Archives For November 2010

Many of you have honey in your kitchens. Think for a moment about how honey is created. It starts with worker bees completely and wholeheartedly dedicated to the success of both the hive and the queen bee’s vision. The worker bees trust the queen bee absolutely. Usually, the hive is able to thrive, even in a difficult environment (check out the USDA’s examination of “colony collapse disorder“).

Creating high levels of employee drive and commitment is what makes a culture leader truly effective. Blanchard’s research indicates that when employees trust and respect their leaders, it increases their willingness and commitment to apply their “heads, hearts, and hands” in the service of the company’s goals and values.

Engaging employees’ skills and spirit is complicated by a culture change, because the process of refining an organization’s culture often requires changing embedded structures, services, systems, and even power and control. Trust and respect can be difficult to create or maintain if staff believe they are giving up more than they gain.

Culture Leaders Need to Have the Courage to ASK How Changes Are Perceived

If you follow me on Twitter (if you don’t, I’d love for you to), you know that my tweets guide leaders to be more available, more transparent, and more connected to their staff and customers. In the midst of culture refinement, this approach is even more critical. There is nothing worse than a leader who is disconnected from their employee’s experiences, who doesn’t know the frustrations that employees experience trying to get their company’s product or service delivered.

Two proven methodologies can keep leaders connected: truth-tellers and scouts. Truth-tellers are players that the leader trusts to tell the leader the truth – boldly and assertively – about what the buzz is in the organization about policies, practices, changes, etc. Sometimes those truths are not “self-evident.” Sometimes those truths are hard for a leader to hear. Truth-tellers are trusted advisers who can help the leader understand employee perceptions, understand how policies or procedures are viewed, and understand employee frustrations.

Truth-tellers can include direct reports, executive coaches, and even front-line staff who are unafraid to bring the leader their perceptions.

Leaders must have the courage to embrace the information truth-tellers provide, and to modify actions and communications to reflect the reality across their organization. Leaders who “shoot the messenger” – who chastise the truth-teller for telling the truth – will find themselves isolated from reality, getting only “good news” from subordinates who are afraid to tell the truth.

Scouts serve a similar role. Scouts are players dispersed across the organization (literally and figuratively) who are responsible for letting senior leadership team members know the buzz from the front lines. Scouts might be seen as “truth-tellers in training,” because if they do their job well, they earn senior leaders’ trust and respect over time.

These informal yet vital channels help the culture leader stay “in tune” with how staff across the organization see leaders’ plans, decisions, and actions – and if they are aligned with the organization’s stated vision, purpose, and values.

Do You Have the Courage to Learn Everyday?

In a recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine, actor Garry Shandling was discussing the powerful impact that his acting teacher had on Shandling’s “craft.” Years ago, this teacher asked Shandling, “Do you have the courage to learn something about yourself when the cameras are rolling?”

Effective leaders – and culture leaders, particularly -  have the courage to learn something about themselves while they are actively guiding the efforts of organizational members.

To increase your leadership effectiveness, seek the truth and modify your organization’s practices to align with it’s espoused vision, purpose, and values.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I am always on the lookout for trends and research in leadership and culture. When I’m present (and not buried in getting things done – which is all to easy for me to do), I am able to notice those trends, examine them for patterns, and come to conclusions that advance my learning about leadership and culture.

Two media stories caught my attention recently. The first was a CBS Sports/NFL Network documentary titled, “Tom Landry: The NFL’s Man in the Hat,” on the legendary Dallas Cowboys head coach. The second was a USA Today article on Wyndham Hotels CEO, Stephen Holmes.

The underlying theme in both these stories generated the title of this post. Leaders want to inspire others to meet performance objectives. And, leaders develop work passion among followers as well as high performance if those leaders are authentic and connect with the individual people they are trying to inspire.

Leaders need to BE REAL. Demonstrate authentic consideration of your people, have a sense of humor, and create personal connections that last.

Landry: People are Interchangeable Parts of a Winning System

Tom Landry served as the Cowboy’s head coach for 29 years; his accomplishments include 20 straight winning seasons, five NFC titles, and two Super Bowl wins. His players respected Landry and his system – and many indicated that, during their years of playing for Landry, he was distant and more committed to his system than to individual players.

Two examples from the documentary highlight this tendency of Landry’s. First, all-Pro linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson described Landry as focused on the players as interchangeable parts of the system. Henderson believed Landry never knew of his drug addiction and alcohol abuse. Henderson said, “Coach never asked. He wasn’t interested in players’ personal lives.”

NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach described a tenuous personal relationship with Landry. Staubach, a Heisman Trophy winner, spend 10 years leading the Cowboys – he was MVP of Super Bowl VI. Staubach relates, with emotion in his voice, a telling demonstration of Landry’s focus on the system and NOT the players: when Staubach retired after the 1979 season, Landry didn’t even shake Roger’s hand.

