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Opinion Editorials

The secret to a high-performance culture

(EDITORIAL) The secret to high-performance culture has nothing to do with having beer in the fridge at work. Let’s discuss…

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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.

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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.

Transparency

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?

Decision-making

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.

#GoodToGreat

Maddie Grant is author of Humanize and When Millennials Take Over, and is Founding Partner at WorkXO, a culture startup that helps forward thinking leaders in growth oriented organizations activate their workplace culture to attract the right talent, increase engagement, and unleash human potential through the Workplace Genome™ Project.

Opinion Editorials

How the Bullet Journal method has been hijacked and twisted

(EDITORIAL) I’m a big fan of the Bullet Journal method, but sticker-loving tweens have hijacked the movement. Worry not, I’m still using black and white bullet points with work tasks (not “pet cat,” or “smile more”).

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bullet journal

It’s taken me some time to come around to the Bullet Journal method, because it took me some time to fully understand it (I have a tendency to overthink simplicity). Now that I understand the use, I find it very beneficial for my life and my appreciation for pen-to-paper.

In short, it’s a quick and simple system for organization tasks and staying focused with everything you have going on. All you need to employ this method is a journal with graph or dotted paper, and a pen. Easy.

However, there seems to be this odd truth that: we find ways to simplify complicated things, and we find ways to complicate simple things. The latter is exactly what’s happened with the Bullet Journal method, thanks to creative people who show the rest of us up.

To understand what I’m talking about, open up Instagram (or Pinterest, or even Google) and just search “bullet journal.” You’ll soon find post after post of frilly, sticker-filled, calligraphy-laden journal pages.

The simple method of writing down bullets of tasks has been hijacked to become a competitive art form.

Don’t get me wrong, I like looking at this stuff because I dig the creativity. But, do I have time to do that myself? No! For honesty’s sake, I’ve tried just for fun and it takes too much damn time.

With this is mind, this new-found method of Bullet Journaling as an art is something that: a) defeats the purpose of accomplishing tasks quickly as you’re setting yourself back with the nifty art, and b) entrepreneurs, freelancers, executives, or anyone busy would not have time for.

Most of these people posting artistic Bullet Journal pages on Instagram are younger and have more time on their hands (and if you want to spend your time doing that, do you, man).

But, it goes against the simplistic method of Bullet Journaling. The intent of the method.

And, beneath the washi tape, stickers, and different colored pens, usually lies a list of: put away laundry, feed cat, post on Insta. So, this is being done more for the sake of art than for employing the method.

Again, I’m all for art and for people following their passions and creativities, but it stands to reason that this should be something separate from the concept of Bullet Journaling, as it has become a caricature of the original method.

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Opinion Editorials

The perfect comeback to that earnest MLM guy you meet at every coffee shop

(EDITORIAL) We’ve all been cornered by someone that wants to offer us financial freedom for joining their pyramid scheme, but we typically freeze or just reject them. There’s another way…

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The following editorial was penned by Chris Johnson who offers the perfect comeback to that stranger who approaches you in Starbucks or that person you haven’t talked to since high school that wants to discuss your financial freedom:

Last week, I was at Starbucks, doing some marketing work. This was apparent to all who could view my laptop by the big 72 type “Marketing” headline that I was working on in my browser.

A man sharing a table, with no apparent laptop of his own, was taking interest in what I was doing. He was mid-40s and he was ambiently stalking and sizing everyone around him up. He was swallowing and always “about to talk.”

Finally, after I looked up to collect my thoughts, he broke my reverie.

“Are you in marketing?”

See, our man (Justin was his name) had just stated a business, an e-commerce business. He was vague on his details.

I knew where this was going. We all know.

Anyone that’s ever worked from a Starbucks has met Justin.

Justin mentioned a couple of his relatives, also with businesses. And, without asking what type of clients I serve, told me that they’d be a great fit for me. He’d love to introduce me, if we could just exchange contact info.

I knew exactly what he was doing. As God as my witness, I knew the only place where this interaction would possibly go. I wasn’t, not for a minute, fooled by the promise of referrals that would never happen.

Of course, I give it to him, not because I think there’s any hope that this will work out. But because I want to know. We exchange texts, and I save his contact info.

He excuses himself and gets into his 2002 rusty Kia, and drives off.

The next day, I get a call with the ID: MLM GUY STARBUCKS 2019.

“Chris, we met at Starbucks,” he says, “This is Justin. And I was wondering if you were open to financial opportunities for your family.”

Well, knock me over with a feather. This was such a surprise.

Without a plan in my head, I said “Justin, are you in the Amway organization? Because if so, I have been waiting for your call.”

Justin confirmed that yes, he was in Amway. And he was really glad!

“Justin, I’ve got some great news for YOU, would you like to hear about it?”

“Sure,” he goes.

“OK, well, you have to be open – and committed – to improving your relationship with Amway. Is that something you’re open to right now?”

“Yes,” he said, “Definitely.”

