TAG Consulting

Toxic Culture or Thriving Ethos?


December 11, 2017

Darya Zabelina and Michael Robinson of North Dakota State University, conducted a study several years ago with two groups. The first group was given the following prompt: You are seven years old. School is canceled, and you have the entire day to yourself. What would you do? Where would you go? Who would you see?

The second group was given the same prompt minus the first sentence. This means they didn’t imagine themselves as seven years old – they remained in their adult mindset. Neither group could see the other prompt given.

Next, the psychologists asked their subjects to take ten minutes to write a response. Afterwards the subjects were given various tests of creativity, such as inventing alternative uses for an old tire, or completing incomplete sketches.  Zabelina and Robinson found that “individuals [in] the mindset condition involving childlike thinking…exhibited higher levels of creativity than did those in the control condition.” This effect was especially pronounced with subjects who identify themselves as introverts.

Which begs the question: What happens to our innate creativity when we age?

Zabelina and Robinson discuss a few reasons. The first is that regions of the frontal cortex – a part of the brain responsible for rule-based behavior – are not fully developed until our teenage years. This means that when we are young our thoughts are free-flowing and without inhibitions. Curiosity, not logic and reason, guides our intellectual musings. The second is that current educational practices discourage creativity.

Sir Ken Robinson says, “The whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized.” So that’s where we lost our creativity.

Plato said “Whatever is honored will be cultivated.”

The opposite is true too. What we do not honor, we do not cultivate. Creativity has suffered at the hands of university entrance.

But, there is hope…no matter the reasons, the authors stress, adults can still tap into their more imaginative younger selves. Creativity… giving life to an idea, expression, thought, movement or a construct is life-giving for people, vital to organizational health, and directly impacts the mission. Every system has within its ranks the creative answers to the most challenging questions that system faces. Which means that innovation is not to be delegated as the solitary work of the Marketing Department or the Research & Development group.

Your climate matters. Strong organizational climate is found where creativity and innovation is honored. Better yet, where it is fueled. Everyone in our organizations has something to offer. Do we give them the space and permission to wrestle with the challenges and opportunities our organization faces?

We know that a toxic culture is a place where…
…new ideas can be seen as a threat to the establishment
…there is a pervasive fear of failure
…we are structured so as not allow out of the box thinking
…micro-managing is a way of life
…there is not enough time nor the permission to utilize one’s “work” time to be creative
…the physical work environment is disheartening
…there is no mechanism for brainstorming
…the generation of new expressions and ideas is limited to certain senior leaders or appointed positions.

So, let’s turn that around. A thriving ethos is a place where…
…new ideas are invited and encouraged as a way of finding new paths forward.
…we embrace failing so we can learn a new way.
…we structure to permit innovation in and out of the box.
…we unleash the “what if” in everyone.
…we provide tinkering space that might lead to the next break through idea.
…we design our spaces to invoke a catalyst of creative energy.
…everyone brings fresh thinking.

Does your organization more closely resemble a toxic culture or a thriving ethos?

 

Shane Roberson

Is There Enough Cynicism In Your Culture?


November 15, 2017

 


It takes time to build trust in an organization…but cynicism spreads like crabgrass!

Cynicism can be a destructive, corrosive force, stalking your office corridors and internal comms channels, completely altering the environment of your organization.

But, let’s face it – cynicism can’t be completely eliminated. As a matter of fact, when it is tamed and leveraged cynicism can play a positive role in the life of your organization.

How can you balance cynicism and trust in your organization?

When you are driving down the road and see a car approaching you in the opposite lane you have to make the decision to trust that it is going to remain in its lane as opposed to crashing head-first into you. Hundreds of times each day, we make similar decisions to trust. There’s no other way to function in life. In a very real sense, trust is as necessary to our daily survival as food and water.

But, as counterintuitive as it sounds, we need cynicism as well.

Let’s say we are driving late at night in hazardous conditions. A car is approaching in the opposite lane, going too fast and weaving across the road. A healthy degree of cynicism would lead us to assume that the driver is intoxicated or otherwise incapacitated and to take defensive measures. In that case, I am right not to trust.

Same thing in our organizations. Trust is healthy – indeed it is the most important predictive factor in the success of an organization. But there is also such a thing as a healthy dose of cynicism.

You can’t do the things that build trust unless you’ve done the things that manage cynicism.

