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Even “bad” cultures get some things right

There is a noticeable focus on “culture” lately, whether the topic is recruiting, engagement, development, retention, what have you. It’s all good stuff to discuss. I mean, it’s been around for a REALLY long time, but I’m glad to see intentionality around something that is going to happen anyway.

The prevailing theme I’ve noticed is the idea that culture will make or break your organization; that if your culture isn’t right ain’t NOTHIN’ in your organization is right.

I’m here to say….kind of.

Even in the most challenging of cultures, there are things that an organization might be doing really, really well. Just like in a good culture, there are things an organization might be crashing and burning on. I think culture buys grace and benefit of the doubt – a good culture means employees are slightly more understanding when an implementation or initiative goes wrong. It’s not a get out of jail free card, though. Organizations still need to focus on the right things across the board to help their employees contribute their best selves at work.

I’m reading Patty McCord’s book Powerful, recommended through the HR Book Club (check out the book club here!). If the author sounds familiar, it’s because she was one of the co-authors of the famed Netflix Culture Deck. This (pretty long) document has evolved over the years and is often cited as an example of how that company just “gets it.” McCord has gone on to become an in-demand consultant, helping organizations with their cultures and growth. Whether or not you think Netflix is a company you want to emulate (and there are those who question some of their tactics), Powerful outlines some very relevant points about how to be intentional about the organization your building – from the culture to employee engagement. Much of the advice goes beyond traditional “HR” or “talent” suggestions – which I appreciated.

As I read the book, I couldn’t help but think that while the intent of the book is to imply only “good” cultures follow, I’ve worked in organizations that did many of the things in the book…yet had a reputation for being a “bad” culture. This was a helpful realization – it reminded me that even in the most challenging of environments, you can identify positive elements to take with you. 

I’ve jokingly referred to a past organization in past posts (rhymes with fish), and while yes…it was a very tough culture to work in, I learned a lot while I worked there. I also truly appreciated some of the business practices that leadership followed that I have missed in other organizations, including ones highlighted in McCord’s book.

Here are some of the things that were done in this “bad” culture:

  • Quarterly all company updates: Every quarter, the executive leadership team would hold a virtual “all hands” meeting – at corporate, it was live; in other locations, it was broadcast on our internal channels. At this meeting, employees heard from the CEO, CHRO, General Counsel, COO, CFO, CMO, and any business leaders spearheading a major initiative. The CFO update in particular was excellent – we learned how the company measured financial success, how to read a basic P&L, and what variable costs employees could help control in their jobs. Lesson: You want employees to learn how a business makes, saves, and spends money? Tell them.
  • Field visits: We used to call them “ride alongs.”  Basically, if you worked in corporate, you were encouraged (and at director and above, required) to do a quarterly visit in the field. This would include a day spent with an installation tech and a day spent with a call center agent – preferably, in a market other than your own. It was a great way to talk to employees in their own environment, and to give them a chance to brag about their jobs…and share their concerns about corporate. Lesson: Think HQ is too much in an ivory tower? Make people leave it.
  • Visibility to all parts of the business: Because not all employees could go on ride alongs, new employees learned about the business in new hire orientation. The group was given an overview of operations and asked to manage a budget spit amount R&D, field ops, call centers, corporate, and people; and based on the budgeting, they saw the impact spending had on other parts of the business and had to learn to think through business decisions strategically (or as strategically as you can as a new employee). In the high potential development program, we took participants to other locations and gave them a chance to learn more about a new business unit. Lesson: You want people to think like an owner? Let them see what they’re making decisions about.

There are countless other examples that occurred on a daily basis that helped me understand fully what the business was trying to do and why. Being in HR, I often saw more than the average employee about how and why decisions were made – it wasn’t always pretty, but it was fairly transparent. I cut my teeth on corporate America there and have carried those lesson with me throughout my career. And even though it may not have been seen as a “good” culture, it was definitely an “aligned” culture – we knew who we were and didn’t shy away from it. For those who loved the environment, it was a great place to work. For others…it was a great place to learn from and move on.

This post is meant to remind you that there is something to learn from every business…but it’s also a cautionary tale. Just because you check off a bunch of “culture positive” initiatives you read in a book doesn’t mean you’ll automatically create a positive culture. It comes down to the people who execute those initiatives and the daily interactions that happen among leadership, employees, and customers. It’s about the intention and morality of those people. It’s about what you reward and tolerate in your organization.

All hope is not lost, though. It’s still worth the effort to lay a good foundation and build from there. Even the toughest cultures can inspire employees to take the lessons they’ve learned and be better leaders. So don’t dismiss a “bad” culture outright – sometimes there are diamonds in that rough.

