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Ryan’s Journal: How To Measure Culture

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/beantin/8976529844/

I am in sales and as a result I have a ton of metrics that I must account for. How many calls did I do? What is my conversion rate? Are you having a prospecting or velocity issue with closing deals? Is your sales funnel robust enough? 

I think you get the idea. These and many other metrics are all important as they can lead to a greater success as you iterate.

By most accounts sales is easy to measure the successes and failures. It’s like sports, who has the most points at the end of the game?

Culture though can be a bit tougher to measure. It’s not a tangible good and as I consider the subject I wonder how can we best measure it?

It’s pretty easy to see the extremes of company cultures and see if they are positive or negative.

Uber had been in the news a lot lately, even their president stepped down after saying they did not align with his values.

On the other hand Google landed the top spot again by glassdoor.com with their annual best places to work.

With a little thought you can see one culture is more negative and the other is pretty positive.

Those are fairly easy examples, but what about all the thousands of other companies in small towns and cities? How do we know if they are indeed a positive place to be and what metrics should we use to measure?

I worked for one company that ranked as a top workplace in the local metro area. This was touted by its recruiters and quite frankly was a selling point for me when I came on board. I had had a terrible experience in a previous company and I was ready for a change!

However, after some time of working at my new place we were given the opportunity to participate in the annual survey that would measure top workplaces.

This poll was, in reality, mandatory and we had to provide so much demographic data that it was very easy to determine who had filled out what survey.

The result was we all wrote very positive reviews and then we were voted top workplace again. I believe the total is four years in a row at this point.

I bring this up as an example of how one metric, annual best workplace surveys, could be wildly skewed and may not be the best metric to utilize.

Where else should we turn to measure? Pay could be a factor of course. Tenure and turnover are factors too.

I had a teacher in college tell me to always ask my interviewer what the turnover for employees under two years was. He felt this was a good measure of the health of the company and the role I was pursuing.

I still ask that question and have found that when turnover is high, culture is low.

At this point I don’t have a silver bullet and will do more research to see if there is a magic quadrant we should be seeking.

I’ll update you next week on whether someone a whole lot smarter than me already did the tough work, or if I stumbled onto a way to start a company measuring culture that is the new hot thing in town.

Image credit: James Royal-Lawson

Ryan’s Journal: International Women’s Day

Friday, March 17th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ufv/33321834446/Folks. I am about a week behind on recognizing International Women’s Day, but wanted to speak about it today.

There is always an element of folks out there who cry that we are dividing each other more by recognizing every different group of people, but I disagree.

At this point we have roughly 7 billion people in the world and they are each unique. That’s pretty cool if you ask me and I find that recognizing the differences that make us unique can be a unifier.

One reason I want to address this holiday is because I have been personally affected in a profound way by strong female leaders, both in life and work.

These women were mothers, wives, bosses, employees and, in some cases, warriors. I call that out because throughout history there was not always the option for women to follow their own path — it was chosen for them.

I am the father of two beautiful girls, they are identical twins and they light up my life. My wife and I are blessed (and challenged) by them daily. In June I get to experience it again with the addition of our third girl.

If I am being completely transparent, I was never a feminist. I didn’t think men were the superior sex, but I didn’t think the status quo was an issue either. While having girls has helped to change my thinking, the journey began many years ago.

I served five years as a United States Marine and enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of something greater. Now, the Marine Corps has around 200,000 active Marines and about 7% who are female. It’s a male dominated world where recent news has uncovered that misogyny is alive and well unfortunately. I don’t bring this up to shame the institution but to call out the opportunity for improvement.

Within this environment though I had the pleasure to serve under a female Marine officer by the name of Meredith Brown. At the time she was a Major and retired as a Lt. Col.

She was a no-nonsense person who expected results and demanded excellence. I recall how I used to write reports for her and she would pull out a red pen and begin striking things out. As she did that though, she took the time to show why the corrections needed to be made and expected that I wouldn’t repeat the errors.

