Friday, July 13, 2012
In my last blog I shared a couple definitions of organizational culture, and wrote about how culture impacts organizational performance. Click here to view the definitions. In this entry, I would like to focus on the importance of your culture’s vision & values. From my perspective, they constitute the foundation of any corporate culture.
An organization’s vision & values are defined by the organization’s leaders and are enduring attributes of the culture. These attributes don’t change over time and are part of what I’ll call the living culture of the firm. Our vision defines what type of business we are in, the type of client we desire, and type of staff member we want to employ. Our values define how we want to run our business and ultimately the satisfaction we derive from it. Alignment of our leadership team and ultimately our entire organization around our vision and values is critical to the consistent execution and ultimate success of our business strategies.
Defining an ‘aligned’ vision with a leadership group can be very difficult, but is a critical driver of performance. Consider the opposite of an ‘aligned vision’ – complete misalignment. When leadership has a common vision and is in alignment, everything clicks. They speak from the same page when dealing with clients and staff, everyone knows what a ‘mission statement’ client looks like, policies and procedures are administered consistently and communication is crystal clear. Sound like utopia not built in reality? Maybe, but I think it’s worth striving for. If you’re like me, the success and development of your staff is a major area of concern for your organization and without an aligned vision, you can’t attain either.
How do you want to do business? The values you bring to your organization and your ability to align those values, within your leadership team and among your staff, will drive your contentment with your business. Profits are important, but living the life we desire may be more important. If your culture is out of alignment with your values, corporate life will be miserable and so will you! Since you can’t do everything yourself, you must delegate tasks to your leadership team and they must execute those tasks in alignment with the desired value system. For example, if you value high levels of service to your customers, you need your staff to reflect these values in their actions. In order for your staff members to learn and demonstrate high levels of service, your leadership team must demonstrate this value and then communicate, train, hire and retain staff in line with this value. Imagine an organization where there is no alignment of values or where no one polices the culture to maintain that values are upheld. You will quickly find yourself swimming in a sea of chaos where your staff does not even know that a high level of customer service is important to you.
In summary, your organization’s culture is your organization and its vision & values are critical elements of your culture. Your vision depicts why your organization exists and your values are rules of the road for operating your business. Alignment of these elements from top to bottom is crucial to the success of your organization.
More on gaining alignment in my next blog.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
How important is culture to the success of an organization?
It is everything!
I am the managing partner of an accounting, technology and business consulting firm. I have learned from experience that organizational culture impacts everything in business. The most sophisticated strategy, the best people and outstanding execution won’t guarantee your organization is successful. But, if you start with the right culture and build from there, you might have something. So what exactly is culture in an organization? The definition of organizational culture is slippery; you run the risk of alienating certain components when presenting one succinct definition. Let’s take a look at two definitions from well respected management theorist and see what they have to say about Organizational Culture:
Organizational culture is…
“a pattern of shared basic assumptions invented, discovered, or developed by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration that have worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems” - Edgar Schein
“the specific collection of values and norms that are shared by people and groups in an organization and that control the way they interact with each other and with stakeholders outside the organization” - Charles W.L. Hill and Gareth R. Jones
An amalgam of the two sounds like a reasonable definition to me. Let’s take a closer look at one of the components of this definition in order to gain a better understanding:
I am a CEO, not a psychologist, so what do I know about culture and human behavior? Maybe nothing, but in my experience, who we are and what we do plays out daily throughout the culture of our organizations. If our behaviors truly reflect the Vision and Values of our organizations then we should be able to create an organizational culture that performs in a way that supports our strategic goals.
Simply put, managing for the culture you want should be a matter of defining the culture and then acting consistently in a way that positively impacts how the people around you think, feel and act (the organization’s culture). But is it really that simple? If it is, why do so many organizations fail to achieve a culture that successfully supports their mission?
The most effective way to bring about cultural change and improve organizational performance is to improve the collective behaviors of the organization’s leaders. If you’re like me, you’ve tried many techniques, programs and initiatives to improve culture throughout the organization, only to have them fail the first time a senior leader chooses not to follow them. Your staff says, “why should I do this when he (and he points at you) does not?” Experience tells me that I must take the path of working to improve leadership behaviors if I want to have an impact on organizational culture. Everything leaders do, say and don’t say is picked up and mirrored in the behaviors of their peers and staff. Because of its impact on the rest of the organization, leadership behaviors drive culture and ultimately organizational performance.
