It’s not the software

Tools ,Values ,Vision

workplace software

You’ve probably heard this one…

The story about the company that was so excited to bring in the new intranet software so they could finally get everyone on the same page, share knowledge, stay up to date and unify the company, and then… no one used it.

Something happened when we started using the word “Human Capital.” It used to be called “Personnel” – as in real people. But companies got so big that people became numbers. We then start to track them, count them and trade them like they’re any other resource. Just one of several cogs in the machine.

People are emotional, irrational, passionate and full of surprises.

Some will read that and be terrified by that statement.

Others will know that this is the source of innovation, fun and ingenuity that make work exciting and that enable us to solve the world’s biggest problems.

Now that more and more companies understand it’s all about the culture, along come all the people who think software can run the show. Graphs, numbers, input/output, dashboards….

“Ahh, I finally have the feeling that I’m in control of the people situation!”

Guess again.

To be fair, some visual tracking can be very helpful. Especially with simple elegant systems like NPS. But anything more than that comes with a few issues:

1. Survey fatigue

2. Nothing actually happening with the results of said surveys

3. The feeling that people are getting dehumanized

I saw a meme on Facebook that read, “Do you ever notice your successful friends are never posting inspirational quotes?”

In that spirit, have you ever noticed that the really successful cultures aren’t using complex systems to track how happy their people are?  When you’re clear on vision and values, and get the right people on board, people can create their own happiness.

Let’s get back to the basics.

In the spirit of the Mr. Rogers documentary that just came out:

“Life is simple and deep.

But we make it complex and shallow.”

-Fred Rogers

The Secret of the Family Business

Culture of Chaos ,Values

corporate culture godfather

When I’m with a group of leaders and managers, there’s often one from a family business.

They are the ones who throw me a curveball. Their culture questions are very different from the rest of the group. The conversation ends pretty quickly once I give them the answer they are not expecting. I say:

“Family businesses are less like corporations and more like the mafia.”

It gets a ton of laughs but I’m serious.

The mafia plays by different rules, or perhaps different values. While corporations tend to be based in performance, results, and service. Family business usually means the values are loyalty and trust, before anything else.

So while that leader in the company (usually a son, brother or cousin) is trying to shift the culture, they have to play the game. They want to do things differently but what they really have to do is build up so much trust and loyalty by staying in-line.

In no other circumstance do I say this, but I say – Be a Yes Man, or a Yes Woman.  Do it to the point that they get sick of it.  Then they’ll either build up a ton of credit to use later, or the leaders will simply hand over more responsibility.

Whether you’re in a family business or not, it’s key to determine the real game that’s being played.

And the next question is – Do you want to play that game?

Because you always have a choice. You can leave and find a place that’s more in line with your values. Or if you stay, play the game and help improve it by working from within.

Do you have counter-balancing values?

Great cultures ,Values

In the Culture Blueprint I talk about how culture is related to systems theory.  There are feedback loops (culture feeds on itself).

Here are the two kinds and why you should know about them:

1. Reinforcing Loops

These are the values you want to be known for. You want reinforce behaviors that support these values.

2. Balancing Loops

I would actually call these counter-balancing loops. They make sure the intended value does not go out of control, because any system that is optimized for a value without a counterbalance will tip over.

Let me explain…

At Zappos, the first value is “Deliver WOW! through service.” There are many reinforcing behaviors that go into this, from the way calls are answered to how problems are handled.

But… if that was the only value, imagine how it would go out of control if followed to an extreme. People would spend a lot of money on making customers happy, even to the detriment of the company. Or, people would focus so much on helping the customer that they would lose focus on themselves and burn out.

So the counter balancing values are “Do more with less” to keep costs down, and “Create Fun and a Little Weirdness” to make sure everyone is taking care of themselves.

You can see this in many companies.

Google places a high priority on academics. So they balance the education intensity of college with all the amenities of college too.

Apple is known for pursuing excellence.  But if they only pursued excellence they would never ship because it would never be perfect. And because of that, they also have a high tolerance for failure.  Steve Jobs said he loved the products they never created as much as the ones that they did.

So take the highest value you have for your company. Now take it to an extreme.  Now what would be the counter balance?

Oh, and what do you think Steve Jobs said when asked what his all-time favorite invention was?

It was Apple itself – The company. Meaning the culture and people.  Culture is the key factor.

The Latest Culture Shiny Object

Great cultures ,Values ,Vision

going-teal
(graphic source)

The latest fascination on the edge of management is “Going Teal.” You can learn about it from the article and from the graphic. I’m only going to make one basic point I’ve seen everyone leave out:

You can’t go straight to Teal.

Notice that what is listed in every other level is still applicable! You can’t simply throw those things out. And if you’re not solid in those areas then that’s where you need to start.

What is your key differentiator value?

Great cultures ,Values

I know it can feel heavy and loaded when we talk about core values. It’s like the health food of both personal and corporate development. It’s absolutely necessary yet people don’t get excited about it.