For instance, it is appropriate to be a little cynical when onboarding a new hire. They are not going to be as competent as a veteran in their first days on the job. They need to be supervised and mentored in the culture and processes of your organization, no matter how sparkling their resume and credentials.

This is healthy organizational cynicism. It’s not personal distrust. As a matter of fact, we put systems of accountability in place to remove the need for personal distrust.

People have strengths and weaknesses and we have to manage those as leaders. Healthy leaders aren’t shy about putting mechanisms in place to support both employees and the organization as a whole.

The art is in balancing trust and cynicism – distinguishing between cynicism that is healthy and that which is unhealthy.

Unhealthy cynicism never allows trust to grow. Healthy cynicism fosters a safe, controlled environment in which trust is the ultimate goal. Monitoring processes are in place but those processes are fair and flexible, not rigid and domineering. They create a climate of equity and ownership where employees can say “This is MY organization; I can trust and I feel trusted because I know our shared values and commitments will be honored by everyone.

Three Culture-Killing Mistakes Leaders Can Make


October 31, 2017

At TAG, we wake up every day committed to helping leaders and organizations perform at a higher level, in ways that lead to productivity, employee and team engagement, and success as measured by a chosen mission.

The primary way we do that is by serving leaders who are committed to crafting thriving organizational cultures where everyone realizes their innate desire to belong, to contribute, and to make a difference. This can’t happen unless leaders are focused on the strengths, not the weaknesses of their people.

Because we are strengths-based in our thinking, we spend more time focusing on what’s going right in an organization – or with a leader – than what is going wrong. But combine decades of experience and you’ll see some common mistakes leaders make that can be culture-killers unless they’re addressed.

Lacking self-awareness. Like the general population, managers tend to have little self-awareness, all the while thinking that they know themselves perfectly well. But study after study continues to confirm the fact that our minds generally are very unreliable. And this is especially true when it comes to knowing ourselves and analyzing our own behavior.

A question we like to ask is “What is it like to be on the receiving end of you”? Many leaders have no clue as to their own ‘wiring’ and how their behavior is perceived by those around them. That’s why in our consulting practice, we take a great deal of time to assess people and organizations, to get a handle on how people are wired, and how they go about ‘doing life.’

Managing and leadership generally has many behavioral facets: how I deal with superiors, with peers, with subordinates. How I communicate both verbally and non-verbally. What activities energize. Which drain and deplete. One of the most interesting facets of leading is the decision-making process. Most managers will tell you that they make decisions logically and reasonably. But studies indicate quite the opposite. Your desires decide what you want. Your logical brain crafts an explanation, and you execute.

A thriving culture can be so powerful that it is a counterweight to some of our own worst impulses and default thinking.

Mistaking ‘care’ for affirmation. A manager has taken a new position in a new city in the non-profit organization in which she has worked successfully for some time. This is a significant promotion which carries with it a great deal of responsibility and a team of eight direct reports. After she has been in this new position for six months, one of her direct reports levels the charge on her that she “doesn’t care.”

Sue, our manager in question, is a brilliant woman who has always made significant demands on herself, always expecting the highest performance, and needing little if any outside encouragement or motivation. All of her motivation is internal. This profile has translated into superior performance, and has led to one promotion after another.

Now with the charge of ‘not caring,’ she is baffled, and wonders if she is doing the wrong thing by her team. When asked about some of the history of her new team, as best she understands it, she explains that they have been led by managers who were very empathetic, constantly asking reports about their current personal situations. Accountability was another matter. Yes, there were the usual number of high performers. But mediocrity and poor performance went unchallenged.

Now Sue has entered this organization with high standards and a very specific vision (endorsed by leadership) as to where she wants to take the organization, and the performance needed by everyone to achieve.

Sue needs to have her situation reframed, so that she can refocus on what is actually going on, and what she now needs to do. She has become semi-paralyzed with the ‘not caring’ charge. But is that charge valid? Does she in fact need to alter her behavior?

The reframe is the fact that this is the organizational system pushing back on her higher standards, and need for accountability. She definitely is not the empathetic person delving into the personal lives of her reports. She is the high-achieving manager with a definite program that requires particular performance goals. And now the system is reacting and pushing back on her, attempting to alter her behavior (as she is trying to alter the behavior of her people) and become more in line with what the system has experienced down through its existence.

Caring has to do with nurture. It is a valid characteristic, when used at the right time in the proper context. But it often competes with another value: challenge – the value that sets goals and expectations of performance to reach those goals. Proper parenting is a mixture of nurture and challenge. When one of these values is emphasized too strongly over the other, difficulties will begin to emerge for the children.