More on Vision, Values and Culture in my next entry.
Monday, September 19, 2011
“Highway Subject to Crosswinds,” was what the sign read as my friend Rod and I rode into Oklahoma from Vega, Texas.
Our mission that day was to make it to my grandparents’ farm in southern Kansas. I’ll never forget thinking to my-self how asinine that sign was. Nothing could be as bad as those horrendous Santa Ana winds, we first experienced as we set-off on our trip from L.A. to Baltimore…or could it?
As a business leader, you should make sure you don’t assume that you have already seen the worst; you need to be prepared for anything. In this case our assumption of having ‘seen the worst’ got the better of us. After passing the sign, about another 30 minutes into the ride, the skies began to darken. Before the rain was released upon us, the wind hit us with a power I never want to experience again on a motorcycle (or anywhere else for that matter). It battered us all over the road; pushing us from one side of the road to the other. Back and forth, back and forth…it took all my strength to keep the motorcycle from completely being derailed from the road. Then the rain came; it pummeled us all the way past Oklahoma City.
We made it to my grandparents’ farm later that night - soaking wet, muddy and exhausted. As we opened the backdoor to the farmhouse, the smell of beef and mash potatoes filled our noses. My tired spirits perked up. From a distant room I heard my grandmother yell, “Get your selves cleaned up!” No warm hug or hello, it was always just right down to business.
Nonetheless, I’m thankful for that. My grandparents taught me the true nature of entrepreneurship, and business, and gave me an appreciation for risk and reward. In my early teens, I worked summers at the farm. The first day I came to work there my grandfather gave me the privilege of being responsible for 2 acres of wheat. He promised me that I would receive full payment towards anything yielded from those acres. The knowledge that I was responsible for using my skill set to create my own earnings excited me. I worked from dawn to dusk and made sure I paid full attention to my 2 acres on top of my other duties. At the end of the summer I asked my grandfather when I was to going to get paid. My ground had been tended and prepared to be sown in the fall. I thought for sure that after that much work my wages were due. He gave me a small smile and calmly replied “next year, in the spring, when the crop is harvested.” I was foolish to think I was a successful farmer when in reality anything could still happen to my crops. When spring did come - my grandfather was true to his word, and I received a check bigger than I could have imagined. Along with the check was a note asking if I was interested in returning to help again. I have to say, that was the point I knew I was onto something. The second year was not so profitable – a tornado came and wiped out all my crops. It was a hard business lesson to learn, but the experience had “planted the seeds” of my entrepreneurial mindset.
The following summer I was not able to return to the farm. As a 9th grader and a promising trumpet player – I had obtained a position in the All-Ohio State Fair band. The band’s practices and tours had me booked for most of the summer. However, I still needed cash, and that summer I didn’t want to find a job. Similar to working my acres on the farm, I wanted independence and a chance to utilize my skills and get paid for them. Hence, Buddy Roger’s music store became my target. I walked into the store and found the owner, Buddy, behind the counter. I asked if I could teach trumpet lessons at the store. I could tell I had caught him off guard and he did not know what to say to the 14 year old standing before him. I opened up my trumpet case and told him, if he didn’t like what he heard he could tell me to leave. As the final notes of Chopin’s Valse Brillante resonated from my trumpet - Buddy got right down to business and remarked – its $6 a lesson. You get $3 and I get the other half.
Looking back I don’t think I would have ever reached out to Buddy – if it was not for my experiences at my grandparents’ farm. They had sparked my entrepreneurial leadership attributes. My suburban upbringing probably would not have afforded me to realize that:
- I would rather earn equal return for my efforts in something I was fully invested in and felt enthusiastic about
- I enjoyed the risk associated with these opportunities. Whether it was the uncertainty of Mother Nature or the possibility of a no, the risk element made it more of an adventure and challenge in my mind
- Sometimes you cannot prevent failure, but you should learn from it and use it as a step towards your ultimate success
- I could utilize my creativity and be profitable by searching for new opportunities and pursuing them
What experiences planted the seeds for your entrepreneurial spirit? Can you think of any particular person or experience that helped to cultivate your gifts?
Friday, August 26, 2011
A colleague of mine brought up a very good point about my recent entry “Pursuing a Triple Bottom Line.” He challenged me to think about how this concept applies to our current economic situation.