Now you may be thinking, this lady sounds rough! I will tell you though, she knew what she was doing. I was a young man who needed guidance and she also saw something in me that perhaps I didn’t see myself. As a Marine she was tough but also fair to a fault. She was the first strong woman in my professional career and I valued our time greatly. We still speak to this day and she continues to give sound advice.

How does this fit into culture? Because as a society we have determined that sex, color, background, race or other factors that could be discriminated against are not how we should be judged.

We have deemed actions to be our judgment. Does this always happen? Absolutely not, but we strive for it.

If I had been an older man in a different Marine Corps, I would have never had the opportunity for a female Marine to lead me. I would have operated in a bubble and be unable to see another point of view without great difficulty.

So next time we have a day that celebrates a unique quality about a specific group of people I suggest we take the time to embrace it.

See something from a different perspective, walk in another person’s shoes, so to speak, and learn.

Culture is continuous.

Image credit: University of the Fraser Valley

Ryan’s Journal: When Culture Betrays

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/roryfinneren/2791004393/in/photostream/

Most of my writing is based on what is going on in my life right now. I have found it’s easier to write about what I know and tap into the emotion of it all. One thing I learned recently is culture can be a double-edged sword and should be respected as such.

If any of you are reading more than Entertainment Weekly I am sure you have seen the meltdowns that are occurring at Uber, the falling stock prices at Valeant Pharmaceuticals and maybe the second bankruptcy of Radio Shack.  All of these are a result of a culture that betrayed the very members it was meant to protect.

How do we watch out for that in our personal lives?

One way I do it is by seeking constant feedback. I have found I have a significant blind spot when it comes to measuring myself, so I suck up my pride and go to those I know will give me a real answer. Perhaps these companies could have done the same?

When looking at these three cases I have found one commonality, pride. Let’s examine each and see what you think.

Uber is pretty public at this point. The CEO had a history of being bold, in your face and decisive. This has its place but can also become unbalanced. Additionally, somewhere from the top down the idea that women should not be treated equal came out and as a result you have cases of sexual misconduct and favoritism playing out.

Valeant was a darling of Wall Street for many years. Its former CEO was incentivized to get his stock to a certain price point. If he did that he was rewarded with stock options that were incredible. Harvard did a study on it and thought the scheme was amazing. What people didn’t know though was the CEO was utilizing accounting methods that favored the stock price. He also utilized a private pharmacy that was undisclosed to the public to deliver his prescriptions. This had an added benefit to the stock. Both methods were found to be unethical, the stock crashed and shareholders lost billions.

Radio Shack recently filed for a second bankruptcy. They have been unable to turn around their stores to get to a profitable point. I am not too old to remember going into these stores as a child and enjoying them. They offered some great products, were knowledgeable and if you were a radio geek you could find just the part you needed. Unfortunately they didn’t expect a rise in cell phones, online ordering and other buying trends. These have all contributed to its losses. They are still around but I wonder for how much longer.

I bring all of these up as examples where the culture of each led to misses and failures.

Culture in my mind is the mentality of a company — its thought processes.

On an individual basis are you allowing your culture to betray you?

Image credit: Rory Finneren

Ryan’s Journal: Has The Nation Lost Its Mind?

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

As a nation, and perhaps as a species, we reward success above all else.

I am in sales and a mantra I have heard many times is, “exceeding quota covers a multitude of sins”. Did you show up hungover to a team meeting? Did you grope someone at an after-hours event? Did you mouth off to your boss?

These are things I have all personally witnessed at work and the one question always asked was, “are they hitting their quota?”

Why do I bring this all up you ask?

As you may have read Uber is having a tough few months and an even worse week. I won’t jump on the bandwagon to bemoan their culture, but I will say it’s probably not limited to them alone.

Because we have put value in success above all else it is easy to forgive when those companies or people err.

In my professional life I have had an opportunity to work in both large and small organizations. These are all made up of people with strengths and weaknesses, but one common thing I see is those that produce revenue and growth get away with a bit more.

Now this is only anecdotal, but headlines can support this claim to a degree. Uber, Google, Wal-Mart have all had scandals or missteps.

