How Sharing Can Accelerate Results

In today’s rapidly advancing digital age, information has never been easier to access. We shop for clothes, cars, computers, and countless other consumables and services through the internet. We research our customers, competitors, future employers and employees, and bosses. We share our experiences and opinions about banks, hairdressers, mechanics, and restaurants on sites like Yelp, Facebook and Google. In fact, by the time you finish reading this blog, more than 1 million posts will have been made on Facebook (assuming you can finish this in 2 minutes or less).

With so much information, so quickly accessible, why do businesses still operate in silos? Why do management teams, and executives, feel compelled to withhold information from their teams? Are there still people that believe in Jack Nicholson’s position in A Few Good Men? Perhaps some might not be able to handle the truth but most are far more capable than you may think. In fact, if you consider real-life General Stanley McChrystal, in his book Team of Teams, he talks about transforming the U.S. Military from a command-and-control operation to a “shared consciousness” where there is an organization-wide “understanding of the whole.”

So why do executives hold back? Why do they covet information at all? The answer is FUD – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Fear of embarrassment, uncertainty of reaction, doubt in the character and tenacity of the people on their teams. Harold MacMillian said, “A man who trusts nobody is apt to be the kind of man nobody trusts.” This couldn’t be more true.

Sharing for the sake of sharing is a waste of time and effort, however, sharing for the sake of establishing trust is an accelerator of positive results. How do can you tell if sharing is real? If the information the leader is sharing is sensitive, in that it makes him vulnerable, he’s sharing. If the information is sensitive, in that it may make the company vulnerable, she’s sharing. If there is any level of personal, professional, or company risk, this qualifies for real sharing. When real sharing is being demonstrated, a culture of trust can begin to develop and teams begin to form. A leader who shares real stuff is confident, comfortable being vulnerable, and willing (and interested) in learning. Those are the leaders people seek to follow.

Still think sharing is a crock? If you need further evidence that sharing can accelerate growth, look no further than Berkshire Hathaway which currently holds the title as the highest priced stock on the NYSE at more than $320,000 for a BRK-A share as of this blog post. If you, like me, believe that sharing is a critical ingredient to building trust, consider the words of Berkshire’s Charlie Munger, “By the standards of the rest of the world, we over trust. So far it has worked very well for us.” It certainly has.

How much courage do you have to start sharing?

Caution! Employee Morale Not As Good As You Think.

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Employee morale seems to be quite high.  Management teams everywhere breath a sigh of relief after seeing their satisfaction surveys results.  They’ve got it under control.  People are happy and satisfied.  Executives look at this data and believe all’s well.  But it’s not.  Not really.

Many employee satisfaction surveys test for how happy, or satisfied, the employee is with the work they do each day.  But this measure can be misleading.  While I may love building spreadsheets, I might not like the environment in which I have to perform this work.  I may really enjoy creative writing, but don’t like the team I’m on, or the boss I work for.  Measuring how happy an employee is with the work they do, just might provide a false positive reading on satisfaction.

In a recent SHRM study, they surveyed 600 employees on 43 different criteria related to job satisfaction.  The overall employee satisfaction score came in at 86%.  However, in diving deeper into the analysis there is cause for concern.

The survey found the most important criteria to employees is being treated with respect.  Across all 43 criteria, 74% of employees rated this category as #1 in determining their satisfaction.  However, only 33% of employees gave this criteria a satisfactory rating.  The second most important category at 64% was trust between employees and management. Yet again there was another major disconnect with only 24% of employees scoring this criteria as satisfactory.

The lesson here is simple.  Reading the cumulative satisfaction score is comparable to evaluating someone’s health based entirely upon their ability to read an eye chart.  What about blood pressure?  Or cholesterol levels?  Or their weight?  I could have 20/20 vision, but be 100 pounds overweight with high cholesterol…am I really healthy.  There is so much involved in truly understanding employee morale and obtaining a true measure of their satisfaction.

In 20 years of building teams, managing teams, and leading them, I have found the only true measure of employee satisfaction is by having a genuine connection to your team.  Sending out a survey to trumpet a score, or a title on the greatest places to work list, can be quite dangerous if you place 100% confidence on just the score.  Dig deeper. Ask the tough questions. Be courageous. Be brave.  And most of all be willing to recognize that no company is perfect.  Think about that for a minute.  If there was a perfect company that would mean they have perfect employees.  If they had perfect employees that would mean you’d have no need for a performance review system as all of your employees would be exceeding (perfect) your expectations.  No.  Companies can only be as perfect as the people whom they employ.  So be ready to confront reality.  Be ready to take action to address all employment related criteria and not just those that are convenient.

Forget Company Culture and Focus on Chemistry

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In a recent blog post titled Can You Tell if Your Culture Is Broken?, I shared some insights on how someone inside a company could recognize a breakdown in their company’s culture. That disconnect between what you say you are, versus what you really are; the old, perception-versus-reality dilemma.  And yet for all the hype given to the importance of “culture” why is it there are so many mismatches between employees and employers?  The reason is due to the lack of chemistry, not culture.

You work with people not an organism.

We’re all different. We have different backgrounds, different experiences, likes, dislikes, and preferences.  Each of us have our own unique personalities.  What excites and interests me, may be totally boring to you.  Things that scare me might energize or thrill you. That’s what makes the world go around.

Yet it’s so commonplace to find signs on company walls, or pages on company websites dedicated to touting its culture.  Or better yet, how many of you have seen the big screen TVs in lobby areas that state the mission, vision and value statements of the company?  Some companies go to extreme lengths to tell the world how wonderful they are. But saying so doesn’t make it so.  People make up a culture.  A culture is a living breathing thing, made up of individual personalities. It’s not static.  It’s not permanent.  It evolves. It’s people.