“Great. So let me tell you about what I do with the Amway people I meet. See, I’ve made a really profitable career out of helping them, and it’s turned into the focus of my life.” This is, of course, a lie, but we were even because Justin got my phone number on the pretext of referring me business.

“OK, so the deal is this. One of the problems with Amway is that it turns you into someone that has to monetize all of your family and friends. And when that happens, you become less about the relationship, and more about the money. Has that happened to you?”

“Yes. Yes it has.” Justin admits.

“Yes, great, this is what we’re hearing.”

The words tumbled out of my mouth: “See all over America there are Amway distributors, just like you. They are chained to various Starbuckses. This is the old model, there’s simply no freedom.

They have to fight tooth and nail to get appointments and most of ’em don’t go anywhere. For most of the Amway owners, this isn’t working once they pitch all their friends and all their family.

So I’ve created an organization called Amway Freedom. All you have to do is sign up. By signing up, you agree to automatically pay $5.00 per month to me, to be free of Amway.

But the REALLY good news is that you can sign OTHER people up, and keep half of the money for your family and your freedom. And when they sign up, half goes to support the reps, and the other half goes to support your opportunity!

From what I hear, over 1.5 million Americans signed up for Amway at some point. Tell me, Justin, if you got just 1% of that market – 15,000 people to pay you $5.00 a month without you having to do anything, would that change your life?

Would $75,000 per month change your life?”

Justin said “Um, well, this isn’t really what I was think-”

“Look Justin, this isn’t for everyone. I know that. Most people won’t be able to take advantage of this opportunity. They only think of the problems. They can’t imagine how this could work, a business with no merchandise and freedom.

But, Justin, you’re helping people get free of the endless random meetings… the Starbucks bills… the gas expenses. You’re turning your story of struggle into a story of success. Are you ready, Justin?

This is my business,” I said, “And this is what I want for you, Justin. Are you ready to join your challenge and fight for the freedom of 1.5 million people that have tried Amway?”

“Um…” Justin said. “I just don’t.”

“I see. This might not be working for you, Justin, and that’s 100% OK. Take all the time you need. But, if you sign up today, I’ll offer you the EXCLUSIVE market rights to help free people from Younique, Herbalife, Infinitus and over 30 other household brands. That makes a market – just in America – of 20 million Americans! Doesn’t that sound great, Justin? If you captured just 1% of that, that’s 200,000. And that business would earn 1 million every MONTH.

All without products to store, all while helping people.

Will you be paying with a Visa or Mastercard?”

Justin paused for a moment. “This was a waste of my time,” he finally said.

“You don’t really have a business!” he spat.

Well done, Justin, well done indeed.

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Opinion Editorials

Culture can be defined by what employees don’t say

(OPINION) What your employees say defines your business. What your employees don’t say defines your culture.

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women in leadership lean out

Whether the boss realizes or not, employees – the folks who often manufacture, handle, and sell the products themselves – can see sides of the business that management could easily overlook, including potential risks and improvements. So how do you make sure your employees are speaking up? A new study by Harvard researcher Hemant KakkarSubra Tangirala reveals that when it comes to speaking up, your company culture is probably either encouraging or discouraging it.

Tangirala wanted to compare two theories as to why employees choose to stay quiet when they could share their worries or ideas with company management. The “personality perspective” presumes that shy, reticent employees simply don’t have the gumption to speak up; therefore, the way to get more perspective from your employees is to make a point to hire extroverted people.

Meanwhile, the “situational perspective” posits that the company culture may either be encouraging and even expecting employees to speak up or discouraging it by creating an environment wherein employees “fear suffering significant social costs by challenging their bosses.”

In order to test these two theories against one another, Tangirala surveyed nearly 300 employees and 35 supervisors at a Malaysian manufacturing plant. First, the survey measured each employee’s “approach orientation,” that is whether or not, all things being equal, they had a personality more inclined to speaking up or staying mum. Next, employees were asked whether they thought their input was expected, rewarded, or punished. Lastly, supervisors were asked to rank the employees as to how often they spoke up on the shop floor.

The survey showed that both personality and the work environment significantly influenced whether or not an employee would speak up – however, it also showed that environmental factors could “override” employees’ natural inclinations. In other words, if employees felt that they were expected or would be rewarded for speaking up, they would do so, even if they aren’t naturally garrulous. On the other hand, even the most outspoken employees would bite their tongues if they thought they would be punished for giving their opinion.

The study also identified two major areas wherein employees could be either encouraged or discouraged from sharing their perspective. First, employees can be encouraged to suggest improvements or innovations that will increase workplace safety and efficiency. Secondly, employees should be expected to speak up when they witness dangers or behaviors that could “compromise safety or operations.”

Although the study was limited, it seems to point towards the importance of creating a workplace culture wherein your employees are rewarded for speaking up. Doing so could potentially provide you with invaluable insights into how to improve your business – insights that can only come from the shop floor.

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