While this may not be indicative of social decay, it points to an opportunity for improvement.

One thing I truly believe is culture begins with self.

The choices we make as individuals are what shape the greater group.

When I see these stories of harassment, abuse or other issues it is not a company that is doing it, it’s an individual. Personal responsibility must be an expected outcome if we want a change.

How can we start?

There is always the Golden Rule or Karma to consider.

If you want to consider science alone we can look to Newton’s third law as reference.

All of these have a common theme — your actions will have equal reactions in measure.

Perhaps that can be a basis for culture moving forward?

Image credit: Dani Mettler

Ryan’s Journal: Live from HIMSS

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017
https://www.ibm.com/watson/health/

IBM Watson Health and Broad Institute launch major research initiative to study why cancers become drug resistant.

Hi Folks,

I had the chance to attend one of the largest healthcare IT conferences this week in Orlando known as HIMSS or Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.  

What this mouthful of a name means is if you want a venue showcasing the cutting edge technology in healthcare with 40,000 of your closest friends…well you’re in the right spot.

I was there as a representative of my company and had a chance to have some meaningful conversations, but it was the conversations off the floor that were perhaps more valuable.

As anyone who has attended a convention of this size knows, you’re in for a menagerie of vendor sites and sounds. It can be overwhelming and enlightening 

While I had some downtime I took a walk on the floor to see what else is occurring within the medtech sector.

During one of these occasions I had a chance to meet with some folks from IBM. Now IBM needs no introduction, but within healthcare they are a new entrant.

They have utilized their Watson cognitive thinking system to tackle some of the toughest problems in medicine today.

They are currently focused on oncology and determining patients at risk or treating mutations earlier than currently possible.

Something that struck me was the fact that this technology is very affordable to their customers. Their mindset is that all people, regardless of income, location, background or country should receive the same level of care as anyone else.

I was floored.

Healthcare is big business and while most mean well, the stated goals are not so noble.

Where did this culture come from at IBM? 

As of now I don’t have that answer, but I wanted to at least inform you that a company of that size has genuine concern for the well being of us all.

Flickr image credit: IBM

Ryan’s Journal: Can You Right A Sinking Ship?

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bertknot/8210386029/I read an article today about Warren Buffet. His company, Berkshire Hathaway, recently sold over $900 Million in Wal-Mart stock. Why you may ask?

Buffet believes the retailer is a sinking ship and retail as a whole is being completely disrupted. Now by all accounts Wal-Mart is still hugely successful. They sell more than Amazon, are profitable and growing.

Looking at these factors alone it would seem that there is nothing to be worried about, however a man much smarter than myself thinks otherwise. How can that be changed?

Now, this post is not about Wal-Mart per say but more on the retail experience as a whole. I can look throughout my house right now and say that a large majority of what I have purchased in the past few years has been from online.

I have twin girls and my family may singlehandedly keep Amazon in business by all the items we need on a day to day basis.

Recently Wal-Mart began a service in my area where you can pick out all of your groceries online and pay, then you just drive to your location and they load your car with the groceries. You never go in the store and you have everything you need at a great price!

I can tell you that the service would be extremely helpful to my family but I have never once considered it.

Why? Culture.

I am not a snob, in fact I prefer a good burger over whatever hot dish is on trend right now, however I have a hard time considering Wal-Mart or other similar retailers for most of my purchases.

The main reason, for me, is the culture of those locations.

I feel that retail employees are paid too low and not given opportunities for advancement. Is this true? Sometimes, but also it’s a perception thing. The culture would appear to be one of hardship.

On the other hand Amazon has commercials for drone delivery and cutting edge technology. Is the apple I get from Amazon any different than the one from Wal-Mart? Not one bit, but my perception is. I feel pleased that my money is being well spent with one while depriving from the other. 

Is retail a sinking ship? Maybe, but quite frankly I do not have enough information to support such an argument. However I can tell you that my emotions are directly connected to my perception of the culture at each company and that is what determines where my dollars go.

Culture is deeds, words and actions. It is the sprit that inhabits a person and an organization. It must be jealously guarded as it could quite possibly be the most valuable thing owned.

