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Do you want a “bruising” workplace?

red leather boxing gloves on white isolated backgroundLast week’s New York Times article, “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace,” caused quite a stir. The article describes a corporate culture that apparently tolerates – and even encourages – mis-treatment, discounting, blaming, and worse. Empathy is hard to find.

Over 100 current and former Amazon corporate employees, including leadership team members, human resource directors, retail executives, marketers, and engineers from some of Amazon’s most audacious projects, were interviewed.

Those players provide a very consistent view of the fast-paced, incredibly demanding work culture at Amazon’s corporate offices. It’s not a work environment for everyone. The hours are long and the expectations are higher for individual performance than at any other company these players have worked at.

For an organization that was recently rated as one of the top ten most admired companies in the world by Fortune magazine, the story provided a very unflattering look “behind the curtain” for Amazon.

CEO Jeff Bezos responded quickly. In a memo to Amazon employees, Bezos said that anyone that worked in the kind of culture described in the New York Times story would be “crazy to stay.” He doesn’t believe the story describes the Amazon corporate culture he lives in daily.

A follow up post by the Times‘ public editor asked, “Was Portrayal of Amazon’s Brutal Workplace on Target?” with opinions on both sides of the issue.

I’ve studied organizational cultures – including Amazon’s – for over 40 years. I’ve not lived in the Amazon corporate culture, but I have been seen very consistent indicators that are aligned with the bruising culture the Times‘ article described. On Glassdoor.com, Amazon’s rating by employees is 3.4 out of five possible points. That’s not bad, but it’s not great when a 4.0 is seen as a great company to work for.

I’ve seen video interviews of former Amazon executives that described the culture as exhausting and exhilarating. I’ve read The Amazon Way. Articles like this 2014 post on Gawker describe Amazon’s “bizarre” corporate culture.

My exposure leads me to believe that Amazon’s corporate office has an incredibly demanding culture that pushes players far beyond what they even dreamed they could do. Some people thrive in that environment; some people wither.

There is no question that Amazon is pushing the limits on the retail experience – with delivery of your order within an hour in some cities and examining delivery by drone. They have a remarkable commitment to their customers (I’m a Prime customer, myself).

And, my 40 years of research on organizational culture leads me to many “truisms.” One that is relevant here: A culture that tolerates mis-treatment, discounting, blaming, and worse is not going to inspire engagement, service, or results over the long term. It might inspire results over the short term, but engagement and service will suffer.

If the only thing that gets measured, monitored, and rewarded in a culture is results, players who choose to stay in that culture will get those results in any way they can. Bending the rules, cheating, screwing your peers, etc. all are on the table. In fact, those behaviors may even be rewarded (!).

That’s not the kind of environment I’d like to work in.

What is your experience? Do you believe Amazon has a “bruising” corporate culture? Does your organization tolerate mis-treatment of employees, discounting, blaming, and/or back-stabbing? If so, what’s the impact on your engagement and on customer service? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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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.”

Is Your Company a “Best Place to Work”?

Business team working together24/7 Wall Street just released their 2015 “America’s Best Companies to Work For” list.

They studied current and former employees’ company ratings and testimonials on Glassdoor.com to establish the top 54 best places to work.

Glassdoor’s ratings are very relevant. Employees rank a variety of factors beyond their personal satisfaction with the company, including pay, benefits, work-life balance, culture, leadership (including rating the CEO), and more.

On Glassdoor’s five-point scale, only nine of the 54 best places to work scored a 4.0 or better. Five of those are in technology, including Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Adobe, and Apple. Rounding out the top ten are Insight Global, McKinsey & Company, Expedia, Nike, and Chick-Fil-A.

An interesting note: being a great place to work doesn’t guarantee financial success or consistent results! A number of the 54 companies on this list reported revenue losses, including T-Mobile.

I am much more impressed by companies that WOW their employees, WOW their customers, AND meet or exceed performance expectations. Those are my big three – engagement, customer service, and results. Hitting all three of those targets is much less common today.

I compared the top ten list of 24/7 Wall Street’s best places to work with their 2015 list of Customer Service Hall of Fame members.

Only two companies made both top 10 lists: Apple and Chick-Fil-A. Along with their top engagement scores and customer service ratings, both these companies have outstanding fiscal performance. Apple is expected to announce last quarter gross revenues of $49 billion, a 30 percent increase over the same quarter’s sales last year. Chick-Fil-A has enjoyed 47 consecutive years of sales growth – including nearly $6 billion in sales in 2014.

That sweet spot – delivering consistently on my big three – is a unique, exciting, rewarding experience for companies, their leaders, their customers, and employees.

How do you know how your team or department or company is doing on those big three? You need to do regular, honest assessment of employee engagement, customer service, and results. Most companies monitor results, profits, etc. hourly or daily, with major milestones assessed monthly.

Some companies gather regular customer service data. Too few gather employee engagement data, as well. Only when you have reliable data on each of these three elements can you assess your organization’s impact.

