Posts Taged culture

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 26 :: Culture :: Imperatives

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This quote from Peter Drucker has surfaced multiple times over the course of the One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge. The best strategies and tactics are dead on arrival when they’re unleashed into a company with a toxic culture. This week, we’re focusing on culture for the third time in the series. During the course of a consulting engagement, I’m occasionally asked if I have a list of cultural imperatives, that is, attitudes, approaches to work and actions that should absolutely be baked into the DNA of the organization. I do and we’ve already talked about two of them in earlier One Year, Thirty Minute ChallengesMentor Mindset in week 4 and Lifelong Learning in week 16.

Here’s my complete list –

  • Vulnerability – The willingness to be transparent, admit weakness, and ask for help when we need it, is the shortcut to building trust inside the organization. Trust is the currency we spend with one another as we build an effective team.
  • Confront the Brutal Facts – Jim Collins reminds us that accurately assessing ourselves, our team, our products and services, our operations, our financial situation, and our competitive environment is mandatory. No rose-colored glasses allowed.
  • Sacrifice of Sacred Cows – No idea, no product, no service, no “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is out of bounds. Cling tight to core values. Nothing else escapes scrutiny.
  • Team First – When making decisions, the good of the organization comes first. Self-serving, self-promoting and personal advantage have no place in the organization. That must apply from the business owner down to the most recent entry-level hire.
  • Learning Orientation – The minute we think we know it all is the minute the countdown clock to the death of the organization begins. The organization will never grow beyond those who lead it, so we must continue to improve and learn – personally and professionally.
  • Mentor Mindset – Every team member is there for the good of the other team members. Owners and managers are committed to staff development, teaching not just the “what” but also the “why”.
  • Bias for Action – Doing is better than thinking or talking. Dive for the ball when a teammate drops it. If you promise to do something, do it.
  • Over-communication – Information is lubrication for the wheels of the organization. Tell what you know, quickly and completely. If owners want employees to make the same decisions they would make, employees need access to the same information the owners have.

 

Later in the One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge at least one of these will merit their own thirty-minute exercise, but that’s not the goal of this week’s exercise.

Let’s jump in.

This week, I want you create your own list of cultural imperatives – those attitudes, approaches to work, actions, and commitments to one another that must be present in your organization. Every organization is different, so your cultural imperatives will be different – but if they truly are imperative – i.e. you must have them baked into your corporate DNA or the organization will fail in living out its mission, reaching its vision and living up to its core values – you must identify them, live them out, talk about them, train on them and drive them deeper into the fabric of the organization.

One note before you begin – let’s quickly talk about how core values differ from culture. Core values are the shared, intrinsic beliefs of those in the organization. It might be a love for small business owners, a passion for camping, a desire to make learning available to those who previously did not have it or a commitment to treat client resources (money, house, car) as if they were your own. Someone who didn’t share those beliefs would continually find themselves uncomfortable in the organization. Everyone else would be rowing in harmony with the values and the outlier would feel like they were being dragged along.

Culture is how we live inside the organization. After we’ve been admitted by virtue of our shared values, culture is the mashup of our attitudes, approach to work, commitment to one another, commitment to customers and commitment to the ideals and health of the organization.

So, pull out your pen and notepad or open Evernote and begin. I’m giving you five questions as thought starters for identifying your cultural imperatives. Underneath each question, I’ve included some statements. Some are positive, some are negative, and others are neutral. I’m not asking if they apply in your organization. I’m tossing out examples of attitudes and actions that might be indicative of company culture. I’m wanting you to identify the cultural must-haves you want and possibly identify some current attitudes and behaviors you should jettison.

