TAG Consulting

Is Your Culture Clear?


April 23, 2017

It’s Spring, which means I am out in the yard more. The other day, a small furry caterpillar caught my eye. I decided to watch it.

Which got boring really quickly! For me, at least.

I’m sure the caterpillar was on an epic journey to form the temporary shell of a chrysalis so that it could undergo the necessary transformation into a butterfly. The remarkable transformation from one species into another.

Watching that fuzzy creature reminded me of an experiment conducted by Dr. Thomas Watson. Dr. Watson placed a caterpillar on the rim of a large pot containing dirt and several of a caterpillars’ favorite plants. One by one each of the furry crawlers would inch along that edge.

Researchers look for patterns and trends. Dr. Watson noticed that the first caterpillar stayed on the edge of the rim. The second followed the first caterpillar’s lead. This was repeated across all the caterpillars, a half a dozen or so all making the assumption that the caterpillar in front of them knew where he or she was going.

Around and around the rim they went until every last one died of starvation. The food they were roaming around the rim of the pot looking for was just below, inside the pot the entire time.

This isn’t a story about leaders, but about an even more powerful force…..

Culture.

At TAG we get the privilege to work with many different organizations across the world. What we find is that people thrive in cultures that are crafted to help them belong, contribute, and make a difference. Realize these three elements in full and you have a thriving culture. One thing every organization with a thriving culture has as a leading asset is clarity.

These organizations are aligned with a clear focus and their direction is clear. That doesn’t mean they get it all right, but when it comes to clarity, they have a very real sense of purpose and meaning. In other words, they know why they exist and they have crystal clear focus on pursuing that purpose.

Thriving organizations know why they exist. They are filled with people who embody that purpose in very real and concrete ways. Too often, we encounter people more like the caterpillars in Dr. Watson’s experiment. Circling around the rim, filling days with busyness and movement that lead nowhere. Organizations suffer from the O-Curve, the monotonous meandering in circles that look busy, but lead nowhere. An O-Curve culture is characterized by a senseless pursuit of things that don’t matter and subsequently lead an organization to irrelevance.

Circuit City was featured in Jim Collins’ book Good To Great. One of those long time establishments that cornered the market in electronics, prided themselves on their customer service, and knew that they couldn’t fail. In fact, reports from those who stuck around to the bitter end state they thought they were going to be salvaged by last minute investors.

The O-Curve set in. Going around the rim waiting for the right investor to buy them and save them from impending peril. Looking back, many close to the company and even the founding family (who were not in the company at the end) say that Circuit City lost their way. They lost their why, their meaning and purpose. In other words, they lost their clarity. They were traveling around the rim of the pot thinking someone was going to show them the lush green vegetation for them to feast on.

We’ve found a solution for this lack of clarity and it comes with a name:

The Frames of Clarity

Your organization or team might be due for a check up. Instead of a vision test, maybe it is time for a Clarity Test? Why does your organization exist? Why does it matter to the people you serve? Are you leading people around the same rim of your organization, or to a place of thriving success? How do you know?

There are at least three frames through which to view your organization in order to assess clarity.

Your first frame is the balcony frame. Getting out of the weeds, the day-to-day and taking things in at a new angle. Seeing the bigger picture, not of what is coming, but what is happening. Asking questions that seem obvious, maybe even foolish, about the day-to-day occurrences on the dance floor of the organization. When you force yourself out of your normal viewing area into a new realm, you start to see things differently. It’s in that difference that clarity is discovered, where sights and sounds resonate more clearly. A place where you can begin to see the moving parts, the chemistry, or lack thereof, the synchronized connections of the individuals, groups and teams that comprise the organization.

Leaders belong on the balcony so they can gain clarity and offer it to others. The balcony view is not an elitist, club level view however. It is the leader’s role to bring other people onto the balcony. Effective leaders seek to bring others to clarity, connecting with people in such a way to show them new perspective and learn about their perspective.

That introduces the next frame. Clarity comes when we look through the frame of another individual’s perspective and context. Clarity emerges when we shift angles, change directions and look differently at the same thing.

Take some time to think about how what you see looks like to someone else. How do you do that? Ask them questions. Walk a day or a few hours in their world, their shoes, gaining insights from their viewpoint. It’s what the show Undercover Boss brought into the popular culture. CEO’s disguising themselves as part of the workforce in order to learn and grow. Most every time the CEO’s eyes are opened. It’s because they have the opportunity to look through another person’s frame.

Finally, look through the frame of your customer or stakeholder. Think about who that is first. Many teams don’t even have clarity about that. Why do they do business with you? What are their other options for the product or service you deliver and provide? What compels them to do business with your organization? Often times in organizational life we get so caught up in the day-to-day operations of the internal processes and structures that we neglect the external viewpoint. Looking through the lens of the customer’s perspective sheds the filter that working and existing within the organizational system tends to overlay.

