Category Archives: Culture

Who Do You Have in Mind?

The ball lifted off the tee with a wobble before moving sideways from right to left, arching into moderate grass off the fairway. Harvey’s next shot went vertical, over his head, then smack into the turf at his feet.

“Who were you thinking of?” I asked.

“No one. What do you mean? It was just a lousy shot.”

“I mean your second swing. Who were you thinking of?”

“I was just letting off steam. Wasn’t thinking of anyone.”

“If you were thinking of someone, who would it be?”

“I don’t know. I was thinking about the guy who taught me how to play. He would have been a little disappointed.”

“Who is this guy? Do I know him?”

“No, he was a pretty old guy when I learned. And I was only nine years old.”

“I was just curious.”

Kurt Lewin tells us that individual action is a myth. Our behavior is always influenced by groups or individuals, even if they are not physically present. To gain insight into a person’s behavior, all you have to do is find out what group or person the individual has in mind.

Who do you have in mind, that is affecting your swing?

No Drill Sergeants in the Jungle

Drill sergeants yell and scream and get results. Why can’t a manager?

Most of us have either worked underneath or know a manager who behaves like a drill sergeant. The descriptions come easy. He runs a tight ship. He manages like his haircut.

But, it occurred to me, there are no drill sergeants in the jungle. Let’s say a squad is on patrol in hostile territory and one team member falls behind, cannot keep the pace. There is no drill sergeant around to demand 50 pushups. There is no yelling in the jungle. Communication may be whispered or signaled, but there is no “I can’t hear yooouuu!”

Drill sergeants work in an artificial environment called training. Their purpose is to instill discipline to exact trained behaviors. Managers work in the jungle. It’s real in the jungle. Production is real. Quality is real. Customer satisfaction is real.

As a manager, the next time you have the urge to yell like a drill sergeant, you might find a whisper more effective.

I Care What You Do

There are four pieces to the Culture Cycle

  • Beliefs, assumptions, values, way we see the world
  • Connected behaviors
  • Connected behaviors tested by the consequences of reality
  • Customs and rituals

Unfortunately, we often spend too much time attempting to define our beliefs, assumptions and values, and too little time defining connected behaviors. I don’t care what you know, don’t care how you feel. I care what you do.

Whose Drama?

“Work is personal,” Marjorie said.

“Would you want it any other way?” I asked.

“But, I don’t want the personal drama at work.”

“If there is no drama, people will bring it. What is your role, as a manager, to create drama, at work?”

“But, I don’t want drama,” Marjorie protested.

“The absence of drama in a person’s life is pathological. Why do you occasionally observe pathological behavior, yes, at work? If there must be drama, at work, whose drama do you want it to be?”

“You are telling me that I have to create drama at work?” Marjorie questioned.

“Drama is meaning, the interpretation of our world. Yes, I want you to create drama, I want you to create meaning, I want you to create context. Context for the work. Work is personal.”

Work is Personal

“I don’t understand why people have to bring their personal lives to work,” complained Marjorie. “I don’t need the drama. Can’t they just put up this virtual wall between their work life and their personal life?”

“So, why do you think people bring their personal lives to work?” I asked.

“I don’t know, because they have them, I suppose.”

“If there is no drama in a person’s life, what do most people do?” I prodded.

“Now, that’s funny. If there is no drama, people create it,” Marjorie spouted.

“If there is no drama, at work, what do most people do?”

“I told you, if there is no drama, people create it.”

“Please, understand that an absence of drama is a pathological condition. Drama is the meaning, the interpretation of our human experience. If there is no drama, at work, most people will bring it. And, in the absence of drama, in the absence of meaning, most people will bring it. If you, as a manager, have not created the context for the work, people will bring it. If what happens outside of work is more meaningful than what happens inside of work, you notice that people bring that outside in.”

Marjorie was listening. She spoke. “So, what you are saying is, that work is personal.”

