This blog is about the relationship between organizations and the people who work for them. And, it’s dedicated to the millions of people around the world who go to work every day wanting to do a great job.
Imagine you’re an Apple employee in 1997. ¬†It’s over a decade since Steve Jobs was ousted from his position as CEO. You know you’re part of a team¬†with “good people”. ¬†But, despite strong “brand loyalty” and “millions of dollars of investment in research and development”, Apple feels like it’s “standing still” and the business you love is being described as the “failure story of wall street”. ¬†[quotes]
And, now, Jobs is back. ¬†And, he’s describing Apple’s core values: “We believe that people with passion can change the world!”
In¬†this short video, he talks about the Apple he’s come back to, and gives a primer on the power of core values to create great brands like Nike. ¬†He’s talking about marketing and introducing an ad campaign.
But, great brands, like Apple are about more than marketing! ¬†And, Jobs knew that.
Great brands capture the imagination of people inside and out and then they deliver.
What are your core values?¬†It’s a question that has been asked before. ¬†It’s a question worth asking again.
How do you describe who you are and what you stand for? As an institution? As a CEO? As a leadership team? And, how do you translate that into an experience for employees and customers?¬†
Thanks to Lisa Barone for the inspiration.
“Organizations are¬†amoral in and of themselves.
It’s human beings in organizations that have values. ¬†
It’s leaders that must impose values.”
So, when I read the most recent Maritz poll¬†results (2010, USA), I had to conclude that leaders may be imposing values, but they aren’t the ones that are being communicated by Corporate communications and HR professionals.
The survey found that “despite a slight improvement in business conditions, the American workforce remains less engaged with their employers than they did one year ago. Poor communications, lack of perceived caring, inconsistent behavior, and perceptions of favoritism were cited by respondents as the largest contributors to their lack of trust in senior leaders.” Specifically:
- Only 7% believe senior management‚Äôs actions are completely consistent with their words.
- 14 % of employees believe their company‚Äôs leaders are ethical and honest.
- Only 12 % believe their employer genuinely listens to and cares about employees.
- Only 10 % of employees trust management to make the right decision in times of uncertainty.
- About 25 % of employees distrust management more than they did the year before.
What is especially disheartening is that these same leaders are reading this report and year over year seeing the same results disappointing results. What are they making of it? Do they see employee involvement in their businesses as a must have or as a nice to have? What’s keeping them up at night if it’s not this?
Sucky values suck!
“Much more important than working hard is knowing how to find the right thing to work on. Paying attention to what is going on in the world. Seeing patterns. Seeing things as they are rather than how you want them to be. Being able to read what people want. Putting yourself in the right place where information is flowing freely and interesting new juxtapositions can be seen. But you can save yourself a lot of time by working on the right thing.” [Caterina Fake at Happiness Hack]
There’s nothing fake about Caterina Fake’s take on the role of management. She’s co-founder of Hunch and Flickr. And thanks to Hackingwork you can¬†hear how she, as “a management 2.0 leader thinks about [her] role and best practices for being a disruptive hero”. [really gets going at 4 minutes]
Yep. “Sometimes you just have to go rogue.”
Tony Schwartz recently shared his thoughts on “how the best companies are investing in their people”. He believes¬†all human beings have four sources of energy:¬†physical, emotional, mental/cognitive, and spiritual. So, companies who want to the best performance need to make sure employees’ needs on all four sources are adequately met as a business priority.¬†Makes sense. Sadly, when asked, Tony couldn’t name one company, not even his client Google, who is currently doing this.
Still, I think there’s something here worth giving thought to here. As a starting point for thinking about what institutions are doing or not doing to create better places to work…
Physical – All of us need to be adequately nourished, rested and fit to perform well.¬†What is/should/could your institution doing to ensure that employees are?
In my experience only one company, Nike, even came close on this one. Makes sense since this is the business they are in. Their cafeteria looked out on a beautiful ‘lake’ and redwood forest in Oregon. The food that was prepared and presented was healthy and nutritious and not “granola”. There were a range of culinary delights on offer and even a selection of wines and beers. The portion calorie count was clearly listed even then almost 8 years ago. There was a track, a cross-country trail and a gym on the property. Though I’m sure there was an elevator, everyone I saw walked up and down the three story court floor stairs. People worked intensely but they also seemed to know when to break. You got the sense that employees treated their business life as they would their athletic training.
