Lessons for Non-Profit and Start-Up Leaders

Tales from a Reluctant CEO

Maxine Harris and her partner Helen Bergman started a business and grew it to $35 million through trial and error and constant change. In her new book, Lessons for Non-Profit and Start-Up Leaders: Tales from a Reluctant CEO, Maxine shares lessons that can benefit all of us starting something new. She shares how they overcame obstacle after obstacle to succeed. I recently spoke with her about the lessons she shares in her new book.

 

When should a start-up start thinking about culture?

Culture is not really something that you think about when you first start a business. You might say, we want to be casual or formal, or we want to maintain an air of professionalism, but short of being doctrinaire, you can’t really control what organizational culture will become.  More than anything, culture evolves from the personalities of the founders. I happen to be very chatty and like to ask a lot of questions.  Some employees see that as friendly; others see it as intrusive.  When I push people to “think smart” and try to do things in better and more creative ways, some people see me as demanding and judgmental, others feel that I am encouraging and stimulating. In both cases, it is the employee who identifies culture based on how they interpret what is going on.

Culture is one of those things that exists in the eye of the beholder.  An employee, an outside consultant or a business colleague takes a step back and sees the unspoken rules and nuances of the organization.  Sometimes people are only aware of the organizational culture when they are asked what they like or don’t like about their jobs. When we asked people who were joining the organization what they were looking for in their selection of a job, we got a glimpse into the kind of culture in which they would feel most comfortable.  And while many said they were looking for an environment in which their opinions were valued and respected, others wanted a cultural milieu in which the boss would tell them what to do and they would have clear guidelines for performance.

Over the years, as Community Connections grew in size and diversified in its programs, culture changed. You could feel the difference. A business with three employees can’t help but be informal and casual.  But as we grew and increased our size to over 400 employees, it became impossible not to have some hierarchical structure. You can remember the names of three people, but when the size gets big, and leaders are rushing from one meeting to the next, it’s hard to be as friendly as you’d like to be.

 

“Culture is the arts elevated to a set of beliefs.” –Thomas Wolfe

 

You wrote fairy tales for each chapter. That’s unusual in a business book. Why did you decide to do that?

Find a Common Mission to Engage Employees

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Find a Common Mission, Vision and Purpose

Despite billions of dollars of investments, organizations around the globe see employee engagement stagnant at only 13%.

David Harder, author of The Workplace Engagement Solution: Find a Common Mission, Vision, and Purpose With All of Today’s Employees, believes that CEO’s can successfully awaken the culture, and that you can create an enthusiastic culture and loyal customers. David is the founder of Inspired Work. Over 42,000 participants have engaged in his program to change careers, become better leaders, and launch businesses.

I asked him about his engagement ideas.

 

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” -Socrates

 

What are some of the characteristics of a culture that it truly “engaged”?

An engaged culture promotes continuous learning so that employees are not only growing, they are staying ahead of change. Even better, they are bringing positive change into the organization.

An engaged CEO or business owner leads an engaged culture. If she or he is disengaged from the culture, the employee population will also be disengaged.

An engaged culture recognizes that everyone walks in the door with various sets of life skills. Therefore, the organization makes sure everyone has the necessary life skills to change and engage. These include sales, presentations skills, the ability to influence, and clarity in how to build a vitally effective support system.

Self-reflection is encouraged in a strongly engaged culture. At Cornerstone on Demand, executives routinely ask questions such as, “What’s your next move?” “Where are you going next?”  After seven years employees are given a sabbatical for self-reflection. The point is, we cannot have engagement without a connection to one’s own truth. We have proven this thousands of times in our programs, which are question driven.

 

“More than 80% of America’s workers don’t like what they do for a living.” –David Harder

 

I’ve featured many people on this site talking about the problem of engagement. The stats are remarkable. We didn’t have sophisticated surveys years ago. Do you think this is a new phenomenon?

In the scheme of things, surveys are a bit old-school. The problem with surveys is they don’t produce change. Unless there is a solid commitment to produce an engaged culture, they often create more harm than good.

My point in The Workplace Engagement Solution: Find a Common Mission, Vision, and Purpose With All of Today’s Employees is that the majority of workers are checked-out, to various degrees. Getting them back requires a visionary commitment from the leadership but it also requires that we teach people how to change and engage. Notice that I rarely use one work without the other. Right now, according to a recent New York Times study, 48% of Americans view themselves as “underemployed.”  This is also a staggering number and yet it is reflective of workers at odds with keeping up with change.

 

Gallup: Only 13% of the world’s workers are engaged.

 

The Importance of Mission

The Power of Having Fun

workplace engagement

How Meaningful Breaks Can Help You Get More Done

 

Fun should be a top priority.

It shouldn’t be relegated to the bottom drawer, the one you open only when all the real work is done.

It’s not a distraction or a diversion.

That’s what Dave Crenshaw teaches in his new book, The Power of Having Fun: How Meaningful Breaks Help You Get More Done (and Feel Fantastic!). Dave is the founder of Invaluable, Inc., a coaching and training organization that helps transform businesses.

