HOW TO ASSESS YOUR ORGANIZATION’S HEALTH

In 1988 I took a course from a leading environmentalist who has since become one of my mentors. Allan Savory’s life-long work to restore the world’s grasslands through Holistic Management is demonstrated in one of TED Talks popular speeches (http://bit.ly/1kI51ft). What I’ve learned from Allan over the years is to think holistically. That is, humans, their economics, and the environment are inseparable. And it follows that what we do to the land we do to people. How we treat our environment is a reflection of how we treat each other. The health of the cultures that we live and work in echoes our response to the natural world.

Creating a healthy culture begins with an honest assessment of the current health of your organization. Depending on the parameters of the culture you are committed to create, you can apply these questions to a department, a division, or an entire organization. You can even adapt them to your family.

  • How clear – and aligned – is every employee about the core purpose of your organization, your organization’s most fundamental reason for being?
  • How clear are people in your organization about the core values and the kind of culture that your organization is committed to build?
  • To what extent was your most recent hire or promotion decision flexed against the culture you are committed to create?
  • When was the last time you heard a senior executive say they expected to be held accountable for living the core values of the organization? Or an employee taking this responsibility?
  • How cohesive is the executive team that leads this organization?
  • How energized are people and how much enjoyment and fun do they experience when they come to work?
  • How clear are people’s expectations of themselves and of each other? How supported do they feel?
  • What is your level of tolerance for mediocrity and poor performance?
  • How open are people in your organization to discussing the answers to these questions – and move toward a solution?
  • How honest can people be about the answers to these questions when the boss is in the room?

A healthy culture doesn’t get this perfect or live with a pretense of perfection, nor does it live in denial. A healthy culture is, instead, an honest culture. Like a healthy ecosystem, a healthy culture is open and diverse. A healthy culture is willing to look honestly at itself, to see both its functional and dysfunctional sides. A healthy culture realizes that change, conflict, and problems, when faced openly and honestly, are the pathways to growth. And a healthy culture starts with healthy employees – at every level.

Decide, once and for all, that all blame is a waste of time and take responsibility for creating a better culture around you now by taking positive action toward even one of these culture questions. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

– Regardless of your position, step away from your computer in the next week and start discussing these questions. Listen carefully to how people respond.

– Notice your own reaction. Do you find yourself part of the problem, or are you part of the solution? Create an open, respectful dialogue.

–  Commit to changing even one thing.

–  Focus on the positive, acknowledging actions that are leading to a healthy organization.

–  Embrace the negative. Don’t be afraid to get bad news. Every culture has a dark side. Responding to the negative respectfully, responsibly and honestly is the doorway to change.

– Start small. Make incremental improvements. Culture, like most important things in life, is about direction, not velocity.

Developing A Service Culture – The Power of Servant Leadership

In 1938, while on ski trip in Switzerland, Nicholas Winton took a side trip to help the children of refugees. Nazi Germany had begun the Kristallnacht, a violent attack on Jews in Germany and Austria, and it had just reached Czechoslovakia. Winton set up a rescue operation for the children, filling out the required paperwork and raising money to fund foster homes for 669 children in Sweden and Great Britain. He managed to send all 669 of them away from Czechoslovakia on trains before the Nazis closed down the borders.

Winton told no one that he did this, not even his wife.

A person’s true wealth is what we give to others. The wealth of a culture is no different. A great organization is one that makes the world a better place because it exists, not simply because it outperforms the market by a certain percentage over a certain period of time. A great culture is defined by its capacity to bring value to all its stakeholders.

A culture of service is not created overnight. If you change yourself, you have already changed your workplace, so be happy with that until you become more skillful at manifesting service leadership and modeling it for others. Changing yourself is the first step to building a service culture.