Whichever frame you choose to use, look for misalignment and areas of disconnect. And look for fresh perspective and new insights. Such clarity refuels the organization’s capacity for growth and innovation. Without it, organizations struggle, people become disengaged and we start roaming around in caterpillar circles.

Break the cycle, seek clarity and craft a thriving organizational culture, one where everyone involved realizes the fulfillment of their innate desire to belong, to contribute, and to make a difference.

Shane Roberson is one of TAG’s Culture Architects and its Vice President for Client Services. He is the co-author of Your Intentional Difference: One Word Changes Everything. To get to know Shane better, click here.

4 Keys To A Trustworthy Organizational Culture


April 23, 2017

We live in a society characterized by distrust.

Trust with the political process is at an all time low. Occupations once considered trustworthy – such as the law and the ministry – rank low on trust indices. And a recent poll found that only seven percent of employees strongly agree that they trust their senior managers to look out for their best interests.

Even worse, only seven percent agree that they trust their coworkers to do so!

The reality is that we live in a world that is saturated with distrust and your employees or volunteers bring this distrust in the doors with them every day.

 

But there is hope. The same poll found that 58% of employees who had strong trust in their management were ‘completely satisfied’ with their jobs and 63% would consider spending the rest of their careers with their organizations.

It’s indisputable – there is a direct link between trust in leadership and employee engagement and retention.

It gets even more game-changing. Employee engagement is one of the hallmarks of a thriving organizational culture – the kind of culture where people experience the fulfillment of their innate desire to belong, to contribute, and to make a difference.

As we show in the research for our book The Secret Sauce: Creating a Winning Culture, employees who work for an organization defined by trust feel valued, work harder, experience greater satisfaction, and do not think about leaving for somewhere else. They belong, contribute, and make a difference.

An annual survey of “Best Places To Work In America’ found that the most appealing workplaces were distinguished by high levels of trust, cooperation, and commitment and did better than their peers and competitors in these ways:

  • They have stronger long-term financial performance
  • They experience lower turnover
  • They receive more job applications
  • They are more diverse in their employee/volunteer base

Inspired by these workplaces and others which we visited and chronicled in our book, we discovered four components which go into creating trustworthy leadership:

  1. Dependability
  2. Communication
  3. Learning
  4. Integrity

Find an hour of quiet ‘on the balcony’ time. Work carefully and thoughtfully through that list of four. Define them for yourself. And then take an honest look at your organization and rate yourself on a scale of 1-5 for each measure. Where can you celebrate? Where can you initiate enhancement efforts?

7 Questions For The Heat of Conflict


April 23, 2017

 

So,  your team is embroiled in conflict. Emotions are high. Anxiety is too. It’s clear that there are real competing values underneath the surface. Fangs may have been bared. You’re anxious too. You know you need to maintain a non-anxious presence, acknowledging your own anxiety but managing it so you can provide a holding environment for the anxiety of others.

The ability to manage conflict in a healthy and productive way is one of the hallmarks of a thriving organizational culture, the kind of place where people want to work and to give maximum discretionary effort.

Most of all you sense the need to DO something. Anything.

But, get this – your very best move may be to ask questions. Especially in the highest heat of conflict.

Yes, questions.

The great thing about questions is that they honor the people being asked, by reminding them that the work is theirs in the end, and that each one of them is responsible for their part in the conflict and for working towards a just and productive resolution.

Maybe best of all, question-asking genuinely reduces anxiety because it takes the focus off of the tensions, drama, and angst of the moment and puts it on self-reflection and the solution at hand.

Here are seven great questions to ask your team (and yourself!) when conflict is high:

1. What exactly does each team member have at stake in this conflict?
2. What specific results does each team member desire?
3. To what degree does each person hold power and influence and how are they exercising those things?
4. What are the core, underlying values each person holds?
5. Where are each person’s loyalties and obligations?
6. What potential losses are at stake for each person? (think status, security, power, comfort, influence, and the like)
7. What hidden alliances are at play in the team?

These are great questions for a team to grapple with. But before that happens you should grapple with them yourself for your team. If you go through the process of getting answers to each one, you will understand your team, yourself, and the issues at stake in the conflict with a lot more clarity.

Asking and answering these seven questions may not solve the conflict – but it will lead you and your team to greater levels of self-awareness and understanding and tee you up to clarify the values at stake – for the greater good.

Oh, and you can leave the boxing gloves at the gym!

5 Questions To Shape Your Organization’s Culture


April 17, 2017

If you’re leading change and crafting a thriving culture, you are going to confront tough problems.

Probably daily.

When facing a tough challenge, penetrating questions are your best friend.

The failure to ask questions, or to create a culture where questions are allowed and even encouraged, can be deadly. Look no further than recent headlines.

Media reports have focused on United Airlines’ customer service debacle which involved overbooking and a passenger bodily dragged off of a plane. The negative PR has been otherworldly and their market value has suffered greatly.