At Google, according to Tony they are very aware of this source of energy and do many things to actively support employee health including covering the cost of employee meals and making nap pods available.
Emotional - We need to feel our work is valued and appreciated. When and how do the people in your institution thank and recognize each others work [and really mean it]?
I’ve seen this done well and badly and often in the same organization. So much depends on the skill of the manager. We all know when our work is really appreciated and when we’re being manipulated. This is not about the usual employee award programs. It is about getting real and timely recognition from your colleagues, your clients and your boss. ¬†Leading outside the lines is a great resource for beginning to thinking about this from an institutional point of view.¬†Managerial moment of truth takes the idea further. It’s not about what one of my clients called ‘cumbaia’. It is about setting conditions for a fair game.
Mental and cognitive – We need to be adequately focused. How does your organization keep the work focused and prioritized?
Most organizations I know are currently suffering from 24/7/52¬†syndrome. Thanks in part to technology and cultures that are hyped on “bigger, better, faster” there are no breaks insight. The pace of work looks manic from the outside, and feels overwhelming on the inside. Days are full of meetings. The work gets done outside of that. There’s little or no time to think. Tony suggests that even Google fails on this one. I think in addition, this is the place where we need to think about the impact our work space itself has on our ability to do a good job.
Spiritual – We need to see that we are contributing to something that is based on deeply held values and a clear sense of purpose; something that we find meaningful. How does your institution make sure that employees feel the organization is doing something meaningful to them and aligned with their values?
I think employee recruitment and selection is key on this one. If you’ll never get over the fact that if you work for Rio Tinto Alcan that 10% of the world’s energy every day is used in the production of aluminium then you will never be a match for this business. If you believe that aluminium makes lives better because it is the only fully recyclable product in the world and used in millions of applications and that’s what you care about then you’ll be a match for the business. ¬†If you join the company before knowing these facts, that’s a problem. This spiritual element is either a match or it isn’t. As an institution you can make the reality more evident for employees but you can’t fake it.
So, maybe, just maybe, it’s really all about recruiting and selecting the right people and then setting the conditions for people to do great work and supporting them in ways that they find helpful. ¬†Now there’s an idea.
A little fun, from down under, that takes a look at the employee side of this equation.
So wrong on so many levels, and yet the main point is just too right to be really funny!
Today, thanks to Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation, I came across this key note address by Bill¬†Taylor, the founding editor of Fast Company Magazine and author of Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself.
Here’s what really caught my attention: ¬†”You can’t build something special, compelling, distinctive in the marketplace unless you also build something special, compelling distinctive in the workplace… Strategy is your culture. Culture is your strategy. Success today is about so much more than just price, performance, features, technology, pure economic value. It’s about passion, emotion, identity, sharing your values… Real magic in the marketplace is when you make your organization more memorable to encounter.”
And that my friends can’t happen when the relationship with employees is¬†the last thing on the C-Suite’s agenda! ¬†It can’t happen when leaders do not¬†trust employees [though they expect employees to trust them], where leaders are not¬†loyal to employees [though they expect loyalty from them] and where they are not¬†proud of employees and the work they do [though they expect employees to be proud of the leadership and the organizations they work for]. ¬†Broken¬†cultures on the inside will always show on the outside sooner or later!
Recommend you take the 20+ minutes [Bill comes in at about minute 4] to watch it. ¬†Some great stuff on bench marking too!
Why indeed. ¬†When you love what you do? ¬†Are connected to the community you do it for? ¬†And, have a vision beyond yourself for the work you do and the organization you do it for? ¬†Six minutes that will make your day:
On a recent trip to Vermont Michael and I were listening to the Vermont Public Radio president on a town hall with their listeners.¬† And I noticed something.¬† It just didn‚Äôt work.¬† The president listened and chatted with those that called in.¬† The conversation seemed more like ‚Äėshe says‚Äô/‚Äôhe says‚Äô than a real conversation.¬† And, at the end of the show the president closed nicely and I realized she hadn‚Äôt specifically responded with an action to a single listener‚Äôs feedback.
It seemed a far cry from Obama‚Äôs town halls. Or what I’ve heard from my friends who live in Vermont, a state that may have invented the town hall, about the meetings that their very small town, Newfane, runs regularly to discuss all matter of issues and opportunities facing the community.¬† Or my recent experience attending a town hall for a ¬†‚Äúprogramme particulier d’urbanisme‚ÄĚ that has the potential to change the face of downtown Montreal.¬† These are lively discussions.¬† Both the politicians and the electorate care about the issues being discussed.¬† And at their best there‚Äôs clear action to be taken at the end.