Have you worked in a “bad” culture that did some things right? I would love to hear about it! Share in the comments or connect with me online. 

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2018 in culture, General Rant about Leading

 

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Do you suffer from MBSO?

MBSO: Management By Shiny Object

Symptoms:

  • Tendency to assign action items based on the last meeting you had
  • Forwarding every article on the latest management fad to your entire team
  • Inability to complete a project
  • Forgetting who you actually assigned as owner of a project
  • Vigorous head-nodding when something is suggested by the higher ups

Side Effects:

  • Frustrated team members
  • Lack of planning
  • Eye rolling in meetings
  • High turnover
  • Low engagement

Diagnosis:

  • Can usually be made within two (2) face-to-face meetings
  • Observe email syntax – probable lack of continuity; may also display needless repetition
  • Ask for a priority update on Monday…then as the same question Wednesday to see if there are massive changes

Treatment (to be administered by those around the MBSO sufferer):

  • At the next staff meeting, stage an intervention. “Joe, we love you very much. And we want you to be successful…”
  • Airing of grievances
  • Dead-eye stare at the afflicted member of your team
  • Finding a new job

MBSO can be stopped, but it takes awareness.

Don’t be that manager.

 

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I hate your sunshine.

During a recent #Nextchat, the conversation turned to making sure current employees were honest about what life was like at the company when talking to candidates. I think I said something clever like, “Life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows at any org, no matter how great it is.” Then Anne Tomkinson (a co-host of the chat) said something even MORE clever, “And you also never know what is positive or negative to someone. They might hate your sunshine.”

And while my life goal is to now have a situation in which I can turn to someone and yell, “I HATE YOUR SUNSHINE!”, I also love what Anne said. Because she’s right. Something you find fantastic at work, another person may hate.

Let’s take open floor plans.

Some people love them – they think they foster creativity, collaboration, and create a bright, open atmosphere that makes the office great to be in. And then there are normal people who just want to be able to close a door and get some damn work done every once in awhile.

See? Someone hated your sunshine.

Leadership styles aren’t immune from this, either. You may think a hands-off approach is the best way to work. All employees want a manager who stays away until needed, right? Believe it or not, there ARE employees out there who want a little more direction and guidance on their day-to-day work and wouldn’t see it as micromanaging. They’d see that as support.

Sunshine hated once again.

As leaders, we have to be careful that we aren’t forcefeeding sunshine to our employees. We have to be aware of the different preferences in our workforce. We can’t always accommodate them (sorry, you can’t really wear pajamas all day…), but we can at least stop trying to get them to love the same things we do. Be realistic, for goodness’ sake.

That whole credibility issue leadership seems to have in so many organizations can be tied to our inability to recognize how our people actually feel about things that are going on at work. It’s OKAY for you to think it’s awesome that the cafeteria is moving to healthy food only. You can even tell people that you think it’s awesome. But don’t try to persuade people who hate the idea. Just say, “I get it. It’s not for everyone.” And move on.

Sunshine is subjective. As soon as leadership recognizes that, we’ll be in a better position to build trust and credibility with our teams.

And that should bring a little sunshine to all of us.


Author’s Note: If, like me, you immediately started singing Len’s Don’t You Steal My Sunshine upon reading this article’s headline, I truly apologize. It will take you roughly 72 hours to remove it from your brain. 

 

 

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Everyone needs a Jerry

Early in my HR career, I worked for a large Fortune 200 organization that sold pay TV.  We were geographically dispersed – call centers, field technicians, and a big ol’ headquarters filling two rather large office buildings.

The culture at this place was…I’ll say challenging. It didn’t win a lot of fans, that’s for sure. But the company knew exactly who it was and didn’t try to pretend to be something else, which I appreciated. And many days, most people really liked their job – awesome people to work with, cool projects, access to leadership, super fast career development.

From a Christmas video the company shot. OF COURSE you needed Jerry singing!

There were some days, though…I mean, seriously. Walking into the building was physically difficult. For a lot of people. You’d see their footsteps slowing down, the smile disappearing from their face, their shoulders slumping. It was going to be a grind.

Then you walked through the door and at the front desk was Jerry. And you couldn’t help but smile.

Jerry was one of the main front desk security guards whose job it was to greet visitors, hand out security passes, and generally make sure the folks walking into the building were supposed to be there. But Jerry always took it a step further. He would stand at the desk saying, “Good mornin’. good mornin’, good mornin'” to every person walking in. He’d ask you about your weekend. He’d tell you to have an “awesome, awesome” day. (Always awesome. Twice.)

Jerry was the best.

