Thursday, September 27, 2018

Company Culture: Who Are You?

I have been writing and speaking about corporate culture for almost 20 years now. After seeing "under the hood" at hundreds of organizations in dozens of industries, each has a unique culture; one that has either come by design or by default. Consider your own company culture - what is it? Is it aligned with your stated company values? Is anyone responsible for its measurement and good health? This month's article provides details on the factors that go into a company culture so you can do your own analysis of how your organization stacks up.        
Culture Defined
The definition of corporate culture includes a common understanding of definitions and traditions, including the appropriate ways to behave. In short, it is the way things get done at your company.
A strong culture gives a business an edge in two major ways:

1) it empowers people to feel part of the fabric of the company building motivation and employee engagement.   

2) it builds a brand image as the customer experience is shaped consistently and reinforced with every interaction. 

Spend a few moments considering your company or department culture and how you can be more intentional about shaping it into the one you desire. What five words would you use to describe your culture today? Are you satisfied with those descriptors? By limiting yourself to just five words, you can hone in on specific traits about your culture. Now ask your employees to do the same exercise...are their words the same? You may find their perceptions extremely insightful. 

Questions to Consider

There are several factors that influence a culture: 

1. How does your atmosphere support your stated business goals and values?   Atmosphere includes how the office or retail location looks, smells, and sounds. This includes how employees dress and what titles people are given. 

2. Are your policies/practices directly supporting the behaviors you expect from your employees? Policies include what is and isn’t formally allowed. Practices are the way policies are demonstrated behaviorally.

3. Take a look at your performance reviews, do they measure behaviors along with results? 

4. Do employees receive formal and informal rewards not just for the results they get but how they get them?

5. When new employees start with the company, does the on-boarding experience consist of a review of paperwork and benefits with Human Resources in a conference room? 

6. Does the company encourage folklore as a way to keep traditions alive? Folklore includes powerful stories that get told about your company by your customers and employees. When I worked at Nordstrom in the 1980’s, there was much talk about their return policy and a popular story routinely circulated involving a customer returning a snow tire.

7. Does every member of senior management set the right tone to support the culture? Duplicity is toxic to credibility. When you say one thing and then have hidden rules, you force employees to behave in self-preserving ways; they learn the loopholes, workarounds, and can go underground. Most employees will follow the path of least resistance to meeting their goals. Remember that leadership will always have the most influence on your organization's culture. 

One way to know if your actual culture is aligned to your desired one is to read about your company online or by surveying your employees and customers to see if the picture painted is an accurate representation of the way things really are. Check out what people are saying.

As a manager, you cannot control every aspect of your corporate culture, but you do wield a great influence over it. By understanding and intentionally shaping your department’s culture, you can build more employee loyalty and engagement.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Are You a Generous Leader?

I'm remembering an HBR article I read a few years back on successful team collaboration and it mentioned something about creating a "gift culture" and it got me thinking about how many leaders would be surprised to know that the word "stingy" could accurately describe their management approach? Want to know if you would be considered to be a generous leader? Take this quick, very non-scientific quiz and find out!

Generous or Stingy?

Robert Greenleaf wrote an amazing leaflet, originally published in 1970 called "The Servant as Leader" and revolutionized the idea of leading from within, by supporting your team, instead of directing from on top. The benefits of being a leader who is in service and who gives to others generously tend to drive engagement (low maintenance) vs. obedience (high oversight). What they generously provide is coaching, time, responsiveness, freedom to fail, sharing credit and decision-making authority. They draw people in versus pushing them along. They have a healthy sense of humility because they put their followers first and see their job is to remove obstacles for the team, using their influence (as well as getting their hands dirty and owning tasks both low and high level as needed) to make life better for their team vs themselves. They operate from EQ versus EGO. 

Take this self-assessment to determine whether your team would more likely associate you with a generous leader or stingy leader:

1. Do I routinely ask for feedback on how I can help them be more effective both day-to-day and in meeting their larger goals?

Generous leaders keep a pulse on the obstacles to team performance and spend diligent time cutting through bureaucracy to get resources or eliminate unnecessary steps that impede productivity. They see their job as a facilitator of work, not just visionary in the corner office. Generous leaders show the team that they are heeding their advice and continually proving to them that they have a voice within the organization.

2. How often do I defend my team when they need me?

Generous leaders protect their employees from gossip and rumors. They assume everyone's best intentions and take steps to fully understand issues before reaching conclusions or rushing to judgment. They remain loyal to the absent. They speak up in meetings where their team is being attacked and run interference.

3.  When was the last time I gave someone else credit for something good I did?

Generous leaders share the spotlight. They are not threatened by others' receiving attention for accomplishing the work of the team and are able to share successes with their followers. Taking an abundance theory when it comes to praising, acknowledgment and recognition earn deep respect from followers. And it is important to note that the way generous leaders share the spotlight is not just indiscriminately across the board, rather they find out how members of their team like to be recognized.  Some appreciate large scale spotlight while others just appreciate a quick, private bask in the sun between them and their leader.

