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Culture On Purpose

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/richardofengland/6788829651/

Back in 2013 I wrote a post about intentional culture quoting Quicken Loans CEO Bill Emerson.

“If you don’t create a culture at your company, a culture will create itself. And it won’t be good. I sometimes hear people say ‘We don’t have a culture at our company.’ They have one. But if it hasn’t been nurtured, if no one has spent on any time on it, you can assume it’s the wrong culture.”

It’s well recognized that good culture doesn’t just happen — it requires conscious intention from day one and never ending vigilance ever after.

Sustaining culture requires a tough stance on hiring and a willingness to walk away from candidates who aren’t aligned with and enthusiastic about your culture.

However, no amount of vigilance and effort assures that the resulting culture will be what is termed ‘good’.

Whether the intentioal from the top or is allowed to rise from the ranks, the culture will reflect the values of the source and will be propagated by attracting candidates with similar values.

Uber’s bro culture reflects Trvis Kalanick’s values.

Zappos reflects Tony Hsieh’s.

For a great read on intentional culture and how to do it, check out Making Culture a Tangible Metric by Eric Blondeel and Moufeed Kaddoura, co-founders of ExVivo Labs.

Hat tip to the CB Insights newsletter for sharing this article.

Image credit: Richard Matthews

Ryan’s Journal: Can Culture Be Flow?

Thursday, June 29th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sjdunphy/2369009987/

If you’re reading this I am making the assumption that you’re a knowledge worker. You may be in an office, a coffee shop, or perhaps some hillside retreat. Regardless of where you may be you have work to do and it needs to be done in a timely manner. When I am truly engrossed in something that has all my attention I get a hit of dopamine that channels my energy. Some call this flow.

Your brain is being fully maximized, distractions fade away and creativity takes place. When I am in this state it feels like work takes less effort. I am satisfied with the results and I feel accomplished. Truth be told I wish I could achieve this state more often and for longer periods of time.

As I was thinking about the concept of flow I was thinking how it could be applied to culture. If we are looking at flow in a way that reduces effort and gets faster results than perhaps we can apply that principle to culture as well.

I read a quote from Steve Jobs where he said, no one individual accomplishes something great, a team does. As I thought on that it occurred to me that the culture of Apple must be one where the team comes first, rather than the individual.

In my mind that is culture at work.

Any new hire would quickly see that belief in action, mimic it, and before they knew it they would assimilate without any conscious thought. That’s not a bad thing, since our brains have so many other things to worry about.

I think the same could be said of the military. You read stories of folks who did heroic things and their reasoning was that they didn’t want to let their team down.  As a former Marine myself I can assure you that peer pressure is real and the last thing you want to do is let your buddies down. As a result you see some extraordinary actions on the part of service member, first responders and others. In my mind that is flow at work.

As always, though, we need to figure out how to iterate and expand our culture to a point where flow is achieved and it seems effortless.

I have found that surrounding yourself with folks that have passion for life, push themselves past their comfort zone, and care for others is a terrific foundation to achieve success.

Image credit: ReflectedSerendipity

Ryan’s Journal: How Do You Set A Standard?

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

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I recently switched jobs to a company that is smaller than my last but where I have the ability to truly achieve success or crash and burn. It’s slightly terrifying but I try to follow Richard Branson’s example of just saying yes to things first and then figuring it out as I go along.

One thing I realized after taking the role is I am the one that must set the cultural standard. It’s not that the company doesn’t have one, but most of the employees are remote and we rarely see each other.

As a result there is not really a zeitgeist in the office that tends to guide everyone’s actions. It took me a couple of weeks to reach this conclusion, but once I did I sought out some resources on how to set a standard.

I was not blessed with an iron will. For me I must work every day at maintaining discipline and work ethic. It’s not a battle, but it’s something I am very much aware of and I take steps to ensure I set myself up for success.

One way I do this is through emulation of others. I realize this may not be groundbreaking but I think it’s important to remember.

