Tag Archive for: Articles by David Irvine

Building A Work Culture By Design

David Packard, one of the co-founders of Hewlett Packard and creator of the HP Way said,

“It has always been important to create an environment in which people have a chance to be their best, to realize their potential, and to be recognized for their achievements.”

He and his business partner, Bill Hewlett, understood the vital importance of culture when they built a company with the intent to have a competitive advantage. They understood that if you are committed to attracting and keeping the best people, providing the best possible service to customers, getting a grip on results, and staying profitable – long term – then you better be committed to building an aligned culture.

The passion and promise in our work is to build cultures of trust that attract, inspire, and unleash greatness.

What we have learned about culture includes:

  • While goals give you direction, culture gives you the energy to get there.
  • You already have a culture, even though you may not be aware of it or able to clearly articulate it. Culture answers these questions: What is my experience of being here? What is our way of doing things? What do we value? You are going to have a culture anyway, so why not have a great one.
  • If you are committed to attract and retain the best talent, culture will be the most important investment of your time and resources. This is because your best people have a low tolerance for compliance and insist on engagement. The talent pool is not only shrinking, those within it are educated, connected, and grounded in the idea of personal choice.
  • They want to be appreciated, acknowledged and loved. They want opportunity. They want to work with people who are non-judgmental, willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, willing to listen and mentor, willing to trust and willing to stand for their success. A tall order but that’s the new reality.
  • Culture is not what people say, but how they behave. It is shaped one person at a time, usually starting at the top. People are watching all the time and if it is perceived that there is more reward for delivering organizational results than there is for how those results are achieved, then people will either disengage or disembark.
  • You can either create your culture by default or design. If you are committed to create your culture by design, somebody has to make the decision about the kind of culture you are going build, and everybody needs to understand the process you are using to build it.
  • While it is always easier to build than it is to change one, changing a culture is always possible.

Ten Steps To Building An Aligned Culture

Leaders of a culture or subculture live at any level of an organization. They are what we call “culture makers.” Culture makers are people within a culture who are committed to building a better environment around them, and thus are deciding to be leaders (with or without a title). These could be entrepreneurs, divisional leaders, department heads, non-profit or team leaders, committed employees at any level, or even parents. It is these culture makers that we focus on to build an aligned culture. So here, in abridged form, is our process for building an aligned culture.

  1. Define your culture. Decide on the scope of the culture that you are committed to build – that lays within your sphere of influence. Is it your company, department, division, community association, team, family?
  2. Define your leadership team. Identify your 5-6 key leaders – allies that you will depend on to build your culture. These will be people who have the positional power, capacity, and commitment to make it happen. Be sure you have a Chief Emotional Officer on your team: a person with the positional power as well as the passion (a monomaniac with a mission) to take accountability for the culture.
  3. Get alignment at the top. Identify your core values that you, as a leadership team, are committed to living. Have an “offsite” leadership meeting to ensure that you are all committed to living the values, first with each other and then with your entire culture. If you are a “subculture” – a culture within a larger system, you will want to take the larger organizational cultural value statements and make them real for your culture.
  4. Develop a team “code of conduct” with your leadership team. Once you have decided upon your core values, you will need to develop a process that outlines your promises to each other: how you will hold yourself and each other accountable for living these values. This is about turning values into specific expected behaviors.
  5. Assess Alignment – And Connect to Reality. Decide on a process for assessing your current alignment between your “vision,” your “claim,” and your “reality” as an entire culture. In order to do this you will need to pay attention to the “visible” culture and the “real” culture – your current reality. You may need to take the time to get into the hallways, the coffee conversations, etc. to get to the grapevine and current reality.
  6. “Roll out” your values with your entire culture. Once you are clear about the current alignment, meet with your entire team. With your leadership team at the front of the room, outline your vision for this culture, your core values, your assessment of the current reality and the degree of alignment you see between your vision, your claim, your reality, and your leadership code of conduct. Explain how you expect to be held accountable for living these values as positional leaders – your promised actions as a leadership team.
  7. Have each of your leadership team members define – and build – their own leadership teams.  Meet with each member of your leadership team and help them define their own leadership teams and go through the same process with their respective teams. This will continue throughout the culture until, ideally, every person is eventually assigned to a “leadership team” or at least closely affiliated with a leadership team.
  8. Engage your employees – at every level. Begin and sustain the process – and build trust – through the power of courageous conversations. Create conversations around your values. Turn conversations about values into mutually agreed upon actions and promises. Tell the story. Shine the light. Acknowledge when and where individuals lived one or more of your values. Repeat the message.
  9. Define how you will convey to stakeholders outside the culture how you will live your values. How will you convey your values to your customers? What needs to be written in your marketing materials/website, etc.?
  10. Get your values into every system. Bring values into your hiring processes, your performance management system and HR practices. Only promote leaders who are living the values. Make it tough to not live the values.

Are You A Boss Or A Leader?