And yet, the Vermont Public Radio town hall seems a familiar scenario for those of us doing internal communications.¬† So what‚Äôs going on?
Employee town halls after all are supposed to humanize organizations.¬† They create one of the few opportunities for interaction and discussion between our executives, managers and employees.¬† ¬†So, why don‚Äôt they generate meaningful discussion?¬† Why aren‚Äôt they more lively? ¬†Gosh why don‚Äôt we even get questions, unless we plant them [manipulation ‚Äď for another blog] more than half the time?¬† Why does it seem more like a shareholder meeting rather than a scrum?
Here are some thoughts:
|Political town halls||Employee town halls|
|It‚Äôs a democracy||It‚Äôs not a democracy|
|Audience has the power||Speaker has the power|
|Politicians to listen and defend their position||Executives to talk and assert their position|
|There‚Äôs something to discuss that people care and want to discuss||There may or may not be anything to discuss and employees are ‚Äėmandated‚Äô to participate|
|There‚Äôs an opportunity to influence decisions||Little or no real opportunity to influence; ¬†decisions have already been taken or|
Given these differences, what can we learn? ¬†Can we re-frame the Corporate town hall to achieve our goals of humanizing, engaging and creating meaningful conversations that further the business? ¬†Love to hear what you think.
Recently, I threw down the gauntlet:¬† Can technology help reinvent and humanize internal communications?¬†¬† Today, I thought we might take a look at one of the worst ideas in employee communications – the quarterly town hall ‚Äď to see.
Quarterly town halls were intended to give employees the opportunity to hear the important financial news from the CEO and to ask questions and interact with executives.¬† But, in reality these moments never really get beyond a one-way communication thinly disguised as two-way?¬† And never move beyond the question/response format into a discussion. Far from building relationships they encourage a deeply transactional approach. ¬†Once the CEOs presentation is over and the one or two planted questions asked the call is done for another quarter.
Oh wait, no it‚Äôs not.¬† The CEOs town hall may be over, but unless you‚Äôre a senior executive and therefore hosting your own town hall, you now have to endure the same thing with your senior executive.¬† And unless you have the good fortune to be a front line employee who can‚Äôt be taken off the manufacturing line, or out of the call centre or off the retail floor, the pain is not over.¬† You may need to listen in on, or lead, at least one other.¬† That‚Äôs a lot of meetings every quarter.
Stopping town halls altogether seems impossible.¬† Trust me I‚Äôve tried. There‚Äôs almost a primal need for CEOs and execs to have this moment in front of employees.¬† So, over the years I‚Äôve experimented with different models.
In the most successful, we tried sending an e-mail announcement from the CEO [and of course the news release it was derived from], followed by team meetings where managers led discussions with their people about the local implications for the news.¬† And, a week or 10 days later the CEO would host a town hall.¬† By then there were real questions and issues that had surfaced and something close to human interaction could happen. ¬†Qualitative and quantitative surveys for the pilots showed higher level of engagement and retention so we kept going and eventually implemented across the organization.
But now, what could it look like if we used technology to humanize those quarterly sessions like the teachers in Palo Alto were doing in yesterday‚Äôs post.
The quarterly process would start with a video with the CEO ¬†[not a talking head; maybe even embedding technology like the Khan Academy uses] to tell the story of the quarter [don‚Äôt get me started on the paucity of storytelling or the short-term focus on financials].¬† Not just the dry financials, but feedback from customers and/or a roving reporter‚Äôs ¬†view of things that matter to employees from the quarter.
Next, managers [well supported as part of their own management development curriculum] would meet with their people to explore the implications of the news for their teams, departments, regions.¬† This time would be spent discussing and developing tentative conclusions, surfacing issues and articulating the questions that matter most to employees.¬† This would be even more powerful if we pushed the idea beyond formal hierarchy to focus on cross-functional project teams and/or internal partners.
After 10 days or 2 weeks it would be time to consolidate input and feedback and have the ‚Äútown hall‚ÄĚ conversation with the CEO and his execs so that they can answer outstanding questions and discuss the issues and implications together.
And, I‚Äôm guessing the quarters will start to meaningful support to the business from the inside out.¬† More engaged employees.¬† More business savvy employees, leading to better business decisions.¬† Strengthened internal relationships.¬† Real business value.