Good to great
I can’t believe it’s been more than fifteen years since Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great was released. I liked that book a lot, and I wasn’t the only one. It was a perennial best-seller and lauded as one of the best business culture books around.
The seven characteristics of great companies (level 5 leadership, the hedgehog concept, etc.) seemed like a great guide for all of us.
But is it really helping us to become great?
I’m not encouraged by the fact that two of the “great” case studies are now either out of business (Circuit City) or in some deep trouble (Wells Fargo).
In Collins’ defense, he never promised those companies they would always be great.
Either way, can we honestly say that the wisdom in this book has helped a significant number of today’s companies make the leap from good to great? I assume there are some out there, but I think if it were a significant trend, it would be more obvious to all of us.
This is frustrating
We were promised some research-based insights that were going to lead our organizations to greatness.
Yet when we tried to implement that, we generally ended up with organizations that continued to plod along the same trajectory they were on before.
We made some improvements, for sure, but we failed to create truly high-performance cultures.
And I think I know why.
The body of research behind books like Good to Great is certainly well intended, and I do believe it can generate some insights that could genuinely help you improve your company, but it misses one of the most important truths I’ve discovered about culture in my two decades of consulting with organizations:
all great cultures start on the inside—not with the external ideas.
The external ideas do matter, and studying great organizations can teach us a lot, but the work of culture is always going to be about building and growing, not copying.
Define your culture
And that means you can’t make your culture better until you know what it is. You can’t create a Jim-Collins-approved culture that excels at confronting the brutal facts, for example, until you know how your people already experience your culture when it comes to things like speaking the truth, sharing information across department lines, articulating strategic imperatives, and even letting people be their whole selves at work.
Are the two related?
These cultural themes may seem disconnected from your quest to move from good to great, but simply declaring to your people that you want your new culture to be brutally honest—when they are already uncomfortable sharing even a little bit of their personal identity in the workplace, or they already notice that people refuse to say anything controversial when a leader is in the room—is going to be a huge disconnect.
Your people already know what your culture is.
They experience it every day. And when you set out to create a new awesome culture that is fundamentally disconnected from their experience, then the change will not make sense to them, and you will see resistance.
I am told frequently that it is natural for people to resist change, but I don’t believe that’s entirely true.
People don’t resist change—they resist change that doesn’t make sense to them.
Where you are, not where you want to be
So if you want to make the leap from good to great and create a high-performance culture, you won’t get very far unless you design that effort with your current culture as the starting point. Here’s what that looks like.
I worked recently with a small nonprofit that was doing good work, but had become a little slow.
They were creating important products and services that advanced their mission, but they were bringing them to market just a little too late.
To solve that problem, they started by digging into their current culture. We worked together to map out 64 distinct culture building blocks within 8 culture markers—measuring things like agility, growth, inclusion, transparency and innovation.
This wasn’t about evaluating their culture as good or bad (which is what most culture assessments do, benchmark you against some abstract model).
Instead, this work focused on accurately describing their current state. It placed each culture building block on a continuum, ranging from traditionalist, to contemporary, to futurist. In other words, how close are they to traditional management practices, versus the “future of work” leadership and management practices that cutting-edge companies are inventing today.
When they saw the scan of their workplace culture, they noticed something interesting in the data. Several of the building blocks related to transparency were outliers, scoring closer to the traditional end of the spectrum compared to the rest of their culture.
In other words, their people felt like the quantity of information being shared internally was limited, particularly when it had to cross silo lines (in traditionalist cultures, information is guarded, and silos focus internally first).
But if you’re thinking to yourself that the solution for this group is obviously to become more futurist and start sharing more information in order to get faster, then you’re falling into that same, benchmark-based, good-to-great trap that we’ve all been falling into for the last twenty years.
And they knew that they actually did a great job sharing information – that was a cultural value for them that had historical significance.
So what was this data telling them?
The culture scan had also uncovered an internal pattern around decision-making that connected to their transparency scores. In their historical desire to not withhold information from each other, they had developed a pattern of including many different people and groups in the organization in just about every decision that was made.
And with more people included in the decision-making process, it is inevitable that some of them felt like they didn’t have enough information (hence the traditional-leaning scores).
