Tag Archive for: Corporate Culture

Corporate Culture

I’ve been observing and learning from some of the best companies in Canada these days. Some time ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Sean Durfy, former President and CEO of WestJet (“Durf,” they call him around WestJet). WestJet, one of Canada’s icon companies, has a vision that they will be one of the five most successful international airlines in the world. Based on what I’ve seen in their culture, I have no doubt that they will achieve this. They are well on their way. Here’s just a few of the things that WestJet believes in and does to build – and sustain – the amazing culture they have:

  • “If you take care of your people,  your people will take care of your guests, and your guests will take care of your profits.”  ”It’s not rocket science,” says Durf. “You have to treat your employees the way you want your guests treated.”
  • “The culture, as it changes and grows, will change. What won’t change is our values.”
  • “We don’t focus too much on “employee satisfaction.” Instead, we are committed to employee loyalty.”
  • “To get loyal employees, you have to align the goals, aspirations and values of the company with the employees’ goals, aspirations, and values. But you also have to align the goals, aspirations, and values of the employees with those of WestJet.”
  • “Empowerment without accountability won’t hold up.”
  • WestJet spends more time in the hiring process than does Disney. You really do have to get the right people on the bus.

Everyone holds everyone accountable to live the values. For example, if Durf sees an employee acting disrespectfully in any way to a guest, rather than being disrespectful of the employee, here’s how he’ll handle it – respectfully and without punitive measures: “…why don’t you take an hour away from your desk to get a break and figure out what happened so this doesn’t happen again…”

While management holds their employees accountable for living the values of the culture, employees will also hold management accountable. For example, in between flights all employees on that flight are expected to stay after the guests leave to help clean the cabin for the next flight. Once Durf, while flying on a holiday with his family, did not stay after to help clean the flight. The next day he got a call at his cottage from the captain of the plane, expressing his concern that he didn’t stay and contribute to the clean-up.

This down-to-earth Newfoundlander who runs this company gets it: to build a great, high-performance culture you have to be real, you have to be in touch with reality, and you have to know how to connect with people.

What are you doing in your culture to make it great? I’d love to hear from you.

Organizational Culture and The Power Of Discovering Your Gifts

A video clip of a homeless man begging for money with an amazing voice on YouTube this week went viral and soon gained him national attention and job offers. Within three days, Ted Williams, a 53-year-old former radio announcer who became homeless after battling drugs and alcohol, appeared on morning news programs to talk about job offers with the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team and Kraft Foods and his stunning instant rise from begging on the streets.

Mr. Williams told the Today Show that drivers in Columbus would drive by just to hear his golden voice and upbeat greeting while advertising his “God-given gift of voice” when panhandling. He hopes to become a radio program director and support his children. His response to how we should treat the homeless was, “Don’t judge a book by its cover. Everybody has their own little story.” A good lesson, not just pertaining to the homeless, but for all of us who are preparing for our talents to shine more brightly in the world.

Since reading this amazing story, I have been reflecting on the gifts that everyone of us have. Are we creating workplaces that awaken the unique abilities of people? Are we getting our talents “off the streets” and into the hearts of the community? Are we shining a light on people’s capabilities? This is what a great culture is: it’s a place where employees at every level have a chance to be their best, realize their potential, and be recognized for their contribution – in the service of others. We need to strive for more than “satisfied” employees; we need to cultivate loyal employees. Investing the time and energy to foster this kind of environment is what it takes.

Great Cultures Start With Conscious Action

Culture is ultimately about energy – the energy that emerges from the experience of participating in the culture. We are drawn to places – as a customer, employee, patient, or member – that have a high frequency of energy, places where people are engaged, vibrant, and alive. Conversely, we are repelled by places that are bureaucratic, listless, and dead. While positional leaders affect the energy level in a culture, every person – either inside or outside the culture – who participates in the culture contributes to the energy of the culture.

Regardless of what you say or do what face you show to the world, your mental-emotional state cannot be hidden. Everybody emanates an energy field that corresponds to his or her inner state. Most people can sense it even though they may be unaware of it’s effect or unable to articulate it. It’s not what you do, but how you do what you do that determines whether you contribute or  drain energy. The way that you act each moment, regardless of your position or your role, represents a certain vibrational frequency. I’ve learned from Eckart Tolle that if you are not in a state of acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm in any task you do, then you will be creating suffering for yourself and others.

I used to hate housework, and yet I knew that doing housework was a way to contribute and feel a part of the family. Being at war with myself, I would find myself resenting doing any housework, causing stress and suffering to myself and my family. Frankly, I was a pain to live with whenever there was cleaning that needed to be done.

So, I made a decision to accept the simple act of vacuuming. I stopped complaining and resisting and made a decision to stop hating it. In the process, I have actually grown to enjoy housework, and have an improved marriage! Two for one! The enjoyment in the work came, not because the nature of the work changed, but because I changed. I became more present to the experience.

Take an audit of the work you are doing – at home, at your office, or in your community. Become conscious of the actions you are taking and the state of mind you bring to those actions. If you can neither enjoy nor bring acceptance to what you do, then stop doing it. If, on the other hand, you decide that it is important to do this work at this time, then decide to change your state of mind. Becoming conscious of the actions you take and the effect that your inner state has on yourself and those around you, begins to build a new culture, starting with you. Taking this kind of personal accountability – action with consciousness – is not only the core of a great culture. It’s the core of a great life.

If you want to know what motivates employees, ask them.

