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Managers, Micro Cultures And Values

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Note: It’s imperative to recognize that culture has nothing to do with perks, such as free food, fancy offices, free services, etc.

Culture is about values and how they play out in both the internal and external functioning of the company.

But company culture isn’t the end game — micro cultures are.

Micro cultures are based on individual bosses’ values.

Both cultures are fundamental to that perennially popular subject, employee engagement.

HBS’ Jim Heskett recently asked his audience what’s needed to engender employee engagement given that engaged employees are 2.7% more productive.

Most of the responses talked about the need for managers to respect their people, listen to ideas from everyone, have better people skills, etc., and several mentioned the skills acquired with an MBA.

But, as I pointed out, and Heskett cited in his summary, “Respect and valuing employee input have little to do with education and much to do with personal values.”

Unfortunately, education is no guarantee of values.

Colleges are no different, with MBA students leading the pack. “56 percent of MBA students admitted to cheating…  In 1997, McCabe did a survey in which 84 percent of undergraduate business students admitted cheating versus 72 percent of engineering students and 66 percent of all students. In a 1964 survey by Columbia University, 66 percent of business students surveyed at 99 campuses said they cheated at least once.”

If scholastic success was based on cheating it’s likely that that lack of respect/get-ahead-at-all-costs mentality would carry over to their management style.

Yesterday’s post ended with this comment,

That [provide an environment in which people can learn, grow and excel] is what a good boss is supposed to do.

But it’s the great ones who actually do it.

In fact, they go beyond that and shelter their people from any kind of toxic culture coming down from above.

Image credit: thinkpublic

Golden Oldies: The Idiocy Of Ideologues

Monday, August 14th, 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.

Echo Chambers. They’ve been with us since humans first stood erect. We hear what we want to hear; listen only to those who agree with us. Seek out the likeminded with whom to spend our time. And, when all else fails, people have been known to go beyond the acceptable to prove they are right. But when this happens at work, what’s a manager to do?

Read other Golden Oldies here.

Last week I had a call from a “Rick,” marketing manager, with what he thought was a unique problem—sadly it’s not as uncommon as you might think.

Short version. “Chris” is one of his top producing marketing people and extremely valuable to the team and the company. Recently, the team had a vehement disagreement on a marketing plan, but finally decided to go with an approach different from the one that Chris had championed.

Since then, Chris has made a number of comments and suggestions that undermine the current effort and has privately said that she hopes it fails because the other approach was better.

The team was starting to notice and some were losing confidence—a sure way to guarantee failure.

Rick said he had talked a bit with Chris; she denied that she was sabotaging the campaign and if it failed it would be because the wrong choice was made.

When I asked if Chris was always such an ideologue Rick was startled. He hadn’t thought of her actions in those terms, but after thinking it over he decided that she was a bit, although normally not to this extent.

Rick went on to say that it was ironic, because during the election Chris had been adamant that the “hide-bound ideology on both sides was creating problems for the country” and that she thought Obama was less locked into a specific, narrow ideology than most politicians.

More recently, she had been furious with Rush Limbaugh’s comment “I hope Obama fails,” seeing it as destructive and unpatriotic.

And therein, as I told Rick, lay his solution. Here is what I suggested.

  • Arrange a conversation without interruptions, such as an off-site lunch.
  • Make a production of turning off your cell phone (if Rick isn’t answering his, Chris is unlikely to interrupt to answer hers).
  • Keep the tone conversational; avoid anything that sounds like an accusation or makes the lunch feel like a confrontation.
  • Remind Chris’ about her previous thoughts regarding ideologues.
  • Once she confirms her thoughts gently draw the parallel between her attitudes and an ideologue.
  • Use her own words and feelings to refute whatever defense she raises (again, without attacking her).
  • Keep it conversational and take your time leading her to the recognition that her actions are the same as those she dislikes, just in a different arena.

Rick called today to say they’d had lunch that day and the conversation went exactly as predicted. It wasn’t perfectly smooth and there were some dicey moments, but when that happened he backed away and tried another route. He said that it would have been impossible to do in the office with interruptions and turning off their cells created a whole different mood.

He said that when Chris realized that she was doing a highly watered down version of Limbaugh she was openly shocked and very apologetic.

Instead of leaving it there, Rick took extra time to walk through the competing plans and why the team had chosen the one and not the other. He explained that it wasn’t that Chris was wrong, she just held a different opinion and that was OK, but it wasn’t OK do anything to undermine the program—even unconsciously.

