Because I occasionally fly United Airlines, I received an email from Oscar Munoz, CEO at United Airlines that illustrates an often missed step in the culture cycle. Here is what he said in his email, “Earlier this month, we broke that trust when a passenger was forcibly removed from one of our planes. It happened because our corporate policies were placed ahead of our shared values. Our procedures got in the way of our employees doing what they know is right.”
So, here is the culture cycle. Pay close attention to step 3.
- We hold beliefs and assumptions, about the way we see the world.
- We connect behaviors to those beliefs and assumptions.
- We test those behaviors against the reality of consequences.
- The behaviors that survive the test become our customs and rituals.
We can say we hold values of integrity, honesty, fairness. We can even define behaviors connected to those beliefs like courtesy, listening, understanding another’s viewpoint. But, somewhere along the line, for the crew on that United Airlines flight, they had learned that NOT following the rules ended in a reprimand. They attempted to displace four passengers for four crew trying to meet a schedule in another city. That was the rule. Had they not followed the rule, they knew there would be hell to pay, a write-up in their employee file, a graveyard shift, a demotion or skipped promotion. They knew that defined behavior of courtesy would never stand up against the reality of consequences.
So, someone got dragged out the door. Based on the settlement with the passenger, it would have been cheaper to purchase four Tesla automobiles for each of the four flight crew and ask them to drive instead of displacing the four passengers.
And right about now, every employee at United Airlines is confused about what to do in spite of what Munoz says.
From the Ask Tom mailbag –
When you described culture as a Key Result Area, you said the manager should be an effective model for behaviors that support the company’s culture. I am looking at our company’s mission, vision, values and it’s not really clear what those behaviors are.
The reason it’s not clear is that most mission, vision, values placards are not user friendly. There is no clarity because the company (the CEO, executive managers, managers and supervisors) have not made it clear. If you want clear behaviors, you have to define them.
For example, if teamwork is an agreed-upon value. “Our company values teamwork in its approach to problem solving and decision making.” What are the behaviors connected with teamwork? Spell it out.
Our company values teamwork in its approach to problem solving and decision making. Given a problem to solve, each team member, using their full commitment and capability is required to give their supervisor or manager “best advice.” Given a problem to solve, each manager or supervisor is required to collect facts about the problem by listening to “best advice” from their team. Only after thorough discussion and consideration of the data, contributing factors, circumstances and alternatives, will the manager or supervisor make the decision about the course of action to solve the problem. Our company acknowledges that this may be cumbersome and slow down the problem solving process AND it acknowledges that this process will be a learning tool for each team member in problem solving. In the short term, this process may slow things down AND in the long run, this process will prepare each team member to solve more complicated problems. This is not a suggestion, this is a requirement. -Tom
You may recognize “best advice” from Nick Forrest in How Dare You Manage?
From the Ask Tom mailbag –
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.
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?
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
“We just had our annual planning meeting,” Kelly explained. “We talked about our core values as a company, and wanted to find a way to integrate that intention into our interview process when we recruit new people into our company. But how do you interview for values? You can’t just ask someone, if they have integrity.”
“You can interview for anything that you can connect to behavior,” I replied. “That goes for any critical role requirement. Connect it to behavior and the questions will follow.”
“Okay, integrity,” Kelly challenged.
“Here’s the magic question. How does a person, who has integrity behave? Then ask about a circumstance where you might see that behavior?
- Tell me about a time when (my favorite lead in) you were working on a project, where something happened, that wasn’t supposed to happen, and you were the only one who knew about it.?
- Tell me about a time when, you found out that someone took a shortcut on a project that had an impact on quality, but you were the only one who knew about it?
- Tell me about a time when, you were working on a project, and someone confided in you about a quality standard or safety standard that everyone else had overlooked, and now, the two of you were the only ones who knew about it?
- Tell me about a time when, you were in charge of quality control on a project, and in the final audit, you discovered something wrong, and it took significant re-work and expense to fix.
“Once the candidate has identified a possible circumstance, then ask about the behaviors connected with integrity.
- What was the project?
- How long was the project?
- Who was on the project team?
- What was your role on the project?
- What went wrong on the project?
- How did you discover it?
- How were you the only one who knew about it?
- What impact did the hidden problem have on the project?
- What did you do? Who did you talk to? What did you say?
- How was the problem resolved?
- What was the impact of the re-work required in costs, materials and time?
- Tell me about another time when you discovered something wrong and you were the only one who knew about it?
“Would it be okay to ask about personal dilemmas, secrets and betrayals?” Kelly asked.
“Everybody has personal drama. I prefer to stick with work examples. It’s all about the work.”
More examples in my book, Hiring Talent. Hiring guru, Barry Shamis also discusses in his book Hiring 3.0.
Julia had a breakthrough, at least she hoped that’s what it was.
“Ralph thought I was going to tell how to do his job,” she said. “I could tell he was baiting me. He had some story about the last manager, how he tried to change things. Ralph seemed proud that, three months later, the team was successful in running him off.”
“How long has Ralph worked here?” I asked.
“Seven months, but I have an engineering degree and five years with another company.” Julia was trying not to be defensive.
“Do you think Ralph cares about that?”
Julia slowed her response. “No, not really.”
“So, what was the breakthrough today?”
“Well, he didn’t say he was going to try and run me off, too.”
“Okay, we will call that a start.”
Amazon still has a promotion going on Hiring Talent. Thanks to everyone who already owns a copy. -TF
“I need each of you to become an author,” I said. The management team looked at each other. I saw a set of eyes roll in the corner. I smiled.
“I need each of you to write a story.” I stopped for dramatic effect. “The story will only be four sentences long.” I could see a silent sigh of relief wave across the room. “In fact, we are going to write that story right now. To make it easier, you will all work with a partner. So, pair up. Let’s get going.”