Landry did soften in his later years. Henderson describes being shocked – and pleasantly surprised – when Landry attended Henderson’s 10-year anniversary of sobriety. At that event, Landry took the podium and praised Henderson not only for his football accomplishments but for the courage and dedication required to beat his addictions.

Landry certainly should be celebrated for his team’s accomplishments . . . yet one wonders how much more America’s Team could have accomplished if players felt a personal connection with their head coach.

Wyndham’s Gracious and Welcoming CEO

The USA Today article on Stephen Holmes is titled, “Co-workers praise Wyndham CEO’s welcoming demeanor.” The read opens with a story from three years ago. Holmes was interviewing a candidate for a key executive position. The evening meal ran long (they closed the restaurant) during which it began snowing heavily. They called the car service to take the candidate to his hotel. The car service told them that, due to road conditions, it would take an hour to reach the restaurant. Instead of making the candidate wait in the cold (remember, the restaurant had closed), Holmes offered to take the candidate to his home. The candidate was extremely impressed – and enjoyed meeting Stephen’s family as part of the deal!

Holmes’ calm and friendly approach has served him – and Wyndham – very well in the past four years. People enjoy working for a person who sincerely cares for them, and they love working for Holmes.

Demonstrate authentic leadership by:

  • Taking time, regularly, to personally connect with staff members. Discuss their families, their hobbies, their dreams. You’ve hired smart people with rich lives outside the workplace – connect to the “whole” person.
  • Be real. Let people know what worries you, what excites you. Laugh with staff members (not at them).


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

To what extent does your organization’s culture enable individual staff to be fully present and apply their discretionary energy?

Like the Formula One Ferrari pictured at left, a high performing, values-aligned organization must have every moving part focused on speed, efficiency, agility, and durability . . . or the race will not be won. There are no extraneous pieces or parts on this racing machine, nothing to get in the way of the driver’s desired accomplishment.

As a culture change consultant, I am always on the lookout for research that validates our clients’ experiences. One study has become a foundation for our proven culture change process. It was the first study to inexplicably link employee perceptions of managerial behavior to organizational profits – amazingly powerful, and worth a detailed look here.

In a 2002 Harvard Business Review article, Dr. Tony Simons of Cornell University published the results of a study he and his team conducted for North America-based Holiday Inns, a mid-line hotel chain. The article, titled “The High Cost of Lost Trust,” reports the significant findings from Simons’ study of over 6,500 employees at 76 US and Canadian Holiday Inn properties.

They asked hotel staff to rank, on a five-point scale, how closely their manager’s words, deeds, and actions were aligned to the organization’s stated values. The results generated a manager’s “behavioral integrity” score. Managers’ “BI” scores were then correlated with each hotel’s customer satisfaction surveys, personnel records, and financial results.

The effects were “stunning,” in Simons’ words. Their study found that hotels where employees felt that their managers kept their promises and demonstrated espoused values were substantially more profitable than those hotels where managers scored at the average or lower. In fact, a one-eighth point improvement in a hotel’s score on the five-point scale generated an increase in the hotel’s profitability by 2.5% of revenues. In this study, that translated into a profit increase of more than $250,000 annually for each hotel (!). That’s a huge profit for hotels, which typically operate on razor-thin margins.

Managerial Behavior Impacts Discretionary Energy

This study proved the hard-dollar benefit of managers consistently demonstrate values and keep their promises. Simons’ research helps map out this progression:

  1. When employees believe that their bosses have behavioral integrity, then
  2. They apply discretionary energy to their work, which
  3. Customers notice because of the terrific service they experience, which leads those customers to stay longer, eat on property, bring family & friends, etc., which leads to
  4. Higher profits.

Simons’ continued work on the positive impact of behavioral integrity on trust and discretionary energy can be found in his book, The Integrity Dividend, and on his web site.

Two Vital Steps to Enabling Discretionary Energy

If you’d like your organization to benefit from this research, two pieces must be put into place and maintained (daily):

  • Values must be defined in behavioral terms, and accountability systems must be in place to ensure all staff members demonstrate desired values.
  • All leaders throughout the organization must consistently DWTSTWD (do what they say they will do).

If, across your organization, you see employees proactively solving problems with smiles on their faces . . . creating delighted customers due to their fabulous service attitudes . . . and looking for new opportunities to improve business operations, far beyond the requirements of their job description, then you’ve got a culture that enables discretionary energy. If you don’t see these behaviors, isn’t it time to build a high performing, values-aligned culture?


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

On my flight back to Denver from Houston last week I had the pleasure of sitting next to a consultant from Ethisphere. The research-based Ethisphere Institute is a leading international think-tank dedicated to the creation, advancement and sharing of best practices in business ethics, corporate social responsibility, anti-corruption and sustainability.

I was thrilled to learn of this consultant’s work with organizations, including those that are serious about business ethics and those that are quite a bit more casual. Can you imagine a client asking a well-regarded organization like Ethisphere to “draft us a code of conduct so we can get back to our day to day business”? Unless the organization is willing to create AND enforce the code of conduct, little long term benefit will occur.