Recent news has been littered with comments of how we are still in a recession and unemployment numbers are at an all-time high. One cannot deny that the P&Ls of many businesses are under siege and will be for quite some time. My colleague went on to state that time is the one commodity businesses all have ultimate control over, yet he suspects many leaders are having trouble seeing how spending more, or even much time, in endeavors not closely linked to the operational aspects of their business makes sense for them.
To that I reply – you have to change your mindset. As a leader it’s your responsibility to ensure that your organization’s strategies are geared toward the triple return objective. The TBL theory relies on the trifecta effect. This means ALL aspects/endeavors (including operations) impact each other to achieve better results both financially and altruistically. Unfortunately, it’s this holistic approach that most organizations lose sight of when times get tough. Most look to downsize, cut, and conserve in all areas. In fact, this is the time to look for ways to “right-size” your organization and with it strengthen your organization’s environmental and social aspects. Why? Because integrating these factors into your core calculations creates an opportunity to distinguish and elevate the organization in a stagnant marketplace.
Let’s take a closer look at how concentrating on a triple bottom line strategy can positively influence your organization in a recession.
Environmental: In my experience, arguments that it costs more to be environmentally sound are often specious when the course of the business is analyzed over a period of time. Generally, sustainability reporting metrics are better quantified and standardized for environmental issues than for social ones. For example, our current economic state has produced a number of energy tax incentives that may be advantageous to your organization. To view a list click here.
Social: Milton Friedman, the well-known 20th century economist, stated that “there is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits…” A true compliment to the argument that states socially responsible activities take capital and other resources from a firm, putting it at a relative disadvantage compared to firms that are less socially responsible.
However, there can be a synergetic relationship between social and financial performance. It’s important to note that with the TBL theory, one activity does not dominate and drive the other. Simple, cost-effective social activities can involve members of your HR or management team encouraging TBL goals through training, orientation, and performance measures to help build a company’s culture around them. Reinforcing vision and values to employees, such as remarkable client service, have shown to improve a company’s reputation in the marketplace and positively impact its financial performance. Additionally, as I implied in my previous post, applying company time to civic duties enhances your employees’ morale and strengthens your company’s character within the community. In my experience, this strategy will continue to drive positive results to your bottom line and your company's culture.
Profit: While revenue and sale numbers may be low; a finance team might focus on TBL metrics to demonstrate performance beyond financial results. Value added performance indicators may be the key to offsetting some of these traditional P&L items. However, in order to develop metrics that provide a meaningful measure of performance, companies must identify the factors that drive their business value and understand the sources of such value. They should seek to identify and develop measurement indicators that align with needs, expectations, and remain consistent with the company objectives and strategy. For instance, an organization may decide to focus on governance practices and broaden their understanding of the company’s risk profile and exposures. Information on a company’s risk exposures and the management of these exposures may allow it to better align and coordinate risk management and internal control activities for improved performance.
In essence, allowing your organization “time” to pursue environmental, social and non-traditional profit opportunities allows your business to think outside the confines of their current operations. Each TBL area, when leveraged, has shown to increase marketplace performance and awareness. Keep in mind, a weak economy is only a better excuse for leaders to challenge their organization to rethink how they operate and take on the challenge of pursuing the Triple Bottom Line to drive results.
(These are only a few examples; if you have any stories or best practices about incorporating the Triple Bottom Line theory with your organization, I would love to hear about them. Post a comment or shoot me an email.)
Friday, July 08, 2011
In the mid 80’s, when Bill Gates and Paul Allen’s vision of a computer on every desktop and in every home was emerging as a reality, I was running a specialty retail store. I sold wood burning fireplaces, hot tubs and all of their accessories. Flying back to Baltimore from one of my business trips for the store, I had struck-up a conversation with the gentlemen sitting next to me. It turned out he was in the floor covering business.
Our discussion led us to realize our retail operations and services were very similar. We both managed:
- Retail space
- Warehouse space
- Service, instillation and maintenance crews
- Products that needed feature and benefit education to the consumer
Diving deeper into the discussion, I explained to him that I was developing a flow chart to support my business initiatives.The exercise was driving my thinking about developing some type of software for my computer to manage my operations more efficiently and maybe even help customers in the decision process. Now a day, my concept would be referred to as “Point of Sale” or POS software. It’s similar to what you experience in any cell phone retail store.
He liked the idea and thought the software system would also make sense for his business. As it turned out, his two daughters had just graduated from college with computer science degrees. He was certain that they could work with us to develop the application. It seemed like the universe was aligning, and as the flight touched down, we decided to join forces to figure out how we could make this concept come to fruition.
