Tag Archive for: Culture

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.

Organizational Values: What Is Real Wealth?

Recently I had the privilege of spending three days with a group of two hundred and fifty ranchers from across Western Canada who belong to an organization called Holistic Management (HM). HM is based on a decision making framework which results in ecologically regenerative, economically viable and socially sound management of the world’s grasslands. These down-to-earth, authentic families are clear about their organizational values and their goals.

One of the key principles I have learned from them over the years is to have a clear distinction in your mind between “quality of life” and “standard of living.” While I presented a series of sessions during their conference on the human side of family and business, my concluding keynote was about the real meaning of wealth. Here is a synopsis of that presentation, entitled, “I’m a wealthy man because…”

  1. I’m a wealthy man because of my inheritance of values and character. My parents both died essentially broke. But what would you rather get from your parents: a rich financial inheritance with no character and values, or character and values with no money? With character and values, you can create wealth, and much more. Character is like the goose that lays the golden eggs. Strong character – the courage to face the demands of reality; a commitment to living a principle-centered life; to bring greater value to others than you ask in return – will always be more powerful than money because of the freedom it brings and the wealth it creates.
  2. I’m a wealthy man because of the mentors who have influenced me over the years. My parents and ancestors top the list, but they also exposed me to some great teachers including the world-renowned family therapist, Virginia Satir and Jack Gibb, who taught me about trust. Another mentor was Norris Lowry, a hired hand on our farm who taught me about hard work, how to shake a hand, and the motto, “Happiness is not a destination; it’s a method of travel.”  Other mentors include my good friends and colleagues, Jim Reger, Murray Hiebert,  Bernie Novokowski, and Don Campbell. Then, of course, there are my daughters, Mellissa, Hayley, and Chandra, and my life-partner, Val.
  3. I’m a wealthy man because of being taught to be giver, not a taker. North Americans used to contribute to the betterment of all. Now we are “consumers,” – which means, “people who use up, waste, destroy, and squander.” I was taught early on to give more than you get paid for, to build rather than destroy, to help rather than hinder, and try to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. While I don’t do this anywhere near perfectly, living these values makes me a wealthy person.
  4. I’m a wealthy man because of the love in my life. Love, like health, is precious. Rather than a fleeting emotion, I am learning that love is a verb, not a noun. Love is the result of both a decision and of learning to give of myself to others. My life is richer, deeper, and more fulfilling because of the love that surrounds me. This past week, my daughter and I went to hear Deepak Chopra and after his brilliant presentation, Hayley asked if I want to be as famous as him. (Thankfully, I don’t think I’ll ever be famous in the eyes of my children.) “I don’t seek fame,” I replied, “I simply want to be used for the betterment of mankind.” I have always been inspired by the words of Dag Hammarskjold, former Secretary-General of the United Nations: “It is more noble to give yourself completely to one individual than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses.”
  5. I’m a wealthy man because of my health. Health is a true source of wealth. Without it, joy is not impossible, but difficult. Health habits create quality of life and the older I get the more this gets tested. “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” it is said. Living without pain is a gift to be sought after. There’s no guarantee of health to any of us, just has there is no immunity from death. Like love, I guard my health with gratitude and tenacious care.
  6. I am a wealthy man today because of my awareness that I can’t do it alone. I haven’t relied enough on others in my career. I’ve been a pretty independent “lone wolf” consultant who likes to maintain control. But I’m learning to let go and let others help me, let others bring strength to my business where I have weakness, let others help get the creative juices going through collaboration. My business is a tool to create what matters in my life, and I am wealthy because of the team behind me.
  7. Finally, I am a wealthy man because of my faith. Success is not defined in my life by the world’s standards.

Success is measured by the touchstone of my conscience – through the eyes of my creator. I have been rich from a financial standpoint, and I have been poor, and believe me, I’d rather be rich. Money won’t make you happy. If you are miserable and you come across a rich financial inheritance, then all you’ll be is a miserable rich person. But money buys options, and there’s nothing wrong with options. To paraphrase the great business philosopher Zig Ziglar, “Money will buy you a house, but it won’t buy you a home.  Money will buy you a bed, but it won’t buy you a good night’s sleep. Money will buy you a companion, but it won’t buy you a friend. Money will buy you a piece of real estate, but it won’t buy you peace of mind. Money will buy you a trip around the world but it won’t take you on the journey to your soul.”

Take some time to explore what wealth means to you. There really is a huge difference between a standard of living and a quality of life. I wish for you to have both, for in one is an expression of success, in the other, significance. Significance is the true source of wealth, for a life without significance and meaning is a life not worth living.

Granting Grace – A Key To Building An Engaged Culture

What if we could ask for what we need and want from each other? What if we could talk openly, in the spirit of good will and respect, about what would make us happy and loyal in our workplace? What if we could then negotiate what we can and can’t do to meet these needs? What would happen to our workplaces, our communities, and our families if we all practiced being a little more honest and direct with each other in a respectful way?