My personality is my culture.

The company I work for is an aggregate of all combined to make up a unifying culture.

Do I have an answer on how to fix the ship? I would think it starts with the leaders and then moves down. Perhaps it can also start with the individual? 

What fuels that person? What helps them determine right from wrong? Is there a right or wrong?

These are all questions that will determine an individual’s identity and ultimately help them determine their course in life.

Maybe it is time to right our own ship?

Image credit: bertknot

Ryan’s Journal: Can Culture be Defined by One Person?

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidspinks/4211977680/

Have you ever been a member of a group or team that is flat out terrible? I have. I have been a member of that soccer team that never won a game, the work group that wasn’t succeeding.

Did I like it? Absolutely not. Did I learn from it? I think in some ways I did.

Have you ever seen that same team or group start to succeed with different leadership? In my case I have a very real world example of where this came to pass.

I had the pleasure of serving for five years in The United States Marine Corps. During this five year time the US was involved in several conflicts and I found myself deployed to Fallujah, Iraq.

During my deployment I served with a team of 12 other Marines, together we were known as a squad. Now this is the military, but a small group of people working together can be found within any type of organization. 

Our squad was led by a leader who, while a good guy, was not well equipped to lead a group of Marines into life or death situations.

This person had some leadership challenges that ultimately led to low morale, loss of confidence and an overall lack of guidance.

To be completely clear, the group sucked. We moped around, were not excited about our purpose and lacked vision.

After some time our higher leadership realized a change should be made and they moved our leader to a role better suited for his skill set.

I will tell you right now, that was a life changer.

We had a new leader come aboard that had the experience needed, was motivated and challenged us to be better then we were the day before.

Now overall the same 13 people were on the team, but the outcome was completely different.

We worked better as a group, shared responsibilities and were proud of our accomplishments.

I look back on this one example often when I think of how one person can shape a culture. 

Now, obviously the military has a top down culture when it comes to leadership, but it also embraces servant leadership.

In this scenario our new leader embraced servanthood. He made sure we were taken care of before his needs and that reflected in our outcome.

Have you been on a team that isn’t performing to its abilities? What is holding it back?

I had a conversation the other day with my CEO and he said something that stuck with me. He said, “leadership isn’t a title, its an action”.

Isn’t that true of culture too? You and I are the ones who will set the tone.

Do I always get it right? Absolutely not! I fail more times then I succeed. I tear down when I should build, allow emotions to dictate over data and more. At the end of the day my personal culture and that of my team is dictated by my thoughts and deeds, no one else.

Who determines yours?

Image credit: David Spinks

Ryan’s Journal: How Does Time Affect Culture?

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/becosky/3304801086/

I had an interesting conversation today with a Director of IT Security from a large healthcare provider in Delaware who is a customer of mine.

The conversation was mostly to do with what his daily responsibilities were, how he balanced competing priorities and to gain a better understanding of his particular challenges.

I went into this meeting with my only desire to better understand him as a person and see how I could be of better value to him as my customer.

I did not expect to come away from the conversation with real world cases of how culture within an organization can change over time, but I have found when you keep your ears open it is surprising what people will say.

Some of you may have experience with healthcare providers, either as a patient or perhaps in a business relationship. I am sure that one thing we can all agree upon is that as a rule they can be slow to adopt, adapt and mature.

This may be hardwired into the DNA of the organization. I know that when I break my leg a doctor will put a cast in it because that has been proven to work through millions of previous experiences.

This can be the desired outcome versus the doctor that decides to try a different remedy for every broken leg. 

As I was speaking with my customer he said one thing that struck me. He said, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”

He was saying this in reference to his desire to shape the culture to be more security conscience. However, he understood that if radical changes were made overnight he would lose the support of the organization. Instead he was implementing incremental changes over time to affect change.

Isn’t this the desired outcome?

As I think through this, there are times when radical change is needed, but typically it’s at the personal level that it is achieved.

Obvious examples being taking up exercise, limiting the amount of alcohol or taking up a new routine.

