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!

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:

The Trust Bank: 9 Habits That Make Deposits

The Trust Bank: 9 Habits That Make Deposits

As leaders, we all have moments when decisions must be made that cannot be fully explained to the organization. Sometimes even your team has to be kept in the dark as to the full truth. Some of these moments include:

  • Firing someone for criminal acts at work
  • Reducing your team by 10%, including the two nicest and most liked people in the department
  • Asking an under-performing and extremely good person to resign in 45 days
  • Negotiating a sale of the company
  • Reassigning a leader due to allegations for certain behavior
  • Firing an executive for performance issues

I remember a conversation with a leader about the impact of one of these big decisions, on both his people and the trust within his team. He had just let someone go and nobody could know the truth. It was immediate, and it was explained by a vague email. I shared with him a perspective I learned in watching trust shifts after these BIG events: in my experience, these events did not alter the trust level because it was the thousand decisions we had made up to the event that made forgiveness easier.  Trust was kind of like a bank account. If the deposits had been made along the way, then the effects of the one big withdrawal were minimal.

Leaders make these little deposits when they:

  1. Tell people the real business numbers when sales records are hit and missed
  2. Publicly apologize for a bad decision that made life harder
  3. Show up at potlucks
  4. Go to funerals, weddings, and other big events in people’s lives
  5. Send a note after seeing someone’s child recognized in the paper
  6. Ask questions about family – and remember their names
  7. Have monthly breakfasts with people where any question is answered
  8. Answer emails from employees that send questions
  9. Embrace policies that make a positive impact on the lives of people

The good news? Big events don’t happen that often. The better news? They will pass faster if you spend the time between them being open and honest with your people, and practicing some of the habits mentioned above.

Just remember – focus each day on telling and hearing the TRUth and building/giving TRUst.

For EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System®) leaders, at your next clarity break tally all the ‘deposits’ you made this week and pick one thing you can do tomorrow to make a deposit.

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often.

2 Free Resources to Learn and Grow as a leader

2 Free Resources to Learn and Grow as a leader

As many of my US readers head into the Fourth of July weekend, I am hoping there will be time to relax and reflect. I have a goal to increase the learning material available around people-centered leadership, and wanted to let you know of my two whitepapers that are now available as a free download on Amazon/kindle, iBooks, and most other popular formats.  I also made them FREE. Here are the links to the first two volumes of my People-Centered Leadership Series:

Volume 1: Don’t Avoid the Gaps, Lead Through Them: A view on leadership as creating gaps and managing through their closure – Includes a self-assessment at the end to help you assess your habits and your own gaps. Master these three gaps and good things will happen with your team.

Volume 2: Demystifying Strategic Planning: How to create one and effectively lead through the gap – Includes tips, techniques, and resources to help you become an effective strategic leader regardless of where you sit in an organization.

One of my core values is Learning + Doing = Growth. If you have leaders you work with that are looking to develop their own effectiveness as a leader, please forward this on to them and, even better, read one of the whitepapers together and support each other in the action plans that result. Would you also be willing to help others understand the value of the articles by leaving a review? I would appreciate it if you did.

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often! . . . . and for those of you in the northern hemisphere – enjoy the summer!

EXTRAS:

If you are looking for a good read this summer, here are past lists that include some of my favorites:

fyi – If you are part of the Kindleunlimited program my book, People-Centered Performance: Bringing Out Our Best Through Honest Conversation is free.

Making Succession Planning LESS Scary – 3 Reflections from my Key Note

Making Succession Planning LESS Scary – 3 Reflections from my Key Note

Last week, I led a key note workshop on succession planning with 100+ community leaders from one of the premier counties in our state – Kent County. In the 90 minutes, we spent about 45 minutes learning and 45 minutes practicing the core skills needed to do it well.

What are the core skills?
Asking questions, listening, and creating a safe place for people to answer with the truth.

To practice, they were asked to do two conversations: one using the Team Member Fact Sheet, and one asking the 5 questions at the top of the Individual Development Plan (strengths, weakness, successes, short-term goals, long-term goals). For the latter conversation, I actually did a live, unrehearsed demonstration with a volunteer so they could see how I did things like create safety, gather information, and make it a simple conversation. It was powerful for me because it was so real.