But the problem wasn’t a lack of information—the problem was in their ability to move quickly on decisions with so many cooks in the kitchen, each of whom was asking for more and more information about issues that were probably not central to their work in the first place. As they uncovered these insights, they developed a clear new priority for their culture:
Everyone has a voice, but not everyone decides.
They started to map out decisions using the RACI model (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed), in order to clarify decision-making roles internally. For some people, that meant they were getting LESS information.
If they were only being “consulted” on the decision, they would probably hear about it more toward the end of the process.
Those in the “informed” role wouldn’t hear about it until after the decision had been made.
In this case, the association was able to unlock speed NOT by putting more information into everyone’s hands, but by putting less out there but in the right hands.
And streamlining the decision-making process so everyone had clarity about why they were being included or not included.
Chase what you want
They are now well on their way to a faster, high-performance culture, but they are doing it on their own terms, and incorporating the historical/traditional values that still matter to them. They are getting strong buy-in internally because the cultural shift (a) ties directly to how their people already experience their culture, and (b) helps them meet member needs better.
This story is just one aspect of their current culture shift, of course, and they have more work to do before we could call this a good-to-great leap.
But by tying their efforts to a more nuanced understanding of their existing culture, and in some cases even moving in the opposite direction from what the management experts cite as “best practices,” they are moving towards a high-performance culture customized to what drives their success – not anyone else’s.
The *actual* reasons people choose to work at startups
(EDITORIAL) Startups have a lot going for them, environment, communication, visible growth. So it is easy to see why they are so popular now
Startups are perpetually viewed as the quintessential millennial paradise with all of the accompanying perks: flexible hours, in-house table tennis, and long holidays. With this reputation so massively ingrained in popular perception of startups, is it foolish to think that their employees actually care about the work that startup companies accomplish?
Well, yes and no.
The average startup has a few benefits that traditional business models can’t touch. These benefits often include things like open communication, a relaxed social hierarchy, and proximity to the startup’s mission. That last one is especially important: While larger businesses keep several degrees of separation between their employees and their end goals, startups put the stakes out in the open, allowing employees to find personal motivation to succeed.
When an employee can find themself personally fulfilled by their work, that work reaps many of the benefits of the employee’s dedication, which in turn helps the startup propagate. Many aspiring startup employees know this and are eager to “find themselves” through their work.
Nevertheless, the allure of your average startup doesn’t always come from the opportunity to work on “something that matters.”
Tiffany Philippou touches on this concept by pointing out that “People come to work for you because they need money to live… [s]tartups actually offer pretty decent salaries these days.”
It’s true that many employees in their early to late twenties will likely take any available job, so assuming that your startup’s 25-and-under employee base is as committed to finding new uses for plastic as you are may be a bit naïve—indeed, this is a notion that holds true for any business, regardless of size or persuasion.
However, startup experience can color a young employee’s perception of their own self-worth, thus allowing them to pursue more personally tailored employment opportunities down the road—and that’s not a bad legacy to have.
Additionally, startups often offer—and even encourage—a level of personal connection and interactivity that employees simply won’t find in larger, more established workplaces. That isn’t symptomatic of startups being too laid-back or operating under loosely defined parameters; instead, it’s a clue that work environments which facilitate personalities rather than rote productivity may stand to get more out of their employees.
Finally, your average startup has a limited number of spots, each of which has a clearly defined role and a possibility for massive growth. An employee of a startup doesn’t typically have to question their purpose in the company—it’s laid out for them; who are we to question their dedication to fulfilling it?
People saying “I love you” at work casually – yay or nay?
(EDITORIAL) Is saying “I love you” in the workplace acceptable in the current harassment and lawsuit climate? Let’s take a look at the factors.
Anyone who works in “The Office” knows sometimes there is a failure to communicate. Per email conversation, context can get lost in translation.
I’m guessing it’s thanks to our digital lifestyle?
No, I’m not a Boomer. Thank you very much. That’s a different editorial. But, I’ve been working since way back in the day. A time when we wore tennis shoes with nylons. Wait, that’s still a thing?
Alas, I digress.
If we consider the culture of work, particularly in the case of some start-ups, it’s not uncommon for there to be beer in the workplace, casual dress – meaning you have clothes on – and possibly a more youthful expectation around communication.
So, f*ck yeah, dude, I love you!