As we moved through the process of developing the software, we had the opportunity to present it at the Wood Heating Alliance’s annual tradeshow.We finalized the demo of the software right before the big day. To showcase the software we had a large kiosk set-up in the middle of the conference’s main showroom. We demoed it from early in the morning on day one, through to the late evening on the last day of the show. Throughout the show our space was besieged with attendees trying to take a peek and test it out for themselves. The buzz and response were amazing. However…we didn’t close the deal, no purchases were made during the tradeshow.
As the year passed and we ventured further into “selling” the software, it became apparent that our two industries primarily consisted of small family owned businesses.The cost to have the software implemented in these stores meant first investing in the hardware and then in training staff on how to use everything. This was a huge ancillary cost that no one was willing to undertake at the time. There was no track record with the software and they weren’t willing to accept the uncertainty.
As we kept pushing our product and meeting the same challenge, the decision to fold our company came as quickly as we started it. The industry was just not ready for our software. It was a dead end.
Or was it…
Looking back now, there are lessons to be learned from this venture:
- We should have researched the marketplace upfront
- We gave up too early – It was a strong idea and if given a little rethinking coupled with strong research, could have excelled possibly in another industry where the hardware was already in use and a need for the software was the next opportunity.
My advice to any business leader on the verge of developing the latest tool to revolutionize your business or industry is to remember to think as practically about your strategy as you do your product. We had most of the technical kinks worked out – but what does a working product mean to an audience that will not invest the time and money to implement it? Quality market research sets the foundation of how you should move forward with your strategy and market your product. In many cases, market research will not only help you recognize potential competitive advantageous, but also help you evaluate risks and roadblocks early on. Knowing this key element, may save you a lot of time and money in pursuing your vision.
Friday, June 17, 2011
I’m a firm believer that as a leader, you should build your organization based on a purpose, not just profit. At the highest level this business endeavor has been deemed as developing a Triple Bottom Line. As the definition states, a Triple Bottom Line occurs when the financial, social, and environmental effects of a firm's policies and actions determine its viability as a sustainable organization. Today, there are many successful corporate organizations such as Starbucks and General Electric who reflect the realization of this theory.
For me, I have incorporated my passion in mentoring youth as a way to pursue a greater purpose in each of the companies I have been fortunate to lead. The most meaningful mentoring program I influenced was called, “Little Bang”. I hold it close to my heart because our firm’s actions lead to our culture becoming amalgamated around a common, higher purpose to enrich student lives through giving them experience in the business environment. There are many stories to share around this group, one of the best starts toward the end of the five year program.
The program’s structure was simple with the key assignment of the group of students being the development of a product they would take to market. This included how they were going to finance the product. We could have made it simple and invested the $5,000 that was required from our own corporate funds. However, we wanted to give the students the opportunity and the experience that comes with this business aspect. I coordinated two meetings, one with the Abell Foundation and the other with SunTrust Bank. I spoke to each representative and told them what we were doing and insisted that once they heard the students pitch that they would not be able to say no. However, I asked them to refrain from that natural instinct and to treat the group as real businessmen and businesswomen.
The day of the pitch came. For me, it was an amazing personal and professional experience from start to end. The day was broken into two memorable moments…
The Office Rally
The morning of the pitch, numerous employees had gathered in the office to get the 10 students ready. The organization had been entrusted with nurturing the students for so long and you could feel the conclusiveness the moment was bringing to the relationship. Many brought in professional clothing for the students to wear. It was emotionally powerful to witness employees tying ties and choosing the right shoes for these young adults who were in a way ‘graduating’ from all that they had learned from being involved in the program. This simple office rally was the perfect ceremony to kick off the capstone of the student’s project.The impact on the students may have been outdone by the sense of pride and camaraderie that surged throughout the entire office.
All 10 students, my colleague and I, assembled into the elevator at the atrium of the downtown building that accommodated the Abell Foundation. The students were hyped up and did not pay attention to the older gentlemen who shuffled in behind them. Upon reaching the top floor, our sprightly group, plus the older man, Walter Sondheim, spilled out of the elevator into the polished lobby of the Abell Foundation. The father of modern day Baltimore chuckled under his breath and gave me a wink. I could see in his eyes that he knew what it was all about.