He saw his job as more than “just a” security guard. He saw himself as an ambassador of the organization. He loved his job and he wanted to make sure you loved it, too. And even if you didn’t, he made sure you had at least one smile that day. Visitors to the building loved him. Regular visitors would worry if he wasn’t at the front desk because he was on break (“Did something happen to Jerry?”). Everyone loved Jerry. Even our sometimes-not-the-most-personable CEO. Jerry could make ANYONE smile.

The CEO recognized Jerry’s worth to the organization because he honored him with a very prestigious award at an all hands meeting, broadcast to all our facilities. This award was typically given to people who had made the company a lot of money, or created a new product, or some other business-y reason. Jerry got it for being himself and helping others.

Everyone needs a Jerry – whether it’s in your organization or in your life. A Jerry helps you set the right tone for your day, or helps bring you out of a gloom on your way home. A Jerry is the face of your company who makes people feel welcomed and valued. A Jerry is this janitor, giving high fives to students as they walk in the door.

Jerry was definitely one of my favorite things about working at that organization. On my last day, when I handed him my badge, he gave a huge hug and said good luck. And a few years later, when I went back to the building to meet with some former co-workers…he recognized me and gave me another hug and said it was great to see me. Who wouldn’t want a Jerry????

As far as I know, Jerry is still being Jerry. I didn’t write this because something sad happened to him or anything. I was just reminded of him when I saw the story about the janitor high fiving students, and I thought, “How cool would that be to get that walking into work every day? Oh wait…Jerry did that.” And thus I wrote about him.

I hope you have a Jerry. And, more importantly, I hope you can be someone’s Jerry.

Because a Jerry is awesome, awesome.

 

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2017 in Authenticity, culture, Engagement

 

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The power of connection

After Day Two of the WorkHuman conference, I’m struck by how many people have walked up to me and said, “I wanted to meet you! We tweet at each other all the time!”

And the other person is right! We totally tweet at each other all the time. And we laugh together. And we end up having a lot in common, or many not that many things in common, but at least we get each other’s movie references…which totally counts.

I’ve gotten to meet so many fantastic people I’ve only known online – like Tamara Rasberry (my sister-cousin) – or reconnect with people I see only sporadically at conferences – like the Canadian contingent of Bonni Titgemeyer, Pam Ross, Kristen Harcourt, and Rob Caswell. And of course, I get to see the incomparable Victorio Milian (but I didn’t bring the good camera!). This is just a short list of the amazing people I connected with at this conference.

All around me, I saw people meet, engage in meaningful conversation, realize they “know” each other from social media, and share a good laugh. To me, this reaffirms that connection – no matter how it’s made – is a powerful thing.

I firmly believe I wouldn’t have the opportunities I have now without my online community of friends. I have built friendships over Twitter and Facebook without having to meet the person face to face. And I don’t feel like these connections are any less powerful or meaningful than ones that would have been made at a networking event in my hometown. I even had a chance to meet Adam Grant face to face because of online interactions we’ve shared. (I try not to fangirl too much, but this was DEFINITELY a highlight of the conference.)

So my point is this – don’t discount a connection you make, no matter how virtual it may be. Cultivate your relationships if they are meaningful to you…even if it’s long distance or online or both. You ARE building relationships, even if you don’t have a chance to see that other person for another 12 months. The power of those connections don’t fade. In fact, they may grow stronger because you appreciate just how special they can be.

If I had a chance to connect with you in real life – THANK YOU! If I didn’t have a chance to meet you, but we connected online – THANK YOU! Let’s make these connections count.

Because THAT’S what it means to “work human.”

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2017 in Personal Development

 

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Fight the good fight

Let’s face it – no matter what our aspirations, most of us leaders will never ascend beyond middle management. That’s because unless we are a CEO of a company without a board (or we are ALSO the board chair), we all answer to somebody.

This perpetual state of “rock, meet hard place” means that leaders are constantly being asked to implement ideas, policies, projects, and other shenanigans they absolutely do not agree with. And even more, they know their employees will not agree with them, either.

The challenge is always knowing when to fight and when to support. In general, the rule of thumb has always been “fight up, complain across, support down.” Which…mostly works. It’s important that leaders know how to pick their battles and when to gain and spend political capital.

On the other hand…

There are times when your team really needs to see that you’re fighting for them. They need to believe you, their leader, has their back when they aren’t around to see it. They need to see that you are human, that you recognize when a policy from the higher ups seems contrary to the organization’s stated values, and that you are willing to stick your neck out for something that’s important.

Leaders, you won’t win on these. Most of the time the decision has already been made and you’re basically just fighting a whirlwind. You’ll be told you have your marching orders and that it’s happening with or without you, so it might has well be with you.

How you decide to react to that statement is up to you.

What I can tell you is that your team notices when you fight for them and with them. They know most of these issues are a losing battle. They know you’re putting your neck on the line. And because of that, they will be in that battle with you.

