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Culture is the Way: 5 Steps to Building a World-Class Culture

Culture is the Way

YOU CAN CHANGE the results your organization is getting by changing its culture. And every organization has a culture whether it is by design or by default. “Whether an organization has a world-class culture or a toxic one, its future depends on how much attention and focus it puts on growing its culture,” writes Matt Mayberry, the author of Culture is the Way: How Leaders at Every Level Build an Organization for Speed, Impact, and Excellence.

Culture serves as the internal compass for an organization’s fundamental beliefs, how the organization behaves daily, and its level of market performance.

To begin, let’s look at the five most common roadblocks that stop us in our pursuit of cultural excellence that Mayberry addresses:

1. Lukewarm leadership buy-in. “Most senior leadership teams consist of accomplished leaders with a wealth of experience, and the last thing the majority of them will want to do is shift their leadership style or change how they have done things for the past ten to twenty years.”

2. All slogans and no action. “Words don’t build culture or change culture by themselves. It takes action. Culture is not about turning values into behaviors. It’s about turning values into repeatable behaviors, into actions that become daily habits that are shared across the organization.”

3. Temptation of instant gratification. “When we have a strong desire for something, our patience is severely tested. Any goal worth achieving, whether it’s a personal goal, a professional aspiration, or building a great workplace culture, requires a delicate balance of tenacity and extraordinary patience.”

4. Distortion and distraction. Just throwing ideas around and seeing what sticks and what doesn’t isn’t going to get you any closer to a solution, and it could actually do more harm than good. You must use caution when rushing to adopt and implement an idea that you read about.”

5. Lack of cascading change. There is no end date. It is an ongoing commitment. “Being interested is not the same as action taken. Being interested in creating a great culture is exactly that. Interest. It will never progress unless consistent action is taken.”

5 step culture

Here is an overview of his five-step process:

Step One: Define Your Culture

You must be ruthlessly clear about who you are as an organization. The culture has to be clearly defined so that everyone knows what you mean when we say, “our culture is.” Everyone must see the culture in the same way. “Great cultures are defined cultures. This means that every leader, manager, and employee can describe the culture and what it stands for, and the descriptions will be very similar to a large extent.”

Step Two: Discovery Through Collaboration and Inspiration

“Changing culture begins with changing one person’s mindset and behavior at a time. And changing mindsets and behaviors, especially at scale, necessitates making people feel like they are a vital part of the process rather than relying on old engagement methods.” Take a bottom-up approach. “Culture needs to be top-down directed but then bottom-up created.”

Step Three: Launch, Cascade, and Embed

If you want to drive culture change, you need a playbook. That playbook should ensure management team alignment, have an official launch date, a communication strategy, a plan to cascade the message throughout the organization, create a behavioral manifesto, and a plan for feedback. “You must convey a moving and compelling message that sends shockwaves throughout the company.”

Step Four: Drive Long-Term Impact

Creating a sustainable culture “demands unwavering fanaticism to the ongoing process and journey.” Building a culture requires consistent focus for the long term. Mayberry’s Five-Step Fanatical Framework helps you do just that. It entails continuous fanatical attention, development, and nurturing, fanatical focus on the vital areas of improvement, fanatical about alignment, fanatical about follow-through, and fanatical about the why.

Step Five: Leaders Must Blaze the Trail

How well the organization’s leaders practice what they preach will determine the long-term success of the desired culture. Nothing makes up for poor leadership. Leaders should coach for excellence. “The best leaders who get the most out of their teams identify as coaches rather than managers or leaders.”

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Culture Rules Dare to Serve

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:59 AM
| Comments (0) | Culture , General Business , Human Resources


Culture Rules

Culture Rules

BUILDING a high-performance culture is like setting the rules of a game, says Mark Miller in Culture Rules: The Leader’s Guide to Creating the Ultimate Competitive Advantage. If you don’t “play” the organization will make up their own rules which can and will have unintended consequences.

Culture is “a place, physical or virtual, where you set the parameters in which people work. A place where the organization established the rules of conduct and its values, how the game will be played, the options and variables to play, the desired activities and boundaries that govern the game, and more.”

In the game of Culture, Miller offers three rules but says there are infinite moves you can make. There are an infinite number of ways to get it done when we think about how we want to shape and build the culture of our organization. You will find many examples others have used in building their culture.

Rule #1: Aspire

To aspire, you need to create more than a catchy statement. You need a clear purpose. Why does your organization exist? What do you aspire to? What do you value? You must know exactly what you are trying to create. When there is a gap between where you are and where you aspire to be, closing the gap moves you forward.

Leaders must constantly share, reinforce, and celebrate their values, as well as challenge those who fail to uphold them. Leaders determine the value and impact of core values in an organization.

Rule #2: Amplify

Once you have clarity on your aspirations, you amplify them by continuously reinforcing them. “A message not heard consistently is a message without impact.”

It’s important to recognize the power of mundane moments, the seemingly trivial actions, and the ordinary encounters. These mark our leadership. These moments happen all day, every day. Without thoughtful actions on our part, these opportunities will be wasted, missed, or worse. If we respond in a fashion contrary to our Aspiration, we can unwittingly undermine our efforts to create the culture we’ve been dreaming of.

Rule #3: Adapt

Success today is no guarantee of success tomorrow. The world changes, so there must be an ongoing effort to measure and improve the culture. “When leaders are willing to Adapt, not react, to a changing world, they can build or rebuild a High Performance Culture.”

Adapting your culture requires continuous listening, learning, and changing.

Miller reminds us that the “greatest obstacle to creating a High Performance Culture is a lack of focused attention.” Without the attention, a culture will degrade and succumb to indifference, paranoia, mistrust, counter cultures, and self-deception, to name a few.

If people came to your organization because of what they could do and then stayed because of who they could become, I think you would be well on your way to creating your own High Performance Culture—a place known for its unity; life-giving, sold-enriching work; and elite levels of performance.

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Culture Engine Culture Renovation

Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:37 AM
| Comments (0) | Culture , Human Resources


What You Do Is Who You Are

Horowitz What You Do

IT HAS BEEN SAID that culture is the most important thing because it determines how your company makes decisions when you’re not there.

This led Ben Horowitz to ask, how do you create and sustain the culture you want? He turned to three historical figures and one contemporary that were “outstandingly effective in getting the culture they wanted.” He wasn’t so interested specifically in the culture they produced but what they had to do to change themselves and their culture.

In What You Do Is Who You Are, Horowitz looks at the lives of four cultures created by their leaders:

Toussaint Louverture, the Haitian slave that led the only slave revolt in human history.

The samurai who ruled Japan for seven hundred years and shaped modern Japanese culture.

Genghis Khan, who built the world’s largest empire.

Shaka Senghor, and American ex-con who created the most formidable prison gang in the yard and, ultimately, transformed prison culture.

Companies—just like gangs, armies, and nations—are large organizations that rise and fall because of the daily microbehaviors of the human beings that compose them.

Horowitz 4 Cultures

After examining these four cultures and how they have been applied or should have been applied in our modern setting, Horowitz takes away nine lessons that we should consider when designing our culture:

1. Make sure your culture aligns with both your personality and your strategy.

2. Don’t let the first impression be wrong or accidental. People learn more about what it takes to succeed in your organization on their first day than on any other.

3. Have shocking rules. Any rule so surprising it makes people ask, “Why do we have this rule?” will reinforce key cultural elements.

4. Incorporate outside leadership. Bring in an old pro from the culture you aspire to have.

5. If you really want to cement a lesson, use an object lesson. What you say means far less than what you do.

6. Make ethical principles explicit. One of the most common and devastating mistakes leaders make is to assume people will “Do the right thing” even when it conflicts with other objectives. “Spelling out what your organization must never do is the best way to inoculate yourself against bugs that cause ethical breaches.”

7. Give cultural tenets deep meaning. Make them stand out from the norm, from the expected. “The reason so many efforts to establish “corporate values” are basically worthless is that they emphasize beliefs instead of actions.”

8. Walk the talk.

9. Make decisions that demonstrate priorities.

How do you know when something is wrong with your culture? Horowitz point to three indicators: The wrong people are quitting too often, you’re failing at your top priorities, and an employee does something that truly shocks you.