In Doris Kearns book Team of Rivals, she talks about how Abraham Lincoln surrounded himself with a variety of individuals.  Many, if not most, were opposed to Lincoln’s thinking on slavery, the war, and exactly how much power he had as President over the states.  While I’m not a betting man, if I were to be, I would have bet against Lincoln’s experiment working.  Then again, I would have completely underestimated his leadership abilities to bring people together and accomplish great things.  The challenge of course was one of chemistry.  How do you put together so many different personalities and get them to jell…to be effective working together?  The answer is leadership.

Whether you’re assessing the chemistry between you and your boss, your peers, or the team that supports you, pay close attention to your intuition.  How do you feel when you’re connecting or interacting with them?  Does it feel natural?  Forced?  Valuable?  Do you feel like you can accomplish anything working with them, or do you feel as if nothing will work, nothing will be good enough?  Is that little voice saying “you’re so lucky to be here”, or “keep a keen eye open”?

No matter what the sign says in the lobby, or how many values your company posts on its website, it all comes down to chemistry.  Can you jell?  Chances are you won’t struggle to get along with Integrity, Innovation, and Accountability.  Instead your challenge will be with Jack, Jill, and Jane Doe. Take the time to acknowledge your intuition.  We were all given the hairs on the back of our necks for a reason.  It’s not about optimism or pessimism.  It’s about being pragmatic.  Recognizing your reality and taking the appropriate action.

Keep your focus on people.  Forget about the sign on the wall.

 

Can You Tell If Your Culture Is Broken?

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Sales are down, customers are complaining and the board is losing patience.  You say you have a brand problem.  People aren’t aware enough, confident enough, or convicted enough to buy what you’re offering.  Why?

Is it because your marketing budget isn’t big enough?  Maybe you’re not running enough ads?  Or perhaps you haven’t paid enough attention to SEO and key words?  It could be some of these things, or maybe all of them.  I’d be willing to bet it might be something entirely different.  It might be your culture.

What you produce is a direct reflection of who you are, how you act, and what you value.  These are the things that make up a company’s culture.  They’re the sticky things, the messy things, the complicated things.  They are the ingredients that many executives (notice I didn’t say leaders), shy away from addressing.

I’ve read literally hundreds of company websites that proudly talk about their culture using words they refer to as their “values”.  They advertise these words like awards, placing them on a shelf like a trophy.  Inside the company however is a different realty.

Years ago I had a boss tell me, “if you have to put your values on a website they have no value”.  She further explained that “saying something is so, doesn’t make it so.”  I agree.  If, as an example, you list integrity as a value then what does it mean for the companies who don’t list integrity?  Does that mean they’re bad, or operate dishonestly?  Do you really need to say you value operating in a truthful manner?

I’ve seen countless companies where there is a disconnect between the stated values and the real culture.  The employees know it.  They see it.  They’re living it.  They’re wondering if anyone else notices the disconnect.  They become numb to the words because that’s all they are …just words.  Instead they watch actions.  They look for proof.  When they can’t find proof to validate the words the culture cracks.  It becomes fractured.  It fails to deliver a delightful experience to the customer because the delivery mechanism – the employees – is fractured.

Leaders hit this challenge head on.  Leaders are not afraid to tackle the hard stuff, the sensitive stuff, the messy stuff.  They stand in front of the company leaning forward, and take complete responsibility for the disconnect.  They own it.  They believe it’s their job to fix it, no one else’s.  They’re a leader.

The leader knows that fixing something, or improving it, begins with honestly.  They know that to make a positive impact they must be able to be honest with their team.  The team is too smart to misled.  They know the deal.  They’re listening for the truth, not fluff.  Only then will the team rally.  Only then will the team consider the remarkable.  Only then is the delivery of a delightful experience possible.  Until then…the broken culture is incapable of mending the brand. But the only way forward is for the leader to walk the talk.

The question is, do you have the courage to see things as they really are and deal with the messy part of business, or will you ignore it, explain it, and excuse it?  The choice is yours.  Be a leader.

 

Real Leaders Ask These Questions

Why

Real leaders are empathetic, curious, confident and skilled listeners.  They are constantly trying to learn and gain new insights and perspectives to improve both themselves and those they lead.  Real leaders ask thought-provoking questions that necessitate real responses.  They’re not interested in lip service from yes-men or yes-women.  What questions do real leaders ask?

  1. What could you use to help you do a better job?  This is a much better question than the typical “do you need anything?”  Asking the latter is really like saying “What more could you possibly want?”  Focusing the question on the result – a better job – produces a more valuable response.
  2. Talk with me about how we can improve our product/service.  If you simply ask, “What can we do to improve?” you leave yourself open to those who don’t want to risk speaking up.  You’re giving them the option of responding with a closed-ended reply – nothing.  By beginning with the words “talk with me” you’re letting that person know you’re interested and you’re expecting a conversation rather than a one word response.
  3. What am I missing?  The more common question asked is “Is there anything else?”  Again, this is a closed-ended question that risks getting a “no” response.  Asking “what am I missing” opens the door to various responses in addition to communicating that you’re not a know-it-all.
  4. Is it probable?  What are the chances?  These two questions can be interchanged.  Imagine you’re making a decision that will alter your product or service in a way that you believe will yield positive results.  Don’t ask your team what they think of the change.  Instead ask them what the probability is that customer service improves if that change is made and why?
  5. What got you jazzed today?  This should replace “how’s it going?”, or “how are you doing?”.  Most employees wouldn’t dream of telling their boss how it’s going, nor would they be comfortable enough to open up about how they’re really doing.  Asking for a specific event, gesture, or experience will provide insight into the work environment.  If there is nothing jazz-worthy a real leader takes note and digs deeper to understand the difference between an uneventful day and a disengaged culture.

Try these out and see what you learn.