Tag Archive for: Culture

5 KEYS TO UNLEASH GREATNESS ON YOUR TEAM

I meet some amazing leaders in my work. People hire me to work with their organization and I end up a better person by spending time with them. One such leader who has become a good friend is John Liston. John was formally a regional director at Great West Life, and now is the principal of Liston Advisory Group. John lives what he leads. He’s a person of strong character. He’s passionate. He cares. He cares about his people. He cares about the work. He cares about his organization. And his approach to leadership produces results. When he was at Great West Life, his was the top region in Canada in 2010, 2011 and 2012. This spring we ran a customer service program together for a police department.

In a recent conversation with John about his coaching experience with his daughter’s Under 19 Ringette team, he explained how he coaches the same as he leads. Same philosophy. Same approach. Same leadership. Here are John’s five keys for unleashing greatness within a team:

1) Hire great people. You need to know the skills you need from your people and, more importantly, you need to know the kind of attitude you want from the people around you. You can always teach skills, but you can’t teach attitude. Building a great team means knowing precisely the kind of person you want on your team. It means hiring s-l-o-w-l-y. Take your time. Ask questions and assess the right fit. If you study what most people do in business you find that they spend their time hiring for competence (resume, experience, etc.) and almost always fire for character. What John, and other great leaders do, is hire for character and train for competence.

2) Create an environment for people to be their best. When are you at your best? Typically it is when you are focused, but not worried about mistakes or failing. In John’s words, “When we win, we party; when we lose, we ponder.” This means it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. See the best in people. Fit people don’t fix people. Find their strengths and build on those strengths. Find a place where people can take their gifts, their passion, and their talents, and make a contribution. It takes coaching, mentoring, and, most importantly, time. When you create these environments, people “chose to” come to them; they don’t feel they “have to”.

3) Understand the why (the reason) before the what or the how. At the 1963 Washington D.C. Civil Rights March, Martin Luther King did not stand up with a “strategic plan.” Martin Luther King had a dream. He gave people a reason. What’s vital in building a team – as well as building a life – is to not confuse the means with the ends. John Liston understands this. He understands that people aren’t accountable if they aren’t motivated. If they aren’t accountable, it’s because they don’t have enough reason to be accountable. A vision is what gives people a reason to get on board. John uses the vehicle of sport to teach character. Character is the why. Character is the goal. Sport is the means to that goal. Some people get confused and think sport is about winning. Professional sport may be, but all others are about character. Winning is a by-product. It works the same in business.

4) Execute with precision. John is a master of accountability cultures. He understands that you have to inspire people, and then you have to link that inspiration to clearly defined outcomes and a precise way to get there. This is where John is tough. He models the values. While he cares about people, he has a precise, results driven process for creating an environment for people to hold themselves accountable – to themselves and to each other.

5) Celebrate success. In John’s words, “you have to know what success is, know how to get there, and know how to celebrate it when you’ve achieved it.” You have to know what constitutes success and shine a light on it. Tell the story. Acknowledge people. Catch people being successful. You have to care and you have to connect. Celebration can be big or it can be small, but most importantly it has to be meaningful.

John’s passionate, inspiring energy is contagious. It’s always been important to him 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. John is the kind of leader people want to work for. He’s also the kind of friend people seek.

What kind of environment are you creating on your team?

6 WAYS TO INCREASE EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

I’ve never seen more “employee engagement programs” thrown at employees, and we’ve never seen lower engagement scores. So what’s going on?

One way to look at the challenge of employee engagement is to observe the relationship between three concepts: achievement, expectations, and happiness.

Happiness results when your achievements meet your expectations. For example, if your expectation of your boss is “100”, and she achieves only “80”, then we say your happiness score is -20. On the other hand, if you have an expectation of your boss of “80”, and she hits “100”, then your happiness score is +20.

What happens when this same boss, who meets the expectations of one employee, doesn’t meet the expectations of another employee? One employee will be happy. The other will be unhappy. Maybe the problem isn’t the boss. Maybe the problem is the nature of our expectations. While bosses and organizations certainly need to work hard to achieve a highly engaged culture, employees share the responsibility of hard work to achieve their own level of engagement while simultaneously decreasing their expectations. To paraphrase John F Kennedy: ask not what your organization can do for you, but what you can do for your organization.

Lazy employees (i.e. they don’t want to achieve much) combined with high expectations, is called entitlement. And entitled people are never happy. Have you ever noticed that the most entitled people in your office are the ones that are the most miserable? Many people bring enormously high expectations to work and to all their relationships. My mother had a scholarly word for this kind of person: spoiled.

It appears to be human nature that the more we get, the more we expect. Research will bear out that the societies with the lowest GNP are often the societies with the happiest people. They are likely happy because their expectations are lower. There’s something to be said about simply being satisfied with what we have.

While I’m all in favor of bosses developing ways to create environments that engage people, I know some leaders who could deliver the moon for their employees and they still wouldn’t be happy. This is because most people who are unhappy at work aren’t just unhappy at work. They are unhappy with all aspects of their lives. We all need to examine carefully our level of expectations. To increase your happiness and engagement at work:

1) Carefully examine your expectations. It has been said that expectations are premeditated resentments. Often, high expectations stem from unhappiness in your life and expecting others (e.g. your boss) to make you happy. This is a formula for discontent, both for you and for your boss who might be trying too hard.

2) Take 100% responsibility for your own happiness. Your life will change the day you decide that all blame is a waste of time. Taking 100% responsibility means that you take responsibility for getting your needs met instead of demanding that someone do it for you.

3) Be careful about over achieving. It’s good to set a goal and achieve it – providing it meets an expectation. But if you are an overachiever who continually expects more and more of yourself (and usually others too), you’ll never be happy. You’ll always be striving for the next achievement. The only way to fill that hole is to learn to be satisfied with what you have achieved.

4) Give what you expect. My parents used to say, “You don’t get what you expect. You get what you give.” No amount of employee engagement programs can possibly fill all the insecurities and unhappiness that employees bring to work. To counter the frustration of not getting what you expect, clarify what you expect, and then give that. For example, if you expect appreciation, get so busy appreciating others that you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself. It was Zig Ziglar who said, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”

5) Realize that you can’t meet everyone’s expectations. Like a request, an expectation is not an agreement. Realizing this will un-complicate your life. It is absolutely impossible to meet everyone’s expectations of you because it is physically and mentally unattainable for any human being to be all things to all people.

6) Practice gratitude. The antidote to entitlement is gratitude. We all need to look at ourselves when it comes to employee engagement. It’s a shared responsibility. Yes, positional leaders have a responsibility. But so do employees. What you focus on grows. What you appreciate appreciates.

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.