Some final thoughts:

The best way to understand your culture is not through what managers tell you, but through how new employees behave. What behaviors do they perceive will help them fit in, survive, and succeed?

Think carefully about what your flaws are, because you don’t want to program them into your culture.

You have to pay close attention to your people’s behavior, but even closer attention to your own. How is it affecting your culture? Are you being the person you want to be?

A culture is not the sum of its outrage; it’s a set of actions.

It’s critical that leaders emphasize the “why” behind their values every chance they get, because the “why” is what gets remembered. The “what” is just another item in a giant stack of things you are supposed to do.

By the way, Peter Drucker’s statement that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” actually speaks the exact point Horowitz is making: “What you do is who you are.” If your culture isn’t aligned with your strategy, then culture rules the day. In the long run, a strategy not supported by culture falls flat. Execution works in concert with culture.

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Culture Renovation Culture Engine

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:44 AM
| Comments (0) | Culture , Management


Culture Renovation

Culture Renovation

WE hear a lot about changing the culture. And the successful are more like renovations than they are like rebuilding the culture. Kevin Oakes advocates that mindset in Culture Renovation: 18 Leadership Actions to Build an Unshakeable Company

Companies that effectively changed their cultures were successful because they were renovating what they had, not starting from scratch and completely rebuilding or transforming.

Furthermore, he notes that the best time to renovate your culture is when all is well.

Rarely do companies set out to change their culture when everything is calm and running smoothly, even though that is probably the best time to do it.

Making the point that culture renovation begins at the top he replays the appointment of Satya Nadella as CEO of Microsoft after Steve Balmer in 2014. Cultural change at Microsoft began on day one. The key change was instilling a growth mindset.

Microsoft’s culture had been rigid. Each employee had to prove to everyone that he or she was the smartest person in the room. Accountability—delivering on time and hitting numbers—trumped everything. Meetings were formal. If a senior leader wanted to tap the energy and creativity of someone lower down in the organization, she or he needed to invite that person’s boss, and so on. Hierarchy and pecking order had taken control, and spontaneity and creativity had suffered as a result. The culture change I wanted was actually rooted in the Microsoft I originally joined. The culture change I wanted was centered on exercising a growth mindset every day.

The turnaround at Microsoft has been remarkable, and it started at the top.

Oakes offers an 18-step culture change blueprint organized equally into three categories: Plan, Build, and Maintain.


Step #1: Develop and Deploy a Comprehensive Listening Strategy. “Before an organization embarks on a culture renovation, it needs to first understand how the current culture is perceived. Too often, the senior team assumes they know what the culture represents. Too often, they are dead wrong.”

Step #2: Figure Out What to Keep. Know what stays and what goes. Listen to employees (Step 1) is so important because “it not only illuminates what the culture is today, but it also helps determine the most positive and valued aspects of the company’s historical culture to carry forward.”

Step #3: Set Your Cultural Path. “In the spirit of renovation, the new direction should acknowledge and embrace past successes, but set up the organization to forge new ground into an unknown future.” A carefully crafted purpose statement.

Step #4: Define the Desired Behaviors. Once you have a short, pithy, and memorable purpose statement, the question is what behaviors will best support that statement.

Step #5: Identify Influencers, Energizers, and Blockers. Know the informal organization using an organizational network analysis.

Step #6: Determine How Progress Will Be Measured, Monitored, and Reported. “Ultimately, the reason for a culture renovation is to enable the organization to execute on its go-forward strategy. Because this change can sometimes take years, it’s important to define upfront what the indicators of a successful renovation should be, and to put in place mechanisms to monitor progress.” Oakes offers a number of common measures and methods.


Step #7: Clearly Communicate That Change Is Coming. “To kick off a culture renovation, the CEO must articulate the purpose of the organization (whether new, old, or renovated), and that purpose must resonate with employees.”

Step #8: Ferret Out Skeptics and Nonbelievers Early. This is the hardest step. “It’s the consistently de-energizing people that ultimately slow down or take down cultures. Ferret them out as early in the renovation as possible.”

Step #9: Paint a Vision for the Future. The story matters. “73 percent of successful change efforts relied on stories.” A go-forward vision of the future. Most CEOs of corporate change failure attack previous leadership and focus their messages on the past.

Step #10: Consciously Collaborate. Strong internal collaboration is important to drive change. The group must understand why they are coming together and what they are doing. Collaboration can go too far as in the case where “connectivity is through the roof because everyone believes they need to be consulted on decisions.”

Step #11: Establish a Co-creation Mindset. “Though almost all successful culture change efforts begin top-down, it is critical to also get the buy-in of the workforce by creating a bottom-up (and middle-out) contribution mechanism.” Consider a Culture Hackathon. Ford “held a two-day event where employees worked in randomly selected teams to generate ideas to either fortify elements of the culture they loved or fix elements that weren’t serving the company well - #hackFORDculture.

Step #12: Provide Training on the Desired Behaviors. Train leaders at all levels on the desired behaviors so that they can model them. “While leaders as teachers is one of the most effective ways to reinforce behaviors, it’s clear that successful culture change relies on overall leadership training across the organization.”


Step #13: Make Onboarding About Relationships Versus Red Tape. “If you want to maintain that culture renovation you worked so hard to put in place, you can start by improving your onboarding process.” The most overlooked aspect of onboarding: “Helping the new hire establish a network of trusted subject matter experts who will contribute to that person’s career success.”

Step #14: Promote Those Who Best Represent the New. Behaviors that support the renovated culture should be rewarded. Showcase the “career advancement of individuals who best represent the new.”

Step #15: Change Performance Management Practices. Most important is the “frequency and usefulness of feedback, clearly defining the business purpose of the performance process, and aligning it with the culture and values of the organization.”

Step #16: Leverage Employee Affinity Groups. Interestingly, their research found that two-thirds of companies felt Employee Resource Groups were “more effective than other leadership development forums at developing leadership skills and competencies.” An ERGs primary benefit is to “raise awareness of the different groups of people that make up the workforce of most organizations.”

Step #17: Increase the Focus on Talent Mobility. “During a culture renovation, one of the most successful talent initiatives an organization can focus on is rotating talent to strengthen ‘the pack’ and ensure the desired behaviors are exhibited throughout the organization.”

Step #18: Don’t Underestimate the Value of External Sentiment. Use external feedback from places like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and social media to monitor the progress of efforts to renovate your culture.

Culture Renovation is less theory and more how to. You will find case studies and interviews with the participants of successful culture change.

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Netflix Patty McCord Culture Eats Strategy

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:35 AM
| Comments (0) | Change , Culture , Human Resources , Management


Five Frequencies That Are Driving Your Culture (for better or worse)

Five Frequencies

IS YOUR CULTURE holding you back? Are the signals you are broadcasting as a leader, creating the culture you want—you need?

Culture experts Jeff Grimshaw, Tanya Mann, Lynne Viscio, and Jennifer Landis say in Five Frequencies that to make a good culture great, leaders must deliberately transmit strong and steady signals. Leaders create culture for better or worse, through the signals they are consciously or unconsciously broadcasting over five frequencies. To change a culture, you need to broadcast a strong, steady signal on each of these frequencies:

Their Decisions and Actions

Example is everything—especially when it is inconvenient and costs you something. If it is truly a “value,” what are you willing to pay for it? Think in the long-term. “Go long-term greedy.” “This can mean avoiding ethical shortcuts, hiring people smarter than you, delegating more, and helping prepare high performers for success beyond your team.”

What They Reward and Recognize

Reward the behaviors you want to see more of. “You are responsible for the dysfunctional behaviors that so bother you.” Everyone brings their emotions to work. “Understand and leverage the emotional algorithms that motivate your people.” Understand that it is all relative, scarcity and timing matter, and everyone appreciates being appreciated.

What They Tolerate (Or Don’t)

“Leaders are ultimately defined by what they tolerate.” Be sure the boundaries are clearly defined as well as the consequences. And don’t make excuses because you don’t want to feel bad or you can’t hold a particular star performer accountable, or because it’s really no big deal. It’s all-important, and consistency is vital.

