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!

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!

 

 

The Sweet Spot: How to find it for yourself

The Sweet Spot: How to find it for yourself

Touring a garden recently with a master gardener (My Mom) and these words kept coming out of her mouth – they love it here. At the nursery last week, another seasoned gardener talked about healthy places for certain trees. Both of these experts taught me the same lesson, to always look for vibrant signs of health – growth, healthy color, and a full look. Life through the eyes of a gardener gave me a different view of the world around me.

It hit me that same view can be taken with people. That place where we are comfortable, happy, challenged, and energized is a great place to be. What words would you use to describe yourself in that spot?

  • Energized
  • Creative
  • Confident
  • Collaborative
  • Positive

This is our sweet spot. The ultimate trick is not knowing how to find this spot, but how to realize when we get there and how to return to it.

Some leaders can see it, just like the master gardeners can see when a plant is in the optimal spot for growth and performance. Most of us need help from people to tell us where that spot is, and maybe a little more help to stay on track making the moves necessary for all people on our team to be in their sweet spot. Imagine if we could coach our team so each individual knew where that spot was for themselves, and were driven to continually improve and increase their understanding of their own sweet spot?

Maturity is simply the knowledge to know where your spot is, the patience to work toward it, and the ability to make the shifts to perform at a high level even if you are not in the exact sweet spot. Mature does not equal old, it just means wise.

Leaders need to know their own sweet spot and surround themselves with people who can handle the critical work outside of that spot. Great leaders also know how to develop the wisdom in others to replicate that sweet spot for themselves at all levels of the organization. Imagine being surrounded by a dozen people who feel energized, creative, confident, collaborative, and positive? Even an amateur gardener like me could spot that team.

There is nothing better than to watch your kids, your friends, your team, or yourself perform in that sweet spot!

Anybody told you lately, “I can tell that you like it here…”? If not, it is time to get to work finding it.

Three great resources to help your thinking:

Master gardeners don’t just work with plants.

Lead well . . .

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

Leadership Wisdom 101: Developing Your Capacity to Lead Change (Part 2 of 3)

Leadership Wisdom 101: Developing Your Capacity to Lead Change (Part 2 of 3)

What is the biggest change you have ever experienced in life and how well did you lead through it?

How long did it take you to move from ‘the fog’ that overtakes you in a big change to a place where you could see new opportunities?

I believe transitions are the single biggest place for growth and pain. It is also the place where big personal changes provide us an opportunity to develop the wisdom and experience that translates back into our ability to lead change at work. The researchers call this resilience. The regular word we use in daily conversation is wisdom. Here are two lenses to help you develop the capacity to lead change. Next time you hit a change of any sort, use one of these to reflect, act, and grow.

Lens #1: William Bridges – This model is presented in more detail in his book, Transitions, and is a powerful lens through which to see our personal transitions in a different way. I have used it extensively with people in career transitions or any other job-related change. It is based on a recognition that in personal changes we need to let go of things (Endings) before we can see our situation in a new way (Neutral Zone). In the Neutral Zone, painful and confusing feelings still exist (emptiness, confusion, alone-ness) until we actively begin to try new things, which ultimately move us to a New Start. Yes, we do slide back, and in highly complex changes, multiple endings emerge that force us to retrace our steps. Here is a real example of how the model plays out in a career change:

It was the first day of our 3-month career transition program. During the check-in, she talked about how she was a teacher, and the idea of leaving her profession made her feel guilty for abandoning her kids and losing her summers. (Can you hear the endings in those statements?)  After a few classes and different exercises, she shared that she was beginning to see herself as someone who had a passion for helping people, and was skilled at using learning to assist people to grow and contribute more in their work. She was also wondering where that fit in the business world? Admittedly, she was still feeling anxious about actually working in a business. (Can you hear the neutral zone clues?) In our last conversation, she was two weeks into an internship with a business helping them pull together customer training for a new product they were launching. She was excited about the realization that learning for adults was like the hands-on/experiential approach she used in her classes. She was also excited about how quickly the learning showed up in performance. Having the summer off was still something she was not sure she wanted to give up.

Lens #2: 3 Ps by Martin Seligman – In her book Option B, Sheryl Sandberg shares a model explaining the barriers to personal recovery in life events. If you don’t know her story, Sandberg is the COO at Facebook and lost her husband from a heart attack a couple of years ago. Here are the 3 Ps that stunt personal recovery from events in our lives:

  1. Personalization – The belief we are at fault.
  2. Pervasiveness – The belief that an event will affect all areas of our life.
  3. Permanence – The belief that the aftershocks of an event will last forever.

Studies have shown that adults and children will recover more quickly when they realize it was not their fault, begin to see the positives in other aspects of their life that were not taken away by the event, and begin to see improvement and healing through the gift of time.

While the Seligman 3 P model is generally applied to big life events like death, divorce, job loss, or abuse, can you hear the similarities with what Bridges shares? For those of you that have navigated such a life event, how has that translated back into how you lead others?

Change will happen inside and outside of work, and each event is an opportunity to develop the personal ability to navigate those changes, which becomes the foundation for all of us to be great leaders of change.

For leaders, here are the three truths that you need to take into any change conversation:

  1. It is a studied process, so rely on a model to plan the change.
  2. It takes time, so the sooner you start planning, the better.
  3. You cannot control how people react, but you can control creating conditions where people feel supported/safe and are invited to take the next step in change.

The #1 reason leaders struggle with change is because they cannot control the choices others make. The #2 reason they struggle with change is because they have not allowed people the time they need to process change, especially the big ones.

The third issue that trips up leaders in navigating change is that it requires the help of others. In the next post, we will explore what I call The Power of 2.

Download a free one-pager on change. It includes the Bridges model, and also an additional tool that works well with planning organizational changes from Scott & Jaffe.

Lead well!