As soon as the group was escorted into the conference room, we lost the students. They all ran to the massive floor to ceiling windows that captured the Inner Harbor view. Excitement washed through the group as they quickly pointed out the well-known landmarks including their former school, Highlandtown Middle. Trying to bring order back – we reminded them why they were here and organized them around the table according to what they were to present on.
Leanne and I sat away from the table and behind the students, giving them full rein of the proceedings with Eileen O'Rourke and her colleague. To this day, I remember everyone delivering a beautiful performance. Then it was Corey’s turn. The intimidating high school offensive lineman unfolded his 6’4 frame from the table and stood towering over the Abell Foundation representatives. Leaning in he said, “You’ve heard from my teammates. My responsibility is the ‘Ask’. We need $5,000.” He then sat back down with his face imitating the pure confidence of a sealed deal. Eileen didn’t miss a beat. She thanked Corey and the others and then proceeded to ask questions. The meeting concluded with Eileen and her colleague congratulating the students on a terrific presentation.
Back on the ground floor, in the atrium the students gathered in a celebratory circle, high fiving and excitingly talking about the meeting.One chirped up and said, “Mr. Gib – we got it! We don’t have to go to SunTrust now, do we?” I looked over the group and speaking as an experienced businessman I countered with the question, “Well, did you leave with a check in hand?” A sudden hush fell over the group. “No,” the group responded. “But, we nailed it! There’s no way they would say no,” replied a student. After a few more minutes of back and forth about whether the group had succeed– they determined that it was in their best interest to carry on to the next meeting.
Of course, this story has a happy ending. The students did acquire the funding. I share this story to showcase that as a business leader, contribution toward an ardent cause can have a great effect on a whole organization as well as the cause. It can align those in the organization, give them purpose outside of their daily tasks, and strengthen their team involvement. In turn, a greater cause leads to the possibility of being able to take that vocation out to the community and create a greater social impact. The PR that occurred for our organization was small in comparison to the emotional privilege we shared in helping the students find self-confidence, understand the business world and work toward accomplishing a goal.
You may be thinking – that’s all and good – but my “bottom line” means showing financial results. To that proclamation I continually reply that the profit will always appear around the social contribution. Studies have shown that productivity increases in an organization that offers a greater purpose to their mission; monetary investments increase because it’s just one of the ways people can show they are enrolled in the cause and support the efforts. Operational strategies become easier to develop and maintain from a long-term perspective because there is a solidified element to guide them. Most organizations have a hard time looking up from their numerical goals to see that by integrating social and environmental factors into their core calculations they can reach even further. That by doing so, they have an opportunity to distinguish themselves in the marketplace, altruistically and financially. Food for thought….I challenge you to consider the possibility of pursuing something greater for your organization.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
For many leaders, public speaking does not come easy. Feeling some nervousness before giving a speech is natural and even beneficial, but too much nervousness can be detrimental. How can a person increase their ability to be an effective public speaker? The number one attribute of effective public speaking, which has supported me throughout my career, was taught to me by my father.
As a college student, one of the requirements of my freshman communications class was to do a presentation in front of the class. I did not think much of this assignment at the time it was given. As the day to give my presentation approached, I was comfortable that I would do a good job. Sitting in class the morning of, watching a classmate give her presentation, I felt ready to go. Then the time came. It was my turn, and I was in the hot seat… As I walked to the front of the class I could feel my throat getting dry and my hands getting sweaty. Needless to say, my presentation was horrible.
Walking back to the dormitory after class, a number of things ran through my mind.In high school I had been the number one trumpet player in my community. I had played Cincinnati Music Hall in front of thousands of people and never missed a beat. I had led our band and orchestra to number one ratings for several years. My record in solo competition was unblemished. Getting nervous in front of crowds was not something that happened to me. As a matter of fact, I rather enjoyed the rush of being in front of the crowd. There is a level of stimulation that comes from performing before a group of people that is hard to replicate.
When I got back to my room I called my Dad. He was a senior executive at Leo Burnett Advertising in Chicago. He was very much the face of that organization to many of their clients. I knew that he “performed” in front of clients regularly. I thought he could provide me with some insight about what went wrong this morning. I left a message with his secretary and he called me back later in the day. I walked him through what had happened in class that morning. I told my Dad that I had called him because I knew he was in pressure situations in front of clients all the time, and I was certain he never got nervous.