How can you make your team or department or company a great place to work? My research proves you can boost engagement, service, and results by doing these three things:

First, define minimum citizenship expectations. Effective leaders formalize how they expect everyone in the organization to treat each other and customers. By defining values in observable, tangible, measurable terms, a leader creates the opportunity for workplace interactions that demonstrate trust, respect, and dignity.

Second, define minimum contribution expectations. Effective leaders formalize performance standards. They ensure projects, goals, and tasks are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and trackable. By defining SMART performance standards, a leader creates a clear path to consistent contribution.

Third, hold everyone – including all leaders – accountable for both contributions and citizenship. Effective leaders model the team’s valued behaviors in every interaction – and demand that all players do the same. They measure, monitor, and reward performance traction and values alignment regularly. They don’t tolerate mis-treatment of others at any time.

If you don’t aim for the big three and hold others accountable for the big three, you won’t enjoy a high performing, values-aligned organization.

What is your experience? To what extent does your company measure engagement, service, and results? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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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.”

Three Ways Servant Leaders Recognize Employees

Ubieranie butw“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”

― William James

How many of you get enough praise on the job? I ask this question at nearly every keynote I deliver. The results are astounding. Less than 10 percent of audience members raise their hands!

My informal social research mirrors that of Tiny HR’s 2014 Employee Engagement and Organizational Culture Report which found that only 21 percent of employees feel strongly valued at work.

A 2010 study by Psychometrics Canada found that 69 percent of HR professionals believe that engagement is a problem in their organizations. When asked what leaders can do to improve engagement, 52 percent replied, “Give recognition.”

It is clear that there is too little praise and encouragement that happens in our organizations today.

As William James said, humans crave appreciation. My 25 years of research and experience leads me to the conclusion that humans also crave validation, trust, and respect.

If leaders want better results and higher profits, they’d be remiss if they ignore the positive impact of employee recognition and engagement.

When team members feel appreciated, validated, trusted, and respected, significant benefits occur. Engagement goes up, by 40 percent or more. Customer service ratings go up, by 40 percent or more. Results and profits improve by 35 percent or more.

How do great leaders – servant leaders – recognize their employees? They do three things consistently.

First, recognition is personal. Servant leaders know that relationships drive everything in our hectic world. They spend time daily networking with team leaders and team members, casually and informally. When they praise someone, their preferred means is to do so face-to-face. If face-to-face won’t work, they don’t delay – they call the person to recognize them voice-to-voice. If a live call won’t work, they don’t delay – they write a personal note, thanking them for their efforts and contribution.

Second, recognition is authentic. Servant leaders gather key information before they deliver praise. They learn what the opportunity was, what the person did, and what the impact was on their customer, team, and the company. They include that information in their recognition, which makes the conversation authentic and meaningful. A simple “Atta boy” or “Atta girl,” without the context of what the player did to deserve recognition, is meaningless.

Third, recognition is frequent. Servant leaders take time daily to learn about good things that are happening and then promptly praise those good things. Servant leaders resist the temptation to sit at their desks engaged in solitary activities. Leadership is a verb! Servant leaders have “scouts” that report back the good things that are happening in the business. Servant leaders praise quickly – they don’t want the sun to set without praising that day’s aligned actions. They spend time daily “wandering around” their operation, looking for and recognizing things going well.

Employee recognition is not a complex process. Leaders, boost engagement, service, and results by recognizing your employees – personally, authentically, and frequently.

What do you think? How did your best bosses recognize leaders and team members? How do you praise and recognize your peers at work today? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.


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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.”

What Drives Your Leadership Behaviors?

business people group at officeWhy do leaders do what they do? I believe that leaders’ plans, decisions, and actions are heavily influenced by three things: their social style or personality type, the culture in which they operate, and their role models (past and present).

Each of these three are powerful, yet we may not be completely aware of how they drive our behavior as leaders.

Our social style is made up of traits we are born with (“wired” preferences) as well as traits we accommodate (“acquired” preferences) through interactions with others, typically in our youth. (Yes, these acquired traits are influenced by role models and the culture we operate in!).

If you’ve taken a DISC assessment or MBTI profile, you get a snapshot of your preferences for that role (DISC) or for your life (MBTI). Our leadership tendencies like driving for results or supporting team members or ignoring conflict or being aggressive with others can be attributed to our social style.

The culture we operate in can guide us – sometimes subtly, sometimes brazenly – to behave in ways we might not otherwise model.

If you were a senior leader at Toshiba in the last five years, the culture might have influenced you to tolerate scandalous accounting practices that inflated the company’s earnings by $1.2 billion. Where an organization’s culture rewards aggressive sales, you might embrace those tactics to earn “your share of the gold” this quarter. If you operate in a values-aligned tribal culture like the WD-40 Company, you share your learning moments (mistakes) willingly so others won’t make the same mistake.