4. How often do I dominate a meeting?

Generous leaders do not need to be the smartest person in the room. They do more listening than talking. They listen to others for understanding, instead of judging. They guide critical thinking via questions versus stating opinions. The most generous leaders are best at asking dialogue enriching questions.  Instead of just the facts, generous leaders deepen interactions between themselves and their teams by being a catalyst for deriving meaning from flat data and getting people to communicate in a way where genuine understanding and connections take place.

5. Would my team say that I get more than I give?

Generous leaders always attempt to give more than they get. They put the needs of others first, instead of expecting everyone else to keep them comfortable. They respect the deadlines of peers and direct reports and don't constantly change priorities on them or operate in chronic crisis mode. Generous leaders respond to messages from their team before the boss or client.

6. What values and expectations do I unconsciously communicate through my behavior?

Every leader should evaluate what message they are sending when they are emailing at 2am or asking for things from their people on the weekends.  Even if they say it's not important for the employee to respond and send it anyway, the damage is done.  The expectation is set for what is acceptable and tells others that no matter how much you say you value them as people, your actions don't show it.  And chances are they won't feel entitled to honor and protect that work/life balance if you don't.  People don't feel safe when leaders contradict themselves.  Check your leadership for contradictions.  It's the number one saboteur of generous leadership.

Although generous leaders appear flexible and supportive, they are not weak. They do not let people walk all over them or take advantage of their philosophy on leadership. They set direction, drive outcomes and hold people accountable: by utilizing a giving approach versus a getting approach.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Surrounding Yourself with More of You

When it comes to the challenges of building an executive team, nearly every CEO or business owner will say to me: "I'm a really good judge of character, so I go with my gut." Too often, as a result, these leaders shortcut a thorough interview, and that perfect person turns out to be a terrible technical or motivational fit, resulting in more turnover or worse, an employee who stays and makes everyone else miserable. This week's blog points out the importance of having a team with mixed background, race, gender, age, strengths, values and mindsets.

Surrounding Yourself with More of You

Surrounding yourself with people you "click with" because they share your same strengths, values, and ways of thinking are exactly the people least likely to challenge your decisions or catch the balls you drop. That's a risky game to play in a competitive marketplace where diversity of thought and creative offerings are what keep organizations alive. When you surround yourself with more of "you," you set up-or, worse, institutionalize-blind spots that can prevent you from seeing oncoming challenges.

When you hire others who live on your wavelength, you unintentionally create a support system of people who are not equipped to challenge you, to question your thinking, or to offer you a different perspective and direction. You essentially become trapped in a self-made bubble, missing opportunities to hear valid dissent, better approaches, or alternative ideas. Consequences range from stagnation and disengagement to monotony or rigidity. Putting your emotional intelligence to work in the hiring and promoting process can help prevent these blind spots from occurring and give you a new way to think about what makes for the "perfect" hire. 

It's perfectly natural to be drawn to someone who understands you. You may finish each other's sentences and bristle at the same annoyances. I know it's tempting in the interview to think, "Wouldn't it be great to work with that person?" Regardless of the type of similarities, as an interviewer, you must be aware of any temptation to give priority to hiring or promoting someone who is similar to you, rather than consciously seeking out individuals who are able to bring a unique approach or mindset to the team or to offer a special skill set that's needed for success. Surrounding yourself with more of you is a sinister trap, because it lures you with a mirror that reflects your strengths, your style, and your language, while silently multiplying your (admittedly few and relatively minor) shortcomings. I know, a "mini-me" is as much fun to be around as you are. But wouldn't it be even better to surround yourself with skills complementary but not identical to yours? People who would thrive in areas you would rather hand off anyway? 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Month in a Minute

Top: Group shot of the ISA Emerging Leaders Conference in Chicago, Bottom Left: Leading the discussion at ISA, 
Bottom Right: Steve and me with Dana Jones of Thornburg Investments in Santa Fe

Me and David on my birthday
I am always sad when summer is over and the holidays start to loom. Although this year my winter will be much better in Arizona versus New Hampshire, it is still hard to say goodbye to my favorite season of sun, vacation and water activities. This year, my August was particularly meaningful since I turned 50. To celebrate, I treated myself to a trip to Turks and Caicos and spent the week doing my favorite thing: snorkeling for hours every day. One perk of being underwater was there was no way to bring my phone, and I really tried to unplug and stay off email all week (full disclosure: I caved in a few times). The island was so relaxing and beautiful, it was a place I had never been but can’t wait to return.

With Karen Sommers from City Wide in Boston
We also had a few great business trips last month, one was to Chicago to participate in the Industrial Supply Association Emerging Leaders Conference and the other was to Santa Fe NM to provide an EQ workshop. As we look toward the last quarter of the year, we hope to see you along the way. We still have some availability in October and a couple of days in November if you have budget left to spend and want to increase the EQ of your workforce, let me know!