What you tolerate or don’t tolerate is a balance. “When you decide to become more tolerant of some things (like where people work), you must become, if anything, less tolerant of other things (like the work not getting done). As Harvard professor Gary P. Pisano puts it:”

A tolerance for failure requires an intolerance for incompetence. A willingness to experiment requires rigorous discipline. Psychological safety requires comfort with brutal candor. Collaboration must be balanced with individual accountability.

How They Show Up Informally

When you show up, you “bring the weather.” People notice a leader’s tone, mood, and focus. They are weather in any organization. What do kind of weather do you bring?

When considering how you show up, the authors advise you to relinquish your raft. They introduce the concept with a story:

A traveler on an important journey comes to a raging river. It seems there’s no way to cross. And that’s terrible news because this is an important journey. Fortunately, she spots a rickety old raft on the bank, off in the brush. With trepidation, she pushes the raft into the water, hops on, and amazingly, uses it to reach the other side. She’s able to continue her important journey. She thinks: I may encounter other raging rivers down the path, so I must keep this raft. So she carries the raft on her back as she continues her journey. It’s a heavy raft, and it slows her down. When fellow travelers point this out, she’s incredulous: “You don’t understand,” she says. “If it wasn’t for this raft, I wouldn’t be where I am today!” And she’s right. That’s literally true. The problem is: If she doesn’t put down the raft, she may not get to where she needs to go on her important journey.

It’s your baggage. It’s your reactive tendencies that may have worked for you in the past that are no longer getting you where you need to be. Reactive tendencies like going with the flow, control, the need to be the hero, or being overly protective of your ego, eventually bring you diminishing returns.

Their Formal Communications

Formal communications don’t work on their own, but they serve to reinforce the other four frequencies. Approach your communications as a story to make it memorable. And say it over and over. “Go past the puke point because that’s often the turning point where employees are just starting to truly get it.”

Have a backstory. Know where you came from. “Look for stories of people demonstrating the behavior you want to see more of, especially when it’s not easy for them to do so.” Fill the communication vacuums. “Don’t push your people to the black market.”

Know, Feel, Do

To establish a reliable culture, you need to measure where you are and where you need to go. The authors call it Know, Feel, Do: what employees know, what they feel, and what they do.

The authors advise us to work backward and forwards. Looking forward, they ask, “What is the culture that makes this outcome possible and probable? What will employees consistently KNOW? FEEL? DO?” Looking at each of the five signals, what will you need to broadcast to your employees in each of the five signal areas?

It is also necessary to look backward and see where your current culture came from. What did each of the signals contribute to your current culture? It will help you to know what to change in order to close the gap from where to are to where you want to be.

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Culturematic All In

Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:15 PM
| Comments (0) | Culture , General Business , Human Resources


Culture Makes the Difference

Hancock Culture Makes the Difference

WHAT differentiates companies? It’s generally not products, services, facilities, or equipment. In our industry, for example, our lumberyard competitors sell essentially the same assortment of building materials that we do. Across New England, our white pine sawmill competitors make products that are very similar to our own. Additionally, we all tend to sell our products at comparable prices. So, what differentiates one company from another?

Years ago, I would have said it was people who make the difference and separate companies. But I have come to realize that’s not the whole story. Certain companies may think they have the "best people," but the truth is, great people are everywhere—the planet is filled with them. For example, the United States has a more productive economy per capita than Europe, but no one would take this to mean that America has better people than Europe does. America is filled with great people, and so is Europe—and, so is every other country on earth. People are inherently great by virtue of their common humanity.

So, if products don’t make the difference, and great people are everywhere, then what separates one organization from another?

The answer is culture. Culture makes the difference. An organization’s culture either creates an environment where great people can flourish, or an environment where people are frustrated, held back, or stymied.

What makes one corporate culture different from another? To me, it’s all about control and where it lives. Some organizations collect leadership power into the bureaucratic center, where a few people can make the majority of the decisions for the many. This is the traditional model of business—and government—leadership and, during a period of time in human history, this may have been optimal. But, that time has passed.

In the 21st century, organizations that disperse power, share leadership, and give everyone a voice are going to win because they recognize and celebrate the capabilities of everyone on the team. These types of cultures don’t see employees as expendable commodities whose purpose is to serve the company. In fact, these types of cultures flip the traditional script by recognizing that the company exists to serve the people who work there. In a great company, profit is an outcome of a higher calling. That higher calling is the celebration of the human spirit and human capacity. In this way, culture makes all the difference.

This is why culture is so important to us at Hancock Lumber. We want our company to be a place where every person on the team is trusted, valued, respected, and heard. Work should serve the people who do it in more than just economic ways. Work should be a place where humans flourish—where people learn, lead, and grow. If the employees of a company have an exceptional experience, they will ensure that customers thrive and will protect and grow their company with loyalty and pride. Culture, it turns out, makes the difference. Great people are everywhere, but great cultures aren’t – that’s what separates one company from another.

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Leading Forum
Kevin Hancock is the author of The Seventh Power: One CEO’s Journey into the Business of Shared Leadership. The CEO of Hancock Lumber Company, one of the oldest and best known family businesses in America, he is a recipient of the Ed Muskie Access to Justice award, the Habitat for Humanity Spirit of Humanity award, the Boy Scouts of America Distinguished Citizen award, and the Timber Processing Magazine Person of the Year award. Hancock Lumber, led collectively by its 550 employees, is a five-time recipient of the Best Places To Work In Maine award. The company is also a past recipient of the Maine Family Business of the Year award, the Governor’s Award for Business Excellence, the Exporter of the Year award, and the ProSales National Dealer of the Year award.

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Building Company Culture Netflix Patty McCord

Posted by Michael McKinney at 02:27 PM
| Comments (0) | Culture , Human Resources


Hiring for Cultural Fit

Hiring for Cultural Fit

ORGANIZATIONS OFTEN TALK about hiring for cultural fit, yet very few of them know how to do it well. This is mostly because they haven’t taken the time to define their culture and, therefore, there’s nothing to hire against or fit into. Instead, a standard set of questions, technical skills, qualifications, and psychometric testing are used in the hope that the right candidate lands in their lap.

Where time, money and effort has been invested to define the organizational culture, it’s imperative to use what that definition to bring in the kind of people who will contribute to it, rather than hold it back.

The hiring process isn’t an exercise in finding someone with a pulse to fill a position. It’s an opportunity to bring in an individual whose values, intention, mindset, and ambition match that of the organization. Quite often, the most qualified person isn’t the right person for the culture you’ve created.

However, it may take one, two, or seven interviews to determine that. In order to ensure that a force for good is added to the organizational culture, time needs to be taken to execute the hiring process well. That way, the person fully understands what’s expected to fit into the culture and the environment in which the work gets done. When the new hire meshes well with these expectations, unnecessary performance management time is avoided.

Case studies of how to hire for culture successfully

Tony Hseih, CEO of the online shoe retailer Zappos, once famously said that he didn’t know anything about shoes, but knew a lot about creating workplace culture. Zappos has a very well-defined recruitment and induction process, which it calls The Zappos Family New Hire Program. It’s not a rubber-stamping probation period, but a values fit assessment. Every new hire, regardless of role or department, goes through the four-week program, which combines technical training and culture immersion. In the end, the employee has full knowledge of what the organization stands for and how it does business, and the organization can assess the mindset of the individual and how he or she can contribute to Zappos’ values.

When hiring at Slack, CEO Stewart Butterfield looks for humility and an acknowledgment that luck has played some part in the job prospect’s success. He also places great emphasis on diversity: “If you don’t have people who come from different backgrounds and experiences, you’ll miss out on meeting the needs of groups of customers.”

Ben Kirshner, former CEO at Elite SEM and now Chairman of the Board at Tinuiti, said he’s very particular about who he brings into the culture. , means interviews, on core values. Using an example of having an attitude of gratitude, he explained, “The hiring team will ask candidates a lot of questions to gauge how grateful a candidate is -- how much they appreciate others and how much they give back.”