Here are 3 reflections from learning with these leaders:

  1. Too often, succession planning = retirement. In a pre-conference survey, I asked what one word comes to mind when they hear ‘succession planning’. The top 3 answers were retirement, future, and replacement. One of the solutions I push is to stop referring to ‘succession planning’ and start calling your work a ‘strategic talent review’ – which is the focus of my solution.
  2. The fear barrier around the legality of the conversation can be overcome. At the end of the keynote workshop, the general counsel for the group told me, “You nailed your addressing of the legal issues and how to address it effectively.” It was high praise, because I preach a talent/people-centered approach to leadership and I believe in treating people with equality and truth. That endorsement was huge for me.
  3. ‘Listen, observe, do’ can be done with 100+ people! The fact that I went first, so people could see me doing it, helped the learning immensely. This was clear from the questions and observations people made about how to make things safe, how to ask follow-up questions, and what to say to invite openness and feelings of safety.

My bottom-line message was to approach the topic as a talent(i.e., people)-focused conversation and then use that information to understand plans for key roles and key people in your group.

My passion statement (from my own Entrepreneurial Operating System® VTO™) is maximizing individual growth and eliminating needless pain – moving to and past the tipping point of success. As I reflected on the day and how energized I was by my time with these leaders, it was clear what the reason was: I could see the hunger for learning in the group and feel the relief in hearing an approach many could see themselves leading effectively. I could also see several leaders moving toward that tipping point.

If you would like to learn more, here are links to the presentation and some of the free templates I shared:

  1. Presentation (on slideshare)
  2. Development Plan (used top 5 questions)
  3. Key Person / Key Role Worksheet
  4. And here are my top 4 blog posts addressing succession planning:
People-Centered Leaders – Read this article!

People-Centered Leaders – Read this article!

I have come to believe that there are two key sources of learning for leaders that will have the greatest impact on their performance: Harvard Business Review and TED Talks. There are certainly many places to learn, but the two of these provide quality, depth, and breadth that will ground you in key fundamentals of being a good person and stretch you in productive ways.

Here is a summary of an HBR article that grounded me in some timeless truths – The Neuroscience of Trust: Management behaviors that foster employee engagement by Paul Zak.

Key points:

  • Leaders know low engagement hurts the bottom line of their business (Gallup and others proved that) but don’t know how to fix it.
  • There are eight behaviors that stimulate the generation of oxytocin, which is a brain chemical that facilitates teamwork. (I will have to trust the author on this one – I missed that class in college. 🙂 )

Be ready to NOT be blown away by these behaviors:

  • Recognize excellence – When you see someone doing great work, tell them!
  • Induce “challenge stress” – Provide people with challenging assignments and/or invite them to help you solve a significant problem.
  • Give people discretion on how to do their work – Focus on defining the outcome of the project and give people space to get there (for my EOS® clients, this is when I ask “What does success look like for this rock?”)
  • Enable job crafting – Allow people to volunteer for work, or add an accountability to their job that the organization needs if they have a passion for it; also allow them to delegate work they don’t like and depend on the team to do it.
  • Share information broadly – Have a defined weekly, monthly, quarterly, annual rhythm of meetings where you talk to and listen to people beyond your immediate team.  Protect that time like it is sacred, and especially don’t allow the customer to cause you to cancel it.
  • Intentionally build relationships – See my Team Member Fact Sheet post . . . .
  • Facilitate whole person growth – See my Development Plan post . . .
  • Show vulnerability – See my Vulnerability post . . .

I appreciate the article because it provides the why behind all of the actions I promote as part of being a People-Centered Leader. The last chapter in my book is devoted to actions that hit most of these directly. I also recognize that teaching leaders the why – in this case, the science – behind trust-building leadership creates a higher level of commitment to the right behaviors.

If you are looking for a summer leadership book study, start here – and if you add my book to the second half of it, I would be glad to talk about showing up one or two times to help enhance your learning. The reason I say add my book is because leaders will all immediately agree these are the right actions to take, and yet we don’t do them – that is where my book kicks in.

This points out that leadership is that simple, and yet not that easy. Leadership is a journey that is best taken with company.

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!

The Ultimate Team-Building Tool + 3 Tips for Using it

The Ultimate Team-Building Tool + 3 Tips for Using it

A friend recently emailed a group of us asking for icebreaker ideas. The group responded with many of the standards: 2 truths and a lie, 5 things we all have in common, and a few other ideas. All effective at getting people laughing and talking – but none can be taken back and used when the new VP walks in or you pull a project team together.