Home for the Holidays

People are scurrying to take off for the holidays. I see the hustle, bustle and last minute shopping. I, too, am battened down for a winter holiday, a little feasting, a little skiing. We will see you back here in January. For now, hug those around you and give thanks. This is our traditional post from Dec 2005.
_____

As Matthew looked across the manufacturing floor, the machines stood silent, the shipping dock was clear. Outside, the service vans were neatly parked in a row. Though he was the solitary figure, Matthew shouted across the empty space.

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.”

He reached for the switch. The mercury vapors went dark. He slid out the door and locked it behind.

See you all next year. -Tom

A Manager’s Accountability for Culture

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
This is not a simple question. What is company culture? And what is my accountability, as a manager, related to culture?

Response:
Some time ago, writing a role description, I added Culture as a Key Result Area. What is the accountability of a manager in the Key Result Area of Company Culture?

Company culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our required behavior in the work that we do together. It is unwritten in contrast to our written set of rules, policies, procedures. Culture is often more powerful than any policy we may write or attempt to officially enforce. Sometimes, culture even works against our stated policy.

What is the source of culture, where does it start? How is culture visible, how do we see it? How is culture tested? How is culture institutionalized, reinforced and perpetuated? These are the four steps in the Culture Cycle.

1. The source of culture is the way we see the world. It includes our beliefs, bias, our experience, our interpretation of our experience. Culture is the story we carry into our experience that provides the lens, the frame, the tint, the brightness or darkness of that story.

2. Culture, the way we see the world drives our behavior. We cannot see the bias in others. We cannot see their interpretations of the world. We cannot see the story people carry in their minds, but, we can see behavior. Culture drives behavior. Behavior makes culture visible.

3. Behavior, driven by culture, is constantly tested against the reality of consequences. For better or worse, behaviors driven by culture are proven valid, or not. Our culture stands for what we tolerate. This is counter to the notion of the lofty intentions of honesty and integrity. Our culture stands for the behaviors we tolerate related to the lofty intentions.

4. Behaviors that survive, for better or worse, are institutionalized in our rituals and customs. This ranges from the peer lunch on a team member’s first day at work to the hazing in a fraternity house. But, it all starts with the way we see the world.

There is accountability, for a manager, in each of the four steps in the culture cycle.

Beliefs and assumptions. Every manager must be able to verbalize and discuss the beliefs held by the organization. This discussion may be in the form of stories, or observations of specific behaviors that support those beliefs. If the belief is that all team members must return home each day with all their fingers and toes, the manager must be able to tell stories that illustrate safe and unsafe work practices and the consequence of each.

Connected behaviors. Every manager must be able to identify behaviors that support the beliefs of the organization (positive behavior) and behaviors inconsistent with those beliefs (negative behavior). Every manager must be able to verbalize and coach those behaviors, acknowledging positive behavior and intervening negative behavior. If the belief is that every team member must return home each day with all their fingers and toes, the manager must be able to verbalize safe work practices and coach corrective behavior.

Testing against reality. Every manager must be able to reconcile connected behaviors with the consequences of reality. There must be consistency between positive behaviors and negative behaviors with what really happens as a result. If the behavior related to safety is to wear protective gear (safety glasses and gloves), then the manager may not allow unsafe work practices just because it is more convenient. Convenience often wins. We stand for what we tolerate.

Customs and rituals. Every manager must execute in the customs and rituals that support the beliefs of the organization. If it is the ritual to reinforce behaviors related to safety, the manager cannot cancel the morning safety meeting because she is too busy.

How We Get to Customs and Rituals

Some time ago, writing a role description, I added Culture as a Key Result Area. What is the accountability of a manager in the Key Result Area (KRA) of Company Culture?

There are several frames in which to look at company culture. The one I currently kick around is –
That unwritten set of rules that governs our required behavior in the work that we do together. It is an unwritten set of rules in contrast to our written set of rules, policies, procedures. And, culture is often more powerful than any policy we may write or attempt to officially enforce. Sometimes, culture even works against our stated policy.

What is the accountability of a manager in the Key Result Area (KRA) of Company Culture?

  • What is the source of culture, where does it start?
  • How is culture visible, how do we see it?
  • How is culture tested?
  • How is culture institutionalized, reinforced and perpetuated?