If organizations such as Zappos, Slack, and Tinuiti hired people who didn't share their values, then their culture would become stagnant very quickly as these people would drag others down.

Just because they’re qualified doesn’t mean they’ll fit

To hire for cultural fit, it’s critical to assess not only an interviewee’s technical skills but also how well the values, emotional skills, and aspirations complement the organization’s culture.

To uncover those attributes that can enhance company culture, apply these hiring strategies:

1. Use the organization’s vision statement as a hiring tool. Part of defining company culture is creating an inspirational statement of intent that generates the impetus for moving beyond the status quo. The vision statement can also become a tool for hiring as you determine whether the individual will improve the organization’s chances of achieving its vision. People are often attracted to cultures based on their aspirations. It’s a great way to check that potential employees share the same dreams and understand the agreed-upon ways of working together to realize them.

2. Look beyond a candidate’s skills. While skills may get them an interview, the candidates’ emotional intelligence should be a determining factor in who gets the job. That means the interview should be structured to ensure that emotional intelligence is something you uncover. One valuable question to ask is, “Tell me about your biggest failure.” Being able to admit fallibility is important in a collaborative environment. Also, the best candidates will share how they’ve adapted or changed from the experience.

3. Tailor questions to find out a person’s values. The aim of the interviewing process is to separate those that understand what they stand for from those who just want a job and will say want they think the interviewer wants to hear. Ask candidates to describe their values and how they live them on a day-to-day basis. Include questions around how the candidate would apply the organizational values and remain resilient in stressful situations.

4. Investigate cultural fit. Understand the personalities and skillsets that you already have on board. Once you know your team, and you’ve collectively developed your defined culture, you can look for someone with the right values, personality, and skills to fill the gaps.

Hiring any member of staff, regardless of whether they’re permanent or contract, shouldn’t be rushed. If you don’t want to undermine the culture that you have, then it’s important to take the time to find someone who will add to it. Those people will fit like a glove.

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Leading Forum
Colin D. Ellis is an award-winning international speaker, best-selling author, and renowned culture change and project management expert who works with organizations around the world to help them transform how they get things done. Based in Australia, Colin is the author of four books, including his most recent, Culture Fix: How to Create a Great Place to Work (Wiley, Nov. 4, 2019). Learn more at colindellis.com.

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Netflix Patty McCord Building Company Culture

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:33 AM
| Comments (0) | Culture , Management


Building Company Culture: Alignment Leadership

Building Company Culture

YOU PROBABLY HEAR the word culture a lot, but what does it mean? We’ll discuss it here but I can definitively tell you this: Without a strong company culture, you can’t create a fulfilling environment for your employees.

In fact, the whole idea of culture is a moving target. Yes, it’s widely discussed, but somewhere between the discussion and the implementation something happens. Oftentimes that something is the watering down of the whole idea in the first place and casting it off as a soft science that doesn’t really impact the bottom line.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

What Is Culture?

So, let’s begin at the beginning. What is culture? My definition of culture is the sum of a group of people’s beliefs, traditions, preferences, experiences, and hopes. Any time you put people together, a culture is created. Whether or not you agree with the traits of each person’s worldview—their beliefs, traditions, preferences, experiences, or hopes—that worldview exists. Every person has their own unique worldview, and the way they see the world combines with others to create the culture of that group.

The individual traits of a person affect how they view the world and interact with others. For example, the word “trust” means one thing to one person and something different to another person, based on their experiences. The various meanings of trust within a group define their culture around that word. Imagine if a group of ten people working together had vastly different impressions of trust. What kind of culture would that create? Somebody has to clearly define it so that everyone knows what the end game is and how to achieve it.

And take note that this is just one word and one idea that can be misconstrued. How many others are there that we assume there is agreement on?

Don’t assume. Define. Create a common language and an agreed upon taxonomy that there is no doubt about.

Get this right and your organization wins.

Misconceptions about Culture

Culture cannot be developed by simply creating environments where people congregate together. You’ve been at those events, right? Sometimes it’s a movie night or a day out on a boat or a team building exercise. These are usually great fun and they give us a chance to get to know each other away from the office.

But, truthfully, this is just one step in creating a defined company culture. In my journey of leadership, this is a concept I fell prey to early on. In an effort to improve employee engagement, I created happy hours, pizza Fridays, and a party planning committee. What I didn’t realize was that without the initial investment in people before creating these events that fostered community, the experience would be a shallow attempt at culture. Alignment Leadership requires an intimate pursuit of employees, and this pursuit will never happen at a happy hour or a five-minute interaction while sharing a slice of pepperoni.

As I began to develop this theory of Alignment Leadership, I realized the real win was much deeper—employee fulfillment. A happy hour can actually be an icebreaker to introduce someone into a community and build a deeper relationship. We go into these opportunities with the intention to further discover our employees, which leads to alignment. You want to develop a culture where you’re able to authentically allow your employees to be known, heard, and valued.

Where to Start

Creating a culture starts with conversations between you and your people to clearly define the culture you have—and the one you want to build together. You need to have conversations that clarify the culture of your team, the culture of your department, and the culture of the company. This needs to be perfectly understood both from the leader’s perspective and the employees’ perspective.

Creating a culture won’t happen overnight. People’s worldviews are deeply rooted in who they are, and combining them into a culture that works for everyone will require people to make changes. It may take several years, but if you put in the effort to lead your team and work together, you can develop an authentic, meaningful company culture.

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Leading Forum
Chris Meroff has spent more than 25 years supporting leaders in education at both the campus and district levels and is the author of Align: Four Simple Steps for Leaders to Create Employee Fulfillment Through Alignment Leadership. Through his work in 17 states and across thousands of school districts, he’s seen firsthand the frustration administrators feel when their efforts don’t produce the alignment they desire. He’s made a career of testing new leadership ideas to see what works—and what doesn’t—in service-oriented leadership. His business, Alignment Leadership Consulting, exists to teach leaders how they can boldly pursue a workplace culture that prioritizes employee fulfillment. You can learn more at AlignLeadThrive.com

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Culture Engine All In

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:44 PM
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The Critical Few: Working with Your Culture to Change It

The Critical Few

CULTURE is hard to change. And we’re usually fighting against it. But what if we used the culture to change it? What if by focusing on a few critical elements we could work with our culture instead of against it?

In the Global Culture Survey 2018 by The Katzenbach Center, a whopping 80% of respondents say their organization’s culture must evolve in the next five years for their company to succeed, grow, and retain the best people. I think we’re all there, so the challenge is how to make that happen.

In The Critical Few, the authors—Jon Katzenbach, Gretchen Anderson, and James Thomas—describe organizational culture as “a collection of deeply held attitudes, entrenched habits, repeated behaviors, latent emotions, and collective perceptions of the world. Culture is the shared set of assumptions we all bring when we work together—our unspoken expectations of one another.” It’s easy to underestimate the powerful force exerted by the culture when trying to change it.

Instead of issuing top-down, comprehensive, urgent, cultural change directives, you’ll get further faster with real transformation, if you can get the “important emotional forces in your current culture working with you. You identify and make use of what already exists. Chances are, there are some reservoirs of genuine positive emotional energy lurking somewhere within your current cultural situation that can be harnessed if brought to light.” The idea then is to align how people behave and feel—those cultural elements that motivate your workforce—with your goals and what is necessary to make the company successful.

But you need to keep it simple. The tendency is to include too much—too comprehensive.

Complexity is distracting; comprehensiveness is wasted energy. You need crystal-clear simplicity and a small group of elements that will carry everyone forward together. You need to unify your organization’s people around a common, clear cultural movement, driven by a core of keystone behaviors and positive emotions.

It’s easy to create a long list of very important and necessary keystone actions that are vital to building a better culture. But if you can’t narrow it down to three or four, “you’ll be overwhelmed when you start to work with them, and so will everyone else in the organization.”

So we need to focus on three specific elements they call the critical few to have the most success: existing cultural traits, keystone behaviors, and authentic or critical informal leaders. Here’s how they describe each:

Existing Cultural Traits

A set of shared characteristics that represent the “family resemblance” of your entire enterprise—the qualities that transcend subcultures and are at the heart of the shred assumptions people bring to work and their emotional connection to what they do.