I shared my Team Member Fact Sheet™ – over the past 5 years it has become the only tool I use. My experience with adults is that too many barriers exist in the workplace (or in our cul-de-sacs for that matter) which prevent equal sharing of ‘what you need to know about me’.

Here are three ways to use the Team Member Fact Sheet™ at one of your upcoming team gatherings or EOS® Quarterly Planning Sessions:

  1. Ask everyone to fill it out and go around and share 2 to 4 facts with each other, then hand out their sheet. As the leader, send out your completed sheet first.
  2. Give everyone a blank fact sheet and ask them to meet people and take turns asking each other questions from the sheet. Spend 2 minutes per conversation, then move on. Keep it to 2 questions. Debrief by going around and introducing their current partner and sharing 1 new fact they learned.
  3. Advanced: Fill it out for your teammates. Hand a Team Member Fact Sheet™ to each person on the team. They write their name on the top and pass the sheet to the right. Each team member has 60 seconds to fill in as much information as they can about that person, then it gets passed again. Debrief by having each person share answers to 2 questions the team did not complete and 1 correction (where the team answered wrong). I give each person a different colored pen so their answers are color-coded – and watch as people look around the room to try and figure out who answered based on ink color. Laughter is generated.

Brain research tells us that getting people talking about themselves has the same impact as feeding them or handing them money. 98% of us want to be people-centered leaders, and this is a step toward doing that.

The form is free, and if you want more tips just email me. I love to watch this sheet travel!

Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!

Hidden leadership secret? Showing Up

Hidden leadership secret? Showing Up

I spent a day with a group of leaders last week, and one of our topics in management was walking around. Each person was given an assignment to go do it daily for a week and journal about it. Only a third of the class did it, but those who did had some great stories of what they heard and observed.

The rest missed an opportunity. If you believe in people-centered leadership and the basic belief that people work harder when they feel cared for/listened to (and when they care about/listen to the people around them), then showing up is what you do – always. Do any of these statements reflect your commitment to show up?

  • You show up for potlucks or any event organized by your team around food
  • You show up at wakes and funerals
  • You send hand-written notes when there is a birth, death, or marriage
  • You walk around the office routinely, with the single goal to listen to and learn what your people are thinking about
  • You tell people what you are thinking about – both celebration and sorrows
  • You show up at the fundraisers your people care deeply for
  • You show up in the lunch room/break room and talk
  • You complete evaluations on-time
  • You show up for one-on-ones, or reschedule quickly

Showing up always starts as a physical presence. When it is done well, at some point it moves to a more emotional presence. This is where agape love kicks in. What is agape love? Read about it in People-Centered Performance.

I lost my father a couple of weeks ago after 90 years of life. As I thought about what I admired about him as a father, the top on the list was he showed up. Once I was challenged by a coach that showing up was not enough. I believe he was wrong, because when we show up consistently relationships are changed. When I look around at broken friendships, failed leaders, dysfunctional teams, and lonely people – it always seemed to start when someone stopped showing up.

I hope somebody writes the same thing about me someday. What about you?

Why don’t you try management by walking around for a week or so. Be part of the 33% that get it.

When you are ready – why don’t you try parenting by walking around and marriage by walking around?

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!

Why learning TOGETHER is best – the data!

Why learning TOGETHER is best – the data!

I recently shared My 7 Favorite Books for a Leadership Book Study Group – and something great happened. A conversation started with a leader who wanted to help me (and you) get smarter faster.
An organization called the NTL Institute published their findings on the average retention rate of different teaching methods.
Here is the data:
  • Lecture – 5%
  • Reading – 10%
  • Audio/Visual – 20%
  • Discussion Group – 50%
  • Practice by Doing – 75%
  • Teaching Others – 90%

In other words – you will only remember about 5% of what you learn by lecture, while a full 90% of information will be retained when you are teaching others!

Read my tips for making a book group a very effective learning method, and you will see the tie to discussion/practice/teaching that will move you quickly from 10% to 50%+.

Recently, a CEO I work with to deliver a learning program (Paul Doyle – Leaderwork) shared some information he read: the annual spend in the United States on leadership training is between $14 and $50 billion each year – and there are approximately 15 million people in leadership roles in the US. How many of you have been to programs that largely focus on reading and lecture? I have spent two decades in companies of various sizes/industries and my experience is that lecture/reading is the norm.

I know many of my readers are leaders looking for tips to develop themselves and their teams. Make it a goal in 2017 to push for more conversations, practice, and learning in groups – even if it means slowing down the process to practice and reflect.

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!