When I was growing up I would see people at the top of their game or profession and a lot of times not think about the work it took to get there. As I have matured I realize it takes great effort to achieve success and we must make it a priority. There are several people I follow on LinkedIn that hold influence. I try to emulate what they have done to form my own identity and culture.

I have also sought out mentors throughout my career. Some of these are formal, but some are not. I reach out to them for specific needs or learning opportunities.

What do you use for guidance when setting a culture? Is it a company, ideal or person?

I believe all can benefit when creating an identity, as long as we are choosing the right example to emulate.  

Image credit: Ron Mader

If The Shoe Fits: Today’s CEO Cowboys

Friday, April 28th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWay back in 2009 I wrote Leaders Should NOT Be Cowboys. While the advice was accurate at the time, it made the basic assumption that founders were adults.

I suppose it was naïve to assume that anybody starting a company, let alone being handed millions of dollars to do it, would have a certain level of mental and emotional maturity — or at least know when to shut up.

But the world has changed drastically.

It’s now a world where nothing is private and letting it all hang out has been take to extremes; where sharing all aspects of your life is expected and the resulting personally identifiable data packaged and sold; where sex/sexism in one form or another is prevalent; where anybody can freely and anonymously critique/shame/bully/insult whomever they please; where frat boy culture/attitude/thinking is the new norm, where etc., etc., etc.

Doubt me?

Take a look at Uber, Thinx, Tanium, or the US president; the list goes on even when the actions are well camouflaged, as they are at Google and Facebook.

These new CEOs aren’t necessarily cowboys in the previous sense.

They have moved past that and are more aligned with the back end of their horses.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Golden Oldies: Ducks in a Row: Rich Waidmann’s No jerks Allowed

Monday, March 27th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Since tomorrow’s post takes yet another look at Silicon Valley culture, sources of the blatant misogyny, and how that relates to brilliant jerks and so-called stars, I thought I’d share Rich Waidmann’s take on the subject.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

I’m in love — with a man I never met, never spoke to, never followed or chatted with online.

His name is Rich Waidmann and he’s founder and CEO of Connectria Hosting.

I love him because when he started his company he consciously set out to make it a great place to work. (See the full Infographic at Business Insider)

That means it’s a job requirement at his company that every employee treat everyone else with courtesy and respect as well as “going the extra mile” to take care of people in the community who are less fortunate

Then his company did a survey and found that

More than half (55%) of 250 IT professionals in the US. surveyed said they had been bullied by a co-worker. And 65% have said they dreaded going to work because of bad behavior of a co-worker.

Waidmann believes it shouldn’t be that way so he’s starting a No Jerks Allowed movement in an effort to encourage better cultures.

Way back in 2007 Stanford’s Bob Sutton wrote The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, but looking at the stats I’m not sure how much good it actually did.

And considering the fact that companies are shoehorning more people into less space something needs to change.

The Talmud says, “We do not see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.” Moreover, it’s often as we are that particular day, or even minute, and even as we change, minute to minute, so do others.

Jerks are known to lower productivity and kill innovation, so a lot of good information on identifying and dealing with jerks has been developed since Sutton’s book came out.

Contributing to that effort, here are my four favorite MAP attitudes for dealing with jerks.

  • Life happens, people react and act out, but that doesn’t mean you have to let their act in.
  • Consider the source of the comment before considering the comment, then let its effect on you be in direct proportion to your respect for that source.
  • Use mental imagery to defuse someone’s effect on you. This is especially useful against bullying and intimidation. Do it by having your mental image of the person be one that strips power symbols and adds amusement. (Give me a call if you want my favorite, it’s a bit rude, but has worked well for many people.)

And, finally, the one I try to keep uppermost in my mind at all times

  • At least some of “them” some of the time consider me a jerk—and some of the time they are probably correct.

Image credit: Connectria

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

Knowing Why/When To Quit

Monday, March 20th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/botter/70228/

Occasionally I share stuff I receive from clients and sometimes from readers, as I’m doing today. I ask if I can share it and usually the response is ‘yes’, with the caveat that I change enough to ensure that nobody will recognize the writer.