  • A service culture starts with small, anonymous caring actions. Remembering to smile and say “please” and “thank you,” opening doors for people, offering encouragement instead of criticism, and practicing patience go a long way to inspire service around you. When it comes to building a service culture, the little things are the big things. While anonymously saving children’s lives is inspiring and noble, don’t neglect the small acts of caring.
  • Make service a decision. Service is an act, a verb, not a feeling, or a noun. Once you decide to serve, the quality of your life immediately begins to improve. Decide to be a giver rather than a taker, to choose service over self-interest. Caring about others is a decision.
  • Don’t mistake serving with pleasing. Serving is a commitment to identify and meet the needs of the people who depend on you. Pleasing attempts to meet the wants of others so they will be happy. There is a world of difference between the two. Pleasing breeds resentment, results in burnout, and turns you into a slave. Serving leads to freedom, self-respect, and wellbeing within you and around you.
  • Always do more than you get paid for. I learned this from my parents. Go the extra mile with a customer or with anyone that depends on you. In a world where we have come to expect a low standard of service, it’s easy to “wow” people by over-delivering on your promises. But the reward in extending yourself without pay is the inner satisfaction that comes by giving more than you expect back.
  • Like anything else involving effort, learning to serve takes practice. We have to get into the habit of standing with others in their challenges. Sometimes it is a simple matter that does not take us far out of our way – speaking a kind word to someone who is down, or spending a Saturday morning volunteering for a cause you believe in. At other times, helping involves some real sacrifice. “A bone to the dog is not charity,” Jack London observed. “Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.” If we practice with small opportunities to help others, we’ll be in shape for times requiring real, hard sacrifices.
  • Disconnect to connect. In the “tyranny of technology,” the more connected we are electronically, the less connected we seem to be personally. E-mails and text messages are great for sending information, but generally not good for making connections. Electronic communication will never compensate for a failure to get out from behind your desk and develop face-to-face relationships. When you can’t meet with people directly, then pick up the phone.
  • Listen before you speak. “A closed mouth gathers no feet,” said a participant in one of my workshops. When you are tempted to tell someone what to do, instead start with the question, “What do you think you (or we) should do now?”
  • Set difficult – but not impossible – standards for yourself and others. Pride and self-respect don’t come from doing something easy. Serving does not mean taking the path of least resistance. Sometimes the best way to help people is to hold them accountable and accept no excuses.
  • Like all efforts, keep a commitment to service in balance. If we spend all of our time trying to help everyone, we end up neglecting our accountability to ourselves, our families, and to those who matter most in our lives. Like all virtues, service must be tempered and informed by a good measure of conscience.

Everywhere I go I meet people who, in one way or another, seize opportunities to do good for their fellow travelers. It’s truly inspiring to be around people who are committed to service. These are the true leaders in our lives, with or without a title. And like Nicholas Winton, they don’t do it for a reward or for recognition, but because it is the right thing to do. Anonymous service coming from a place of contentment has its own reward that the world cannot give.

How are you creating a service culture where you live and work?

Humanizing Your Organization – The Power Of Caring Stewardship

On a recent errand to the hardware store I was between meetings and impatient, rushed, and abrupt with the cashier. She was trying her best but I was frustrated with having to wait through the long line up, and tense about missing my next appointment. It wasn’t long afterwards that I became uncomfortable with my interaction. I teach others to treat people as human beings, not as objects. But what did I do with this cashier? Just that. With one small mindful decision, I could have had an entirely different transaction. Instead of seeing this young woman as a cashier, with a small act of caring, I could have seen her as a fellow human being with hopes and feelings and a life away from work – perhaps a college student paying her way through school, or someone’s daughter or girlfriend. My response to her would have been gentler, kinder, and more supportive and caring.

I believe that it is these small actions and responses that reap the big results when it comes to creating the cultures where we work and live. In large systems, when people get treated as objects, or numbers, or cogs in a machine, they start acting like objects, and in turn treat others like objects, and you create a vicious, dehumanizing circle of low trust and disrespect, while losing contact with human touch and human potential.

