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!

Exit Interviews – 1 Question Leaders Should Ask

Exit Interviews – 1 Question Leaders Should Ask

I make it a point to partner with leaders I respect and admire. It’s important to be around people that push you to become a better version of yourself.

In a recent Leaderwork program session I attended, we covered the topic of ‘Develop People’ which follows a defined process to select, recruit, onboard, and develop your people. In the conversation about exit interviews, a seasoned CEO shared the one question he wants to ask everyone who leaves his organization:

When did you first think about leaving?

He went on to explain why: that this question takes people back to the moment when they made the decision and therefore helps him understand the things that need to change in order to manage these moments that happen for everyone. It is the gap between this moment and the day they told people they were leaving that needs to be examined.

Great conversations start with a question, and seasoned people-centered leaders have lots of great ones that should be part of your organizational scripts.

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!

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 . .

2 Quotes All Leaders Should Have On Their Desk

2 Quotes All Leaders Should Have On Their Desk

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer

It sings because it has a song.

~Maya Angelou

I can thank the US Postal Service for this quote, because I discovered it on a stamp a few years ago and it has stuck with me. It is a great reminder of the work we all have to do in managing the intent and focus of our work. As a consultant, the trap is to always enter a situation with an answer, and allow people to just pull answers from you versus working together to find and implement a solution that moves us towards a desired future. In my mind, it is the fine line between being a consultant or a partner, and I strive to be the latter.

I first became aware of the approach of assuming all my clients “whole and resourceful” and “possessing the answer to their problem” when I took my coaching training with Doug Silsbee, a master coach. His presence-based approach to coaching and leadership is focused on helping people develop the capacity to be present with all the people and the situations around us, and use that awareness to build relationships and solve problems differently. His The Mindful Coach: Seven Roles for Facilitating Leader Development book is still one of my go to coaching guides. His most recent book, Presence-Based Leadership: Complexity Practices for Clarity, Resilience, and Results That Matter,  has been a fun read for me this summer because it so captures his beliefs, the models he created from his work, and the stories that capture the essence of the impact of his approach. I can still see his subtle motion to remind me to relax my jaw when listening during one of our coaching practices.

Doug passed away on July 30th. This quote is also a celebration of the song he shared with me that has shaped and continues to shape my approach to coaching, consulting, and teaching.

Do you have any quotes on your desk? Words that bring you back to a core belief or encourage you to stay on a challenging journey?

A second powerful quote for me:

People will forget what you said,

People will forget what you did,

But people will never forget how you made them feel.

~ Maya Angelou

Lead well!

Help is Not a 4 Letter Word

Help is Not a 4 Letter Word

How well do you ask for help? If we did a word association right now and I said the word help, what would be the first 5 words that come to mind?

I work a lot with leadership teams that are full of achievement minded, smart, goal oriented, and passionate leaders. One way I know the team is working is when I see one of those leaders openly admit they are stuck and ask for some time with the team to talk through the issue and help them get unstuck. I also watch for avoiding it, and if I see it I will make sure it gets named and talked about. It is when my job of helping teams have a productive conversation gets tough, and yet it is in these conversations that leaders are made and teams get healthy.

One of my 2018 summer reading list for leaders, I recommended Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. In this book, they share a model called the Ring Theory by Susan Silk. It is a graphic representation of the rolls of different groups around a situation that generates trauma. The use is pretty simple, those closest or most impacted by the trauma go in the middle, and each ring contains the names of individuals or groups impacted by the trauma. The farther you are from the middle, the less impact it has on you emotionally. In Sandberg’s situation with the death of her husband, she put her children in the middle, herself and his parents/siblings in the next ring, and then different groups after that. The tool is simple, create the ring and comfort in, dump out. Dumping is unloading the emotions the situations is causing and/or asking or accepting help from those that are in outer rings.

The Ring Theory by Susan Silk

The lesson for leaders, when you drive change or have to react to change the market exerts on your organization, it is often helpful to look at it through the lens of the Ring Theory because of the emotions that are generated.  Have you ever been in one of these conversations:

  1. Restructuring a team due to growth, resulting in dividing up teams and changing leaders around
  2. Firing a well liked person
  3. Firing someone you hired, maybe a friend
  4. Trying to support someone who is going through one of the big three life stressors – death, divorce, job loss

All these situations, some sort of loss is created for people that requires work and time to heal before people can return to a a more normal state of productivity and joy. I have watched many leaders go through a similar situation in leading change, where they are focused in (their team members or teams), and not asking for help or accepting help. The Ring Theory is a reminder that those resistant forces often require us to dump out be seeking or accepting support from others.

The trick is, support in only works when people ask for or accept help. Effective leaders do it, and the rest treat help like a four letter word and avoid it at all costs, even though their need is obvious to all.