“One’s self is at the base of everything. Every action is a manifestation of the self. A person who doesn’t know themselves can do nothing for others.” —Eiji Yoshikawa, Japanese historical novelist

When you think about the bosses you have had in your life, you’ll find there are at least three kinds:

  1. Those who help you to become a better, more engaged employee and get your work done more effectively;
  2. Those who hinder you and make it more difficult to get your work done;
  3. Those who inspire you, help shape your character, and actually change your life. These kind of leaders don’t just make you a better employee, they make you a better person.

How is it that some bosses are merely bosses, while others become a true leader and may even end up serving as mentors? Why do some bosses merely manage the work, while others influence and build your moral fiber, model and teach new attitudes, behaviors and values, and create a constructive legacy for future generations? What is the distinction? And what can be done to turn people from a boss into a leader?

All organizations need bosses to manage the workflow and keep projects on schedule. But most organizations are over-bossed and under-led. It is our premise that the distinction between a “boss” and a “leader” ultimately lies in one’s presence, not in one’s position.

Leadership cannot be reduced to technique or position or power. Leadership comes from the strength of one’s authentic presence — the identity and integrity of the leader. At the core of all great leaders is an integrated human being. Simply put, being an authentic leader is synonymous with being yourself. It is that simple, and it is also that difficult.

Influencing others begins with knowing yourself. Leadership – the capacity to inspire and engage others toward a vision – is about presence, not position. This means you don’t need a title to be a leader; you only need a decision: to make the world a better place by your presence.

While most leadership development programs focus on the “practices” of leadership, ours focuses on the presence that lies at the core of leadership practices. While you can learn the tools, we help you develop yourself as the tool user: who you are as a person. With a stronger, more integrated presence, you become a better leader in every area of your life: at work, in your family, and in your community.

Regardless of their title, or even lack thereof, great leaders make the effort to understand what motivates them and what their priorities and personal values are. They strive towards alignment of what they do with who they are. This leads to discovering their authentic power and a truly rewarding and fulfilling life. When you discover this power, you will not only find the key to real leadership; you will find the key to life. A life aligned with your authentic self is life with greater balance, inner peace, vitality, meaning, and overall well-being. Leadership that is authentic helps those you love and serve reach unimaginable potential.

Succeeding At Succession: The Ultimate Test Of Organizational Success

Successful succession is the ultimate test of organizational success. At its core, succession is about culture and values. What you are ultimately building and sustaining into the next generation, is your culture. Don’t leave succession planning to chance. If you are committed to sustaining your culture into the next generation and beyond, you have to be intentional about it.

Succession planning is not an event; it is a generational process, integrated deeply into your leadership culture. It is not transactional; it is transformational. To do it well, succession can take upwards of twenty years to come to fruition. It takes painstaking learning and patience.

Ten Steps To Successful Succession Planning

  1. Appoint a Succession Planning Champion – A person who is ultimately accountable for the succession success of the organization:
    • A leader with a vision and passion for culture (a “monomaniac with a mission”)
    • Someone who has earned respect and credibility throughout the organization
    • A person with the positional power to make the required decisions
  2. Define your cultural vision and values. Clarify the vision and the kind of culture and leadership you are committed to build and sustain into the next generation. How do you currently hold people accountable for living the values?
  3. Build a vision for future leaders. Based on your vision and core values, assess the kind of leaders you will need to take your organization to the next level in the coming generation – well before beginning a search.
    • What kind of leader do you want?
    • Where are the core areas that need immediate attention?
    • What are the key essential positions?
      Note: As you assess your leadership needs, be sure to remain open to the kind of culture you are committed to create, rather than simply “settling” for what you currently have.
  4. Honestly identify the strengths and gaps of your organization. Take the time to rethink what kind of organizational structure you will need in the future.
  5. Have open and honest conversations at every level with every employee:
    • Every employee needs to have a say in their own aspirations and have organizational support to align their passions, unique talents, and goals with the needs of the organization (Authentic Alignment). Remember: horizontal growth can be just as valuable to an organization as vertical growth. The vital questions are: 1) Is it authentic to the employee and to the organization? and 2) Do your systems support this?
    • Every employee should have an understanding of how they are perceived by the organization – so there are no surprises in the succession process.
    • Every employee needs to know what the organization expects from them, as well as what they can expect in return.
    • Every employee needs to take accountability for their own Authentic Alignment (ensuring that the expectations and needs of the organization are met and are aligned with their authentic self).
  6. Provide a fair and realistic assessment. Using your cultural values and the corresponding behavioral definitions, measure and assess people’s fit for potential successful leadership.
  7. Build your talent pool. Make your intentions clear with your positional leaders. To avoid destructive personality conflicts and “replacement planning” mentality, use an Acceleration Pool System that develops candidates for leadership positions, rather than targeting one or two hand-picked individual for each leadership role. “Pool” members are offered opportunities for learning, visibility, and accelerated individual development. Candidates are supported to find a mentor, and are offered coaching and training. After a careful assessment of the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, you develop a tailor-made plan for their capability development together.
    • You may find it valuable to categorize the potential leaders as: i) Ready immediately; ii) 1-3 years away; and iii) 3-5 years away.
    • Those doing the assessing will need a clear, justifiable rationale for why these individuals were chosen for the talent pool (based on organizational values), and be prepared to openly share their reasons for choosing them.
    • Obviously, the potential leaders must have a choice about whether they accept being included in the talent pool.
    • You need to be very explicit right from the beginning, that being chosen for the talent pool does not guarantee promotion to a new leadership position in the succession, but only a commitment to an accelerated leadership development track.
  8. Make selections for various senior positions from the talent pool as needed.
  9. Current leaders must develop a plan for letting go. This is about making room for new growth to emerge. Just as potential leaders must plan their development to be ready to meet the challenges of a new leadership position, the current leaders must plan:
    • What they are willing to give up/let go of.
    • How they will let go.
    • How to make room for new leadership to emerge. Often coaching and mentoring can be useful to support leaders with the letting go, a “making room” process.
  10. Monitor your progress.