Here are four ways to humanize your organizations and your life:

  • Before interacting with anyone, whether it’s a clerk, direct report, cab driver, boss, customer, or family member, take a moment to see beyond a role or label that reduces them to an object. Instead, try seeing them as a human being with feelings, needs, worries, values, and aspirations. Try this for one day and track the difference it makes in your interactions. Notice how when you change the way you look at people, the people you look at change. It’s about caring.
  • Maintain personal integrity. Self-respect comes from trusting yourself to keep a promise to yourself – even in the face of discomfort, insecurity, and disapproval. The result of greater self-respect is inevitably higher trust – of yourself and others. You can’t treat others with dignity and kindness unless you have it within you. When you are a better person, the world around you is better for it.
  • Create a little more space in your day. Had I taken responsibility to take a few things off my to-do list and arrived at the store with more space in my day, it would have been easier to be more patient and kind with this cashier. We all seem stressed with the demands we take on these days. It is irresponsible to make your lack of planning someone else’s suffering.
  • Bring gratitude to your life. Gratitude transforms coldness into kindness, impatience into peace, self-interest into service, and entitlement into commitment. Gratitude gives you the freedom to grant grace to yourself and others, especially when we are all under pressure. Gratitude changes everything.

When you take ownership for your part of the environment where you work and for your relationships, and thus committing to making the world a better place by your presence, you are what I call the Cultural Stewards. Like leadership, stewardship is not a title or position. It is a presence – a decision. Stewardship is nothing less than deciding to be the trusted guardians of the organization and its people, products, and experiences. Traditionally, stewards were entrusted with the care of the estate while the baron was in absentia, and were thus charged with the health, vitality, and survival of the estate (even the care of the baron’s own family). Stewardship, therefore, is no lightweight title. Taking this kind of ownership – without blame, demands, guilt, or criticism – breathes new life into the environments where you spend your life, and makes those places a whole lot more enjoyable.

Employee Engagement Surveys – Not The Whole Story

I’m not against employee engagement surveys. I’m just not in favor or our over-reliance on them for an accurate picture of an organizational culture. Reading employee engagement surveys is like reading a newspaper or watching the news. It’s interesting, there’s an element of truth in them, but it’s not the whole picture. It’s more of a photograph, a small spectrum of what’s actually happening. Surveys turn your organization into a noun, while conversations make culture a verb, a living breathing entity. Surveys give you a sense of what’s going on, but you always have to go further if you want an accurate picture. Here are some suggestions for using surveys more effectively and appropriately:

  1. Don’t use surveys to abdicate leadership. While thorough surveys provide excellent data and get you started with a snapshot of your culture, don’t rely on surveys alone to do the job. You also have to get out of your office, wander around, and be in touch with people. Ask them how they’re doing and what they need. Then listen to what they say. If you use the excuse that “people aren’t honest with you when you do that,” that’s a good indication you haven’t been out of your office enough to build trust. To be committed to culture, leaders need to be out of their office about half of the time or they just aren’t leading.
  2. Shorten your surveys. People are getting surveyed out. I’ve seen employees answer low because they are angry about having to do so many surveys! Dr. Theresa M. Welbourne (www.eepulse.com) is designing employee engagement and 360 Feedback surveys that take three minutes to complete. Dr. Welborne believes that you can get pretty much all the information you need in about three minutes. She might just be on to something.
  3. You don’t have to survey everyone to get an accurate picture. Television ratings are not determined by calling every single person watching TV. Pick a good cross section of people to survey and give the rest a break. Switch it up so you aren’t surveying the same people every time.
  4. Don’t mistake climate for culture. Climate is how people feel about the organization and their work (what you get from an employee engagement survey). Culture is what causes them to feel that way. Employee engagement surveys may tell you what the climate is, but they don’t necessarily get to the culture. Every culture has both the “visible” culture and the “real” culture. The real culture is what people talk about when the boss isn’t there. If you want to find out about the real culture, don’t send surveys to your employees. Send surveys to your employees’ spouses or best friends. Culture is measured by what people talk about when they get home from work. Ideally, we want to build a level of trust so people would have the same conversation whether the boss is there on not. You can only get the real culture by getting into the cafeteria and the hallways and listening to what’s going on, and more importantly, why it’s going on.
  5. Never ask a question about something you don’t know how to fix and you aren’t prepared to fix. Every survey question implies a promise that you are going to take action based on the answers you get. And if you break that promise, things will get ugly. I like Mark Murphy’s (Leadership IQ) experiment as an example of how this works. Tonight at home, make some popcorn. Then ask your spouse if they want some and when they say “yes” just ignore them. Now multiply that by a few thousand and you’ll see what we’re talking about. Don’t use surveys to abdicate leadership accountabilities. You must live your values, and have a way to ensure that this happens at every level of your organization. Your actions as leaders define your culture more than your value statements do. Actions really do speak louder than words. The goal is to align your actions and your value statements. The more you connect with people and really listen to what they say in a variety of ways, the greater your chances of bringing your claim and your reality into alignment.
  6. Remember that culture is a shared responsibility. Culture isn’t something that you do for or to people. Culture is something you create together. We institutionally deny the fact that each of us – through our perceptions and our choices – is actually creating the culture that we so enjoy complaining about. Deciding that I have co-created the world around me – and therefore I am the one to step into healing it – is the ultimate act of accountability. Check out my website www.irvinestone.ca/assessments for an instrument that assesses both the manager’s and the employee’s responsibility for creating a workplace worth working in – using and adapting the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey.