We can all learn to be more direct with each other, and it takes continual practice, but there’s something more. Farm Credit Canada, an organization that practices good culture, has taught me a very important concept around building high-performance culture. One of the key principles in their cultural practices and one they work at relentlessly, is the concept of granting grace in their interactions with each other. They hold each other accountable for creating a safe environment where people can speak up without fear of repercussion.

No long ago I spent three days with an amazing team at Farm Credit, and “grace” was a central part of our conversations. They work hard at talking straight in a responsible manner. They are committed to the success of others and hold each other accountable to not engage in “conspiracies” against people. They strive for patience with themselves and others but also respectfully acknowledge when they operate outside the expectations of grace. They don’t get it perfect, but they get it right.

This kind of commitment lends itself to learning to be open and direct with each other. I love the idea of “granting grace.” I also know that it’s an area I need to continually work on. I’m certainly not as graceful in my work and in my life as I could be, especially when under pressure or in the midst of demands and deadlines.

What does “granting grace” mean to you? How do you operate with “grace” in your workplace? What effect does “grace” have on engagement, commitment, and productivity?

Accountability: How One Person Can Transform A Culture

Ron Bynum was the leader of a training organization that used a former summer camp as one of its facilities. One night his phone rang with horrific news. One of the buildings at his training center had caught fire and burned down quickly. Someone had left a towel near a heater in a dormitory where some of the staff lived. The old wooden building had gone up in flames like a pile of dry sticks.

When he got to the center the staff of nearly one hundred was in an uproar of finger pointing, criticism, trying to find who was to blame for the fire. As the furor began to subside, an accountable employee stood up and said, “I’m responsible.” Dead silence filled the room. “Wait a minute,” someone said. “You weren’t even here this week. How could you possibly be responsible?”

“I’m responsible because I’m claiming responsibility. That’s all that really matters. If you’re looking for details, I’ve been in that dormitory a dozen times this summer, and I could have noticed that the towel rack was too close to the heater. But I didn’t. So for that one reason I’m responsible. The details are irrelevant. How about if we all took responsibility rather than blaming ourselves or somebody else? Then let’s find out what needs to be done.”

The atmosphere in the room shifted in that one brief moment. Blame and recrimination transformed into searching for constructive solutions. Stepping into accountability got everyone heading in a productive direction. Now that’s leadership, and he didn’t need a title, only a decision to be accountable.

Thanks, Gay Hendricks (The Corporate Mystic), for this story.

What are you doing to inspire others around you with the courage to be accountable?

What is Culture? Are You Wasting Your Time With Fancy Value Statements?

Value statements don’t make a culture. Ask Enron, whose values were communication, respect, integrity, and excellence. How many companies have you known who have the value of “safety” written fancily on their web site and the walls of their offices, but in reality, have a deplorable safety rating? There’s a big difference between value statements and values. Value statements are what we claim to be. Values are what we actually do. Your culture is not your statements. Your culture is your actions.

So…What is culture? Culture is the “the way things are done around here.” You get an indication of your culture by listening to what people talk about when the boss isn’t in theroom, or how you describe your workplace with your closest friends. If you want to know what you culture is, don’t read the web site or look at the fancy value statements on the wall. Look at who you hire. Look at who you promote and what actions get recognized and rewarded in your organization. Culture is no different than life: How you act will speak so loudly that people won’t hear what you say. Culture isn’t a noun. Culture, like love, is a verb.

Does this mean that developing clear statements of values is a waste of time? No. It’s important to clarify the values and principles that you expect should guide the actions of every employee in your organization. The mistake that most executive teams make is that they think that writing down the values is all it takes. Executives make a huge mistake when they take their senior management team to the mountains and return to “roll out” the “10 Commandments” in a communication strategy from the front of the room.

In reality, clarifying the values is just the beginning of building an aligned, engaged, accountable culture.

Once you get the value statements on the web site and the walls, you have to create the conversation. You have to make noise about the document. Ask questions. Challenge respectfully. Tell the stories. If you haven’t found contradictions in the values and the guiding principles you espouse, you haven’t had deep enough conversations. You haven’t invested enough. You have to turn the statements into actions, and actions into promises. You have to hold people accountable – at every level – for living the values.

It’s okay to be misaligned. That’s human. Don’t be afraid to see the misalignment. While you will want to focus on the positive, and shine a light on actions that demonstrate a support of the values, don’t be afraid to embrace the negative. Invite people, especially your direct reports, to challenge you when they see the misalignment. Having a standard gives you something to aim at.

Are you wasting your time with fancy value statements on the wall? Not if you are committed to getting these off the wall and into the hearts and hands of every employee.

It doesn’t really matter that you understand what culture is. What matters is that your design and deliver one that matters.