The Ethisphere consultant described a recent trip to Dearborn, MI to present Ford Motor Company with Ethisphere’s “Worlds Most Ethical Company” award for 2010. Ethisphere conducts an annual assessment to identify the world’s most ethical companies each year. Ford not only won the top prize but was the only automobile manufacturer to make the list in 2010. Ford’s description of their ethical journey is described here.

The consultant described meeting Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford, CEO & President Alan Mulally, and other senior leaders when they presented the coveted award. Ford and Mulally gave the team a tour of the corporate offices and the new, highly green, highly automated truck plant in Dearborn.

I was intrigued to hear about how Mulally has refined the weekly “business plan review” meeting, where senior leaders presented a three-minute report on key projects and progress on goals. These meetings and Mulally’s focus on honest diagnosis of business issues have been credited with Ford’s tremendous turnaround during Mulally’s tenure. The Ethisphere staff were shown the “Thunderbird” executive meeting room with it’s huge round table with 16 chairs around it. Each seat has a microphone in front of it, and the room has many video screens and cameras standing at the ready. The consultant said to Mulally, “So, this is where your senior staff sit to present their business plan reviews?” Mulally said no, and explained how this important meeting has evolved.

Employee Involvement at the Business Plan Review Meetings

Mulally said that senior leaders make their presentations from wherever they are in the world via video conferencing. The people who sit in the room for those presentations are employees chosen by their division presidents to participate that week! The mix could include front line staff from a US or South American plant, a player from the R&D team, a personnel clerk from a European facility, etc. Employees who are the heart of the company’s operations travel to Dearborn (some have never traveled anywhere, ever), treated as honored guests, and sit at the very table where key decisions about this global organization are made every day.

Mulally explained that, once the business plan review reports are made, he turns to the employees in the room and asks questions like, “What is your experience? What could we be doing better for you and your peers? What issues exist that, if resolved, would make your work easier and more productive?” These discussions help educate senior leaders on how well their strategies are working and help clearly identify issues that need immediate attention.

This is a simple and amazingly effective way for employees to feel heard and included in business strategy. How can your company bring employees “to the table”?


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Ooops! Atoning for A Mistake

November 1, 2010

Ever made a mistake at work? No? Then you’re one of the few, lucky players. I’ve made some really big ones in my career, but I’ve tried to not make the same mistake twice.

Years ago I was delivering a culture keynote, twice in back-to-back sessions. The client was a sales group and, to prepare, I had done some research on their organization. Their company had been fined a year before for what was described as an “ethical lapse.” I thought that I might refer to this  lapse when we discussed values alignment during my program.

The first session went beautifully with participants delving into discussions and sharing insights about our culture change process. They welcomed the chance to look at the past year’s issue from the perspective of how potential customers or employees might think of their organization’s values.

The second session was going equally well . . . until I raised the issue of the “ethical lapse.” The reaction was powerful and immediate. Participants told me that raising that issue was unfair, they had moved past it, and they were not at all interested in looking at it any further. The success of the first session’s discussion gave me confidence to push them harder to apply learnings from the lapse. It blew up in my face! They left my session, right then and there, en masse.

I was totally surprised at their reaction AND I knew I had wrongly discounted their initial reaction. If I had read that resistance more effectively, I could easily have moved to another example to make my point. I didn’t do that, and left them no alternative (from their perspective).

I apologized to the client (who had observed both sessions). I immediately contacted the salesperson to let them know what happened. After the salesperson discussed the situation with the main client contact, we agreed to not charge the client for any of my services that day. It was the right thing to do in this circumstance.

It was an expensive lesson. I’ve never made that mistake again – and believe that I am a much better “listener” and “reader” of my audiences because of that mistake.

Mistakes can happen when:

  • we underestimate the time necessary to deliver what was promised,
  • we overestimate our expertise to deliver what was promised,
  • we discount the reality around us (this is what happened to me in the scenario above),
  • we’re trying brand new solutions to a problem, or
  • we’re not fully present when working on the goal or task.

When mistakes are made when you are blazing new trails, they’re part of the learning process. Those aren’t the type of mistakes that we’re discussing here.

Once a mistake is made, the temptation to “cover it up” can be great. The best solution is to, as quickly as possible, share what happened and what you plan to do to address the situation.

You may have to negotiate for more time, or, if that’s not possible, you may have to spend the required time to meet the deadline with a high quality product or service. This kind of resolution can make for long nights – but it’s the right thing to do.

You may have to cover costs of your mistake – maybe not you personally but your team or department may have to take the hit.

Your mistake may cost others time, energy, and even reputation – that’s why you must “come clean” as soon as possible, and rectify your mistake as soon as possible.

Team members value honesty and integrity from their peers. Mistakes will be made. Do the right thing to explain the situation, describe your plan to address it, and then deliver on that plan.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”