When I was in Maine recently I was speaking to some hotel and hospice executives. We were discussing a recent interview I did for the National Post (the Article, entitled, Motivating Alberta’s ‘entitled,’ Workers appeared in the Financial Post on Tuesday, March 19). We were discussing how to retain employees in a labor market where the unemployment rate is low. In Maine, as in many other states, there is a shortage of nurses. Many hospitals are so desperate for nurses, they are offering them a sign-up bonus, cutting them a cheque for upwards to $1,000 for simply signing up for a job. Unfortunately, the technique is backfiring as many nurses take the cheque and bolt to the next hospital.

We discussed the importance of applying Ken Blanchard’s old and faithful model of turning the organization upside down. When you put the customer and the employee at the top of the organization and start working for them, you soon realize that all the intelligence, good ideas, talent, resourcefulness, and brain power for solving organizational problems are not found at the executive level. When requested, they are found  at the front-line, with those who are taking care of the customers. One hotel executive pays his best employees to periodically go off-site for a weekend to a think tank for better customer service. We explored asking employees, including new or even perspective hires, “What could we do to get you juiced about coming to work here – so that every day you jump out of bed eager to get to here?”
We recognize that for many employees and perspective hires the immediate answer will be, “more money.” So let’s start by talking about more money. Find the dollar amount they are asking for and play out the movie. If every employee started out being paid what they wanted, that would not serve the employee, because the business would soon be out of business and they wouldn’t have a job. But what if you could work with the employee to reach the point of earning what they deserve and what they are asking for by creating enough value for the company and the stakeholders that the company serves. Then we can start talking about what really matters to people.

There will always be some employees who are driven only by money. I don’t work with companies that pay to keep these kind of people. I also don’t think we take the time to listen – really listen – and understand what matters to people so that we can form a win win partnership instead of parent/child power and entitlement relationship.

I came back from Maine inspired to have new conversations with my staff and with those good clients that I serve. We are all in need of new conversations in the workplace. While we obviously can’t give our employees everything they want, extending some trust that they know something worthwhile goes a long way.

I’d love to hear your experience with asking employees what motivates them, listening carefully to their response, and negotiating for a win win partnership.

An a completely unrelated topic, I have been too busy to write about my experience in the North West Territories with a group of great community leaders. We had a two-day retreat at Blachford Lodge, 1/2 hour flight from Yellowknife. I wish every Canadian could experience the North. These were amazing authentic leaders who gave me a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. I am a better person for having spent two days with them.

Organizational Culture: Hire For Character; Train For Cashiers

The quote in the title of this blog is from an executive at Nordstrom, an upscale department store chain in the US who understands a vital component to organizational culture: the importance of character. You can’t teach character in a training seminar, because it’s not a skill; it’s the essence of who a person is. As my late father would say, “it can’t be taught, but it can be caught.” We spend a great deal of time, in our work with culture, to hire and develop strong character.

And. speaking of character, the press conference for retired Calgary Flame, Craig Conroy grabbed my attention this week. Conroy is one of those guys who’s jersey won’t be raised to the rafters of the Saddledome. There won’t be any heavy hardware in his trophy cabinet and he won’t be counted among the most talented players in the league.

“But” as George Johnson, of the Calgary Herald, writes, “who Craig is, what he stands for, how he conducts himself, his sense of humor, and self-awareness are rare, and essential ingredients to a great organization…”

A class act, that’s what Craig Conroy is. And the Flames are wise to keep a guy like that in the office of their organization. “Hire for character; train for cashiers.”

Who are the people of strong character in your organization? What effect do they have on the culture of your workplace? What effect do they have on people’s lives?

Organizational Culture Transformation

The focus of my work is inspiring, guiding, and supporting leaders at all levels to build strong organizational cultures. The leaders I speak with these days are not just interested in keeping people. They are committed to keeping people engaged. I define engagement as the desire by employees to go the extra mile to help their organization succeed and deem their work meaningful and fulfilling. So… just how do you get people engaged?

Culture and employee engagement is a topic for continual learning. First, engagement is not something you “get from” your organization. It’s something you bring to your organization. The people who tend to score low on a Hewitt engagement survey will tend to score low no matter what environment they work in. On the other hand, employees who say they are highly engaged will likely be highly engaged no matter where they work. That’s why the first principle of engagement is person accountability. Accountability – the ability to be counted on – means that engagement begins with ownership. When you create a place where all blame is viewed as a waste of time and where people can be counted on, there is always high, focused energy, because there is trust.

The second principle of engagement is authenticity. Authenticity is about creating a place where people don’t have to leave who they are at the door. You can be who you are when you come to work. The needs of the organization are integrated with the desires of the soul. Authenticity means the values, dreams, talents, and passion of all stakeholders are moving into alignment. The laminated Value Statements have come down from the walls and are lived. Employees have a deep commitment to the organization because they know that the organization has a deep commitment to them. Engagement is an inside job. It comes through conversation: about what matters most to you. When you are finding and expressing your passion, living your highest aspirations, and fulfilling your dreams  in the service of others, you will be engaged. Engagement is about energy. When the energy flows from a depth within you to the world around you, and then returns to its source within you, you are engaged. Nobody has to motive you.  It flows naturally.

Fostering this kind of culture is akin to being a gardener. It can’t be legislated, controlled, motivated, or coerced.  No plants ever grow better because you demand that they do so or because you threaten them. Plants grow only when they have the right conditions and are given proper care. Creating the space and providing the proper nourishment for plants – and people as well – is a matter of continual investigation and vigilance.

These are a few my thoughts about organizational culture and employee engagement. I’d love to know yours.