As a first step for Sue, clear performance standards and metrics need to be established for each position. This first element is unfortunately lacking time and again across the organizational spectrum. When there is unclear performance standards, expectations become fuzzy (what am I to do, at what intensity, over what period of time?).

As people are clear on what is expected of them, it becomes clear what represents superior, average, or subpar performance. As people perform in expected to above expected levels, the manager can then affirm them. These people will then feel appreciated for the work they are doing, and understand clearly how they are contributing to the successful completion of the mission.

Failing to hold people accountable. This builds on the point made above. First, people need clear expectations. Then they need periodic feedback (accountability) as to how they are measuring up to the expectations. What often happens is two fold: 1) no precise performance standards are ever laid down specifically tailored to each position, and 2) no periodic performance reviews are scheduled wherein employees are evaluated on the specifically tailored performance standards. Evaluations, when they are conducted, are general and subjective, and therefore of no practical use in helping employees understand how their performance fits into the overall mission of the organization. These evaluations are useless in assisting employees to understand how they are performing with a view toward making modifications for improvement.

Do you recognize any of those mistakes in your own organization?

How can you address them beginning today?

What Does A Dependable Organizational Culture Look Like?


October 10, 2017

An organization (or a person) is dependable if it can be relied upon to act in certain ways. If an organization honors its promises – to employees, customers, partners, vendors – over and over the it can call itself trustworthy.

In situations where other organizations might break their word or destroy trust, dependable organizations keep faith and maintain trust. As a result, people like working for and doing business organizations that are dependable.

So, what does this culture of dependability look like? It can be seen, specifically as it does three things over and over. Organizations with a culture of dependability:

  1. Make promises (and keep them). The US Constitution is a promise that makes our government and society possible. Churches, clubs, organizations of all kinds have covenants, policy manuals, systems and procedures that embody the promises which enable people to work together in an atmosphere of trust.
  2. They are consistent. People know what the organization will do and not do. When adversity or crisis strikes, their response is largely predictable. Their decisions and responses – in both good and bad times – is consistently good, consistently reliable, consistently trustworthy.
  3. They are predictable. This is related to, but different th at consistency in that consistency looks to the past and predictability looks to the future. When we have confidence that we can predict the  behavior of a person or organization then we can trust them.

Trust and a culture of dependability is built by people and organizations keeping promises and by behavior that is consistent and predictable.

Take the honest look – how does your organization rate in terms of showing a culture of dependability?

To Build A Great Culture, Drink More Water


October 10, 2017

Most of us know that good health requires drinking lots of water. But as we rush through our days most of us say we don’t even have time to think about it.

But what would you say if we told you that going to the water cooler often would make you a better leader and give you a head start on crafting a thriving organizational culture?

Culture-crafting leaders are, by definition, busy men and women. The good ones know that they must listen to their people so that they can understand, filter accurate information from people saying “what the boss wants to hear” and communicate personal care and concern for the team.

There are lots of things you can do to create virtual water coolers, whether or not your office has a burbling blue machine with a tap.
-An “I read every email” policy from senior leaders.
-Town hall meetings.
-Focus groups where the boss reads the transcripts.
-Open door policies within set office hours.

Now, these are good but none pack the punch of tons of informal, off the clock, in the moment unplanned conversations. Some of the very best leaders we have worked with schedule unscheduled time.

Yep, you read that right. They build into their calendars time for NO formal meetings, phone calls, or strategic planning. They simply get out of the office and into the “field” and talk to people.

Unscripted conversations, heartfelt ‘thank yous’ , and the simple visibility of the leader all go a long way towards creating engagement, high morale, and loyalty – all key ingredients for culture change!

Plus, you’ll be better hydrated for better health!

4 Building Blocks For A Trustworthy Culture


September 28, 2017

We live in a society characterized by distrust. And this distrust has invaded the cultures of the organizations in which we work.

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 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. Organizations which have cultures characterized by trust are thriving organizations.

Our research and experience at TAG shows that employees who work for an organization defined by trust feel valued, work harder, experience greater satisfaction, and are less likely to 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

Organizations with thriving cultures have as one of their components the experience of Connection – their people are connected by trust and a willingness to let each other shine. Connected organizations are characterized by these four attributes.