Traits are not values. They reflect how things are actually done. When we understand what core qualities make up the “family resemblance,” we can than encourage the most the best and useful aspects of those qualities to bring about the change in culture.

The traits you choose to focus on should “reflect your company’s essential nature, resonate across the enterprise, trigger a positive emotional response, and support your company’s cause.”

Emotional energy is released as traits (and behaviors) are defined because traits, when well-articulated, reinforce and remind people within an organization of their sense of belonging to something larger than themselves.

Keystone Behaviors

A few carefully identified things that some people do, day after day, that would lead your company to succeed if they were replicated at greater scale.

Culture change is slow process, but it begins with specific changes in behavior. As Richard Pascale wrote, “People are much more likely to act their way into a new way of thinking than to think their way into a new way of acting.”

You are looking for behaviors that, when encouraged, will move your organization in the direction of your stated aspirations and your strategic intent, all while aligning to those fundamental traits of who you are as a company.

An effective behavior for your company should: Harness existing sources of pride or emotional energy to drive intrinsic motivation toward your aspirations; Address barriers that get in the way of realizing your aspirations; and Encourage the replication of actions that enable your goals.

Authentic Informal Leaders

A few people, or at least a reasonably small percentage of your company’s people, who stand out because they have a high degree of “emotional intuition” or social connectedness.

Authentic Informal Leaders (AILs) are people who are already demonstrating the kinds of behavior you want to encourage. And they are not necessarily your high-flyers. These are the people too that can give you a better understanding to how things really work in your organization. Work with them from the beginning.

They note thought that AILs may be thought of as skeptics, resistors, and even “mouthy.” Their value is that they “aren’t just there to channel a message—they are there to translate it if they believe in it and also to call foul if they do not and push the leadership to try harder! Their talent for sensing and responding to what others think and feel means that they will choose a way of communicating key ideas that will strike a chord at all levels of the organization.”

You can’t point your finger and mandate behavior change. But you can intervene to create the conditions that make the right behaviors emerge. You’re looking to surround your people with a coherent system of “enablers,” some formal and some informal, that all, taken together, suggest a new path.

Too often we try to implement changes as an initiative against something when we would be better off working with the prevailing culture to shape something better. These initiatives are usually communication-led transformation rather than a true culture-led, behavior-led, transformation. Communications-led transformations rarely produce a lasting effect on how we feel about what we do and therefore actually change what we do. Lasting cultural changes must have an emotional commitment.

You can find more information on this concept on the Strategy& website.

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Culture Engine Talent Magnet

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:34 PM
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Brand-Culture Fusion: Are You Who You Say You Are?



T WOULD SEEM that it would go without saying that your culture and your brand should be one and the same. Individually, who you are on the inside should be who you are on the outside.

In Fusion, Denise Lee Yohn makes the case that “you can unleash great power when you fuse together your organization’s two nuclei: your culture—the way the people in your organization behave and the attitudes and belief that inform then (i.e., “the way we do things around here”)—and your brand or brand identity, how your organization is understood by customers and other stakeholders.”

She notes that often a company creates a mission statement that states what they want the business to do to create value for their stakeholders and a separate and different brand statement about what they want to be known for. This makes no sense. They should be the same.

It simply doesn’t make sense to specify the values through which you engage your employees if those aren’t linked to the way you want your employees to engage customers. Instead, you should bridge the gulf between organizational and brand values by using one set of core values to describe the unique way you do things on the inside and the outside. Your values should function as the “operating instructions” of your organization—that is, they should inform, inspire, and instruct the day-to-day mindset and behaviors of your people.

Denise identifies nine brand types: Disruptive, conscious, service, innovative, value, performance, luxury, style, and experience brands. She recommends that you first identify your main brand type that your organization falls into and then identify the kind of culture required to deliver on it. Do the values that currently exist in your organization align with those that correspond to your brand type? Are you who you say you are?

Your communications, policies and procedures, compensation, environment, and rituals should reflect the values that exist in your organization. Denise offers a number of ways to do that.

It is difficult to transform your culture to define your brand. It’s easier to define your brand by your culture.

In some situations, you’re actually better off allowing your culture to lead your brand. If your convictions are so strong that you are more committed to promoting your purpose and values than achieving and particular business or brand goal, then you should prioritize your culture as the driver of your brand identity. Or if you operate in the public sector or yours is an institution such as a science or faith-based organization where a well-defined brand was not needed in the past, you can shape a more authentic brand identity through the inherent values of your people than through an eternal or contrived aspiration. So long as your culture is not fundamentally toxic or dysfunctional, you can use it to shape your brand.

Whatever the case, the goal remains the same—achieve brand-culture fusion by infusing your culture into your brand.

Take the FUSION Assessment to determine your “desired culture”—the culture you ought to cultivate to support and advance your brand identity, or the brand identity you’d like to evolve to. You’ll also have an opportunity to assess how far off you are from your desired culture and to pinpoint where you need to make changes in your brand or culture (or both) to fuse them together.

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Grow Ironclad Brand

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:37 PM
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8 Principles for Building a High-Performance Culture



HEN IT COMES to recruiting, motivating, and creating great teams, Patty McCord says most companies have it all wrong. Powerful is a book of advice gained from her experience at Netflix.

When McCord began her career in Human Resources at Netflix, she began working with Reed Hastings to identify the behaviors that they wanted to see become consistent practices and worked to instill the discipline of actually doing them. When established they were communicated over and over again and eventually became known as the Netflix Culture Deck. They coached all of their people, at all levels and on all teams, to be disciplined about these fundamental set of behaviors.

“A company’s job isn’t to empower people,” she writes, “it’s to remind people that they walk in the door with power and to create the conditions for them to exercise it.” As a leader, you need to model that behavior. If you want people to act like adults, they have to see adult behavior.

There are a lot of great insights in Powerful but here are some takeaways for you to think about:

1. Treat People Like Adults

“Great teams are made when every single member knows where they’re going and will do anything to get there. Great teams are not created with incentives, procedures, and perks. They are created by hiring talented people who are adults and want nothing more than to tackle a challenge, and then communicating to them, clearly and continuously, about what the challenge is.

Saying to employees, “If you do X, you’ll be rewarded with Y,” assumes a static system. Yet no business is static.

Being given a great problem to tackle and the right colleagues to tackle it with is the best incentive of all.

2. Communicate Constantly About the Challenge

Coming up with simple yet robust ways to explain every aspect of the business isn’t easy, but it pays huge rewards.

Don’t hire people that are stupid. Better yet, don’t assume that people are stupid. Assume instead that if they are doing stupid things, they are either uninformed or misinformed.

If your people aren’t informed by you, there’s a good chance they’ll be misinformed by others.

If you stop any employee, at any level of the company, in the break room or the elevator and ask what are the five most important things the company is working on for the next six months, that person should be able to tell you, rapid-fire, one, two, three, four, five. Ideally using the same words you’ve used in your communications to the staff and, if they’re really good, in the same order. If not, the heartbeat isn’t strong enough yet.

3. Practice Radical Honesty

People can handle being told the truth, about both business and their performance. The truth is not only what they need but also what they intensely want.

The most important thing about giving feedback is that it must be about behavior, rather than some essentializing characterization of a person, like “You’re unfocused.” It must also be actionable.

When leaders not only are open to being wrong but also readily admit it, and when they do so publically, they send a powerful message to their teams: Please speak up!

4. Cultivate strong Opinions and Debate Vigorously

Our Netflix executive team was fierce. We were combative in that beautiful, intellectual way where you argue to tease out someone’s viewpoint because although you don’t agree, you think the other person is really smart so you want to understand why they think what they think.

“Can you help me understand what leads you to believe that’s true?”

We had cultivated the practice of asking people about the nature of problems they were tackling rather than assuming an understanding of them.

People become overly wedded to data and too often consider it much too narrowly, removed from the wider business context. They consider it the answer to rather than the basis of good questions.

Good judgment: the ability to make good decisions in ambiguous conditions, to dig deeply into the causes of problems, and to think strategically and articulate that thinking.