We had been working on how to communicate our list of values throughout the organization. The idea was to create a story, four sentences long, that captured a positive example of a behavior aligned with one of the values the group had selected. Each manager in the group would be an author. In the room, we had vice-presidents, managers and supervisors. All told, twenty-three members of the management team.
Once each week, a story, written by a member of the management team, would be included in the weekly paycheck of each employee in the company.
In ten minutes, twenty-three stories were created and signed. We had a volunteer from the clerical staff to collect and type them all up. We were covered for the next twenty-three weeks. Better than a teamwork poster on the wall. Meeting adjourned.
As I walked through the entry way to the lobby, I noticed Miguel had posted the list of values in a cheap plastic frame next to the Mission Statement. I ducked into the conference room. Miguel sat up. “I know, I know,” he said. “At least it’s a start.”
I stared at him. “No impact. It’s not even a start!”
The rest of the management team huddled around, taking their places at the table. “Look,” I continued. “You have done a lot of work, but until you breathe some life into these values, communicate them as part of your culture, you might as well have stayed in bed.”
We worked the values list for thirty minutes, and in that short time, a series of ideas was constructed. There were details and accountabilities.
Hiring topped everyone’s list. That meant identifying behaviors connected with those values and constructing interview questions for those behaviors. We spent ten minutes brainstorming those questions. Interestingly, that ten minutes revealed more about the meaning of those values and how they would positively impact culture than any framed poster on the wall.
On teamwork, we asked ourselves, “How does a person behave, who values teamwork?” Then we constructed questions for those behaviors.
- Tell me about a project you worked on, where teamwork was important?
- What was the project?
- How long was the project?
- How many people on the team?
- What was your role on the team?
- What was the critical element in this project that made teamwork important?
- When the team worked well together, what was happening?
- When the team did not work well together, what was happening?
- What did the team adjust to work better together?
- What did you, personally, have to adjust to make the team work better together?
We amplified those questions by circulating an email copy to several other committees and groups in the company. We got lots of feedback and suggestions for more questions. Values are important, but you cannot interview for values, you can only interview for behaviors (connected to those values).
“It’s a good list,” said Miguel. The list had emerged from a values exercise the week before. After an extensive word pairing process, some heavy lobbying, push back, protest and negotiation, this was the list that made it.
“So, now you have a list,” I said. “What do you do with it?” Miguel’s eyes brightened, then his brow furrowed.
“I’m not sure. I guess we could print it out on fancy paper, frame it and put it on the wall next to the Mission Statement.”
I stared straight at Miguel. “Dude, you are going to have to do better than that.”
Miguel nodded in agreement.
“Get your team back together and take this to the next step. If you want to create a positive culture, you have to live by your values. Everything you do as a company should support these values. You have to identify the stories, the examples and the people. Then you have to amplify them. You have to amplify them in meetings, newsletters, memos and emails.
“Get your team together and figure it out. In what way can we communicate our values and the behaviors connected to those values to every person in the company. Frequently.”
Twenty three people milled about the room. We had gathered together to talk about culture. Culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our behavior as we work together. With such a large group, from vice-presidents to managers to supervisors, we broke into six smaller groups so quick discussions could occur. The CEO was in the back of the room with strict instructions to simply listen.
“On the table, everyone grab a little stack of sticky notes. Please identify five values that you believe are important in guiding our behavior as the company works together. Write one value on a separate sticky note.” Within 90 seconds, most had completed the assignment. Each small group was given another 90 seconds to share their responses, to make sure each person had five sticky notes. We were three minutes into the meeting.
“We have a big white board up here. I know it will get noisy, but everyone stand and come stick your five values to the board. Once all the notes are on the board feel free to group all the duplicates together and then sit down.”
And so the room was thrown into chaos for a few minutes. In the end, 62 different values were represented on the board. Those 62 values were quickly and randomly rearranged into 31 pairs of words.
“This next step is like a double-elimination tournament for a softball game, only quicker. For each random pair, we are going to vote on which value best represents what we want for our collective culture. The winners will go on one side and the losers on the other. Then we will pair all the winners and pair all the losers. To get off the board, the value has to lose twice, so a losing value could earn its way back to the winner’s side of the board.”
The voting went quickly. As the selections went from 62 to 31, down to 12, we then broke into group discussions to get the last 12 down to six. Groups were allowed to advocate for their most important values. In the end, we had five values, with very clear understandings what behaviors were connected to each. The process had taken an hour and a half. Our next meeting was scheduled for the following week.
The management team was assembled in the conference room. Culture was the topic of the day.
“You can either try to get people on board with your culture, or you can build the culture that people want to get on board with. Which is it going to be?” I asked.
Since Miguel called this meeting, everyone looked at him. The silence worked its discomfort. I broke the group into teams of two. Erica’s team was the first out of the gate.
“I don’t think you can talk people into it. The culture has to make personal sense and they have to believe it is really true. People can smell a pig no matter how much lipstick is on it.”
“What do you mean, it has to make personal sense?”
“I mean the values of the company have to be close to the values of the person. If there is a conflict, either the company has to change or the person has to go find another company.”
“Do you think culture comes from values?” I continued to probe.
Erica wasn’t sure where this was going, but she had already stuck her neck out. “I think culture is the collected values of every person who is a member of the group. Culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our behavior as we work together. It sets the expectation, creates the environment in which we work.”
“So, would you agree that the first conscious step toward a positive culture is to actively collect the values of each member of the group?” I stopped. “A little scary, perhaps. Until we collect the values, we can get away with ambiguity. Once we collect the values, there is no place to hide.”