Tag Archives: culture

Having the Right Answer

Ernesto introduced himself to the class. “Hello, my name is Ernesto, and I have been in management for ten years. The biggest challenge with my team is making sure they do the job right. I have so much experience that I seldom make mistakes and I think that is why I was promoted. It’s important we don’t make mistakes because mistakes cost the company.”

Here’s the difficulty. How many ways does an expert have to solve a problem?

  • Instead of curious, the expert has the learned answer.
  • Instead of inquiring, the expert speaks with a solution.
  • Instead of exploring, the expert knows the right and only way.

Instead of being a curious child, we get good, we become learned, we become an expert. What are the predictable problems Ernesto has faced all of his managerial career?

It’s not so much to have the right answer, but to ask the right question. -Tom

Culture as an Accountability

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

Question:
Is culture a Key Result Area (KRA) in a role description?

Response:
Over the past several years, I have come to the conclusion – Yes.

Here are the four absolutes identified by Elliott Jaques required for success (effectiveness) in any role.

  • Capability (time span)
  • Skill (technical knowledge, practiced performance)
  • Interest, passion (value for the work)
  • Required behaviors (contracted behaviors, habits, culture)

Culture is that unwritten set of rules (based on our beliefs and assumptions) that governs the required behaviors in the work that we do together.

While culture impacts everyone in the organization, I find it is a managerial accountability related to setting context. Context is culture, culture is context.

I look for several things from a manager.

  • Awareness of the company’s culture.
  • Ability to communicate the company’s culture in stories and examples.
  • Model behaviors that support the company’s culture.
  • Observe behaviors in others and where appropriate, provide coaching, when necessary, corrective action.
  • Participate in the on-going definition of the company’s culture.

Here is what it looks like in a role description –
Key Result Area (KRA) – Culture
As a member of the management team, the manager will understand and be conversant in the company’s mission, vision and values related to culture.

Accountability – the manager will be accountable for effectively communicating the company’s mission, vision and values. This will include the telling of stories and examples of connected behaviors that support the company’s culture. The manager will be an effective model of those behaviors that support the company’s culture. The manager will be attentive to the behavior of other managers and staff in accordance with the company’s mission, vision and values. The manager will be accountable for coaching, and, where appropriate, taking corrective action. The manager will actively participate in meetings regarding the definition and maintenance of the company’s mission, vision and values, providing constructive input to the definition of the company’s culture.

Contracted Behaviors

There are some behaviors you simply contract for.

Each of you has an appointed time that most people show up for work. It is part of the contract you have with each team member. Even flex-time is a contract. A contract is an agreement by two parties related to future behavior.

Can you contract for other things besides the time we show up for work together? Can you contract for respect? More specifically, can you contract for behaviors related to respect?

“Around here, we treat each other with respect. You don’t have to be friends with your teammates. You don’t even have to like your teammates, but when you interact, you will treat each other with respect. It is a matter of contract.”

Required behavior is one of the four absolutes necessary for success in any role.

  • Capability
  • Skill (technical knowledge, practiced performance)
  • Interest, passion, value for the work/li>
  • Required behavior (contracted behavior, habits, culture)

Yes, there are some behaviors you simply contract for. -Tom

How to Interview for Values

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I get it. Interest and passion come from value for the work. So, just exactly how do you interview for that? Any question I come up with, sounds stupid or leads the candidate.

  • Are you passionate about the work we do here?
  • Tell me about your interest in the work we do here?

These questions just leave me open for the candidate to fabricate something they think I want to hear.

Response:
You are correct, those are lousy questions. First, they are hypothetical and without definition for “the work we do here.” The first fix is to ask about the candidate’s real prior experience, not a hypothetical comparison.

Next, it is impossible to interview for values. I can’t do it. You can’t do it. We can only interview for behaviors connected to values. What are some descriptive words connected to value for the work?

  • Significant
  • Important
  • Accomplishment
  • Pride

Embed these words into a series of questions, focused on connected behaviors.

  • Tell me about a time when you worked on a project of significance?
  • What was the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • What was your role on the project?
  • Describe your work on the project?
  • What problems did you have to solve?
  • What decisions did you have to make?
  • What made that project significant?
  • What characteristics about the project made it important?
  • In the eyes of the team, what was accomplished?
  • In that project, what were you most proud of?

In the interview, as you listen to the candidate’s response, do the values described match up with the values necessary for the work in the role?