Role models are powerful. If a past boss micromanaged me and I hated it, it is unlikely that I micromanage my team members today. If a past boss yelled to get his or her way, and us team members delivered, it is likely that I will yell when trying to “inspire” my team’s performance. If a past boss held team members accountable – kindly but firmly – for both performance and for citizenship, it is likely that I will do the same, kindly but firmly.

Role models can include our parents, teachers, coaches, professors, friends, enemies, public figures, and presidential candidates.

Effective leaders are able to examine the drivers of their daily “influencing” behaviors and embrace those drivers that help them serve others, exceed shared goals, and live desired values. They invite others to share their perceptions of how well they are leading.

One client described a manager that recently announced the values that he expected his team members to embrace moving forward. His demands were not credible for two big reasons. First, he didn’t include team members in the creation of those values; he simply announced them. Second, this leader does not model the values he was asking others to demonstrate.

As you might guess, the team is frustrated by the leader’s demands. The leader is frustrated by the team’s frustration. It’s not going well.

A recent article on new Denver Broncos football coach Gary Kubiac shed light on his leadership behaviors over time. Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum gave Kubiac his first coaching job in 1992. Slocum said he knew Kubiac would be a head coach before long. Slocum explained, “Players loved him. And he didn’t think he had all the answers. As a head coach, you have the right to be demanding, but you don’t have the right to be demeaning.”

“Gary leads with class.”

Don’t assume you’re an effective leader. Ask for help. Learn others’ perceptions of you. Understand your unique drivers, and refine your efforts to consistently be of service and of grace.

What do you think? How well do you serve others kindly while driving for results? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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Subscribe!Podcast – Listen to this post now with the player below. Subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.


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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.”

The Leadership Void

Undecided businessmanWhen I’m invited in to help executives refine their organization’s culture, I start with learning as much as I can about the executive team before I start learning about their company.

Why? Because leaders of organizations maintain the current culture, whether it’s beneficial or not, productive or not, engaging or not – and whether they know it or not! Senior leaders of teams, departments, regions, business units, etc. have the authority and responsibility to change policies, procedures, and norms – which can change the culture for the better.

My discovery process allows me to learn who this executive team is, how they lead their organization, how they communicate, what they validate (through recognition and praise), what they value, and what their desired culture is.

I immerse myself in relevant data – documents like employee satisfaction or engagement survey results, mission statements, strategic plans, internal newsletters, and more. I spend hours reviewing these cultural “artifacts” before I begin executive interviews, which offers much more detailed information on the executive team and how it operates.

One client shared their new vision statement and strategic plan. The CEO was quite proud of these documents. He told me, “We worked for two weeks on the vision statement. The strategic plan didn’t take that long – we already had pieces of it formalized.”

The problem? The vision statement was full of buzzwords and didn’t specify what this company did for their customers or why customers should care. It simply stated that the company “creates value for shareholders, employees, and customers.”

The strategic plan didn’t include any clear strategies at all. There was no outline of new customer needs to be addressed or new market opportunities that will be explored. The plan simply presented percentage growth targets for existing products and services.

I asked the CEO what employees’ responses were to the vision and strategic plan. He said reaction was rather subdued – and that the executive team had gotten feedback that employees didn’t know what the company’s strategy was, even after reading the documents.

These documents were not helpful. They didn’t provide the clarity that was desperately needed. The vision wasn’t clear. The strategy wasn’t clear.

This organization was operating in a leadership void. In the absence of leadership, strong personalities fill the void. We’ve all seen it.

In some cases, those strong personalities provide clarity of purpose and strategy. Those strong personalities create a cooperative work environment. They propose clarity and direction, and proactively align plans, decisions, and actions to move their team forward.

However, in most cases, these strong personalities provide clarity for the player’s own benefit – not the team’s or organization’s benefit. An “I win, you lose” mentality gets embedded. What gains traction are norms that pit people against each other rather than aligning each other to common goals and shared values.

Left to our own devices, us humans typically serve ourselves rather than engaging together to serve others. Politics and power become the coin of the realm, not cooperation and service.

The executive team I worked with didn’t realize they were causing difficulties with their bland vision and strategic plan. They didn’t intend to abdicate leadership – and they were frustrated to learn that’s exactly what they’d done.

I worked with the executive team to create a more actionable, present day purpose statement and a clarified strategic plan that set context for business branding, marketing, and operations for the next three years.

Their executive team is embracing their purpose, values, strategies, and goals. They’re working cooperatively so that every function and unit aligns to their company’s organizational constitution.

They’re not done yet, but the politics, power plays, and self-centered behaviors are diminishing.

The executive team is optimistic about their culture transition, which is terrific.

How clear is your team or company’s present day purpose? Do team members understand your strategies and goals well enough to articulate them to others? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © alpha spirit – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

Subscribe!Podcast – Listen to this post now with the player below. Subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.


Don’t miss any of Chris’ posts, podcasts, or updates – Subscribe Now!

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.”

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