The Power of Company Culture

company culture image

The Power of Company Culture

In more posts than I can count, I have written, discussed, and interviewed authors on the importance of organizational culture. A powerful culture fuels an organization to achieve greatness. When a new book by Chris Dyer titled The Power of Company Culture: How any business can build a culture that improves productivity, performance and profits hit my desk, I was interested to see the author’s view of culture and his interpretation of the latest research. Chris didn’t disappoint. The book takes the reader on a thoughtful overview of culture and shows the practical steps to take to improve yours in record time.

I recently spoke with Chris about his work on company culture.

 

“Culture is the bedrock of business success.” -Mark Goulston

 

3 Ways to Increase Transparency

Transparency. You share some great ways to increase transparency. Is it ever possible to be too transparent?

Of course! Take any example, and a case can be made that too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Each company needs to decide how transparent they should be with employees, customers, and vendors. InThe Power of Company Culture, I present evidence that more transparency is usually better. Regulations, privacy concerns, and competitive advantages aside, transparency is really about writing—and playing by—the rules of the game.

When companies take charge and share information about their financial health, successes, failures, goals, and dreams, they then control their own narrative. As humans, we can only use the information we already have to explain something new we don’t understand. By providing more information to those impacting our companies, we help them arrive at the correct conclusions and outcomes.

Any company looking to improve their transparency should start in a few key areas. First, ask: Does everyone in the company know what goals have been set by senior management? Overall company goals, department goals, and even team goals should not be a secret.

Second: Does everyone know and understand the financial health status of the organization? For public companies, this information is available to everyone. But most companies are not public. Decide how far you are willing to go, and share the numbers that you can.

Third: Do teams, departments, and employees understand what is expected of them by senior leadership? Nine times out of ten, when a department or person is not measuring up to what is expected, there is a disconnect as to what they believe is expected.

 

“Transparency is both a business ethic and a cultural element in the workplace.” -Chris Dyer

 

Develop a Positive Culture

How do leaders develop a culture of positivity?

There are lots of ways to infuse positivity into an organization. I suggest a deep dive into the Appreciative Inquiry and Positive Leadership working models, via books and interactive workshops.

Before you do that, consider where your business falls on the positivity scale. Do your people ask, “What went right?” or, “What did we do well?” Or do they just focus on solving “problems”? Often, we forget to ask and identify what is working, and consider that the place for us to do more.

Positivity also entails identifying who does what, well. In a team, it is common for some people to excel in one area, and others somewhere else. Aligning tasks and goals around strengths, and minimizing weaknesses, is more positive than working on what’s not working.

Additionally, look at the language used by people in your company to find potential tweaks for positivity. Instead of addressing troublesome issues as “problem solving,” which is a negative concept, start calling them “opportunities to improve.”

 

“Give feedforward not feedback.” -Chris Dyer

5 Principles of Engagement That Will Transform Your Business

It’s All About Engagement

We’ve all seen it. Questionable decisions, made in a corporate office, are rolled out. No one questions the corporate mandate. Sure, some may grumble or may complain about the stupidity of something, but little is done. No one is listening anyway, especially to the employees who are just told to hit their numbers.

 

“Engagement is being totally present.” -Steven D. Goldstein

 

Steven Goldstein was an executive at Sears when he visited a store in Florida. His question Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami?, is now the title of his book and is a wakeup call to leaders. Engaging with employees and customers in the right way will help organizations make better decisions.

Steve has held executive positions with leading global brands including American Express (Chairman & CEO of American Express Bank), Sears (President of Sears Credit), Citigroup and others. He also has advised numerous CEOs on how to improve performance.

 

“Leaders connect by interacting authentically with employees, not by dictating to them.” -Steven D. Goldstein

 

How a Snowblower Changed Everything

The story is such a compelling example that I have to ask you to start with it. Tell us about the title of the book and how it impacted your leadership thinking.

Twenty years ago, while I was President of the Sears Credit Card business, I happened to be in Miami in February to make a speech. As I always did, I visited the local store – to have a look around, talk to employees and see what we could do for them to help improve sales. When I walked into the lawn and garden department, my eyes were immediately drawn to four shiny red snowblowers. I found a salesman and asked him, “Why are there snowblowers in Miami?”