  • What are the non-optional behaviors in your organization?
    • Show up on time
    • Work hours are flexible as long as the work is done
    • Arrive at meetings on time
    • Always use all your vacation days
    • Never use all your vacation days
    • Work through lunch
    • It’s ok to disagree with a superior in a meeting
    • It’s never ok to disagree with a superior in a meeting
    • Answer an email no matter what time it comes
    • Only answer emails Monday through Friday
  • What are the attitudes you display in your interactions with one another?
    • There’s clearly a pecking order – the highest paid person’s opinion matters most
    • We have a true meritocracy when it comes to opinions – the best idea wins the argument
    • It’s ok to ask for help when I’m stuck
    • Departmental in-fighting is the order of the day
    • We work hard to work as a team – there’s no blaming – just solid cross-discipline problem solving
    • We’re good with ambiguity – we know there’s plenty we don’t know and welcome new situations that challenge the status quo
    • We’re committed to one another – my boss and coworkers have my back
  • What is your approach to work?
    • Good enough is good enough – if it’s not broke – don’t fix it
    • We strive for excellence in everything and nothing less is acceptable
    • We dive for the ball when someone drops it
    • If someone screws up – it’s on them – they bear the consequences of their own mistake
    • Good ideas can come from anywhere
    • All the good ideas come from our creative people – that’s their job
    • When we tackle a problem, we do our research – we want to know the truth even if it hurts – that the only way we can create great solutions
  • What is your approach to customers?
    • We take care of each customer like they’re the only one
    • Some customers are unreasonable and if they leave it’s ok
    • We’re always looking for new ways to serve existing customers and gain new customers – making our products and services better
    • We want not only our products and services to be superior, we want the customer to have a great customer experience
  • How do you view the organization?
    • I’m just a small cog in the machinery – doing what I’m told
    • I have a chance to leave my mark in the organization – my work matters
    • There’s more going on here than just making money – we’re making life better for our customers
    • All the company cares about is money
    • The people who lead the organization fairly balance the interests of employees, customers and shareholders
  • How do you communicate in the organization?
    • There are lots of islands of information
    • There are single points of failure in the organization – people, who alone, know specific information or how to do that job
    • Information flows freely from the top of the organization down
    • Information flows freely from the bottom of the organization up
    • Some conversations are off limits

 

After you’ve worked through the questions and have your own personalized list of cultural imperatives, sleep on it for a day or two and review the list. What did you miss?

Then roll out your list to the leaders in your organization. Does it describe the kind of place they’d be proud to work? If so, why? If not, what needs to be tweaked and why?

The implementation merits its own One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge and that will come later, but knowing the kind of workplace you’re after is the right place to start.

Here’s a sneak peek on implementation. Once you have your culture described, how do you codify it? How do you live it out? How can the leaders in the organization model it? How can you recognize and reward it? How can you extinguish attitudes and behaviors that don’t fit? How can you reinforce it in one-on-one and group training? How can you reinforce it in day-to-day work interactions?

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 16 :: Culture :: Lifelong Learning

None of us, no matter how skilled, can afford to stay the way we are. Our industry, employees and customers change and so must we. Even if the founding generation and current generations have done everything right in steering the organization to its current state, their work may not be applicable in the future. We must be lifelong learners.

Lifelong learning embraces the idea that we never will “arrive”. Our business acumen, industry awareness and personal skills can always improve. Gary Keller, in his book The One Thing, reminded us that we must commit to running our organizations “the best it can be done” not “the best we can do it”. The “best we can do it” imposes the limitation of our current capacity and intellect. “The best it can be done” introduces the possibility that we can seek out new information and new skills that will make us better managers and leaders.

Not only must we as leaders be committed to lifelong learning, but we must build lifelong learning into the culture of our organization. Every team member must see personal and professional growth happening in those who lead the organization and must have opportunity, tools and accountability to affect their own personal and professional growth.

Let’s jump in to this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge. The goal this week is two-fold. Use your 30 minutes to –

  • Think through everyday tasks and recreate them as learning opportunities
  • Create tools and time for team members to deliberately grow personally and professionally

 

Reframe Tasks – Stephen Covey reminded us to “Begin with the end in mind”. When navigating the mundane, fixing the urgent problem or capitalizing on the immediate opportunity, work to identify and verbalize how that task pushes the organization towards overarching initiatives (strategic plan, new sales campaign, etc). To illustrate, let’s say one of our new long-term strategic objectives is to decrease product delivery time from four days to two days for 90% of all orders. Today’s issue has to do with billing for an order from a brand-new customer. The customer wants to set up an account and be billed since they plan on doing more business with us in the future. However, upon submission of their billing information, we find some problems with their credit information and even find some unfavorable credit reporting in an industry reference publication. We could work with the employee who reported the problem to get this new customer set up and billed (and we should), but it would be best to reframe this problem and examine it in the light of our strategic initiative. In order to get this new customer his or her order in two days (in fulfillment of our long-term initiative), do we need to make changes to our order process to identify problems like this earlier? Do we need to look for a way to programmatically check credit reporting when the order is submitted online? Do we need to change the sales process so prospective clients with credit problems are excluded from the sales pipeline? Reframing problems – and slightly expanding their scope if necessary – attaches larger meaning to the problem and makes solving the problem tactical instead of operational, moving the organization closer to reaching its long-term initiatives and making everyone involved in the process better equipped for the future.