What Are You Mastering?

The question of what unique abilities, traits, and practices that inspire and enable certain people to rise up and achieve greatness in their chosen vocations is one that has fascinated me for some time. It’s estimated that it takes upwards of ten thousand hours of practice to become a master, a world-class expert in a skill or a profession. An accomplished artist told me the other day that you need to paint full time, at least forty hours a week for two years before you are even ready to start selling your work.

Those rare individuals who dedicate their lives or their work or their desires to what they feel called to do inspire me.

Perseverance is a quality that may not always earn you the respect of the world but will give you the self-respect, well being, and inner peace to live a life of deep satisfaction. No one takes pride in doing something easy. It’s invigorating to keep at something even when it gets uncomfortable or difficult. It’s inspiring to stick with something you believe in, day after day, month after month, year after year, even if the world does not understand or support you.

It’s never too late to start the process of mastery. Many writers, artists, musicians, professionals, parents, and even some athletes, come into their prime later in life. If it takes ten years to become a master, wouldn’t you rather spend ten years on the journey of mastering than on the path of regret? You’re going to be ten years older in ten years anyway. Why not devote yourself to something worthwhile?

What inspires you? What have you started lately? What have you persevered at? What have you dedicated yourself to?

Activate Your Energy With A Renewed Purpose For Living

I recently came across a fascinating story that illustrates how having a higher purpose – beyond self-interest – can activate your passion, your zest for life. Not only does this story have application for your personal life; it also has a strong and relevant business imperative as we attempt to build cultures that awaken the human spirit, engage people, and ignite their passion. Every employee needs a purpose where he or she feels their energies and focus are taking them somewhere. An authentic leader’s work is to find a way to active this – with yourself and others.
A news report a few years ago from Biloxi, Mississippi, powerfully illustrates how important a reason for living – beyond your own self-interest – is to activate your energy (see Og Mandino’s University of Success, p. 8).

A  twenty-four year old dancer jumped from a wharf in an attempt to commit suicide. As she later put it, she was “tired of living.” A young man saw her jump and, forgetting that he didn’t know how to swim, stripped off his coat and leaped in after her in a blind attempt to save a fellow human being. He began to thrash about in the water and was in serious danger of drowning when the young dancer, her own despair momentarily forgotten, paddled over to him, grabbed hold of him and pulled him safely ashore. Instead of ending her own life she saved the life of another.

In that crucial moment when she saw the young man struggling for life, her own life suddenly gained something it had lacked before: a purpose. What ended up drowning beneath the wharf that day was not this woman’s spirit, but her despair. She had known in a dramatic flash the difference between having nothing to live for and something to live for, and having pulled the young man to safety, she was herself taken to the hospital, treated for exposure, and released with a new lease on life.

Why do you get out of bed in the morning? What gets you up early? What keeps you up late? Where are you going? What are you doing to foster a sense of purpose – both in yourself and in those you serve as a leader? When’s the last time you had conversations that focused on these questions?

photo credit: Charged (license)

Everyday Heroes: The Leaders In Organizations Who Are Not In Charge

In every office, in every community, in every organization, there are true leaders. Most of the time they aren’t the ones with the titles. But they meet our criteria for leadership in that they have followers. People listen to them and are influenced by them. These true leaders are the ones that get the real story because people trust them. They are the beacons that attract the signals in an organization. People go to these people for their cues. They are focused on the right thing and on what matters. They are liked and they are respected. They have no interest in climbing the corporate ladder or playing the corporate games. They don’t seek the limelight. They don’t seek “leadership” or even have a desire to influence. In fact, this is the very thing that makes them so influential. Their lives are about service, not self-interest. They inspire those around them. They are the difference makers. And they get their power not from their position, but from their presence. They are what we call everyday heroes – people who quietly and humbly go about their work, bringing their talents and their passion and their vision to whatever they do. And they make the world around them a better place.

I’m curious:

If you know of these everyday heroes, send their contact information to me. I’d like to connect with them and learn from them.

  • What motivates these “everyday heroes?”
  • What matters to them?
  • How did they get to be this way? What shaped them?
  • How do you hire for these people?
  • How do you acknowledge these “everyday heroes?” How do you support them to lead others in a productive way? How do you ensure that you keep them engaged?