On my flight back to Chicago, I started to think about all of the other “snowblower” stories I had come across in my career, and it struck me as a perfect metaphor for what is wrong in business. Since then, my experience in leading, advising and investing in companies convinced me that there had to be a way to attack this.

 

“Maintaining the status quo keeps you from achieving your full potential.” -Steven D. Goldstein

 

I tend to question everything.   If someone tells me, “That’s the way it’s always been done,” I will challenge that process. Because what I have found is that with many leaders, there is a gravitational bias towards the status quo. And while it’s not likely to get you into trouble, simply maintaining the status quo will keep you from achieving your full potential.

I began codifying the approaches, principles and practices I was using and realized it would be great if I could share this learning with other leaders so that they could improve the performance in their own organizations. So I began writing this book, and I thought this was the only title that made sense.

Most recently, I have been giving speeches about these principles and working with several leadership teams to teach them how to make this part of their daily diet. It is resonating extremely well.

 

“A company is only good as the people it keeps.” -Mary Kay Ash

 

Adopt an Outsider’s Perspective

How do leaders best adopt an outsider’s perspective — especially if they have been at an organization for many years?

For many leaders, this is not easy to do. If you are a consultant or a private equity investor, you look at a business as an enterprise consisting of assets that generate cash flow, which in turn generates attractive returns to shareholders. Through that aperture, you want to identify those areas where changes, improvement and new directions can be made to enhance value. You are consciously looking for those nuggets.

For many leaders, those nuggets are hiding in plain sight. Leaders must first accept that adopting an “outside in” perspective is critical to finding this gold. I’m currently Chairman of a private equity-owned company, and recently the leadership team was in a brainstorming session to explore new opportunities and approaches as well as to consider whether our existing business model needed changes. After discussing many good ideas, someone asked, “Will our PE owners be OK with this? I’m not sure they will.” My answer to him was, “They are looking to us to present them with a plan that makes sense, and if it does, they will say thank you.”

Like most things, leaders must accept the fact that their views are colored, even distorted, by their history with the company – and that this skewed perspective limits the possibilities they are able to see. They have to be willing to take the first step, as with any program that induces change. I tell leaders to take a long walk, forget everything they know about their business, come back into the building as if it were the first time and just start asking questions. While it may sound somewhat silly, it actually creates some discomfort; more importantly, it generates excitement about this exploration possibly leading them in new directions. I myself question everything: Why do we do it that way? What does that mean? What other options have you explored? Do you have the right players in each position? This “fresh eyes” approach is one of my five principles of engagement and is essential for generating any real, positive change.

 

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” -Robert Louis Stevenson

 

Most connections don’t happen inside the boardroom. Why do so many leaders fail to connect with those who could fuel the company’s success?

Xbox Revisited: Develop Your Successful Game Plan

Develop Your Successful Game Plan

Robbie Bach’s book, Xbox Revisited: A Game Plan for Corporate and Civic Renewal, uniquely shares the stories behind the creation of the Xbox, the business strategy blueprints for others to follow, and Robbie’s personal philosophy of civic renewal.

For twenty-two years, Robbie Bach worked at Microsoft in various marketing, management and leadership roles. As Chief Xbox Officer, Robbie led the launch of Xbox. He retired from Microsoft in 2010 and now serves on charitable boards while writing articles on various civic issues.

I recently asked Robbie to reflect back on his many years at Microsoft. What he learned provides lessons for us all.

 

“Without principles, a team has no central rudder to keep it on course.” -Robbie Bach

 

Hitting Rock Bottom

Robbie, the book is a wonderful read as both the inside story of the Xbox creation and then also about your personal goals in what you call your Act 2. As I reflect back on the entire book, though, one email you included in it sticks with me. It was your “rock bottom” email when you tried to resign from Xbox. Tell us more about that.

The period leading up to the Xbox launch was very challenging on many fronts. I certainly was struggling to provide the right type of leadership; the team was like the United Nations with many differing points of view on important topics, and the mountain in front of us was a difficult climb under any circumstances. Ultimately, however, none of that led to me submitting my resignation. The real issue was the impact work was having on my personal life and my inability to manage that situation. It was just another instance of me being unprepared for the challenges presented by the Xbox project, but this one was very personal and cut to the core of my beliefs. I’m a “family first” guy, and when I realized I wasn’t living up to that, I knew something needed to change.