Put Employees First – When urgent problems surface, they are, most of the time, screaming to be solved right now. Our natural reaction is to solve them ourselves or get them quickly to the person who can solve them best and fastest. What about using urgent problems as a training opportunity. Take an employee who has the requisite knowledge to solve the problem but has never had the opportunity and walk them through it as you solve it. Or pair them with the staff expert in solving the problem and let them walk through it together. It might take slightly longer, but afterwards you’ll have a deeper bench. If today’s urgent matter is an emerging opportunity, show the employee how you step through an evaluation to make the determination whether to pursue it further. This helps the employee to see how you evaluate opportunities in the light of the organization’s mission, vision, values and current long-term initiatives.

Go from the Outside In – In the press to make to make problems go away or make the internal processes behind our mundane tasks easier for us, we occasionally make decisions that generate unintended consequences. Many times, the recipient of those consequences is not us, but our customers. By making life easier for us, we make it harder for them. Amazon famously sits an empty chair in every meeting. That chair represents the customer. It’s a physical reminder to make decisions that get the customer better products and services, make transactions more frictionless and deliver more value for their money. When problems surface, start with the customer perspective and work inward, navigating through the company’s internal processes. Solve the problem so the customer wins. Team members engaged in this exercise build a stronger customer orientation.

Embrace Cross-Discipline Problem Solving – In his book Range, David Epstein tells the story of two labs working on the same problem at the same time (proteins they wanted to measure would get stuck to a filter, which made them hard to analyze). One lab, staffed by only E. Coli experts, took weeks to solve the problem – experimenting with multiple methodologies. The other lab, staffed by scientists with chemistry, physics, biology, and genetics backgrounds, plus medical students, figured out the problem in their initial meeting. Were the staff members in the latter lab that much smarter than those in the former lab? Unlikely. Those in the latter lab had the advantage of a much broader base of knowledge and a larger pool of diverse experiences. To build lifelong learning in an organization, leverage the knowledge of employees with diverse skills and experiences. Turn the finance people loose on an operational problem. Invite the IT people to weigh in on a sales problem. Create cross-discipline meetings and encourage collaboration to solve problems. Let team members experience the problem-solving methodologies of people from other departments.

Be Deliberate – Finally, provide resources for growth. Start a business book club inside the organization led by the CEO or GM. Meet once a month during lunch to discuss a chapter. Encourage employees to attend classes and webinars. Ask them to report back to the organization on ideas they found especially helpful. Encourage cross-discipline learning. Pay for a salesperson to take a Python or accounting class. Formally recognize those who are learning and growing both personally and professionally.

The goal is to bake the actions that promote lifelong learning into the culture.

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week Four :: Culture :: Mentor Mindset

Management guru Peter Drucker reminded us that, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Even the best strategies and tactics, when unleashed into a company with a toxic culture, are headed for certain death. All of you that have worked in a place with a toxic culture just offered up a hearty “Amen”. We’ll visit the topic of culture multiple times during The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge and this is one of those times. During the course of a consulting engagement, I’m occasionally asked if I have a list of cultural imperatives, that is, attitudes, approaches to work and actions that should absolutely be baked into the DNA of the organization. I do and one of those imperatives is a Mentor Mindset.

Without question, every leader in the organization should have the Mentor Mindset. But I’d advocate for screening for the Mentor Mindset when hiring even the most junior associate. The Mentor Mindset is that baked-in concern an employee has for making the people around him/her better. It’s the opposite of the person who hoards what they know so they can leverage it for more power.

So, here’s this week’s exercise. We’re going to focus on two things – helping you practice the Mentor Mindset and prepping your staff to develop and practice the Mentor Mindset.

Helping you Practice the Mentor Mindset

Below, write one “why” you’d like everyone in the organization to understand. It might be why you forego cheaper raw materials for your product and insist on a specific high-quality input, why you insist that every customer be greeted in a specific way or why you only promote from within.

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For the “why” listed above, identify how understanding that “why” will change the way your team approaches their work. Will they be better able to explain to current and potential customers why your widget is better than your competitor’s? Will they have a new-found appreciation of every customer that comes in the door? Will they better understand your goals for the organization? Will they gain insight into an existing process and now be able to make suggestions as to how to improve it since they understand the endgame?

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Design a way to “mentor” by disseminating this information to your team. Is the best medium a company-wide meeting? An email to everyone in the organization? A series of departmental meetings? A series of one-to-one meetings? A video posted on the company intranet? Whatever it is, make it happen by the end of this week. After you share the information, gather feedback. Was this new information? Did this correct an errant perception that they had? How will this change their approach to their everyday work? Will this operationally change their work?