5. Relentlessly Focus on the Future

Leaders rarely look to the future in thinking about the team they’ll need. They tend to focus on what their current team is achieving and how much more that team can do.

Another mistake I’ve seen in building teams is assuming that current employees will be able to grow into the responsibilities of the future. This is an especially acute problem for start-ups because founders often feel a strong sense of loyalty to their early team.

Are we limited by the team we have not being the team we should have?

We were going to make sure our teams were constantly evolving. Just as great sports teams are constantly scouting for new players and culling others from their lineups, our team leaders would need to continually look for talent and reconfigure team makeup.

I believe the best advice for all working people today is to stay limber, to keep learning new skills and considering new opportunities, regularly taking on new challenges so that work stays fresh and stretches them. [whether that means rising within the company or seizing a great opportunity elsewhere.]

6. Have the Right Person in Every Single Position

At Netflix we had three fundamental tenants to our talent-management philosophy. First, the responsibility for hiring great people, and for determining whether someone should move on, rested primarily with managers. Second, for every job, we tried to hire a person who would be a great fit, not just adequate. Finally, we would be willing to say goodbye to even very good people of their skills no longer matched the work we needed done.

People’s happiness in their work is not about gourmet salads or sleeping pods or foosball tables. True and abiding happiness in work comes from being deeply engaged in solving a problem with talented people you know are also deeply engaged in solving it, and from knowing that the customer loves the product or service you all have worked so hard to make.

7. Pay People What They’re worth to You

Separate performance review and compensation systems. The tight bind between the performance review process and salary increase and bonus calculations is one of the main factors holding companies back from doing away with the review process.

I realized that his work with us had given him a whole new market value. We realized that for some jobs we were creating our own expertise and scarcity, and rigidly adhering to internal salary ranges could actually be harming our best contributors financially because they could make more elsewhere.

8. Proactively Say Goodbye

One of the benefits of the leadership communicating clearly to everyone in the company about where you’re heading and the challenges and opportunities that future will bring is that it better equips people to evaluate how well their skills fit into that future. They can also consider whether or not that future is one they want to be a part of and, if it isn’t, can proactively seek out new opportunities.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:30 PM
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5 Reasons You Need to Make a Connection Culture Your Highest Priority

A culture that connects people would seem to be a high priority to leaders. Building a sense of community would seem to be a necessary first step before a leader does anything else. But a connection culture is not a common as you might expect.

Perhaps this largely because our human nature still leads us to believe that we can always default to command and control when we have to. Or perhaps we just get so busy that we have no time for relationships. We just need to get the work done.

Connection Culture
Michael Lee Stallard makes the case in Connection Culture that in order to achieve sustainable, superior performance, every member of an organization needs to intentionally develop both task excellence and relational excellence. That is they need to be continually learning and developing healthy relationships with others.

Stallard notes that “most organizations contain a mixture of connection cultures, cultures of control, and cultures of indifference, indicating that most leaders are not intentional about developing connection and connection cultures. Creating connection cultures should be an organization’s highest priority because:
  1. Employees who feel connected perform at the top of their game. They are more energetic, optimistic, make better decisions, are more creative and live longer.
  2. Employees who feel connected give their best effort. They go above and beyond because they care about the community they are a part of.
  3. Employees who feel connected align their behavior with organizational goals. Research has shown that nearly one in five employees works against his or her organization’s interests. Organizations with a connection culture experience a higher percentage of people who pull in the same direction.
  4. Employees who feel connected help improve the quality of decisions. Employees who care are more likely to speak up and share information even if they think the decision makers would rather not hear it.
  5. Employees who feel connected actively contribute to innovation. Connected employees actively look for ways to improve the organization and contribute to its marketplace of ideas.
Stallard goes into the how of creating a connection culture with five building blocks for each of the core connection elements of vision, value and voice.

Vision: When everyone in the organization is motivated by the mission, united by the values, and proud of the reputation.

Value: When everyone in the organization understands the needs of people, appreciates their positive unique contributions, and helps them achieve their potential.

Voice: When everyone in the organization seeks the ideas of others, shares their ideas and opinions honestly, and safeguards relational connections.

Connection is a character issue. It’s about your attitude, language and behavior. Start on your local culture where you have an influence either formal or informal. Stallard advises that we also “consider how it applies to your family, your neighborhood, the community organizations you are involved in, and other areas of your life, and then take action to increase connection in those spheres as well.”

If you are looking to take your leadership to the next level, connect with others at every level.
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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:08 AM
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Creating a Dare-to-Serve Culture

Dare to Serve

COMMAND and control is a leadership style that is in many ways our default leadership position. It’s very human. Leadership that serves is far more demanding of a leader. These demands easily drive us back into our old styles of leadership. It’s the daily grind that derails our best intentions.

Cheryl Bachelder became the CEO of the ailing Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen in 2007. By 2014 she had turned it around by deciding to lead through service. Dare to Serve is her account of the turnaround. It is valuable because it describes the thinking behind the servant leader approach and the daily decisions that were made and are necessary to successfully adopt servant leadership in an organization. This is not servant leadership theory. It is servant leadership in day-to-day behavior.

She began with two decisions: to think positively about the people you lead and to be a leader who serves others over self-interest. These are based on six behaviors that are essential to serving people well and delivering superior performance: passion, listening, planning, coaching, accountability, and humility. These behaviors define how we will work together.

Bachelder lists five benefits to becoming a Dare-to-Serve Leader:

  1. People will tell you the stuff you need to know because they have taken the time to get to know their people well.
  2. People will be more likely to follow your bold vision because they know you have their best interests at heart.
  3. People will actually do the stuff you need to get done without a lot of reminding because they are not “leader dependent.”
  4. People will perform better because they have a safe environment focused on personal growth, promotion opportunities, and the “fun” of winning together.
  5. People will watch out for you and protect you from yourself because they, like you, are doing what’s right for the team.

What do you believe enough to act on? These are core beliefs that are so important to you that you will act promptly to rectify the situation when they are violated. Dare-to-Serve Leaders act on three core beliefs: human dignity, personal responsibility, and humility.

We tend to be careless with human dignity says Bachelder. We don’t listen, we are impatient, we publicly criticize, and joke in ways that hurt. Push your daily situations through a filter of what you would like someone to do for you.

“Lack of personal responsibility in a leader is just another form of self-absorption.” You must look at yourself and understand your own imperfections. “You will have no capacity to serve others unless you can take responsibility for your own self.”

Humility is the “behavior” that makes it all work. “We agreed that we are not naturally humble either. That means there are plenty of days we are hell to work for, too. Therefore, humility must be a principle that we have conviction about—or we will never demonstrate humility to our teams. This principle will forever be an aspiration, not an accomplishment. As hard as we try, we will repeatedly fall short.”

Bachelder has included 40 reflections for Dare-to-Serve Leaders to help you think about the leader you are.

How do you gain meaningful feedback from those you serve?

How well do you know the people who work for you? Do you know the three or four events of their lives that have shaped who they are today?

What is your daring aspiration for your team that is beyond what they know how to accomplish?

How would your daily behaviors be different if you put them through a filter of serving others well?

In short, “If you move yourself out of the spotlight and dare to serve others, you will deliver superior performance results.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:30 PM
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The Culture Engine

The Culture Engine

CULTURE is the engine of any organization. It is the force behind everything that happens. It empowers behaviors that communicate who we are whether we like it or not. Getting it right is critical.

How do we create a culture that brings out the best in people?

Chris Edmonds says that it can be done by the creation of an organizational constitution. “An organizational constitution is a formal document that states the company’s guiding principles and behaviors.” It describes how your organization operates. It makes clear what our expectations are and how we are to achieve them.

We have to begin by understanding the truth of how our organization operates. Are we where we want to be? To do that you have to de-insulate yourself, genuinely connect with team members, seek out the truth-tellers, and share your assumptions and what you are learning. Whether we like it or not, we have to “understand that people are acting exactly as you would expect. The way they are behaving now is being reinforced consistently, albeit maybe unintentionally.” In other words, if you are going to define a better way, you have to live a better way.