These are the four questions in the Culture Cycle.

Culture Starts
The source of culture is the way we see the world. It includes our bias, our experience, our interpretation of our experience. Culture is the story we carry into our experience that provides the lens, the frame, the tint, the brightness or darkness of that story.

Culture is Visible
Culture, the way we see the world drives our behavior. We cannot see the bias in others. We cannot see their interpretations of the world. We cannot see the story people carry in their minds, but, we can see behavior. Culture drives behavior. Behavior makes culture visible.

Tested
Behavior, driven by culture, is constantly tested against the reality of consequences. For better or worse, behaviors driven by culture are proven valid, or not. Our culture stands for what we tolerate. This is counter to the notion of the lofty intentions of honesty and integrity. Our culture stands for the behaviors we tolerate.

Customs and Rituals
Behaviors that survive, for better or worse, are institutionalized in our rituals and customs. This ranges from the peer lunch on a team member’s first day at work (for better), to the hazing in a fraternity house (for worse). But, it all starts with the way we see the world. -Tom Foster

Embedding Culture as a Key Result Area

Some time ago, writing a role description, I added Culture as a Key Result Area (KRA). What is the accountability of a manager in the Key Result Area of Company Culture?

There are several frames in which to look at company culture –
That unwritten set of rules that governs our required behavior in the work that we do together. It is an unwritten set of rules in contrast to our written set of rules, policies, procedures. And, culture is often more powerful than any policy we may write or attempt to officially enforce. Sometimes, culture even works against our stated policy.

What is the accountability of a manager in the Key Result Area of Company Culture?

These are the four questions in the Culture Cycle.

  1. What is the source of culture, where does it start?
  2. How is culture visible, how do we see it?
  3. How is culture tested?
  4. How is culture institutionalized, reinforced and perpetuated?

What is the source of culture, where does it start?
The source of culture is the way we see the world. It includes our bias, our experience, our interpretation of our experience. Culture is the story we carry into our experience that provides the lens, the frame, the tint, the brightness or darkness of that story.

How is culture visible, how do we see it?
Culture, the way we see the world, drives our behavior. We cannot see our bias. We cannot see our interpretation. We cannot see the story we carry in our minds, but, we can see our behavior. Culture drives behavior. Behavior makes culture visible.

How is culture tested?
Behavior, driven by culture, is constantly tested against the reality of consequences. For better or worse, behaviors driven by culture are proven valid, or not. Where there is congruence between behavioral intentions and the test of consequences, intentions (the way we see the world) moves forward. Where there is a disconnect between behavioral intentions and the test of consequences, intentional culture stops DEAD.

How is culture institutionalized, reinforced and perpetuated?
Those behaviors that survive the test of consequences become institutionalized, for better or worse. Positive behaviors that survive the test against reality can become the customs and rituals that reinforce the way we see the world. Alternatively, counterproductive behaviors that survive can be institutionalized in the underground of our organization and will prevail, more powerful than our official rules and enforcement.

You get to decide. What is the accountability of a manager in the Key Result Area of Company Culture?

What the Manager Must Know

Welcoming a new group of students to my leadership program in Fort Lauderdale.

In 1999, Marcus Buckingham, with the help of the Gallup organization published their findings of an extensive survey on employee retention. First Break All the Rules documents the most important reasopn that a team member leaves a company, is not for money, but the relationship they have with their manager.

A company may have the best benefit package, the best food in the cafeteria, flexible working hours, free car washes, but if the team member has a lousy relationship with their manager, they will leave. On the other hand, the company may struggle to provide benefits, make everyone bring their own lunch and wash their own car at home, but if the team member has a good working relationship with their manager, the team member will likely stay with the company.

What do I expect from every manager. I expect every manager to know their team. I expect every manager to engage in regular 1-1 meetings with each team member. And, during that meeting, I expect the manager to learn something about the team member, outside of work.

Become genuinely interested in other people. – Dale Carnegie. It’s the most important retention tool for every company.