So let’s adjust the question: Do you act like HELP is a four letter word?

Lead well!

 

 

Leadership Wisdom 101: The Power of 2 or 3 or 10 (Part 3 of 3)

Leadership Wisdom 101: The Power of 2 or 3 or 10 (Part 3 of 3)

This is the third part in a series I called Leadership Wisdom 101:
Part 1: Seeing the Bigger Picture in Leading
Part 2: Developing Your Capacity to Lead Change

I have stared at this post for almost a month now, with the confidence that I needed to write it, but lacking the clarity on what I was going to write. Then Sebastian Junger’s latest book, Tribe, dropped into my lap thanks to a summer reading list for my daughter’s AP Literature class. His exploration of the power of belonging was my weekend read (only 136 pages) and it helped crystallize what I needed to say on this topic.

I have always known the power of having friends, parents, and being part of a strong team. Here are some random – but powerful – statistics on the power of being in relationship with others and having a sense of belonging to something:

  • If you are a smoker and a loner, and your goal is to live longer, statistically you should keep smoking but invest time in developing a group of friends. (Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam)
  • Single men will die 8-17 years earlier than their married male friends. (NBCNews.com)
  • One of the key 12 questions from Gallup to measure employee engagement – I have a best friend at work.
  • During the bombing of London in World War II by the Germans, doctors in London saw a decrease in mental health issues such as depression and suicide.

The importance of being connected to others is well-documented as a benefit across all areas of our lives. Junger’s book even provides some startling statistics around societies where a strong sense of community and individuals being connected to that community impacts things like suicide rate, PTSD in soldiers, and mass/random shootings. I recommend giving it a read. (Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger)

So what does that mean for leaders?

  1. First of all, you will not be at your best if you have no safe place to go talk about things you are struggling with or if you lack friends/significant others in your life.  A leader’s first job is not to drive profit, but to take care of themselves so that when hard decisions/times hit you have a web of community around you to keep you fresh and resilient.
  2. Secondly, when new people come onto your team, be intentional about getting them connected to others faster. Assign a mentor to them for 6 months and have them go around to each teammate or key contact from another department with the single item of getting to know them. (Best practice is to use a personality tool like DiSC or Birkman Method to talk about how they will work together along with a Team Member Fact Sheet to share personal information.)
  3. Thirdly, find activities every month to bring people together around a meal or an activity to maintain and build that sense of team and trust. It can be as simple as pizza or a potluck. It could also be a half day working on a Habitat for Humanity build or another community project.
  4. Finally, use planning to focus a team on a single problem to solve or a goal to reach. One of the reasons I became an EOS Implementer™ was the power in creating a simple plan that everyone could contribute to and understand. Coupled with weekly and quarterly rhythms around planning, the team becomes a community vs just a group of people working together.

There is more power in 2 than 1. The feeling of connectedness is a powerful thing, for our individual health and the ability to have a healthy and resilient city/state/country. The evidence is there, and as leaders this needs to be a basic truth you believe in and stay focused on – in both the habits you create for yourself and the ones you create for your team. Remember, teams will watch you how live as much as they listen to what you say. When they see you having friendships with peer executives, carving out family time for yourself, and being active in your own community, your words will become more powerful.

Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!

(Another great book about the power of a healthy community to impact performance and change lives is Season of Life: a football star, a boy, a journey to manhood by Jeffrey Marx. I am adding this and Tribe to my 2018 Summer Reading List for leaders)

Golf, Ego and Leadership: 3 questions to get you out of the trap

Golf, Ego and Leadership: 3 questions to get you out of the trap

In my league this week I shot double my handicap, which in my case is an extra 10 strokes for nine holes. I was playing against a guy named Reese, who happened to shoot under his handicap, which was a 3 already. In real terms, he shot a 37 and I shot a 55. I lost.  More than losing though, is I lost a chance to learn. You see, part of my problem was the long grass that has grown since my last round. When I got in it, I never cleanly hit my ball out, and one time it took me 3 swings to move it 40 feet to regular grass. Reese got into the same grass and knew how to hit the ball cleanly towards the hole, and one shot traveled over 100 yards and landed within 10 feet of the hole.

My loss was not in the score, but in the anger and frustration that just made me swing harder. Ironically it was 12 hours after the round ended that it dawned on me – why didn’t I just ask Reese for some tips on how to hit out of that grass?  He and his father were both great golfers and nice guys, and I am sure he would have given me some pointers because I will be back in that stuff next week, guaranteed. 🙂 My EGO got in the way.

Has your EGO ever put you in a position where you just ‘swing harder’ or maybe just stopped participating?

