Category Archives: Culture

Playing on the Road

  • Ufnfamiliar Turf
  • Jeering Crowd

Why do sports teams statistically have better records for home games than road games? In their championship series, why do sports teams jockey for playoff positions that award home-field advantage ? What impact does home-field advantage have on Motivation?

The locker room for the home team has individual accomodations, with names on each locker. Each player sleeps in their own bed the night before, life routines are simply routine. If a problem arises, any team member (including coaches and administrative staff) can tap into readily available tools, or hit the supply cabinet (readily stocked).

The visiting team is in unfamiliar surroundings, life routines are interrupted. Accomodations are adequate but anonymous. If a problem arises, the team member might have to improvise or “do without.” No hugs from family here, just the cold hard reality of a rival field of play.

Though there may be occasional fans supporting the road team, the majority of the cheering crowd is firmly in support of the home team. What is the impact of an engaged stadium full of “positive noise?”

What are the lessons in home-field advantage for the working manager?

  • Identity
  • Comfortable familiar environment
  • Problem solving systems
  • Available resources
  • The right tools
  • Ample supplies
  • Hugs (Support from the extended team)

The challenge for the manager, in the supervision of a team is to create an environment of home-field advantage in the workplace.

Harsh Monochrome

Simon moved quickly down the hallway. Morale was down. “I just don’t understand,” he said, “Our hotel managed a five star rating last year. I would think the staff would be proud of what they accomplished.”

“Show me around,” I insisted. “Let me look. I will tell you what I see.”

As we walked, I noticed the posh lobby and beautiful appointments of the hotel. It was truly wonderful. But then, I asked to see the work areas behind the forbidden doors that say Employees Only. That is where it hit me. The contrast was amazing; like we had been transported to a different place on earth. It was clean, but stark. Away from the warm glow in the guest areas, team members were bustling around bare cinder block walls lit by harsh fluorescents. The air was still and clammy. Team members, each, had their name scrawled on a piece of tape slapped on a gray metal locker.

It struck me that we treat our customers with a warm glow, while we treat our team members in harsh monochrome.

Do the surroundings in your workplace have an impact on productivity? Does beauty in the workplace have a positive impact? Look around, what do you see?

Why is Culture Important?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
What is culture? Everyone talks about it, says how important it is. I know it is there, but it’s one of those warm and fuzzy concepts that’s like nailing jello to the wall.

Response:
Culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our required behavior in the work that we do together. The culture cycle can be understood as a reinforcing system, recursive through four descriptive stages.

  • Beliefs and assumptions, the way we see the world.
  • Those beliefs and assumptions, typically unwritten, drive specific behaviors (for better or worse).
  • Driven behaviors, or cultural behaviors are tested by the consequences of reality.
  • Those behaviors that survive the test of consequences become our customs and rituals. Those customs and rituals reinforce our beliefs and assumptions, the way we see the world. The cycle begins again.

Every company (or social group) has a culture. That culture may be intentional or it just happens, but every company has one, and has the one they deserve. Culture is critical because it impacts the social structure, the way it operates and its impact on each individual. Culture determines the way you enter a group (company), how an individual is selected for the group. Induction includes the customs and rituals of orientation. Culture determines how roles are defined, assigned, formed, re-formed.

Culture determines any system of merit, performance management and review, individual development, career path, coaching and mentoring. Movement in the organization is impacted by systems of promotion based on accountability and authority. Compensation is designed, crafted and executed according to the way we see the world, the company and its business model in the competitive platform on which the company plays.

All of these elements are critical to a person’s understanding and self-perception. And most people in modern nation states exist inside a cultural system that impacts self-definition, not only the way a person sees the world (beliefs and assumptions), but the way they see themselves. Psychological healthy people are a product of psychologically healthy organizations.

Bone-headedness

Mark nodded, head-bob up and down. “It would seem very different for us to talk about performance issues in the executive management team. I am not even sure how I would start.”

“Why don’t you start with yourself?” I asked. “I am absolutely certain there are some shortcomings in the company that you can own, where you could have made a different decision, or handled something in a different way. Why don’t you start with yourself?”

“I suppose if I can’t think of something, you will say that I am in denial,” Mark replied.

My turn to nod. “We are often in denial. The sooner we confess to a problem, especially our contribution to a problem, the faster we can get on with solving it, learning from it, avoiding it in the future.” I stopped. “So, think about a decision you made that was hasty, not thought through well enough, that now, with 20-20 hindsight, you can clearly identify as bone-headed. What would it sound like to ask for feedback from your executive team?

“I want you to think about something,” I continued. “When your team makes a bone-headed decision, it costs pennies. When you make a bone-headed decision, it can cost millions.”

Talking About Performance Issues

Mark thought long and hard before he responded. “But, bringing up her underperformance in front of everyone else is not my style.”

“You’re not talking about her underperformance in public OR private,” I said.

“You’re right, I should talk to her in private,” Mark shrugged.

“I didn’t say either way, but why are you so uncomfortable bringing up performance issues in the executive management team?”

“Well, you know, it would be uncomfortable,” Mark admitted.

“Of course, it would be uncomfortable. Do you convene your executive team to talk about comfortable issues? If there is no contention, no conflict, no active discussion, what would be the point?”

“We are just not used to that. I would like to think we treat each other with respect.”