If this returned positive results, look for other “whys” you can share.

Here’s a second exercise for you to try. When the next problem lands on your desk that only you can solve, identify someone else on your team that could solve it if they had more training, more experience, more perspective, more information and go find them. Let them know that you don’t want to be the only person in the organization that can solve this kind of problem and you want them to carry this responsibility with you. Then start at the beginning and walk them through the process of solving this problem. Show them how you gather information, explain your thought process in deducing the best course of action, show them the resources you use, show them how you communicate the solution and anything else involved. I realize this will take a lot longer than solving the problem yourself. The next time the same problem surfaces, pass it off to your team member and sit by them as they solve it. Over the course of several instances, let them take the lead. Soon, they will be proficient, and you’ve multiplied the problem-solving horsepower in your organization. And, who knows, they might even find a better way to solve the problem. I’ve written about this approach more thoroughly here.

Helping your Team Practice the Mentor Mindset

When you model this behavior, it’s a strong motivator for your staff do likewise, but here a couple of deliberate ways you can encourage your staff to practice the Mentor Mindset.

  • When you send a team member to a class or conference, ask them to prepare a written recap or short presentation of what they learned. Disseminate their recap or let them make their presentation to the rest of the team.
  • Ask each of your direct reports to share a specific operational task (how they prepare for their staff meeting, how they order raw materials, how they prepare for a sales call, etc) with one of their team members and have them ask that team member if they see any way to improve their work on that task.
  • Ask each person on your team to document one of the tasks they do regularly. Collect all the documents and redistribute them to other team members. Have the team members critique the documents, looking for steps that are unclear or lack a “why”. Send them back to the original author to be updated.

Doing every one of these exercises requires humility. Someone might find holes in your processes. Someone might identify a better way. But, humility is a good thing and, in fact, ought to be one of the attitudes and approaches baked into our culture. This exercise is a good accelerator.

Would you be disappointed if 2020 looked exactly like 2019?

I’ve been asking myself that question. And now is the right time to ask it. The time between now and mid-December has been called the “100 day sprint” or “the most important 100 days of the year”. Why? Because everyone is back in the office after summer, back in the routine and hunkered down for a busy three and a half months. For some companies, it’s the run-up to a busy holiday season. For others, it’s time to prepare 2020 strategic plans and operating budgets.

In a very real way, the foundation for your organization’s 2020 is going to be laid in the next 100 days. Do it well and 2020 could be your best year yet. Do it poorly or don’t do it at all and 2020 might be just a carbon copy of 2019.

So, what should you be looking at right now? I have a longer list, but if you can’t swing a full-blown strategic planning exercise (which, in my opinion, you should commit to), I’d turn my attention to these four items first –

  • Ask hard talent questions – Do you have the right people in the organization who can take you where you want to go in the next 2-3 years? If not, can you develop existing staff or do you need additional talent? Do you have chronic personnel problems you’ve been reluctant to deal with – people who are poisoning the culture or who are consistently under-performing? If so, what are you going to do about it? Are there one, two or three people, who, if they left, would put your organization at risk? If so, what have you done to mitigate that risk?
  • Gauge organizational health – Is the company culture healthy? For example, is there clear and complete communication up and down the org chart? Is there transparency so that people have the information they need to make good decisions? Are you and are the other leaders in the organization setting a good example in your approach to work and in your interactions with every stakeholder group?
  • Reexamine value creation activities – Do you know the key drivers of the value surplus for your customers? When was the last time you examined your entire value creation chain looking for opportunities to improve vendor performance, inventory management, cross-department collaboration, processes, quality and logistics?
  • Measure what matters – When was the last time you revisited the metrics on your balanced scorecard? Are they really indicative of organizational health? Are your systems providing data quickly enough and to the right people so your field decision-making is data-driven and your longer-term decision-making is data-supported?

Inertia is strong. The pull of ordinary daily days will drag you right into the holiday season before you’ve taken any time to plan for 2020.

I’ve rewritten this last paragraph several times. Originally it said that you’re busy and looking at just these four things is better than doing nothing at all – that’s true. But, I want to encourage you to do the hard thing and take a much deeper dive into your organization. Don’t make 2020 slightly better than 2019. Make it much better by critically and accurately evaluating the current state of your organization, thoughtfully envisioning what you want 2020 to look like and deliberately crafting a plan to get you from the former to the latter.