In my book, People-Centered Performance, I call misaligned ego as the number one threat to people-centered leadership. Ego, by itself, is actually a necessary ingredient for leaders. Merriam-Webster defines ego as “the opinion that you have about yourself.” As a leader, it gives you confidence and helps you recover quickly from mistakes. Here is what I wrote about the conditions that make ego get negative:

Ego is most at risk when we are in the midst of disorienting change. When change is too much, too fast, our self-perception is challenged by the unfamiliar landscape. Anytime our ego is at odds with reality, we are vulnerable.

Back to my golf game, I wrote these words but did not live by them. You see, I am not a great golfer and if I am faced with changing conditions I will shoot a higher score until I figure out how to change how I play. Historically it is the next round. 🙂 My misaligned ego kept me from adjusting. It kept me from asking for help.

Where is your ego misaligned?

  • Is a peer offering input that you are dismissing because you have more experience?
  • Are you managing people that are experts in their work and you spend time getting in the minutia of their work vs aligning their efforts with bigger organizational goals and removing barriers they are encountering?
  • Are you working for someone younger or less experienced than you are and find yourself thinking ‘What an idiot’ or ‘Who are they to tell me what to do?’ everytime they open their mouth in a meeting?

As I look back on my coaching work over the last year I have seen this over and over. It can be an expensive leadership lesson if not corrected quickly – Your best people leave. Your bonus is lower. A promotion goes to someone else. You lose your job.

Tip: Spend a week looking for situations or people that trigger you into going into EGO overdrive. If you are not sure ask your spouse or close friend and they will tell you. Next time you find yourself in that situation or with that person, here are three questions to get out of the heather:

  1. What outcome is important here?
  2. Who can help me achieve this?
  3. Am I ready to ask for their help? (then ask)

Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!

Easy Way, Hard Way

Easy Way, Hard Way

As a young parent, a challenging task was bath time – especially when the kids developed the muscles to effectively jump, squirm, and grab. The toughest part was hair, because the “No more tears” promise on the bottle never seemed to work. When I encountered Avenger-like resistance to washing hair, I developed a standard script with them which sounded like this – and most of the time it was delivered in a calm and even tone of a loving father. Most of the time 🙂 “Aubrey, you have a choice here. Easy way – You hold your breath and close your eyes when I tell you, and I will do everything I can to keep the soap from getting in your eyes and mouth. Hard way – you keep screaming and I will just pour the water.”

Many of you know I wrote a book on parenting, and as I look at the paragraph above I am not sure a chapter like that would ever be written. If it did, it might involve waterproof stickers or $50 Avengers mask that protected ears and eyes. In hindsight, I was trying to teach them a first lesson of choices and teamwork because we face decisions like this daily as teenagers and adults, and the reality is that this flips as adults when the hard way actually becomes the right way.

People-centered leaders focus on the choices their team members have and work hard to coach them through decisions so there is greater ownership. They recognize when people choose the ‘hard way’ in communication by sharing a hard truth that puts their job at risk. Here are some examples:

Situation 1: Your leader is not effective at leading you because they second guess all your decisions, fail to give you the information you need to make the right decision, and have not given you any routine performance feedback in 2+ years.

Easy way: Complain at happy hour about your leader or resign and hope there is an exit interview for you to share your frustrations.

Hard way: Share how the leader is making your job harder at your next one-on-one and ask for help.

Situation 2: The smell of a teammate’s perfume or body odor is making it hard for you to work (allergies, or just a bad smell) to the point you are thinking about working remotely. {Sounds crazy – but ask an HR professional about their story on this and I guarantee they have one.}

Easy way: Buy $100 worth of potpourri for your office.

Hard way: Pull your team member aside and share the impact the odor is having on you (perfume, body odor, shoes being off) and ask if there is a way to address it.

Situation 3: Your project is going badly and you don’t know how to fix it.

Easy way: Do the best you can to fix it, but hide the truth in updates to your leader and team.

Hard way: At the next update or meeting with your leader, tell the truth and ask for help.

Of course, the key ingredient in all of these situations is trust. If it is there, it makes the hard way easier. When a high degree of trust between two people is not present, the easy way becomes the only way.

People-centered leaders recognize when someone has chosen the hard way, and shared something that they did not have to. When that happens, make sure you stop and recognize the choice they made. If you don’t know what to do? Easy way – Pretend you do and make promises you might not be able to keep. Hard way – Tell them this is a new situation for you and ask for 1 hour/1 day/1 week to give it some thought so the next conversation will be a productive one. Commit to helping resolve it, and follow through on your commitment.

What did you do today to build trust with each individual on your team?

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!

Here are two resources for those of you interested in what a conversation around different ‘hard way’ choices might sound like:

Read Crucial Conversations

Podcast and book: Radical Candor