Try and push that on your friends or family overnight and good luck!

It takes time and buy-in from the group to effect lasting change.

That leaves us with a question that I do not yet have the answer to.

How do we achieve the change that is desired?

Image credit: becosky

Ryan’s Journal: Culture Wars

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

https://hikingartist.com/2012/06/17/teamwork-illustrations-new-gallery/circle-of-collaboration-2/

Culture can come from many sources, a CEO, fellow employees or perhaps a set of precepts that have been formalized for all to read. Regardless of the source culture acts as a zeitgeist to shape the actions of all who encounter it.

We can all recall companies or groups that have had great cultures, as well as some that make you want to run in the opposite direction.

Sometimes a culture change is all it takes to right a company or cause its demise. I think that is one reason you will see a sports team go from good to great. The players and staff may not have changed, but something did for them to pull out a win.

What happens though when a culture changes for the worst? Can we see it’s slow creep from the inside?

For me, whenever I have been in a period where I am actively job hunting I utilize glassdoor.com. It’s a great free resource to research companies based on posts from actual employees.

Do you want to know the salary range of a job? Go to Glassdoor. Is it fun to work there? Glassdoor. What type of questions will they ask when I interview? Glassdoor. I think you get the idea.

My favorite section has to do with reviews. You encounter the entire spectrum of feedback from those who say its the worst job ever to those singing its praises. What I have found is if there are enough reviews you can get a decent sample size to get an average.

Why do I bring this up? Because this website and others like it can help an employee determine the culture of a company before starting.

Once you’re in the role it can be tough to know if the culture has changed. I think it’s similar to the frog in hot water. It won’t leap out if you start with cold water. The same can be said of employees who have been around for a while. This site can give clarity.

Culture is a daily ritual that must be protected.

We all share in some part of the culture, so it’s up to the individual to be the best version of themselves daily.

I say all of this because I have seen from the inside the slow creep of culture decay and I realize it is something to be cherished and protected.

Image credit: Hiking Artist

Ryan’s Journal: Why Does Culture Matter?

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

http://www.fairwarning.com/For those of you who may have read my introduction I stated that my main question I want to always ask is ‘why’.

I learned this mostly through trial and error as I entered the workplace. I had the opportunity to see this inside of companies and organizations and better understand what made them succeed, or fail. The simple answer was and continues to be culture.

Why have some companies with all the talent in the world failed? Why do some people address hardships with a will to succeed rather than sit back and wallow? Why do those who have made it to the top of their profession continue to push themselves? I think it boils down to the mindset of the individual, who then influences the greater group.

I work within the MedTech industry, specifically within the cybersecurity sector. My company, FairWarning, looks at user behavior to determine who the bad actors are, so that you can have confidence that when you seek treatment your records will remain confidential.

You would expect that due to the fact that our mission is to determine who is stealing data and identify it our leadership would treat most people with suspicion. It is only natural, we see bad actors everyday! However, that could not be further from the truth.

I had an opportunity to speak with our leadership about why that is. How is it that the organization which only exists to prevent abuse and misuse of confidential materials can not have a negative outlook on life and people?

The answer surprised me. My company is privately owned by our CEO who founded it. He has the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps through hard work” mentality. He told me that his outlook on life stems from the fact that as an individual you can always make a choice to do the right thing moving forward.

A person always has the opportunity to start today with a clean slate moving forward. The expectation is that every day should be better than the last. Now this doesn’t mean there are no consequences for actions, but it does mean that there are no lost individuals. That at the root of it is the culture of my company and it influences every action I and my teammates make everyday.

Why does that one mindset impact the rest of the group?

Part of it, of course, is the fact that he started and led the company successfully. The other part though, which, in my opinion, matters more, is that he has remained consistent and transparent.

If he only applied that mindset to people selectively or didn’t live it himself then it would not truly be culture. It would be some mission statement that sounds great but has no impact.

As I continue exploring this topic I will speak to others about what influences their decisions and how they came to those conclusions.

Until next week continue asking and seeking.

Image credit: Marko / Zak

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