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 . . .

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!

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)

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

Successful Does Not Equal Perfect

Successful Does Not Equal Perfect

As graduation season passes, I am reminded of how we too often set the bar of success in the wrong place.

For example:

Success = Perfect (i.e., does not x, y, z)

It is in the x, y, and z that we spend time in judgement rather than seeing excellence and recognizing the attitude and grit that allowed an individual or organization to overcome the barriers that get in the way of excellence for so many others.

I work with high-growth/successful organizations and leaders that strive for more (responsibility, impact, personal growth), and they let me in on a secret:

Successful leaders/organizations <> Perfect

The truth is, successful leaders and organizations are passionate about their work and hopeful for their future. They don’t sit back and wait for someone to fix their problems, or spend a lot of extra energy hiding their mistakes. You can tell this when you get into a room to solve a problem and bad ideas get voiced often, yet one of those ideas becomes a seed for something that will work to solve a problem.

Your choice: spend time in judgement, or get to know the person or organization that has done amazing things. Then maybe, if you hang around long enough and invest in that relationship in small/unselfish ways, you get invited into the room to solve a critical problem they are facing. That is the sacred space for successful people/organizations.

The first step is to pick a formula and form your views around it. One gets you into cool conversations, and one attracts a bunch of other like-minded people to define x, y, and z.

I prefer the former.

Lead well!

Not enough…money? Time? How to move to enough.

Not enough…money? Time? How to move to enough.

All leaders should be in a peer group. I attended mine this week and an individual who works in wealth management shared some wisdom with us. One of the things he shared stayed with me for the day – and inspired this post.

“In my experience, it never seems to matter how much individuals have, they spend lots of time worrying that they don’t have enough.” He went on to share how their process works best when people are able to articulate their goals and aspirations in life, then the planning part just becomes working toward their goals. Sometimes it takes several years to get people to shift from being centered on ‘not enough’ to ‘goals/aspirations’.

This post is not about money; it is about the loaded words ‘not enough’.

  1. Not enough money
  2. Not enough support
  3. Not enough budget
  4. Not enough respect
  5. Not enough time
  6. Not enough space

Ever heard any of these come from one of your team members? From your teenager? From you?

Let’s talk about #5. This is the one area where everyone from Bill Gates to Scott Patchin to you – we are all equal. I think back to my friend’s questions around money: What are your goals and aspirations? Then maybe: If we were looking at where you spend your time, what does it say about your priorities and longer term goals/aspirations? Do they align? What one thing could you change that would move you toward the state of enough time for the important things in my life?

Watch out for the ‘not enough’ wheel. As a leader, help people step back and think about their priorities, then work through the constraints. Better yet – demonstrate to them what it looks like to live with a clear purpose and alignment around the important things. People-centered leaders don’t walk past the hard conversations.

FYI – They have studied money and happiness, and the number where having more does NOT make you happier is around $75,000. Here is a link if you want to learn more.

Lead well!