Before you spring this on a real candidate interview, try this with your existing team. Valuable practice. -Tom

Context is Culture

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I believe you when you say that a key managerial component is setting context. How does culture fit in to context?

Response:
Context is culture, that is why it is so critical for managers to set context. Context is the culture in which we do our work.

Beliefs and Assumptions. Culture is the way that we see the world (Grodnitzky). Culture is the lens through which we see every element of our surroundings. Culture is what we believe to be true (whether it is or not). It is the collective consciousness in our workforce.

Connected Behaviors. Culture drives behavior (Grodnitzky). Lots of things influence behavior, but culture drives behavior. These behaviors are attached to the way that we see the world. Change the way we see the world and behavior changes. If, as a manager, you want to change behavior, you have to change the way you see the world. Change the context, behavior follows (Grodnitzky).

Tested Against Reality of Consequences. Every connected behavior is challenged by reality. Is the way we see the world aligned with the reality of consequences? No plan ever survives its train-wreck with reality. Everyone has a plan (the way they see the world) until they get punched in the face (Tyson). The reality of consequences tempers the way we see the world. As a manager, do not believe that you can get away with a bullshit culture.

Customs and Traditions. Those connected behaviors that survive the test against reality produce our customs, rituals, traditions. These routine ceremonies reinforce (for better or worse) our beliefs and assumptions about the way we see the world. Some behaviors are simply repeated often enough to become rituals. Some traditions are created to enshrine the belief. Either way, over time, make no mistake, these customs will have their day against the reality of consequences. Be careful what you enshrine.

Context is the environment in which we work. What does yours look like? -Tom
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Many thanks to my mentor Gustavo Grodnitzky Culture Trumps Everything.

How to Get a Team Member to Ask for Help (when they need it)

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I have a member of my team that works hard and handles day to day tasks well, but, when his plate gets a little too full, I often don’t find out about it until after an issue happens with a client. I do my best to stay on top of his task list and he knows he can always ask me for help, he just doesn’t. Every client has different times where they are busy and times they are quiet so I need my team to let me know when they need additional resources to hit their deadlines. I think not-asking for help is a mixture of pride and a lack of foresight to see trouble coming. As his manager, how can I help make this situation better (without looking over his shoulder all day, every day)?

Response:
Little problems, allowed to fester, become big problems. And, as the manager, you would have fixed the little problem (when it was easy to fix) if you had only known.

This situation has several parts to it –

  • The team member’s recognition the problem exists.
  • The team member’s understanding where to go for help.
  • The team member’s mindset (belief) about the problem and the channels for help.

Problem Recognition
As the manager, given the same circumstance, you would have recognized the problem or at least the potential for a problem. Your team member may not see what you see, yet, you rely on your team member to spot the trouble. Spend time with your team, in general discussion, on problem identification. You can start with debriefs of completed projects.

  • What did we expect?
  • What went well?
  • What went wrong?
  • How did we find out what went wrong?
  • How can we recognize something-going-wrong next time?
  • When we recognize something-going-wrong, what can we do about it?

Next move to existing projects and ask the same questions.

  • What do we expect in this current project?
  • What do we do well, what are our strengths?
  • What could go wrong?
  • How will we find out something is about to go wrong?
  • How will we recognize something is about to go wrong?
  • When we recognize something about to go wrong, what can we do to prevent it?

Channels for Help
These debrief meetings lead into project status meetings. A project going OKAY doesn’t really tell us much. Create some sort of shorthand or code that describes specific states of projects. You can use project stages, color codes, alphabet codes. You pick. Most importantly, identify the code level when the decision is in the hands of the team member and the code level when the decision needs to surface to the manager.

I am suggesting a formal structure that guides your team to ask for help. As the manager, you are currently trusting the team member to make a decision without context. Create a context that provides specific guidelines about when and how to ask for help. Your team can (and will) help you create this context as part of the project debriefs.

Culture
Culture is a set of beliefs that provide context for behavior. Without context, the team member will create their own context, which can be misguided to the purpose of the project. Most team members do not think about the future implications of problems allowed to fester. Here are some questions to structure what we believe about the future of the problem.

  • If nothing is done, what will happen in a day?
  • If nothing is done, what will happen in a week?
  • If nothing is done, what will happen in a month?
  • If nothing is done, what will happen in a year?