With a more open mind Chris grudgingly agreed to the reasoning. She said that in spite of still feeling the other plan was better she would do everything in her power to make the project work. She said that the success of the project was more important than being “right.”

Rick was lucky because a critical member of his team was also a rational thinking person who could see a parallel when it was pointed out and not enough of a hypocrite to claim “that’s different…”

Chris was lucky because she worked for a manager who valued her and was willing to take the time to help her change and grow.

How do you control your inner ideologue?

Or do you?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Last week I wrote Time To Get Off Your Ass And Lead (Yourself) and Ravi Tangri added some very intelligent thoughts in his comment. I hope you’ll take a moment to click over, read it and add your own thoughts to the conversation. It’s an important one for all of us.

Image credit: Gurdonark on flickr

This golden Oldie dates back to 2009 and includes a comment worth a click.

If The Shoe Fits: Plato’s Soft Success

Friday, August 4th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mEngineers constantly channel Wernher von Braun, “One good test is worth a thousand expert opinions,” preferring AB tests and data points to anecdotal evidence or everyday been there/done that experience.

This is a serious problem for most founders who are

  • engineers, and
  • inexperienced (AKA, young).

Tests, no matter how good, and data points fail miserably when it comes to hiring people, let alone managing them.

Proof of this comes from no less a data embracer than Google, which scrapped an algorithm that was supposed to predict successful hires, its famed brain teaser questions and rigid responses to recruiter questions.

Such was the experience of Quang Hoang and his two partners when they started Birdly, which pivoted three times before finding a solid product/market fit.

…the tumult alienated most of Birdly’s employees, who quit. Hoang attributes the turnover to his own inexperience as a manager.

We, along the way, made many mistakes in management,” Hoang tells Business Insider. “We lost many great developers.” 

Enter Plato, a new name and a new team, focused on providing techies with soft skill mentoring.

The idea, says, Hoang is that an engineer’s education is focused heavily on “hard skills” around programming and systems design. The rest has to be learned. And for programmers-turned-leaders, it’s often the “soft skills,” like management and leadership, that need the most attention.

To people such as myself, who for decades have been involved in teaching and honing those skills in managers across all fields, not just tech, it’s more of a ‘duh’ factor.

But that’s OK; just don’t call it “thought leadership.”

Most great management concepts and skills aren’t decades old, they’re centuries old, constantly updated using language that will resonate with the current target audience.

Probably one of the best pieces of leadership/management advice comes from Lao Tzu and dates to the fourth or fifth century BC; I’ve quoted it multiple times over the last ten plus years.

As for the best leaders,
the people do not notice their existence.
The next best,
the people honor and praise.
The next,
the people fear;
and the next,
the people hate…
When the best leader’s work is done,
the people say, “We did it ourselves!”
To lead the people, walk behind them.

Difficult advice to follow in a world of personal brands and excessively large egos.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Golden Oldie: When Execution is an Anagram of the Act

Monday, May 1st, 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 some of the best posts during that time.

Often the most important stuff we need to learn doesn’t require multiple videos, books, and coaching. Sometimes a simple memory aid that’s easy to remember will do it, although execution still requires effort and self discipline, as in this case.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rebeccabarray/8985496669/An executive once asked me what the single most import thing he should do and how best to do it.
I told him the answer was simple and the key to execution was found in an anagram of the act.
Can you guess the action and anagram?
The action is to LISTEN.
The anagram is SILENT.
The first is impossible without doing the second.
Flickr image credit: RebeccaBarray

Golden Oldies: Process vs. Bureaucracy

Monday, April 24th, 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.

The interest in some subjects is eternal — like avoiding bureaucracy. This post dates to 2006 (before I added pictures) and the subject is still a hot topic.

Too many bosses and founders confuse organizing business segments with becoming bureaucratic and everyone hates bureaucracy.

In reality, not organizing and developing a process to accomplish each function facilitates a wild west mentality, which usually results in a bullet in the foot or worse.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

People sometimes confuse process and bureaucracy. Process is good—it helps to get things done smoothly and efficiently; bureaucracy is bad—it’s process calcified, convoluted, politically corrupted, or just plain unnecessary.

Good process is an easy-to-use and flexible method of accomplishing various business functions. It is informal without being haphazard, and neither ambiguous or confusing.