“You can be respectful and still hold someone to account for their performance,” I insisted. “The reason you are not used to talking about performance, with respect, is that you don’t practice it.”

Accountability and Responsibility

I often hear the words “accountability” and “responsibility” used interchangeably. I have to interject, the words are different.

Accountability refers to the output, the deliverable, the objective, the goal. That output, will be judged by someone as complete, satisfied, achieved.

Responsibility, however, is an internal feeling. It is the relationship between the person and their own social conscience. In most cases, this is a positive feeling that supports the behavior engaged in pursuit of a specific accountability. So, it’s a good thing.

Moreover, in looking towards a leader, I would endeavor to find a sense of responsibility in support of the expected accountability. When I look at organizational context (culture), I look for those elements that instill a sense of responsibility toward the accountability we seek to achieve. I look for this, not only in designated leaders, but in the minds (and hearts) of team members. Not too much to ask for, from customers and vendors.

A Goal Sits Inside

We think success is in reaching our goals, that our goals will change us and the world around us. Deconstructing the every-year process of setting goals, we may find something more important.

What is the context in which your goals reside?

It’s not the goal that changes you, it’s the context. Context is the crucible which holds the shape of you and your success. A crucible with a defect may lead your goal astray, or allow you to accept a goal that will lead you astray. Think long about the context in which you live. Change the context, behavior follows.

For an individual, context is mindset. For an organization, context is culture.

A Matter of Judgement

“You said the manager-once-removed is in the best position to engage the team member as a mentor,” Brendon asked. “You said the MOR has a realistic assessment of the team member’s performance. I know the MOR has access to the KPIs for the team member, but so do a lot of other people. Why the MOR?”

“KPIs are actually a lousy indicator of performance,” I replied. “The direct manager and the MOR, in their monthly 1-1 coaching discussion should do a 60-second team member review. If there are ten people on the team, that’s 10 minutes.”

“But, how could you review individual KPIs in 60 seconds?” Brendon wanted to know.

“I wouldn’t use KPIs. KPIs are important, to examine throughput of a system, but results, overall, are not in the control of a team member, or an indication of an individual’s performance. I know you subscribe to results-based-performance, but any factors you choose to follow cannot be relied upon in any sustained fashion. At best they will only be a clue, at worst, those factors may mislead.”

“But, we use objective numbers,” Brendon protested. “We manage by measurement.”

“Just because you use a number, does not make it objective. What if you are measuring the wrong thing? You cannot translate a living system into separate discrete factors. You have to account for the whole system, assessment is still a judgement. It is a judgement made by both the direct manager and the MOR.”

“Then how do we make that assessment?” Brendon was curious.

“A series of very simple questions,” I said.

  • Is the team member operating satisfactorily within the level of work?
  • Is the team member operating in the top half or the bottom half of the level?
  • And, in that half, top, middle or bottom?

It is a simple way to state effectiveness. Every manager can answer those questions.

“And if the response is not satisfactory, the diagnosis follows one of these four absolutes –

  • Is it a matter of capability?
  • Is it a matter of skill (that could be improved by training, education or experience?)
  • Is it a matter of interest or passion for the work, does the team member place a high value on the work?
  • Is it a matter of required behavior? Is there a violation of contracted behavior? Is there a habit that does not support a required behavior? Is there a violation of our accepted culture (required behaviors)?

“Make the assessment, then diagnose. At best, KPIs are only a clue. Personal effectiveness is a managerial judgement.”

A Slow Nuanced Dance

“Fixing accountability is the first step to creating a context of trust,” Pablo shifted. “When accountability is not clearly defined, or placed at the wrong level, mistrust begins a slow nuanced dance, often imperceptible. But it’s there. People begin to feel insecure about their own jobs, not sure where this career may or may not be taking them, squabbles emerge about equitable pay, stress among working relationships and blaming behavior.”

“Sounds like a bit of insecurity?” I ask. “Isn’t that why we do psychometric testing, to weed those people out?”

“People behave as people behave, in the context of their surroundings,” Pablo chuckled. “We think the success of a managerial system depends of the psychology of its individuals, when its success depends more on its design. Change the context, behavior follows. Go into a church or synagogue and you will see people sitting quietly, barely speaking. Does that mean they are all introverts and poor communicators? Go to a soccer stadium where a goal has just been scored and you will see people screaming, jumping up and down. Does that mean they are all extroverts with a boisterous personality. It’s all about context.”

Pablo stopped before he finished. “Fixing accountability is the first step to creating a context of trust.”

Carrots and Sticks

“People have a fair, intuitive sense of their own capability,” Pablo continued. “And, they yearn for opportunity to exercise their full potential. To do otherwise causes people to wilt. A great deal of a person’s self-esteem, even identity comes from the value they see in the work that they do.”

“So, the system in which they work has impact on how they behave?” I floated.

“It’s not just the system, it’s what people believe about the system. What we believe, our assumptions, the way we see the world is what drives our behavior. Look, the real question is, if we believe that people want to fully participate at their highest level of capability, spread their wings toward independence, that they do not need a carrot and stick to get on with their work, then what kind of managerial system would we create?”

“This sounds a bit idealistic, don’t you think?” I countered.

“Not at all,” Pablo replied. “This is about hard nosed work. Making decisions and solving problems, tough decisions and difficult problems.”