Ask your team to collectively imagine into the future. It is a powerful way for a manager to get in touch with current mindsets and create a context to anticipate and prevent problems in the future. Change the context, behavior follows.

Fix Accountability, Change the Culture

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You seem to think that when the manager is held accountable for the output of the team, it’s a game-changer. You seem to think this one idea has a significant impact on morale.

Response:
Mindset drives behavior. This is a central premise to culture. What we believe, the way we see the world, drives behavior.

When a manager believes the team is accountable for their own output, it creates a punitive, blaming mindset on the part of the manager. I often hear the refrain from one manager to another, “Well, did you hold them accountable?”

And I have to ask, “Accountable for what? And just what managerial behavior is involved in holding them accountable?”

Is it a matter of reprimand, jumping up and down and screaming? Is it a matter of volume, frequency? If I told you once, I told you a thousand times. At that point, I am convinced that I am talking to a manager who has no children.

Managers who engage in this behavior have a direct negative impact on team morale. Response is predictably fight, flight, freeze or appease.

But, when the manager is accountable for the output of the team, everything changes. A manager accountable for the output of the team will –

  • Take extreme care in the selection of who? is assigned to the project.
  • Will take extreme care in the training of team members assigned to the project.
  • Will take extreme care in the work instructions for the project.
  • Will take care to monitor the progress of work on the project.
  • Will take care in the coaching of team members who may struggle in connection with the project.

Why? Because the manager is accountable for the output of the team. The attitude, the mindset, moves the manager from blaming behavior to caring behavior. If this becomes the mindset of all the managers, the entire organization’s culture changes. We don’t need sensitivity training, or communication seminars. We just need to fix accountability.

Smartest Guy in the Room

“What do you mean, change the context?” Ruben asked.

“Jason is the smartest guy in the room, or, at least, he wants you to think that,” I nodded. “Right now, his attitude is counterproductive. So, change the context. You do some internal training, from time to time?”

“Yes, but that’s my job,” Ruben assured me.

“No, that’s what you believe. You believe that’s your job. What if you believed it was Jason’s job?”

“But, our internal training is usually about something new, not like we have a training manual, I have to figure how a process works and then determine the best way to teach it,” he protested.

“Sounds like you need the smartest guy in the room. What if you believed it was Jason’s job to teach? Change the context, behavior follows.”
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How to Change the Behavior

“Is Jason smarter than everyone else in the room?” I asked.

“On some things, yes,” Ruben replied. “But, that’s not the point. Even if he does know something the team doesn’t know, he doesn’t have to shove it in their face. He needs to share, so everyone on the team can get better. That’s what teamwork is all about.”

“What do you believe about Jason?”

“Well, he is smart, but I believe his behavior is counterproductive. He makes his teammates feel bad,” Ruben pushed back.

“If he is so smart, do you think he could be an effective teacher?”

“Not with that attitude,” Ruben raised his eyebrows.

“In what context could that attitude be different,” I wanted to know.

“What do you mean?”

“Ruben. Look. Behavior does not happen in a vacuum. It happens in a context. Change the context, change the behavior. Could you change the context?”
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How Does Culture Drive Behavior?

“He doesn’t fit the culture,” Ruben explained. “Jason’s okay, knows the technical side of the business, but he doesn’t fit the culture.”

“What do you mean, he doesn’t fit the culture?” I asked.

“He doesn’t fit the team,” Ruben replied. “Our teams work together, support each other, help each other. If someone asks Jason a question, he snaps the answer, he treats the other person like they are stupid. And, they just want to know the answer to the question.”

“What does Jason believe about the team?”

“What do you mean, believe about the team?” Ruben looked puzzled.

“You said this was a culture problem,” I nodded. “Culture is a set of beliefs that drive behavior, for better or worse. Ultimately, those behaviors are repeated and become an unwritten set of rules that guide the team in the way they work together. That’s culture. But, it all starts with what we believe, what you believe, as the manager, what Jason believes as a team member. If you want to change the behavior, you have to change the context. What we believe, what Jason believes, creates the context and drives his behavior. What does Jason believe about the team?”

Ruben looked up into his brain, “Jason believes he is smarter than anyone else on the team. Jason believes that he could do all the work better than anyone else on the team. Jason believes the other people on the team slow him down. When someone asks a question, it proves Jason is right, that he is the smartest person on the team and he wants everyone to know it.”
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