Occasional surveys (internally asking staff and externally asking vendors and customers how things are working) alert you to when processes start to mutate.

By creating a skeletal process and a corresponding graphic in areas where it is needed (financial controls, hiring, purchasing, etc.), you lay the framework for your growth in the future, no matter how hectic.

Bureaucracy may stem from a manager, whether CEO or first level supervisor, who believes that his staff is so incompetent that it is necessary for him to spell out exactly how every individual action needs to be done. To correct this, the manager responsible must

  • reduce his own insecurity,
  • increase his belief in his current staff, or
  • hire people he thinks are smart!

Bureaucracy is often fed by people’s fear of change, “We’ve always done it like that.” and similar comments are dead giveaways.

Another significant factor that contributes to unnecessary bureaucracy is the failure to align responsibility and authority.

If a person has the responsibility to get something done (design a product, create a Human Resources department, meet a sales quota), she should have enough authority (spend money, hire people, negotiate with outside vendors) to get the job done.

Giving people responsibility without concomitant authority forces them to constantly ask their superiors for permission, thus reducing productivity, and lowering moral.

The final, and most important difference between process and bureaucracy is that people like working for companies with good process in place, and hate working for those mired in bureaucracy, but not for long—they leave—making bureaucracy-eradication a major tool in the retention game.

Golden Oldies: Insanely Smart Retention and Stars

Monday, April 3rd, 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.

Jerks. Turks. Stars. Bro culture. Definitely insanely stupid. I wrote this exactly six years ago and nothing has changed; if anything, it’s gotten worse and the post is yet more applicable.

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

Read other Golden Oldies here.

3937284735_35e9f47fb3_mAre you already a devotee of insanely smart hiring, in the process of changing after reading insanely stupid hiring or somewhere in-between?

Wherever your MAP is on the subject there is one thing about hiring that you need to wrap your head around if you want your career to flourish.

You can not hire stars, but you can create and maintain them.

This is as true of executives and management as it is of workers at all levels.

Think of hiring in terms of planting a garden—only these plants have feet.

You’re at the nursery and find a magnificent rose. It’s large, because it’s several years old, has dozens of blooms and buds and is exactly what you wanted for a particular space in your yard.

The directions say that the rose needs full sun to thrive, while the space in your yard only gets four to five hours of morning sun. But the rose is so gorgeous you can’t resist, convincing yourself that those hours from sunrise to 11 will be enough, so you take it home and plant it.

It seems to do OK at first, but as time goes by it gets more straggly and has fewer and fewer blooms.

Finally, you give it to your friend who plants it in a place that gets sun from early morning to sunset.

By the end of the next summer the rose is enormous, covered in blooms and has sprouted three new canes.

One of the things that insanely smart hiring does is ensure that people are planted where they will flourish, whether they are already thriving or are leaving an inhospitable environment.

I said earlier that people are like plants with feet. Abuse a plant, whether intentionally or through neglect, and it will wither and eventually die; abuse your people and sooner or later they will walk.

Insanely smart hiring also gives you a giant edge whether the people market is hot or cold.

By knowing exactly what you need, your culture, management style and the environment you have to offer you are in a position to find hidden and unpolished jewels, as well as those that have lost their luster by being in the wrong place. (Pardon the mixed metaphors.)

These are often candidates that other managers pass on, but who will become your stars—stars with no interest in seeking out something else.

They recognize insanely smart opportunities when they see them.

Flickr image credit: Ryan Somma

The Necessity Of Fools

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/francescaromanacorreale/8162774877/

Yesterday’s Golden Oldie provided links to a variety of fools, most of which you can do without.

That said, there is one variety of fool that every company should have — and that is the wise fool, as described in King Lear.

Cloaked in the form of discourteous comments or unfiltered remarks, King Lear’s fool was able to express the thoughts that others were reluctant to express. Through the mask of comedy, he would remind the monarch of his own folly and humanity. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “every despot must have one disloyal subject to keep him sane.

Look around; does your company have at least one fool? Or, better yet, one fool in each department?

As Manfred Kets De Vries, the Distinguished Clinical Professor of Leadership Development & Organizational Change at INSEAD, points out.

All in all, fools are honest and loyal protectors, who allow society to reflect on and laugh at its own complex power relations. They can act as our “conscience” by helping us question our perceptions of wisdom and truth and their relationship to everyday experience. Through humor and frank communication, the “fool” and the “king” or “queen” engage in a form of deep play that deals with fundamental issues of human nature, such as control, rivalry, passivity, and action.