Personal Leadership – A Culture of One

Operational accountabilities are about what has to be done in an organization. Leadership accountabilities, on the other hand, are about how the work gets done. You have to take both into consideration if you want to build a great culture. Culture defines the how.

It is important to regularly assess how your people are achieving operational results, and it is just as important to regularly assess your culture with a Culture Inventory:

  • Are people clear about the values that are espoused – the way we do the work?
  • Are there clearly defined behaviors attached to each of the values so that the expectations of the how are explicit?
  • Are there clearly defined promises between the manager and the employee about what both are agreeing to?
  • Are there clearly defined support agreements, so everyone feels supported?
  • Are there clearly defined consequences – both positive and negative?
  • Is the follow-through clear, so that the agreements remain current and remain useful?

Just as it is good for a regular Culture Inventory, is it important to take a Character Inventory – an assessment of our own personal way we are at work and in the world. Similar to how an organization has a culture – a way of doing things, individuals also have a way.

Much emphasis in organizations is put on the what, and this is true with individuals as well. How many people do you know emphasize the achievements in their life but don’t pay attention to the kind of person they are becoming in the pursuit of these achievements? A Character Inventory assesses the kind of person you are – how you are living your life.

If you want to attract others, you must be attractive. Strong character demands that you shift from being the best in the world to being the best for the world, to strive not for what you can get, but what you can give, to endeavor not for what you can have or what you can do, but for who you can be. A job title, the letters behind your name, the size of your office, or your income are not measures of human worth. No success by the world’s standards will ever be enough to compensate for a lack of strong character.

It’s an act of caring to pause every so often and take an inventory of your character.

  • How are you doing in areas such as compassion, reliability, honesty, courage, prudence, contribution, and maturity?
  • Are you one person in public and another in private?
  • Do you focus as much on what kind of a person you are in the world as much as on what you want to achieve in the world?

Like a business that takes regular stock of its inventory, this is a fact-finding process. There can be blind spots to seeing yourself, so get feedback from the most important people in your life. Being a good person precedes being a good leader in any capacity.

Here’s a list of actions that demonstrate strength of character. See how you measure up with this list, or take the time to write your own list:

Let go of what you want.

Prudence is the common sense – that unfortunately is not so common any more – to live with what you can do without, and the ability to find joy in what is here. Every so often it’s good to surrender something we want, but don’t need. In a world that confuses wants with needs, debt continues to rise as character continues to erode. Practice living below your means, not getting everything you want, and finding freedom in enjoying what you have.

Do something difficult every day.

“Do the hard stuff first,” my mother used to say. The earlier in the day you get the difficult work done, the better you’ll feel about yourself and the rest of your day will improve. Whether it’s having a difficult conversation, getting some exercise, or taking a risk, character is built on the foundation of overcoming the natural tendency to take the course of least resistance.