Here’s how you can…

Think about your values this way. There are three kinds:

1. Integrity: The cost of entry
2. Core set
3. Key differentiators

1. Integrity: The cost of entry

There’s a reason “integrity” is not on the core values list at Zappos. It’s because it’s so necessary that without it, no other value matters. How can you fulfill on other values if you don’t even keep your word? That’s why the training process includes requirements like “Show up at every day before 7am for four weeks, or you’re cut.”

Tell tale signs of a compromise in integrity includes:

  • Constantly late to appointments and meetings
  • Unfulfilled promises
  • Always dealing with drama
  • Can’t seem to get their stuff together

2. Core set

These are the ones that are basic to just about everyone. They include values like:

  • Honesty
  • Intelligence
  • Kindness
  • Passion
  • Drive
  • Humor
  • Competence
  • etc.

They’re necessary, but people often compromise on them and then they’re unsatisfied and disappointed.

3. Key Differentiators

These are values that distinctly separate you from everyone else.

I realized after looking back on a few relationships that there were parts missing that I didn’t realize were actually core to me. I don’t include these in the core set above because they’re values that are more unique to you.

For me those are:

Willingness
One’s desire and ability to try new things, entertain new thoughts, experiment and play

Curiosity
The desire to constantly learn and know more about a person through inquiries and questions.

For Zappos it’s  “Deliver WOW!” and “Create fun and a little weirdness.”

For the Navy Seals it’s “I will not fail.”

For Google (in the early days) it was “Don’t be evil.”

For Apple, I believe it’s excellence. In fact, I don’t they care so much about customer service the way Zappos does. Apple cares about doing things with pure excellence, and customer service is simply something they do.

What is your key differentiator value?

What You Really Want is Clarity (and how to get it)

Great cultures ,Popular Articles ,Productivity ,Values

business-crystal-ball

There’s one word I keep hearing at companies when they express their desires. It’s like the holy grail people are seeking. What people want most, whether leaders or workers, is this:

Clarity

And what’s interesting is I see this most in companies that are successful! Successful companies have a plethora of opportunities, choices and options. And so the pain comes from questions such as:

  • What’s the priority?
  • What do we focus on?
  • What happens when our priorities compete?
  • How do we stop the chaos?
  • How do we delegate decision making while ensure the right decisions are made?
  • What data do we need to make decisions?

The funny thing is that focusing on these questions only makes the problem worse, because it actually brings up even more options. 

I was running a culture game around conflict and it was interesting how challenging it was for people to follow a basic language protocol that focused their communication. It was like they were wrapping their brains around how to be more specific and concise when they were used to simply talking and figuring things out as conversation went on.

This was in stark contrast to a podcast I heard with a 24 year old Army Ranger whose clarity in communication was incredible. He could think so clearly and communicate with quick precision, without meandering thought. I immediately thought: This is the kind of person I’d like to hire.

So there are two ways to solve this dilemma of clarity. First, as I’ve always said, the biggest impact you can have on your culture is who you let into the organization.

1. Hire clear thinkers and communicators. 

It’s always tempting to go with the person who has the exact experience we need on their résumé. But that’s a terrible idea. Unless it is ultra specific (think: nuclear chemist), then hiring someone who has already “been there, done that” means they won’t grow a lot and so they won’t give their best.

Whereas if you hire someone who:

a) loves to learn (and learns fast)
b) thinks clearly (more on that in a moment)
c) communicates clearly (succinctly, on point, and looks you in the eye)

Then you’ll have someone you want for life.

2. Establish the 3 P’s.

The reason an Army Ranger can think so clearly is because their lives are built around the 3 P’s:

Principles

Whether it’s the core values of Whole Foods, or the credo of the Navy Seals, the strongest organizations run on principles. Principle define who’s in and who is out. They act as guides for decision making and they reduce politics by aligning people to agreed upon concepts rather than to people in power. If you haven’t figured out your principles, check out the core values process in my book The Culture Blueprint.

Protocols

There’s an anecdote from the Checklist Manifesto that says a beginner pilot uses a checklist to prepare for a flight. Do you know what a veteran pilot with 30 years experience on a 747 uses? The same thing: A checklist. If it’s clear that we must do it and hold to a standard of excellence, then a protocol like a checklist is very useful. And this is not just for processes, but also for conversations. That’s why I have a protocol that I teach for conflict resolution. By staying within the process it allows people to feel safe.  New management systems such as Holacracy are based on this concept.  If companies had a protocol for delegating it would relieve so much pain.

Policies

Policies can actually be quite liberating when used effectively. For example, a policy can be that any employee can use up to $500 to remedy a customer service error without asking for approval. That policy can empower people to make decisions while still keeping a safeguard on the process.

If you feel overwhelmed by all the decisions you need to make, consider if there’s a breakdown in clarity and how precise communication, principles, protocols and policies can help.