 

The Importance of Accountability and Transparency

What strikes me about this email was this: no excuses, no blaming, just pure personal accountability. You outline what you think is needed and then what you don’t feel you can do. Would other executives be served by being this transparent or did it work uniquely within the Microsoft culture?

E3 XBox Press Briefing Robbie Bach 17 MS_05_2004I am a believer in transparency – it is very difficult to solve problems when you obfuscate the situation with a fog filled with excuses. So I think this is an important skill for all leaders – in business, non-profits, or government. With that said, how you approach transparency and full disclosure absolutely will (and should) vary depending on the situation, the organizational culture, and the personalities involved. I clearly trusted my boss, Rick Belluzzo, to manage this situation appropriately, and he was remarkably helpful during a difficult time. In other circumstances, I might have used a different approach to declare the issues, and I might have pursued the discussion through other channels. Bottom line: being honest with yourself and open to your manager and your team is an important skill to master. Done well, it can fundamentally change the dynamics and attitude of a team in a very positive way.

 

“If you don’t define your purpose, you don’t know what you’re doing or why.” -Robbie Bach

 

Developing a Strategic Framework

Why To Value People Over Profit

Valuing People Over Profit

Dale Partridge is a serial entrepreneur, best known for founding Sevenly. Sevenly donates $7 of every purchase to charity. With over $25 million in sales, the company is known for giving to others. Dale’s story of Sevenly is covered in his new book, People Over Profit: Break the System, Live with Purpose, Be More Successful. In it, he also includes the story of his firing from the company he founded. Dale’s passion is about building sustainable businesses that also hold up the principles of honesty, transparency, and authenticity.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Dale about his experiences and how he upends common wisdom.

 

“When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses.” -Shirley Chisholm

 

Everyone Deserves Respect and Kindness 

The concept “people over profit” sounds so simple, but most leaders struggle with it.  How do leaders make this a reality in their organizations?Dale Partridge (683x1024)

First off, let’s remember that the book isn’t called People Instead of Profit: the bottom line still matters. BUT, valuing People Over Profit is a top-down philosophy. It starts with leaders recognizing the intrinsic value of their fellow humans and that everyone deserves honesty, respect, care, kindness. Inside of that simple yet difficult discipline, we will find our companies becoming more profitable. The idea is that when people feel valued, they work harder, they work with more integrity, they work with more intentionality, and they work with more passion than ever before. On the flip side, when customers feel the same way, they share, they talk and they increase their loyalties.

 

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” -George Orwell

 

Tell us about Sevenly—the business model, the values, a little about the story behind it all.

It was ultimately a mission to raise awareness and funding for the world’s most important causes. While we only imagined we would make a small dent in a big issue, we never would’ve thought we’d end up raising over $4 million in $7 increments for these causes. Looking back, it was some of the greatest and most rewarding work I’ve ever done.

 

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” -Henry David Thoreau

 

Homesick for a World That Cares

For the first time in history, people are paying more to do business with companies that are following higher ethical standards and pursuing social goals.  What is behind this? 

We’re homesick for a world that cares. Consumers are searching for a more truthful existence. We want to believe the world is honest and cares and loves, and at the core we believe that by doing so we might understand it. The characteristics of integrity have reigned true and have won since the beginning of time. While they are simple, we still find ourselves as adults struggling with these virtues. Valuing people over profit as an economy is simply a better model, and people are finally beginning to realize that.

 

“Generosity must be built in, not packed on.” -Dale Partridge

 

What’s your definition of authenticity? Of transparency? 

Authenticity means not denying the cost of being who you are. We are who we are and we stand for what we stand for, but authenticity is when you don’t change in the face of a cost that challenges the very core of your identity.

Transparency is logic and emotion. Logically, it’s vulnerability plus acceptability equals transparency. Emotionally, it’s the courage to allow your heart to be fully seen by others.

POP_Cover_Gold_R1You cannot manufacture authenticity, a point you make in the book. Have any examples to share of companies making this mistake? 

Companies all around us are packing on generosity to their business models in hopes that consumers will believe they actually care. But authenticity requires history, and there is a price to be paid to prove that you care. At the core, we want to see companies whose leaders’ hearts are fully behind their beliefs, rather than just their marketability. Any one of the hundreds of retailers that ask you to round up to donate to charity at checkout typically fall into this category. It’s not a bad thing as long as the heart is authentically behind it. Unfortunately, in most cases, that’s not the case. Generosity must be built in, not packed on.