Clean up after yourself.

Something eats away at your character when you sit in your mess or leave your messes for someone else to look after. And if you really want to experience character, walk through a park close to where you live and clean up garbage left behind by someone else.

Look beyond yourself.

Character means choosing service over self-interest. Character grows in the soil of concern for others and the commitment to act on that concern. We can all find ways to make life better for someone less fortunate than ourselves.

Spend less than you earn.

This is truly one of the best character habits you can develop. Spending less than you earn, whether it’s reflected in your home, your car, or the stuff you buy, is another version of prudence. The space you create in your life by doing so will give you freedom, renewed worth, and contentment that money will never buy.

Practice gratitude.

Gratitude is integral to strong character. It’s the antidote to the entitlement that contaminates character. Be an appreciator, rather than a depreciator, of everything that shows up in your life, including opportunities disguised as problems. What you appreciate, appreciates.

Before you criticize the culture you work in or the leaders of the culture, take a good look in the mirror. Leadership is about PRESENCE, not position. What kind of presence do you bring to your work? What kind of person are you? What is your “way” of being in the world? As a personal leader, you are a culture of one. Make it a daily practice to review your character in relation to your daily life, your friends, your acquaintances, and your work. Keep striving to be a better leader by being a better person. This is the real satisfaction and ultimate goal in life.

Q12 Engagement Survey: Who is Responsible?

The Q12 Talent Engagement Audit

The Gallup Q12 (https://q12.gallup.com) is a survey designed to measure employee engagement. The instrument was the result of hundreds of focus groups and interviews. Researchers found that there were 12 key expectations that when satisfied, form the foundation of strong feelings of engagement. So far more than 90,000 work units and 1.7+ million employees have participated in the Q12 instrument.

Comparisons of engagement scores reveal that those with high Q12 scores exhibit lower turnover, higher sales growth, better productivity, better customer loyalty and other manifestations of superior performance.

The Gallup organization also uses the Q12 as a semi-annual employee engagement Index – a random sampling of employees across the country.

The engagement index slots people into one of three categories:

  • Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their organization and their work.
  • Not-Engaged employees are essentially “checked out.” They are sleepwalking through their workday. They are putting in time, but not enough energy or passion into their work (“Quit and stay”).
  • Destructively Disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged co-workers accomplish.

The Q12 Index

  • Do you know what is expected of you at work?
  • Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
  • At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  • In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  • Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
  • Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  • At work, do your opinions seem to count?
  • Does the mission/purpose of your organization make you feel your job is important?
  • Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
  • Do you have a best friend at work?
  • In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  • In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?

The limitation of the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey (https://q12.gallup.com) is that it only measures half of the equation: the manager’s responsibility to build an engaging relationship with their employees and to foster an engaging workplace culture. The Q12 Talent Engagement Audit below, adapted from Gallup’s Q12, measures the employee’s responsibility to build an engaging organizational culture.

Take an honest inventory of yourself in the following areas to assess your level of personal responsibility and commitment to do your part as an employee to build a workplace culture that is worth working in.

  • Have you clarified with your boss what is expected?
  • Have you clearly and respectfully asked for the resources you need to do your work right?
  • At work, have you created the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  • In the last seven days, have you given recognition or praise to your colleagues for doing good work? How about to yourself?
  • Does your supervisor, or someone at work, know that you care about them as a person?
  • Is there someone at work who you encourage in their development?
  • Have you earned the credibility so that your opinions seem to count?
  • Does your own personal purpose make you feel your job is important?
  • Are you committed to doing quality work?
  • Have you taken the time to create a good friendship at work?
  • In the last six months, have you taken the responsibility to talk with your boss about your progress?
  • In the last year, have you had created opportunities to learn and grow?

What do you need to continue doing to sustain your commitment to 100% responsibility for the culture you work in?

What do you need to start doing to take more responsibility for the culture you work in?

What support do you need? Who will help hold you accountable?

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