The Employee Engagement Myth

HR leader Cathy Missildine had an interesting post on her blog regarding the ambiguity of the buzzwords “employee engagement”. (Here’s the article.)  Her guest bloggers really dig into the credibility issue created with the focus on an area the majority of the HR community have not been able to affect in 13 years.

In our experience working with organizations across multiple continents, the majority of the time what gets called low engagement is really a lack of clarity.  Every individual in the organization should be able to answer three simple questions.

  1. What are we doing?
  2. Why are we doing it?
  3. What are my responsibilities?

Over the next several weeks, we’ll dig deeper into some other simple concepts organizations that consistently excel have learned to well.

BTW – Cirrus Business Group is coming to Biz1190AM in Atlanta in August.  We’ll keep you posted on our first air date.

It Brings Down Planes and Organizations

The statement that culture eats strategy for lunch (or breakfast – depending on your source), has been attributed to the late, great Peter Drucker.

In Good to Great, Collins develops the analogy of an organizational fly wheel.  He writes about the amount of focus, time and effort that goes into getting the organizational fly wheel turning.  Now imagine that fly wheel as the culture of your organization.

How does this bring down planes?

In a cockpit, much coordination and communication is required.  The captain is dependent upon a first officer, cabin crew, and sometimes a navigator to make sure the plane reaches its intended destination safely.  If you have read any of the other Cirrus Business Group posts, you know how much emphasis we place on creating professional trust in the culture of an organization.  An airplane cockpit is an environment dependent upon trust – trust in the crew, the mechanics, the airframe, and the air traffic controllers.  It is impossible for the captain to see everything that is going on from all the necessary perspectives at any given time. To get the plane safely to the destination (the strategy) there must be a culture of trust and an appreciation for pointing out errors or new information among the flight crew and supporting parties.  In other words, although the captain has the ultimate say, the rest of the crew better feel that it is their duty to put the lives of the passengers above titles and egos and speak up.  The captain must be willing and grateful to receive this information.  The more dynamic the environment, the better this team must perform.

It will likely be some time (and we may never know) whether or not the high power distance culture of Korea caused the recent Asiana flight 214 crash, but let’s assume that the flight crew was not incompetent.  When I heard the news report, my mind immediate went back to the observations Malcolm Gladwell made about the 1997 Korean Air flight 801 crash.  In high power distance cultures, there is a general feeling that the person with authority or in control must be right regardless of your own perception or understanding because he or she is in charge.  It is considered a high insult to question authority in front of others.  Even questioning authority in private can have long-term ramifications.  So, subordinates keep quiet.  Even if it means the approach glide slope is too steep or will miss the end of the runway.

How does this bring down organizations?

You may already be ahead of me here because of my brilliant airplane analogy  but in the spirit of clarity here we go.  Most “leaders” take pride in saying that “they hire people smarter than themselves”.  However, these same leaders often create a culture that discourages those very people from raising difficult questions or pointing out inconvenient facts.

All of this undermines trust.

There is a reason there is more than one person in a cockpit and the support of air traffic control from the ground.  It takes a well functioning team to get an airplane to its destination safely.  Your organization is no different.

Have you been encouraging a high power-distance culture by undermining organizational trust?

When was the last time you had someone on your management team disagree with you…to your face?  How long has it been since you had a healthy, heated debate in a meeting?  What was your reaction?  If it was anything other than gratitude for the passion and debate, you are creating a high power distance culture.

I am not encouraging insubordination.  I am encouraging you to promote honest, passionate debate around issues, strategy, new team member hires, and the other things that have the potential to crash an organization.

If you have been guilty of undermining trust in your organization, you need to call your team together, acknowledge the issue, and ask their forgiveness.  You also need to ask them to hold you accountable going forward.

While they will likely receive the acknowledgement and conversation well, don’t expect the culture of trust to change in your organization overnight.  Culture has inertia.  However, if you will persist and your team sees consistent effort and reinforcement on your part, it can be done.

You hired them for their knowledge and insight.  Without a culture that reinforces trust, you are wasting your money.

What does a chiropractor have to do with organizational change?

As my chiropractor was explaining to me the process she uses to get the spine and upper cervical vertebre back into alignment, I started thinking about the similarities to creating sustainable change in organizational culture.  (yes, I’m an OB geek. I can’t help myself.)

In chiropractic medicine, the biggest challenges to the corrective process are Continue reading What does a chiropractor have to do with organizational change?

Getting Employees to Act on Your Brand Promise

Robin Williams (from Gallup, not the comdian) shares some great strategies and examples for empowering employees to do the right thing for your customers and brand.  Getting Employees to Act on Your Brand Promise.

The most important component of merger success.

Accretive. Synergistic. These are both words that get bantied about board room presentations on the business case justifying a strategic or opportunistic acquisition or merger. Many smart people pour over financials. Extensive preliminary due diligence is done. Financial models are built. So then, why do the overwhelming majority of M&A activity fail to produce the projected value? Continue reading The most important component of merger success.

Firing an Employee – It’s Always Personal

If you have been a business owner or manager for any extended period of time, you have likely had to fire someone who just wasn’t working out.  There has to be something seriously wrong with any individual who enjoys this experience.  I never get very good sleep the night before.  However, this is an opportunity to “fail forward” and grow as an organization.

Every time I had to have “the conversation”, I took it very personally.  What did I miss during the interview process?  How can we improve our chances of finding the right fit?  Did we fail as an organization to provide the right training, management, or clarity?