With the use of workflow apps like Slack, where people can text you – while on the toilet, no less. I mean, who hasn’t told a colleague, “OMG! You are a f@cking ?” after dealing with a challenging situation/customer/boss/client and that colleague comes to the rescue.
Just me? Oops.
If the bros can have their bromance, then why can’t we all say those three words in the workplace?
I’m not gonna spoil the party and say never. I’m just going to suggest some things are better left unsaid.
First, words are powerful.
Because this is the era of Me Too, it’s easy for there to be misinterpretation. What if a woman says it to a male colleague. A boss says to a much junior employee.
Can you say harassment?
One of my former managers didn’t even like me saying her name. I can’t imagine what she’d do if I said: “I love you.”
But, here’s a real reason. People are happy with us one day and not the next.
Keeping it chill and professional is important. For example, I once called my co-worker – and very good friend – a nasty Spanish word and it almost resulted in a knife fight. What I learned is one day you are joking around and your friend isn’t.
Second, a laissez-faire attitude toward communication can become second nature. You can’t be accidentally telling your client, you love them, now can you? I mean, beyond being authentic, those words mean a lot to some people, just tossing them about shows a real lack of judgment and can result in an extremely negative response.
Which leads me to my last point.
“Et, tu Cheryl”
One company I worked at hired Gallup to do a survey of staff. One of the questions was about having a work BFF, which is important in the workplace. Often we have our work husband or wife or sister, even. We all need someone we can lean on.
In the workplace, depending on the culture and environment, it may be a good place to keep it 100 or, if too toxic, a better place to fake it. Even people who seem to be on your side might be just waiting to pounce.
Get too close, say the wrong thing and Cheryl gets your office with the window and the red stapler too.
All I’m saying is keep it real, but maybe not too real.
Oh, and btw, I <3 U.
Audi paves the way for how to thoughtfully reduce a workforce
(BUSINESS NEWS) Audi has a new electric car plan that will eliminate 9,500 employees…but in a shocking twist, we’re not even mad. WATT’s going on here?
12 billion motivational posters/yoga tops/specialty ziploc bags can’t all be wrong: Positive change always comes with loss.
For German Audi workers, the company shifting gears to focus on manufacturing electric vehicles will see employee losses to the tune of 7.5k people being Audi of a job there. In the next five years, another 2,000 jobs are expected to get the axe as well.
So they should be panicking, right? Audi workers should mask up and be out in the streets?
Well, considering the general state of the world, yes. But if we’re isolating to just this change, no!
See, Audi’s not actually shoving people out of the door to make room for younger, sexier, more fuel-efficient staff. The jobs they’re cutting are going to be cut due to employees leaving on their own for different pastures and retirement. As in, no one’s getting laid off through 2029.
Now there’s an electric slide I can get behind!
Audi’s top brass, in an Ohm-My-God twist (see what I did there), actually sat down with worker reps and talked this move out. This kinder, gentler, distinctly NON-assy arangement will save the company over 6.6 billion dollars over the next decade, and all of that cash is going to boogie-woogie-woogie into their ‘lightning car development’ piggy banks.
Yay for them!
And yay for us.
See, Germany has a (recent) history of not being horrible to their employees. It’s why Walmart’s attempt to claw its way into Deutschland went up in so much smoke. And that history is accompanied by a reputation for stunningly positive change for everyone from white tie to black apron.
With a brand as giant, trusted, and drooled over as Audi is managing to conduct massively profitable business without schwantzing anyone over, everyone here in the US has a shining example to point to and follow when making massive company moves.
Notably, Tesla, America’s favorite electric car company is almost cartoonishly anti-union, anti-worker, and anti-running dress rehearsals on expectation/glass shattering exhibitions. The prevailing thought is that it’s a necessity to be some kind of moustache twirling villain to get ahead because so many businesses insist upon it.
But that chestnut cracks here.
No more ‘Businesses exist to make money’ excuses. No more ‘You have to be ruthless to get ahead’ BS. Those selective-sociopathy inducing phrases never made any sense to begin with, but now, we’ve got a shining example of towering projected #GAINZ for a company doing right by its people without a single head rolling on the factory floors or a single decimal point moved left in the ledgers.
Ya done good, Audi.
Here’s hoping more businesses stateside follow in your tire tracks.
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Ladies and gentlemen, the U.S. National Anthem
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