Tag Archives: culture

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.

Source of Laziness

“I know you can tell that I’m upset,” Justin admitted. “It’s just that I am flabbergasted with my team.”

“You are right,” I replied. “Easy to tell you’re a bit off-center. Details?”

“They think they can get together and vote on policy all by themselves. They decided on a quality standard different than what we promised the customer. They decided our quality standards are too strict.”

“And?”

“So, now, our customer is our quality control department, not a good thing,” Justin shook his head. “I think they’re just a bunch of lazy guys trying to get away with sub-standard work. It’s a lousy personality trait that has infected the whole team.”

“So, you really think it’s personality, that they all have the same personality traits?” I asked.

Justin stopped. “I knew you were going to side with the team. You’re right, it is an overgeneralization that they all have the same personality.”

“And, you think personality has the ultimate impact on the way a person behaves?”

“If I were a psychologist, I would say yes.”

“But you’re not a psychologist, you are a manager. Think. If it is not personality, what could influence an entire team of people to act the same way?”

“I guess, because they all believe the same thing is true about the work,” Justin was searching for that factor common to the team.

“What is the same about the team, is that they all work in the same environment, an environment that you created, as the manager. If you want to change behavior, change the context.”

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.

Change the Context

“And, to promote the social good for the team employed by my company,” Pablo said, “I have to believe in the good inside each person. I have to create managerial systems that support that belief.”

“What you say is counter to many managerial practices,” I said. “In my travels, I see compensation systems, bonus and incentive programs that rely on greed and competition over compensation. I see team members with a narrow focus only on the next promotion, hidden agendas, backdoor politics, even backstabbing. I see a general mistrust of authority inside the company.”

“Yes, often that is what you see,” Pablo replied. “And, it is through no fault of employees. They engage in behavior to survive inside the system in which they live. If we create a system that relies on greed, we will get greedy behavior. If the only way we acknowledge contribution is by status, if the only thing that feeds a person’s self concept is a promotion, then you will get politics based on power. If you want to change the behavior, change the context in which they live.”

COVID-19 is Shattering Your Culture

Culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our required behavior, in the work that we do together. If it was written rules, that would be your standard operating procedures. Culture is largely unwritten.

It’s all about behavior. Of course there are ideals, beliefs and assumptions we hold that drive those behaviors, but culture is all about behavior.

Culture (ideals, beliefs and assumptions) are reinforced through customs and rituals. COVID-19 is shattering your culture, throwing you out of your rhythm. Look at your customs and rituals. Perhaps, now is the time to double-down on your customs, examine your rituals. What are you doing to hold your team together?

Four Factors of Competence

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You talk about competence as a primary driver of performance. If the underperformance is a matter of competence, what do I look for? It is too easy to say, “Oh, that person is just incompetent.”

Response:
Competence is made up of four things –

  • Capability
  • Skill
  • Interest or passion for the work
  • Required behaviors

These four factors can be used to trouble-shoot any underperformance, even mis-behavior.

Capability
Capability is an elusive concept to articulate, but we understand it intuitively through analogies. Some call it horsepower, mental acuity, light bulbs in the box, a few cards light in the deck. Most would agree that some problems are simple, some more complex. And, that some people can solve simple problems, but struggle when the level of problem solving becomes more complex. This is not just grasping all the facts to make a decision, but making a decision in the absence of facts, where there is ambiguity and uncertainty.

Skill
Where capability is more difficult to articulate, skill is easy. Competence related to skill is observable. There is evidence of output. A skill is anything that can be learned, anything that can be taught. Two pieces to every skill, one is technical knowledge, the other is practiced performance.

Interest or passion for the work
Without interest or passion, it is unlikely the person will put in the time to practice the skill. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, talks about 10,000 hours of practice required to master (become competent) a skill. A person who has no interest will not put in the time.

Required behaviors
There are three strings connected to required behaviors, contracted behaviors, habits and culture. There are some behaviors we simply contract for, like showing up on time for work. Competence can also be observed in habits. We are competent in those behaviors that are repeated (practiced), routine, grooved. As an organization (or team, or group) we enforce some required behaviors through culture.

So when I look for competence in performance, these are the four things I look for.

How Culture Touches the Work

Culture is that unwritten set of rules that defines and enforces the required behaviors in the work that we do together. Many things we do are written down and comprise our standard operating procedures. But most things are unwritten. And, when we think of culture, here are some things that are often missed.

  • Who can belong to our team? (Membership)
  • Who has the authority to make decisions, in what situations?
  • How are team members given work assignments?
  • How often are team members given work assignments?
  • Do team members depend on work product from other team members?
  • How do team members hand off work to other team members? (Integration)
  • When a team member completes a work assignment, how does their supervisor know?
  • When a team member completes a work assignment, how do they know what to work on next?
  • Does anyone review or inspect their work?
  • How often is their work reviewed or inspected?
  • Are they permitted to continue on additional work before their current work has been reviewed?
  • Do they work on multiple assignments simultaneously?

The people system is the most important system you work on. This is just the start.

More Than The Thought That Counts

It’s not the thought that counts. It’s the hug, the squeezed hand, the warm smile, sharing a cup of coffee, dropping by, saying hello, listening.

It’s the card from a friend with a special note, calling to talk about things more important than the weather.

It’s sitting with a family member through a tough time, standing up for someone in their proudest moment.

Sometimes it’s just showing up and being fully present.