Dave recently spoke with me about his mission to have more fun in your life and, yes, even at work.

 

“Never, ever underestimate the importance of having fun.” –Randy Pausch

 

We Have Fun All Wrong

Fun isn’t something many executives talk about, but its benefits are important to individuals and to organizational culture. Why do we have fun all wrong?

The first issue is the emphasis on “fun” rather than “having fun.” The distinction is important because I view fun as an action. It’s something that we must make a part of our daily schedule. While others put emphasis on humor and culture, I put emphasis on planning and follow-through.

It’s the action of having fun―taking a break and doing something meaningful and enjoyable―that makes the real difference. Then we move beyond concept and theory and into implementation. The real “power” of having fun is in the doing of it!

The second issue is one of the biggest mistakes nearly every business leader makes. Leaders are tempted to think that everyone else will like to do what they like to do. For instance, the CEO may decide to hold a company bowling day…which is great—for the 40% of people in their company who love bowling.

Instead, leaders should become facilitators of unstructured, self-directed fun. For example. LinkedIn has one day each month for employees to recharge their batteries. While these “InDays” have a monthly theme, there’s a ton of latitude for employees to select activities for themselves.

 

Leadership Tip: become facilitators of unstructured, self-directed fun.

 

Do you see perceptions of fun changing with the Millennial generation?

I see the major differences being less of a generational issue and more of a life-situational issue. For example, I put a lot of emphasis in the book on creating “Family” Oases. I then define family very broadly, to include your traditional family―if you’re close to them―as well as best friends, parents, siblings, boyfriends/girlfriends, the grandparents you never forget to visit on weekends, your party-animal roommates, and even your trusted dog Sparky.

Those who are unmarried and without children are more likely to define these Family Oases in terms of time spent with friends and even co-workers. At the moment, most millennials find themselves in this life-situation.  However, once they transition into marriage and children, their priorities―and their definitions of “family fun”―begin to change as well.

The good news is, no matter your life situation, you and your loved ones can still receive the same benefit from carefully choosing, planning, and enjoying having fun together.

 

“Winning is only half of it. Having fun is the other half.” –Bum Phillips

 

Recognize Your Desert

9 Steps to a Better Bottom Line

profit

How to Improve Your Bottom Line

In the last several years, businesses have faced smarter competitors, continual change, technological innovations, and uncertainty.

It seems more difficult than ever to both grow the top line of a business and the bottom line, too.

That’s the challenge that Dr. Dorriah Rogers, CEO of Paradyne Consulting Works, takes on.

From her work with some of the most complex projects and organizations, Dorriah has developed a 9 step program to grow net profit. After reading her new book Decide to Profit: 9 Steps to a Better Bottom Line, I asked her to share more about her research and experience.

 

“The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” –Chinese Proverb

 

Tell us more about the 9 steps and how you arrived at them.

The 9 steps are the result of many years of implementing various profit-focused solutions and systems across many different types of industries and companies.  At one point in my consulting career, a senior executive (almost, but not quite) jokingly asked me if I could develop an “Operations Manual” of all the tools I had at my disposal.  That was the genesis of the 9 Steps.  From there, I kept refining the steps, making sure they were interrelated, and asked for real-world feedback from my clients, until I had it down to a system as simple as I could make it.  I wanted to create a process that was not overly complicated to understand or use, and I wanted to create something that both managers making decisions and employees wanting to make an impact could readily implement to help their companies improve profitability.

 

“Whenever man comes up with a better mousetrap, nature immediately comes up with a better mouse.” –James Carswell

 

Identifying the system that needs improvement seems straightforward, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds. What if you can’t seem to identify which one is off course?

Agreed.  It is not simple to get started.  And that is why so many of my clients struggled.  They either focused on too many improvements or the wrong ones.  In many cases, most managers and employees inherently know where they need to start, or in what general area, and that is as good a point to begin with as any.  It may not be as tight a starting point as you might want, but the 9 Steps will help to define and clarify if it is the right place to focus your attention and resources as you progress.  Keep in mind that a “system improvement” could be as big as an entire corporate overhaul (like the Lego case study in the book) or as small as an internal vendor payment process.  The idea is to find those things that are impacting your ability to make money.  So the first place to start is to discuss internally which things are impacting your ability to generate profit.  Not revenue, but profit. 

Companies have a choice: keep doing what you’re doing and make incremental (or no) improvements to your bottom line, or tackle your best estimate of the system within your organization that could potentially have the biggest impact on profit.  You might start out with the wrong one, but the beauty of the 9 Steps is the iterative process built into it.  Along the way (and fairly soon) you will realize that the system you chose to improve might not be the right one because it is NOT positively impacting your financial goals, and the steps will prove that out for you through the ROI process.  At that point, you simply readjust, and the 9 Steps will guide you closer to those areas that will have the biggest impact.  So in short, start somewhere and the 9 Steps process will get you where you need to be.

 

“Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” –Theodore Levitt

 

Beware the Expert Loop

What is the expert loop and how does it often cause problems?