That means you have to be smart. That means you fight when it matters, not when you’re feeling petty. That means you explain why you’re fighting – so make sure the reason is worthy.

Being a leader means finding a balance in that gray area of supporting the organization’s mission and purpose and railing against anything that seems to be against the mission and purpose. Being a leader means knowing you will fight many times, and you will lose.

But being a leader also means showing your employees that with power comes responsibility, and being a manager sometimes means pushing back on authority now and then when the issue is important. It shows your employee you support them…and you expect them to also push back when the issue is important. Because informed dissent breeds innovation, and permission to dissent respectfully builds trust.

Yes, leaders. You will lose the occasional battle. But you just might win the war.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2017 in General Rant about Leading

 

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More than a conference – WorkHuman 2017

I know what you’re thinking: Ugh. ANOTHER ‘come to this conference because it’s so freaking great’ post. 

Well…yeah, it kind of is.

But it’s more than that! It’s a confession of sorts.

See, I usually end up going to conferences because either I’m speaking and they asked me to be there by paying my way, or because I know a bunch of cool people who are going to the conference and I really, really want to see them. I seldom go to a conference simply because it looks “interesting.”

WorkHuman was a little different.

I’ve been going to this conference since the very first one (you know…3 years ago). I had seen teasers about it and knew it was going to have some great speakers, including Shawn Achor, Nilofer Merchant, Ariana Huffington, and Adam Grant. I had seen Adam Grant speak in Denver and I just loved his book, so I thought, “Gee, what a cool looking conference. Oh well, no chance to go, I’ll just watch from afar.”

As fate would have it, I had a chance to attend because I knew people. (See? NETWORKING PAYS OFF. Go do it.) I got to see some friends I knew, but more importantly, I got to experience a conference that was unlike any other. The format was unique. The setting was far more intimate than most conferences. And more swanky. (Note to conference planners: you’ll never go wrong with choosing swanky.) And it felt more like a good conversation among friends because it wasn’t frenetic. Rather than piling on the concurrent sessions, WorkHuman had a keynote, then a few breakouts, and then another keynote, and a few more breakouts, etc. What resulted was a shared experience that allowed attendees to discuss the speakers, pay attention to the content, and not worry that they were missing something else in a session down the hall. I loved it.
workhuman

I got a chance to go back to the second one and write about it while I was there. This time, the conference was bigger with more sessions (but still swanky. Seriously…go for swank.). The venue was slightly less intimate, but the speakers were again top notch, and while there were more sessions, the conference let you sample several ideas with 15 minute power sessions, collaborative conversation spaces, and fascinating topics. And did I mention Michael J. Fox spoke? No? Well, he did. And it was fantastic.  (I also got called out to meet Globoforce CEO Eric Mosley because of something I tweeted during his session. Smart guy. Super nice. Good chat.)

And I get to go back this year – once again to write about the conference, but even better…I get to speak. YES. I am one of the 15 minute power sessions you can choose to avoid so you can see the other people talk about cool things! I’m incredibly honored and excited to be part of this conference. I love the concept. I love the theme. I love the swanky locales. (Clearly.)

But most importantly, I love the people. And I’m an introvert. So for me to say that after spending 3 days at a conference with so many people, that’s really saying something.

I got to meet some fabulous human beings at WorkHuman. I met John Baldino (who will be a fellow speaker this year) at the pool the day before the conference started. Of course, I had no idea that’s who he was (but the lack of hair probably should have been a clue), so I just talked to him like he was some random friendly guy at the pool. Thankfully, I didn’t say anything too embarrassing (I think), but he has seen me in a swimsuit, so I feel like that makes us family. I saw a bunch of people I don’t get to see nearly enough in real life (Tim Sackett, Kris Dunn, Kristen Harcourt, Robin Schooling, and so many more). I met the mind behind WorkHuman Robot. And because of the conference, I started following many of the speakers on Twitter…and they actually interact with you. Like people! (Amy Cuddy and Adam Grant are especially nice on Twitter. You guys are the best!) So I guess what I’m saying is…even though I went to that first WorkHuman thinking it was just another conference, I walked away with a new appreciation for how a conference that focuses on old topics a new way can really change the way you look at things.

So join us there and say a quick “hi.” Need help convincing your leadership it’s a good idea? Here’s a resource. In fact, since money runs the world, if you register and use the promo code WH17INF-MFA and you’ll save $200 on the registration fee!

WorkHuman helps you CONNECT – to your purpose, to your work, to other people, to new ideas. It’s fun. It’s fresh. It’s a good time.

Hope to see you there!

robot

We love you, WorkHuman Robot.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2017 in culture, Personal Development

 

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