Leaders define the culture. So it’s critical that you live the values and behaviors in your constitution both in and out of the organization. “This scrutiny is unfair, yet it is completely understandable and it is inevitable. You need to expect it and live up to it.”

The first element of your constitution is your organization's reason for being. Your purpose statement should be a clear statement of what the company does, for whom, and why.

The second element is the “positive values and behaviors you want every leader and employee to demonstrate in every interaction with team members and customers.” These have to be defined in behavioral terms so people have something concrete to measure themselves against. Have a "good attitude" is not specific enough. You can't manage attitudes but you can manage behaviors.

The third element is strategy. The strategy represents the path to company goals and expectations. “Every team member should be able to describe how his or her daily projects, goals, and tasks contribute to the accomplishment of team or company strategies.”

Edmonds then explains how to manage, measure, and coach others to embrace the organizational constitution. “In high-performance, values-aligned organizations, values accountability is of equal importance with performance accountability. Leaders spend as much time, if not more, communicating, modeling, and reinforcing the department’s values and valued behaviors.”

The Culture Engine provides tools in each chapter for making this happen in your organization. The ideas here are not limited to just a few leaders at the top. At any level in the organization, you can make a difference within your sphere of influence. As a leader, you should be intentional about the culture you are responsible to and for.

Organizational culture is not an amorphous thing – it is exemplified by the leadership. It can steer a company up or down, keep it on mission or force it off-course. For an organization to fulfill its potential, the culture must be on-point, truly reflecting the heart of the company from leaders to team members across the company. The Culture Engine helps leaders define the playing field.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:01 AM
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Culture Counts

Culture Counts

CORPORATE AMERICA has had no shortage of heroes: Kellogg, Hewlett, Disney, Packard, Kroc, Watson, Ash and Iacocca. These leaders come to mind as examples of lions that have emblazoned their names as corporate giants. But far more important than heroic reputations are the values these captains of industry personified and instilled within their organizations.

When reading the news these days, I sometimes wonder if we have completely forgotten the tenets these titans used to shape American industry. While it is true that history can both illuminate and obfuscate, we would do well to remember the past in the case of these great examples.

Several years ago, I had the privilege of spending a summer at Abbott Laboratories in North Chicago as a PhRMA Fellow. There I observed a wide array of Abbott executives, scientists, and managers. I was struck not only by their disciplined approach but also by their freedom to discover, develop and design within broad operating parameters—conditions I did not typically associate with large, for-profit corporations. It was there that I first became fascinated with the question “what makes a successful organization.”

As a manager “on loan” to Abbott from the University of Michigan, I quickly found similarities between the two organizations. While it may be better known to some for its legendary football, winged helmets, and “Hail to the Victors” fight song, Michigan, much like Abbott Laboratories, is one of the world’s premier research institutions where scientific rigor, intellectual freedom, and disciplined scholarship thrive in a lively, entrepreneurial and decentralized university environment. I realized then that the same core principles could apply regardless of industry.

Perhaps the most crucial linking pin connecting great leaders and their vision is the personal value system they demonstrate and teach to others which becomes ingrained in the fabric of the firm, the so-called “corporate culture.” Today’s best leaders realize that a strong corporate culture is the glue that unites people and provides them with a raison d’ etre that’s bigger than any product or service. Profit is necessary, but it shouldn’t be the paramount goal. Results from a seven-year study conducted by the Workplace Research Foundation and University of Michigan investigator Palmer Morrel-Samuels, as reported recently in Forbes, confirmed that, as employee morale improves, a firm’s stock price enjoys higher returns.

Undeniably, today’s global marketplace is a far cry from the insular corporate environment of the past. Perhaps two of the biggest barriers today to establishing and perpetuating an enduring corporate culture are:

  • excessive CEO and executive compensation packages, reflective of greed and a short-term mindset; and
  • a workforce comprised of increasing numbers of younger employees who do not often remain at a company for more than a few years.
When a widening gulf in salaries and benefits between the top and bottom ranks of an organization exceeds acceptable bounds, employees are less likely to feel a need to work harder, let alone possess the sense of loyalty, responsibility, and trust needed to help solve a company’s most pressing challenges. They will often point to the C-suite where executive perks and bonuses are out of control and say “Let them solve it!” As companies have had to cut costs to survive and, as result, expect remaining employees to pick up the slack, the disparity in compensation has become a battle cry across the business landscape that is now reverberating in the halls of Congress.

The younger workforce presents challenges as well. This generation is far less enamored by traditional organizations and is more independent than any that came before. They can pose major challenges for today’s managers, especially if those managers are part of a different generation. New forms of stimulus and incentives should be created to appeal to these technologically savvy, bright, and environmentally conscious young minds. Presenting more stimulating assignments, frequent two-way dialogue, and company-supported affinity groups can help achieve this.

The values of many former great leaders were forged by the experiences of the Great Depression, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and humble beginnings. They understood the impact that a strong, adaptive corporate culture has on organizational performance, the true mark of leadership.

They treated workers as their greatest asset, investing in and motivating them. They understood that the purpose of business was to serve the customer. They expected high standards for employee behavior which they themselves modeled and reinforced.

Perhaps if today’s business leaders took a page from history, their companies would achieve the success created by the enlightened leadership of past corporate giants. And that would be a good thing.

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Leading Forum
Ritch K. Eich, Ph.D. (Michigan), is president of Eich Associated, a marketing and public relations consulting firm. He is the author of numerous publications in the field of leadership, organizational behavior and management. He is the former Chief of News and Public Affairs at Stanford University Medical Center and is the author of Real Leaders Don’t Boss (Career Press, 2012) and Leadership Requires Extra Innings (with Second City Publishing Services, 2013).

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Earn Respect Real Leaders Dont Boss

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:32 PM
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All In: It’s Culture that Drives Results

All In

IN THE New York Times, Stephen I. Sadove, chairman and chief executive of Saks Inc., explains that it is culture that drives results:

It starts with leadership at the top, which drives a culture. Culture drives innovation and whatever else you’re trying to drive within a company — innovation, execution, whatever it’s going to be. And that then drives results.

When I talk to Wall Street, people really want to know your results, what are your strategies, what are the issues, what it is that you’re doing to drive your business. They’re focused on the bottom line. Never do you get people asking about the culture, about leadership, about the people in the organization. Yet, it’s the reverse, because it’s the people, the leadership, the culture and the ideas that are ultimately driving the numbers and the results.

While we know that our most important resource is our people, it’s not so easy to get people “all in”—convincing people to “truly buy into their ideas and the strategy they’ve put forward, to give that extra push that leads to outstanding results.”

All In
All In by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton explains why some managers are able to get their employees to commit wholeheartedly to their culture and give that extra push that leads to outstanding results and how managers at any level, can build and sustain a profitable, vibrant work-group culture of their own. All In takes the principles found in their previous books—The Orange Revolution and The Carrot Principle—and expands on them and places them in a wider context.

They begin by explaining that it all rests on the “belief factor.” People want to believe, but given the fact that “failure could cost them their future security why shouldn’t they be at least a little dubious about your initiatives?” But belief is key. “As leaders we must first allow people on our teams to feel like valuable individuals, respecting their views and opening up to their ideas and inputs, even while sharing a better way forward. It’s a balancing act that requires some wisdom.”

To have a culture of belief employees must feel not only engaged, but enabled and energized. What’s more, “each element of E+E+E can be held hostage by an imbalance in the other two.”

The authors have created a 7 step guide to develop a culture where people buy-in:

Define your burning platform. “Your ability to identify and define the key “burning” issue you face and separate it from the routine challenges of the day is the first step in galvanizing your employees to believe in you and in your vision and strategy.”

Create a customer focus. “Your organization must evolve into one that not only rewards employees who spot customer trends or problems, but one that finds such challenges invigorating, one that empowers people at all levels to respond with alacrity and creativity.”

Develop agility. “Employees are more insistent than ever that their managers see into the future and do a decent job of addressing the coming challenges and capitalizing on new opportunities.”