A lot of the attention has been paid to tactics. In fact, scratch below the surface, and the evidence indicates that United has a culture of ‘do – don’t ask’,  where employees were encouraged to follow rules first and think and ask questions later, if at all.

Engaged employees know that they have permission to ask questions – even tough ones.

Here are five questions to add to your toolkit as a leader and to build into your culture:

1. What does our mission or purpose as an organization have to say about this challenge?
2. Does this challenge emerge from conditions internal or external to our organization?
3. Who are the people most directly affected by this problem? How are they seeing it?
4. Where does this problem reveal itself – at the high level of mission and values or closer to the ground in routine tasks and processes?
5. What if any authority do I have to confront this challenge?

These questions may not provide the answer to your specific challenge but, without a doubt, they will better position you to work with others to provide the solutions you need.

In our work as Culture Architects, we help organizations of all kinds ask the right questions every day. We’d love to serve you. You can contact us here

Dependability – You Can Count On It


April 3, 2017

In today’s organizations, people expect many things from their leaders, but dependability is not a word that is high on their lists. People expect power plays, unreasonable expectations, skillful politics, and my-career-first sorts of attitudes. But not dependability.

And that is precisely why dependability is so important.

When a leader is dependable it creates a sense of safety in her followers. And safety is something that is in short supply in our organizational cultures.

This is not a “soft skill”. People who feel unsafe act in self-protective ways, which shut out collaboration and are often dishonest. It’s understandable – when your wellbeing is on the line you are likely to act to protect yourself. But a bunch of people acting in self-protective ways makes for a rotting culture.

Dependability involves leaders coming through on their commitments, honoring the values the organization claims, treating people with both individuality and equity and genuinely caring for employees as people who have lives, families, interests, and needs that are outside the scope of the organization.

When people can operate within a thriving organizational culture that feels safe to them, they can venture beyond themselves. This is what allows them to belong, contribute, and make a real and lasting difference.

Identify The Resistance


April 3, 2017

As a leader you are going to face resistance. We spend a substantial amount of our time reminding leaders of this truth and telling that they are not alone! Resistance is part of the process.

That said, it can be very helpful to identify the types of resistance you are facing as you lead.

  • Immediate criticism. “What a dumb idea!”
  • Denial. “I don’t see any problem here”.
  • Malicious compliance. “I concur completely and whole-heartedly (only I don’t, at all)”
  • Sabotage. “Let’s go get him”.
  • Easy agreement. “No problem”.
  • Deflection. “How about those Red Sox!”
  • Silence
  • In your face criticism. “You’re the worst leader we’ve ever had around here”.

When faced with resistance we can choose to act in either the Red Zone or the Blue Zone.

In the Red Zone, we assume the resistance is about us personally (Why doesn’t he like what I’m proposing? Does he think I’m incompetent?”), not about our roles. Feeling personally attacked we resort to subterfuge and maneuvering.

When we’re in the Blue Zone we welcome the resistance as a normal part of forward movement, seek to understand it and the underlying issues generating it, and work to be effective with those who are creating the resistance.

Want to know more? Download a FREE white paper on navigating and thriving through conflict by clicking here.

Ubers, Piano Bars, And Your Organization


April 3, 2017

Ever left something behind in an airline seat pocket, a taxi, or an Uber?

Thought so.

Recently, Uber put out a list of the most common (keys, eyeglasses, wallets, etc) and the most unusual items left behind in their cars. Here are a few items actual people left behind in actual Ubers:

  • A lobster
  • Smoke machine
  • Laser
  • Bulletproof vest
  • Charcoal grill
  • Superman cape

You might imagine there is a story behind each of these!

(We hope the loss of the Superman cape didn’t thwart an important rescue. “Look to the sky…there’s…oops”).

The same is true for the things that organizations leave behind.

In the early, golden days of air travel, American Airlines’ 747s had a piano bar onboard.

No kidding. Here’s the proof:

These days you’re lucky to have adequate legroom.

What we leave behind says much about who we are. But what we make sure to keep says a lot as well.

When you are leading organizational change, particularly if it involves crafting a new organizational culture, it’s usually easy to see what you should leave behind.

  • Outdated assumptions
  • Obsolete processes
  • Ineffective strategies
  • Outmoded traditions
  • Uninspiring visions
  • Unaligned values

It’s harder to discern what you should keep. But those decisions are equally important.

The process of leading change by crafting a thriving organizational culture requires walking the tightrope between “preserving the core” (in the words of the writer Jim Collins) and making bold decisions to throw off things that are harmful to your new way of living as an organization.

Fail to make the big changes and you risk your entire change initiative being choked out.

Fail to preserve the important things and you risk damaging morale and violating the essential DNA of your organization.

What do you need to get rid of as a leader?

And what is worth fighting to preserve?