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

Here’s an idea: have your leadership team engage in a series of discussions about trust in your culture, revolving around those four attributes. You’ll discover where trust is deeply rooted in your organization. And you will discover ways to shore up trust where it is lacking.

Storytelling – A Key To Crafting A Great Culture


September 8, 2017

 

The stories we tell reveal our organization’s culture.

And a healthy culture is the single most important factor in organizational success.

So the stories we tell are vitally important.

As we come to understand the importance of crafting a thriving organizational culture it’s tempting to star by asking questions such as “So, what’s our culture?”

But there’s a better way.

Stories are a much better way of getting at that answer, and provide more context and texture to the answer at which you arrive.

For new insight into the culture of your organization or team, try this exercise, which has the added benefit of being fun:

-Ask members of your team to meet with you and tell a three minute story. The topic is simple. “What has been our biggest success in the last three-six months as an organization?”

-Video-record (with permission) the conversations on your smartphone or other device.

-Gather the team together and watch all of the videos.

-Then, lead a discussion that gets at this question: “What do these stories tell us about our team culture?

Maybe you will see themes of teamwork, or a passion for customer service, or creativity, or determination. Maybe something else entirely.

But in any event, you will learn more about what makes your people who they are and what makes your team your team.

The Leader’s Tone – More Important Than Words


August 18, 2017

 

For most of the last thirty years, I have made a hobby out of studying the life and leadership of Winston S. Churchill, Great Britain’s greatest Prime Minister and one of the outstanding leaders of world history.

It’s the sort of hobby you can never exhaust. His life covered so many of the important events in his country’s recent history and his character is endlessly fascinating.

I am making my way slowly (one a day) through a collection of Churchill’s speeches spanning his whole public career – from 1897-1963. The collection is edited by Churchill’s late grandson, who told the story of speaking at the 50th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and being approached afterward by a Polish woman:

“Mr. Churchill, I was a girl of just twelve, living in the Ghetto at the time of the Uprising as the Nazi storm-troopers were attacking us to take us to concentration camps. Whenever your grandfather broadcast over the BBC we would all crowd around the radio. I could not understand English but I knew that if my family and I were to have any hope of coming through this war, it depended entirely on this strong, unseen voice that I could not understand”.

Imagine that. A group of people, in the midst of unimaginable stress and pressure and fear, being buoyed and given hope by a voice speaking a language they could not even understand.

A “strong, unseen voice” which made all the difference, beyond the words the voice was speaking.

Words matter, but words aren’t always the point. The tone of the leader matters a great deal too.

Tone can communicate anger, bitterness, impatience, disappointment, disapproval, mockery, disrespect.

Or tone can communicate hope, optimism, belief, courage, encouragement, respect, love.

Even the exact same words spoken with different tone can convey vastly variant meanings.

Imagine “We’ve really got to up our game!” spoken to a team by a leader whose tone radiates spite, disappointment, superiority, and impatience.

The tone behind the words communicates this: “How did I get stuck with such a group of losers?” “Why can’t you people see that your underperformance is hurting me in the eyes of my boss?”.

Now imagine “We’ve really got to up our game!” spoken to a team by a leader whose tone radiates warmth, passion, humor, intelligence, and confidence.

The tone behind the words communicates this: “We’ve got a great opportunity here and we are just the people to take advantage of it”. “I am so honored to lead this group of folks and I can tell you I am going to do my dead level best to give you the kind of leadership you deserve so that we can accomplish great things together”.

Beyond the words, the tone of a leader is an indispensable part of the organizational culture-crafting process. Tone can demean, cut down, dis-spirit and dis-incent. Or tone can inspire, build up, in-spirit, and incentivize.

The tone of the leader can make or break the culture of the team.

We believe that every person has the innate desire to belong, to contribute, and to make a difference. And we believe that if you craft a culture where these desires are realized then your organization will thrive.

One of the key elemental building blocks of thriving culture is Connection – where people honor and respect one another and their individual contributions, all in the service of a common mission.

The leader’s tone can go a long way towards establishing a climate where Connection can thrive…or where people are led to cannibalize, jockey for position and power, one-up, and sabotage.

As a leader, what is your typical tone – beyond the words?

If we were to ask your direct reports and guarantee them confidentiality, how would they respond to that question?

What actions can you take this week to more closely monitor your tone and craft it to where you want it to be? What do you need to change and who can your key allies be in that effort?

 

Todd Hahn is a Culture Architect and Executive Advisor with TAG.