The expert loop was first coined by Alex “Sandy” Pentland in his November 2013 HBR article entitled “Beyond the Echo Chamber.”  In it, he posited that within organizations only a handful or individuals are viewed as the experts and the only ones who are capable of making important decisions.  I agree with his conclusions that, in fact, seeking information outside of this expert network is often much more valuable.  Time and time again I have seen the phenomenon of top executives sitting in rooms with the same small group of people as they rehash both problems and ideas in a tired, circular rhythm. The same ideas are beaten to death, and the same people are heard.  Even when new people are brought into the conversation, their ideas are often dismissed or even scoffed at as the experts re-establish their positions of authority at the top of the food chain. The problem this creates is twofold: a lack of true innovation and the stifling of a culture of continuous improvement.  While it is true that experts should (and do) have great ideas, it often requires a fresh perspective or a dissenting voice to shake things up and move the company in a new direction.  Some of the best ideas I have ever heard have come from the most unexpected voices.

 

9 Steps to Improving Your Bottom Line

  1. Identify the system that needs improvement.
  2. Put the right team together.
  3. Identify the goal.
  4. Observe the system.
  5. Identify bottlenecks within the system.
  6. Brainstorm.
  7. Select optimal solutions for improvement.
  8. Implement one change at a time.
  9. Sustain a culture of continuous improvement.

 

Unlock the Power of Brainstorming

Master the Mood Elevator

elevator

Master Your Moods

 

“The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.” –Marcus Aurelius

 

I’m sure you’ve had this day:

You wake up and you’re feeling amazing. Then you spill something on your clothes at breakfast and get stuck in a traffic jam on the way to work. You realize you will be late for your first appointment, and your frustration grows by the minute.

Fast forward hours later, and you’re feeling great again.

Up and down. Down and Up.

How do you stop the wild mood swings?

 

“Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out.” –Anonymous

 

CEO Forum Magazine dubbed him the “father of organizational culture” and thousands have attended his company’s training programs. Larry Senn is chairman and founder of Senn Delaney, a firm dedicated to helping organizations shape their culture. I recently spoke to him about his new book, The Mood Elevator: Take Charge of Your Feelings, Become a Better You.

He helps you understand your moods and gain control, limiting the time in the basement and helping you stay in the upper floors.

 

Develop a Healthy Response

The Mood Elevator. Unfortunately, all of us are experienced with the dramatic ride. What are some of the triggers that cause a sudden shift in floors?

Yes, to be human means we all ride the Mood Elevator. Since our thoughts create our moods, dramatic drops in mood come from big shifts in our thinking. We start our day in a great place and high mood after a morning run and a good breakfast. Then we open an email, and a colleague says he heard we may not be closing the deal we were counting on. Our mind starts to spin as we run through all the possible negative consequences of that happening. That creates feelings down the Mood Elevator like insecurity, worry, self-judgement and mild depression.

Things like that happen in major and minor ways as life comes at us. What’s interesting is how we each deal with circumstances can be very different. Another person might get the same email and go to curiosity, a much healthier level, first. “I wonder what that might be about or if it is even true – I’ll check it out.” They might also go to creative and resourceful and start to think about all the ways they can best secure the deal.

As Shakespeare said, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

 

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” -Shakespeare

 

Would you comment on any career limitations and/or leadership problems you’ve seen due to leaders not having conscious control of their floor?

I have observed CEOs self-destruct as well as very smart and capable leaders ruin their careers and their marriages because they lacked emotional control and led from the lower floors of the Mood Elevator. I’ve also seen leaders become world class CEOs by learning how to better ride the Mood Elevator.

The reason is simple − our thinking is reliable and wise when in the higher mood states, while it is very unreliable in the lower floors. Anyone who has ever said something to a loved one they wished they could take back has experienced the phenomenon. We have very low emotional intelligence (EQ) when down the elevator. That means leaders can’t build great teams, create great cultures, be as creative or make good decisions from the lower floors of the elevator.

 

“We become what we think about all day long.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Use Your Feelings as a Guide

You talk about the power to brake. What are a few ways we can slow, stop or resist our emotional impulses?

It all starts with learning to use your feelings as your guide. When we are self-aware, we can tell when we are worrying, angry, judgmental, self-righteous or depressed. We will all experience those feelings at times. Think about it like having to drive on an icy road at night. You may have to do it, but you proceed with caution. Delay big decisions, pause before putting your foot in your mouth, and tell yourself your thinking is likely to be flawed.

 

the mood elevator Copyright Larry Senn; Used by Permission

 

When unwanted things happen or people do things that don’t make sense to me, I have feelings of intensity. That’s my clue. What I find most helpful is to first pause, take a deep breath and center myself. Then I try to use what I call in the book the “brake” on the Mood Elevator. That break is shifting my thinking from judgement to curiosity. What am I missing here? Why might that have made sense to them in their thinking? What lesson can I learn from that? As I tell leaders in our off-sites, if they just lived more of their life in curiosity instead of judgment they would have a different experience of life and different results.

 

“Happiness is not the absence of problems-it’s the ability to deal with them” –Steve Maraboli

 

Would you talk about “living in mild preference?”