanted to go implement. Their reasons were mainly focused around feeling like they are doing all the talking, with engagement (i.e. voices of others) from the rest of the participants not happening.

Question for you: How do you equip new leaders with tools to run effective meetings?

Here is another key message I heard: People everywhere are knowledgeable and passionate about their work and want to contribute more. For this, you need some background information. This keynote was in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan – a long way from the major population centers of our state (Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids). There are even names used to identify two distinct groups in our state: Trolls (live below the Mackinaw Bridge) and Yoopers (live north of the bridge). When I mentioned I was going to the Upper Peninsula to do a keynote, I heard an arrogance than exists against small town business leaders; comments like “Are there any businesses up there?” The work ethic, common sense, and business sense of the leaders I met was equal to any other area/state that I have worked. I could even make an argument that the basic work ethic and humble approach to success is higher above the bridge. I knew that, and yet it is an important thing to relearn as I live the two values that drive my interactions with clients: Serve First and Kindness Matters. There is no place for arrogance in either value. As we try and reverse some of the polarization that exists between population centers and our more rural cities and towns, everyone – including me – needs a reminder to listen.

Question for you: What are your habits around leaving your main work area to listen to employees/clients in other communities and/or parts of your business?

Next time you talk to a large group, I encourage you to hang around for a while – there is lots of good learning that happens when you do.

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!

(If you are interested in seeing my presentation, you can find a copy here on my website. Video clips will be available soon.)

The Importance of Clarity + 2 Tips for your Organization

The Importance of Clarity + 2 Tips for your Organization

I had a clarity issue in my recent trip to Italy to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We only spoke English and all the people we met only spoke Italian. In hindsight, the celebratory dance I did when we were able to get the grocery store owner to realize we were looking for eggs (fyi: uovo in Italian) would probably be embarrassing if it was released to YouTube.

It is impossible to have clarity if we speak different languages, and the irony is each day we go to work and find places where clarity issues exist between people who speak the SAME base language. Some examples:

  • Engineering talking to sales
  • Leadership reporting financials to everyone
  • Accounting communicating to anyone

We have all experienced it, and the irony is that it is always the other person’s fault. One of the reasons every leadership program has a piece on communication styles – using a tool like DiSC or BEST – is because we need a lens to see these moments differently so we can step back and ask, “What can I do to communicate more effectively?”

The place I encourage you to start is with your words. For leaders, I see a huge opportunity to standardize how you talk about the priorities in your business.

I use a methodology called EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System®) with my clients for strategic planning. It is very clear around setting terms for priorities and commitments we make:

  • To Do: less than 7 days to complete (single owner)
  • Rocks: less than 90 days to complete (single owner)
  • Goals: 1 year to complete (owner is leadership team, or whatever team commits to doing it)

Even with these terms defined, leaders still come back and talk about goals the team set for this quarter or tactics for 2017. It is a simple concept, and yet not that easy to do.

Here are two tips for creating clarity around your plan and priorities:

  1. Commit to the same language: I can help you start this with my ebook Demystifying Strategic Planning (free on Kindle). This simple step will have a huge impact on your ability to create clarity at all levels of your organization. Also, remember that things have to be communicated 7 times before they are retained – so the roll-out is a journey, and not just an email or single all-employee meeting.
  2. Write things down on a single page: The spoken word does not create clarity. The written word does not, by itself, create clarity. But writing it down will help drive a more productive clarity conversation so you will get there faster.

Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!