 

“Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will.” -Dale Partridge

 

Insane Courage

Take Command: Leadership Lessons from A First Responder

Not many of us will face hostile enemy fire in foreign lands.  We won’t lead a team to intervene in humanitarian situations, nor will we need to manage a crisis with lives literally on the line.  Still, the leadership principles from these experiences are adaptable and applicable to all of us.

Jake Wood served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, earning numerous awards for his distinguished service.  He has been named a 2012 CNN Hero.  In 2010, he co-founded Team Rubicon, a non-profit organization focused on disaster response. The organization gives military veterans a purpose as they intervene in various humanitarian situations.  His new book Take Command: Lessons in Leadership offers a unique perspective on how to lead a team through any situation. 

 

Build a High-Impact Team

How do you build a high-impact team?

I think first you have to understand the critical value of having the right team.  Oftentimes people think that process trumps people; or willpower triumphs over interpersonal dynamics.  That’s just not the case, so understanding the need to build a high-impact team is the first step.

 

“Passion trumps talent, but culture is king.” –Jake Wood

 

I write about five components of building a high-impact team in the book, but I’ll just highlight two.  First, we have a saying at Team Rubicon: Passion trumps talent, but culture is king.  When we’re looking to add team members, we aren’t looking for resumes laden with accolades.  We’re looking for things that demonstrate passion.  We try to start that weeding-out process from the get-go by having really quirky job postings.  We demand that only the most awesome candidates apply and generally warn about how underpaid and overworked any candidate who is accepted will be.  If someone reads that and applies with a resume and cover letter that screams, “Bring it on,” then we’re on the right path.  The second part of that saying though is critical: Culture is king.  Passionate and talented people abound, but are they right for your team?  We’ve had high-output, high-passion people in our organization before who were total cultural misfits.  They proved cancerous to the morale of the organization, and we had to eliminate them despite their talent.  Nothing derails morale faster than a poor culture fit.

 

“Nothing derails morale faster than a poor culture fit.” –Jake Wood

 

The second thing I’ll highlight in building high-impact teams is roles.  My football coach at the University of Wisconsin, Barry Alvarez, always talked about roles.  “Know your role!” he’d scream time and again.  What he meant was that starter or backup, star quarterback or water boy, we each had a role.  Furthermore, each role was critical to the success of the whole–the team.  Some were more high profile, others received more praise, but damn it, if we didn’t have new cleats on our shoes when we went to play in the rain, then nobody was going to succeed.  Effective leaders communicate the importance of roles throughout all levels of the organization.  When people understand and embrace their own role, they tend to take more pride in its execution and are more likely to hold others around them accountable for the execution of theirs.  That’s a win-win.

 

“Effective leaders communicate the importance of roles throughout all levels of the organization.” –Jake Wood

 

Cultivate Trust and Transparency

Trust is crucial on the battle field, as a first responder, or in business.  How do you cultivate trust?

When I talk about developing trust, whether from my time in the military or in Team Rubicon and the corporate world, I talk about three things: training, transparency and trials.  When everyone is trained to a common standard, then people feel like they can operate liberally, knowing that everyone around them is competent in the execution of the functions necessary for mutual success.  My time in the sniper teams was a great example of this.  When our team needed to call in close air or artillery support from a unit we’d never met, never worked with and often didn’t speak the same language as us, we needed to know that that unit was trained in the same protocols and to the same standard as we were.  If that wasn’t the case, we might hesitate to call in a life-saving artillery mission, or worse, we might call it in and have an artillery shell land in our foxhole.

cover.takecommandTransparency is critical because it levels the playing field.  When people feel that they have access to the same information as their leadership, they feel like they are empowered to come to the same conclusion.  Secrets naturally breed mistrust.  Naturally, some information within a corporation needs to be held in confidence, but to the extent that information can be shared, why not?

Finally, I often talk about the need for a galvanizing trial or tribulation.  The best teams come together in times of duress.  Those periods reveal what’s necessary from each member and displays each member’s respective worth.  Getting all the chips on the table allows a true assessment of one another, and that’s critical for truly coming together.  The Marine Corps attempts this in boot camp with the “Crucible” exercise, but nothing compares to the first time a unit gets in a firefight.  Doubts about who is capable of what disappear, and suddenly the team is flooded with unwavering trust for one another.