I think “Caz’s” situation and its outcome are very applicable right now. I hear from a lot of you, all asking how to know when to “pull the plug.”

As always, I’m available by phone or email if you want/need to hash things out; contact info in the right-hand frame.

Hi Miki,

It’s been awhile and a lot has happened, with both family — the adoption went through and I’m a new dad! — and I’ve got a new job.

As you know, I’ve been getting more and more concerned about my future at “Locus Systems.”

You also know I’m extremely culture sensitive and the culture has been changing quite a bit, moving more and more towards a fear-based approach.

In addition, we launched a new product about 2 years ago and landed a total of maybe 20 customers.

While the product itself worked and there is a real need, the market just didn’t respond.

This in turn led to our CEO, who owns the company, to push the sales teams harder. In the end he said the failure was on the individual sales teams, not the product.

I have a strong business background and know that for no discernible reason good products sometimes just don’t find the market demand expected.

This whole ordeal has led to a lot of resentment on the part of the sales teams and management.

Some of our best team members started leaving; I’m talking about people who sell $4MM plus a year, so great salespeople.

Each time someone left the CEO would make it a point to remind everyone that that person lacked the vision and we were better off without them.

Give me a break!

On a personal level commissions started being delayed. We always waited 2 months or so for our commission, but it was creeping into a 3-4 month time frame, sometimes longer.

All this led me to a realization that I was probably on a sinking ship. I don’t mind struggling, and you know I’m a fighter, but when the CEO and management are essentially belittling employees and putting all failures on them it’s time to go. 

So I started looking.

I found a great opportunity with “Jasper, Inc.,” another young software company that’s growing organically and has what seems like a terrific culture — all the good stuff you’ve written about (why I started reading you in the first place).

I found the opportunity locally, but the company doesn’t care where I live. That means we aren’t restricted to one town. I always wanted to be able to choose where I live and not have my job dictate that to me.

Although I just started, I’m really enjoying it. The opportunity came as a bit by surprise, but quite frankly, the conditions, benefits and pay are all superior to what I had. 

I’d like to stay in touch. This role will give me more financial freedom then I have had in the past and that may come in handy down the road ;-)

Caz

Image credit j. botter

Golden Oldies: Differences Worth Noting

Monday, February 13th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

During his time at GE, Jack Welch was lauded and crowned as a god of leadership and management— How times have changed. Welch’s success was dominantly a function of GE’s financial services and he created one of the harshest cultures around—which would have failed miserably with today’s workforce.

Immelt sold off the financial stuff, totally changed the culture from one of suspicion to one of trust,  dumped the forced rankings, just issued a directive that all new hires learn to code and has responded to the current worldwide protectionist mindset by moving from globalization to localization.

Immelt is a worthy role model.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

2185315789_e5d6af6e0d_mThere is a sizable difference between accepting positional leadership when a company is at the bottom and there is no place to go but up and taking over when its at its height—even more so when what was the growth engine and source of extraordinary profits disappears from the economic landscape.

It is one thing to maximize what you have, wringing out every last possible dollar, and investing in innovation for sustainable growth in the future.

It is one thing to create a culture where public shame and the likelihood of termination for missing your numbers rules and changing that to a culture that encourages appropriate risk-taking and never kills the messenger when the risk doesn’t pan out; a culture that understands not every innovation will be a home run, but encourages and applauds the effort anyway.

These are the differences between Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt.

Welch had taken over when the company was in the bottom of an economic cycle. He took over GE in a recession, not at the height of a bubble.

Immelt got the job right after the end of the high-flying 1990s, an era which crowned CEOs with mythical, God-like crowns, and Welch was bestowed the biggest of them all.

Immelt had known before the meltdown the company needed to wean off the leveraged risk from finance that was begun under Welch. … He admitted mistakes, as any good leader must do, and GE more quietly if not humbly went about its business in making the company a 21st century sustainable and reliable profit engine.

The differences are worth noting.

Flickr image credit: laurita13

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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