Before I lose you, let me say that I do understand that there are times when employees surprise you or just have personal stuff that comes up affecting their performance.  However, if this is more the rule than the exception, you should change where you are fishing for employees.  You’re likely fishing in a cesspool!  If you claim that it goes with the territory for the labor rate you can afford, make sure you are factoring in the costs of training, higher unemployment tax rates, lower moral, interviewing replacements, and low customer satisfaction.

That said, employee terminations often speak more about failures in the organization than the individual being let go.  So, here are some things I’ve learned from first hand experience and ideas I’ve learned from others.

  1. Have a written job description.  I know this is basic, but you would be surprised how many hires are made without one.  It also needs to be detailed enough that it actually describes the specific job and not just any job.  What are the must-haves?  What is negotiable?
  2. Hire for BOTH technical ability AND cultural fit.  This assumes you have defined what “cultural fit” means.  If not, take time to define how your organization and the individuals within the organization behave.  (Read that last sentence again. If you don’t have those definitions written down, STOP now and do it. It’s that important.)  Also, know what technical and cognitive abilities will make the candidate a good fit for the organization.  What core values should this person posses?   Here are some questions Google uses to insure they get the best and brightest:
  3. Put short-list candidates through a simulation.  Try to mimic the circumstances under which they will be working.  We suggested one client looking for support agents working in a stressful environment have candidates try to play a video game while answering phone calls and dealing with interruptions.
  4. Engage some of their potential team members in the final interview process.  With the new hire’s peers, technical ability will be suspect in the beginning, so they need to at least have some chemistry to see them through.  Invite the candidate to an office party or engage them in an activity or project with their potential team members.

In almost every case I’ve seen, the termination of a person who was not working out began with a broken hiring process.  As a business owner and manager, I dread the hiring process.  That’s all the more reason to get it right every time…or at least tip the odds strongly in my favor.

5 Keys to Creating Positive Company Culture

I’ve always found it interesting that we’ve really only started studying corporate culture in the late 1980’s. Most of us take for granted our understanding of the role culture plays in our own lives. We choose carefully the neighborhoods, schools, and churches we attend. We monitor our children’s friends and (hopefully) want to meet their parents. We instinctively understand that people are highly influenced by their environment. So what are the implications in companies?

Now more than ever, technical skills, products, and even business models are being commoditized. What is the difference between Walmart, Target, and Kmart? What is the difference between Burger King, McDonalds, and Chick-fil-A? I’m sure you can come up with many more contrasts. Look at each of those groups. Are they in the same business? Why are some wildly successful, while others struggle to survive?

Culture. yields over 31 thousand results in books about “corporate culture”. Thirty-one thousand! That’s a lot of information on corporate culture. It also shows how important culture is to the success of an organization. In fact, I will contend that it is the number one thing to create sustainability. I’m going to give you five easy to remember keys to creating a positive, productive culture.

1. Be Intentional – This sounds obvious, but can you describe in 3-4 sentences the culture you are trying to cultivate in your organization? Can you list the organization’s core values? If you can great. If not, take a moment to do that. Start with the core values. Write them down. Refine them. Keep them simple so they are easy to remember. As Covey told us, “Begin with the end in mind.” Defining the core values in words allows for better communication of the environment you are creating. Incorporate a culture check-up into your annual planning meetings. (You do have annual planning meetings, right?) Communicate, communicate, communicate! Every member of your organization should be able to recite the core values by heart. These core values need to permeate every aspect of the daily work of the organization. The core values are your foundation. They are also the compass every individual in your organization will use to make both daily and difficult decisions.

2. Hire Wisely – Once you have your culture and values defined, you need to make sure those you add to the team are a good fit. Do they buy-in? I mean, do they REALLY buy-in or do they just need a job? It’s much easier to create a great organization with great people. There are several pre-employment screening tools that can help you do this, but your hiring process also has a lot to do with getting the right team members. What does your hiring process look like? How do you screen out candidates that aren’t going to fit in with your culture and values? What is the decision process for making the hire or pass decision? Answer these questions, and you will be ahead of most of your peers.

3. Care – Value your employees, value your customers, and let it show. I’m not talking about the superficial, marketing “we care”. I’m talking about really caring with your actions. How do you communicate with your employees? How and how often do you listen to your employees? What about your customers? What do your answers tell you about how you value them? People want to be valued. Your people want to know the work they are doing is appreciated and is making a difference. Your customers want to know they are more than just a revenue source. What are you doing to show you care?

4. Have an Assimilation Plan – There are many reasons all military branches have boot camps. Sure they are trying to asses physical ability, weed out the uncommitted, and provide some basic physical training, but the other product that comes out of boot camp is camaraderie, the sense of “team” and belonging that comes with surviving a common experience. How can you apply that to your organization? What do you do to assimilate new-hires into the organizational culture? Do you have regular events to build camaraderie in the organization? Going back to key number one, if you are not intentional about this, you are just hoping that the transfer of your culture and values happens. As the great Vince Lombardi said, “Hope is not a strategy.”

5. Model It – We have a word for people who say one thing and do another. It is “hypocrite.” If you do keys one through four very well, but don’t model them in your organization, that’s exactly what your people will call you. You might as well focus your creative energies on other things if you don’t do this one. Think of a great leader who has inspired you. Odds are they lived out their words. They were the real deal. Our actions are very powerful testimonies to what we truly believe and truly value. I’m not saying you have to be perfect. Even leaders are human. However, if your people see you making an honest effort to strive towards the ideals of the organization, they are likely to forgive you when you fall short and own up to it.

Organizational culture is a very powerful thing. Your company will have one whether it is intentionally created or not. It might as well be something you want. I’m sure there are some valuable nuggets in those thirty-one thousand books, but if you can do these five things you will have an organization your competition can’t touch.