Share everything. “When we aren’t sure what’s happening around us, we become distrustful….In a dark work environment, where information is withheld or not communicated properly, employees tend to suspect the worst and rumors take the place of facts. It is openness that drives out the gray and helps employees regain trust in culture.”

Partner with your talent. “Your people have more energy and creativity to give. There are employees now in your organization walking around with brilliant ideas in their pocket. Some will never share them because they don’t have the platform to launch those ideas on their own. Most, however, will never reveal them because they don’t feel like a partner in the organization.”

Root for each other. “Our research shows incontrovertible evidence that employees respond best when they are recognized for things they are good at and for those actions where they had to stretch. It is this reinforcement that makes people want to grow to their full shape and stature.”

Establish clear accountability. “To grow a great culture, you need to cultivate a place where people have to do more than show up and fog a mirror; they have to fulfill promises—not only collectively but individually.” And this has to be a positive idea.

Gostick and Elton explain that the “modern leader provides the why, keeps an ear close to those they serve, is agile and open, treats their people with deference, and creates a place where every step forward is noted and applauded.”

The authors skillfully examine high-performing cultures and present the elements that produce them. A leader at any level can implement these ideas to drive results. A great learning tool.

To succeed, you need everyone on your team all in; you need a culture of belief. A high performing culture is characterized by people that are engaged, enabled and energized.

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Talent Magnet Talent Wins

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:46 PM
| Comments (0) | Culture , General Business , Human Resources , Management , Motivation


Hypocrisy Isn’t Going to Get You There

Hypocrisy Isn’t Going to Get You There

IF you’ve ever asked yourself, “What’s the matter with them? Why don’t they get it?” or said, “I feel like I am alone here,” maybe they are listening more to your actions than your words.

Culture explains how things really work. Culture reflects practical values—values that will get you through the day regardless of what you say you believe. When it comes to preaching values, too many leaders are just talking heads. Preach change, demonstrate status quo.

Changing culture in an organization is often difficult because leaders make it so. A culture that does not resemble your stated values reflects a lack of ownership and accountability to those values. A value that is meant for “them” but not lived-out in the behavior of and choices made by the leadership, will never become part of the organizational culture. Culture is formed by the choices we make, not the lecture we give.

In Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders, Rajeev Peshawaria suggests three steps to cultural change:


• Define the desired culture. Articulate a set of behavior guidelines for everyone to follow.
• Socialize the behavior guidelines by example, training and ongoing communication.
• Reinforce the behavior guidelines by answering the what’s-in-it-for-me question.

In this discussion he makes three statements that are worth reflecting on:

Leaders should use every opportunity to exhibit guidelines or values in their own behavior.

Are you modeling the behavior you want to see in others?

Senior leaders of the company routinely showed up at these training sessions to show employees how important the values and brand were.

Are you excusing yourself from what you expect others to be doing?

In sharp contrast, another client told me to design the session in such a way that it did not rely too heavily on the executive team’s presence. He argued that the senior team was already under a lot of pressure, and that this would be a huge time commitment for them. I could not believe my ears. After all, as leaders, what do you spend time on if not aligning your organization’s culture with your vision and strategy?

Do you live by a different set of rules?

Sometimes this is difficult to see in yourself, so asking a trusted friend if there is a disconnect between your words and your behavior is helpful. As a leader, it is too easy to think of yourself as the exception. “I’m busy.” “They don’t have to deal with what I am dealing with.” “This is for them, I don’t need it.

When a leader’s behavior conforms to their talk, there is a connective quality formed that is worthy of trust and attention. If we live our values we can create radical change.

Often the greatest barrier to the implementation of our ideas is the example we set. We get in our own way when we don’t clearly demonstrate the values and behavior we wish to see in our groups or organizations. We must lead by example.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:07 AM
| Comments (0) | Culture , Management , Motivation , Teamwork


Culture Eats Strategy

Culture Eats Strategy

You’re so busy grasping technology in one hand and science in the other, you have no hand left to grasp what’s really important. It’s the human spirit, that’s the challenge, that’s the voice, that’s the expedition.
—John Travolta as George Malley in the film Phenomenon

Transforming Your Leadership Culture
TO create transformation change in an organization you need to change the culture. This may seem to go without saying, but we often try to make changes without changing the underlying belief systems. Belief systems drive behavior. In Transforming Your Leadership Culture, authors John McGuire and Gary Rhodes write, “Organizational culture holds your organization’s aspirations and the spirit of the place. Its beliefs and values define the organization’s core.” To illustrate how endemic the force of belief is within a culture, they relate the following example:

Mike, a vice president at National Bank, a prestigious financial organization, tells the story of what came out of an all-day meeting of a group of vice presidents at headquarters: “We brought in VPs and directors from all our locations. We needed to use the largest conference room in the building and had to get special permission to do so.”

At National Bank, “permission” wasn’t simply an issue of scheduling. The large conference room was located on the top floor of the building and used exclusively by senior executives, not by vice presidents. The vice president and director offices were on the floors below; lower-ranked employees were lower still, filling in the middle floors; the ground level housed administrative and support operations. The furnishings in the building changed by floor too. The top floor featured leather chairs, high-quality wood desks and tables, artwork, and attractive kitchen and washroom facilities. Below that level, floors housed progressively less expensive furnishings.

The night before the meeting, Mike was working late in his office finishing up his presentation: “A couple of guys from our maintenance staff kept walking past my office with chairs from the meeting room down the hall. I didn’t think much of it until the next morning when I arrived on the top floor for our big meeting. The maintenance staff had replaced all the leather chairs from our floor.”

Here the power of the culture reveals itself: no one had told the maintenance staff to trade out the chairs. There was no policy or precedent for doing so. The maintenance crew made its own decision, based on its understanding that certain chairs went with certain levels of status. Without question, they simply followed the cultural norm. The cultural authority and trappings of status were so embedded in the organization that it didn’t even occur to them that vice presidents might sit in executive chairs while meeting on the executive floor.

“Change won’t take hold in operations without change in culture to back it up,” say McGuire and Rhodes. Understanding organizational culture, why it persists, how to change it, and where that change begins is the subject of their book. What beliefs are undermining your change efforts?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:37 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , Culture


Sebastian Coe On Creating a Winning Culture

Sebastian Coe

Sebastian Coe, Olympic gold medalist, politician, business leader and chairman of the London Organizing Committee for the 2012 Olympic Games, has written an inspiring book on the mental preparation required for winning in any endeavor. The Winning Mind is a fast-paced collection of life experience that offers evocative insights and expert coaching.
The Winning Mind

Coe believes that leaders are shaped by their “environment, by their ambition, by their role models, by the support they are given as they progress through life and by sheer determination. Our aim must always be that there should be no limit to what an individual from any background can achieve with focus and application — provided they recognize and grab their opportunity with both hands.”

Coe says that teams are most productive when they understand the part they play in achieving the final outcome. This requires very clear leadership. “Part of this is ensuring that the work culture is constructive, positive, inclusive and constant.” He offers this advice for creating a winning culture:
  • It means encouraging open and honest communication
  • It means being aware of when to lead and when to allow people to make their own decisions about the most appropriate course of action
  • It means making time for people to ask questions. An effective leader will always be prepared to discuss the rational behind how and why things are being done in a particular way. You can tell a lot about someone form the kinds of questions they ask. Listening to your team is a useful way to identify tomorrow’s managers and leaders.
  • It means allowing people to take calculated risks – within their own area of responsibility – even if it means the risk of failure (provided that failure can be contained). There are times to act and there are times to let things roll. (It’s a very instinctive thing.)
  • It also means paying close attention to the quality of the physical environment within which people work. An effective team needs room to think, breathe, talk and work. These days, remote working and flexible working hours are not only possible, they can enhance productivity too. If managers trust their people, man different work styles are possible.
  • It means encouraging people to maintain balance in their lives
Coe says that a leader is really working to his own obsolescence. “You know you are doing a good job if the right decisions are being made even when you are not present. As my coach once said to me, ‘I know my job is done, because you did exactly what I would have asked you to do had I been there.’”

How well are you nurturing the conditions necessary to be able to put complete trust in your team?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:27 PM
| Comments (0) | Culture , Management , Teamwork



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