As such, fools contribute to group cohesion and an atmosphere of trust by providing an opportunity to humorously and critically review our values and judgments as the powerful socio-cultural structures of power pull, push, and shape our identity.

And, beyond all that, fools are a repository of wisdom — based on strong critical thinking coupled with extensive experience — which makes them excellent role models and a great source from which to learn.

Finally, whether a boss can hire, let alone keep, a fool is an accurate reflection of their MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) and a good indicator of the prevailing culture.

Flickr image credit: Francesca Romana Correale

John Wooden On Stars

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Wooden

In spite of being severely overloaded, KG still finds time to send me stuff he finds interesting and/or inspirational.

Over the years, we’ve had many discussions about culture and its importance in hiring.

He recently mentioned a quote from basketball player and Coach John Wooden.

“The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”

KG: In any high performing organization, there are lots of systems and processes that make the organization successful.

When you look at people considered stars, they are almost never part of second or third rate teams; they are almost always in organizations performing at the highest levels.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t truly high performing people in lesser teams, it’s just that they are not defined as stars in general (sometimes they may be local stars, but generally don’t get the full recognition).

So a star, per definition, is a member of an organization that performs at the top.

Me: So true. I’d add that in most cases people become stars as a result of the culture and their manager, or so I’ve found.

KG: Exactly. Look at all the people who leave Goldman Sachs or Google who were stars there (e.g. Marissa Meyer) but are unable to maintain their level of performance outside the culture & systems of that environment.

That’s why it’s always dangerous to hire stars — more than anything else they are a product of their environment.

Me: Absolutely, and the poster child is GE’s Bob Nardelli!

(Click for more Wooden wisdom. For more information about stars and Nardelli use use the tags below.)

Image credit: Wikipedia

Golden Oldies: Bullies And Performance

Monday, February 6th, 2017

https://twitter.com/goldenoldiesbnnIt’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.

I hate bullies. The biggest changes in the decade since I wrote this post are that there are more bullies, many using the anonymity of the internet to morph into trolls, more hand-wringing, that accomplishes nothing, and a rising tide less willing to be bullied that responds loudly and displays its disgust actively with its wit and its feet. Hopefully that tide will turn into a tsunami.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

Does your newspaper carry The Born Loser by Chip Sansom? Actually, I don’t find Brutus, the main character, to be a loser—just a slightly naive guy who works for an arrogant bully who constantly belittles him.

In the July 26 panel the dialog is as follows:

Boss: I am looking for a unique spin to put on our new ad campaign—do you have any ideas?

Brutus: Gee, Chief, I’m not sure—are there any ideas you think I should think of?

Boss: Brutus Thornapple, master of thinking inside the box.

It reminded me of managers I’ve known, who, no matter what happened or what feedback they received, never could understand that it was their MAP and their actions, not their people’s, that was the root cause of their under-performing groups.

After all, if you

  • ask for input and ridicule those who offer it, why be surprised when you stop receiving input;
  • claim that you want to solve problems while they’re still molehills, yet kill the messengers who bring the news, you should expect to grapple with mountainous problems requiring substantially more resources;
  • tell people their ideas are stupid, whether directly or circumspectly, or, worse, that they are for thinking of them, why should they offer themselves up for another smack with the verbal two-by-four?

So, before you start ranting or whining about your group’s lack of initiative and innovation, try really listening to yourself and the feedback you get and then look in the mirror—chances are the real culprit will be looking straight back at you.

If the Shoe Fits: Answer 5 Questions To Boost Your Management Skills

Friday, January 20th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mDid you start this year with a promise to yourself to be a better boss?

If you didn’t you should have , because no matter how good you are you can always improve — but that’s true for everything.

In December I gave you 56 words that would change your life and at the start of the year three steps to being a better boss.

Today I’m providing five questions to ask yourself.

  1. How well do you delegate, AKA letting go/loss of control.
  2. Is your self esteem tied to your Klout score or your team’s accomplishments?
  3. Are you so tied to your vision that you’re blind to your market’s response?
  4. Do you practice culture by design or by accident?
  5. Do you want to get things done or just done your way.

Next, query five trusted colleagues for objective, outside input.

Compare the responses.

Depending on you’re your goals, adjust your attitudes and actions accordingly.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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