Dad asked me how prepared I was to give the presentation. I told him that I felt ‘pretty good’ about the material. He said, “When was the last time you went out on stage with your trumpet feeling “pretty good” about the music?” He was right, I never felt pretty good about the music. As a matter of fact, I rarely had music with me. When I went out on stage I knew the music cold. I didn’t have to think about the music. I only thought about how the music was going to make my audience “feel”.
He said that when he addressed a client, like when I addressed an audience, it was all about certainty. He was certain that he knew more about the topic than his client, and that he was comforted by his preparation. He told me to do a better job preparing for future course work.He said preparation was the key to gaining comfort in the classroom environment and when presenting, you should be certain that you are more prepared than your audience.
I have taken his words to heart. To this day I still enjoy the stage. Although I have not played the horn in quite some time, I do have many opportunities to perform. The stage is different now; sometimes training colleagues, sometimes coaching kids, sometimes addressing groups on the value of mentoring our youth. When I walk on stage my Dad’s words are with me. Be certain.
Friday, May 06, 2011
There are 9 simple rules that I always bring with me to a group brainstorming session. They are as follows:
1. Defer judgment, any idea is a good idea
2. Encourage wild ideas, they can be the key to solutions
3. Build on the ideas of others, no "buts", only "ands"
4. Stay focused on the topic
5. One conversation at a time, no interrupting, dismissing, disrespect or rudeness
6. Be visual and physical, draw "it", act "it" out, break a sweat
7. Go for quantity
8. Diversity is more important than expertise
9. Someone besides the "boss" goes first
I would like to focus on and expand upon rule number eight. Group brainstorming can be very effective for bringing the full experience and creativity of all members of the group to contemplate on an issue. When individual group members get stuck with an idea, another member's creativity and experience can take the idea further.I believe the diversity in your group is the key ingredient to taking your brainstorming to the next level and making it successful. For this reason, I encourage you not to limit your group sessions to C-level or like-minded individuals. The best results in brainstorming occur when everyone in the organization, from the intern to the CEO, is participating.
Case in point, when I worked for the innovative consumer product company, our initial product line consisted of ear warmers and winter gloves. We had just introduced a few products to the summer beach market. The individual products had been named, but we had yet to name the product line.Our winter products went under the brand 180’s, and we felt it would be confusing to use a brand associated with the winter items on the new summer beach products.Therefore, we set out to create a brand name for the summer beach product line.
Although we were in a hyper-growth state at this point, going from 17 teammates and $7.5 million in annual sales to 36 teammates and $15.4 million in annual sales, we were conservative with our expenditures.We decided that we would try to come up with a brand name on our own instead of hiring a marketing group to help. We jammed our entire group of teammates from warehousemen, to receptionist, to the C-suite, into our conference room for a brainstormer. It was after work hours, so we had dinner brought in for the team. We laid out the 9 rules for brainstorming and went at it. The question we set out to answer was, “What would be a good brand name for our summer beach product line?”
Within an hour we had more than 100 names. Then we went back and crossed out any name that anyone in the “storming” session felt had a negative connotation. About an hour later, for one reason or another we had crossed out all the names. Undaunted, we circled back to the beginning of the process (it was like “lather, rinse, repeat”). A half a dozen names or so into round two, our receptionist (soon to be my daughter in law) said “Fahrenheit,” someone else across the room yelled “Celsius,” our controller said “Kelvin.” Then it came, one of the research and development guys took the “K” from Kelvin and replaced the “C” in Celsius….and with a few more adjustments…Kelsyus was born.
Kelsyus quickly became well established in the marketplace and within twelve months we had sold the brand to Swimways Products. If you look closely next time you are at the beach or the pool you are likely to see a Kelsyus chair, beach mat, or floating ring. The name, created during a simple brainstorming exercise, is still attached to the products.
The team creativity that was fostered with this exercise was impactful. However, the real beauty of the story is that the receptionist was the trigger to the final name. The fact that the receptionist came up with the game winning idea exemplifies that value is created when everyone in the organization can actively participate in brainstorming and share their ideas.
Friday, April 22, 2011
In my last post, Finding the Balance Between Left and Right,I mentioned Daniel Pink’s concept of finding personal and professional balance by leveraging both sides of your brain. In it he outlines six fundamental “right brain” aptitudes that are essential to achieving balance. The one that stuck out in my mind was the chapter covering, “story.”
Here’s a left brain fact we have all heard; According to advertising experts, a customer is exposed to more than fifteen hundred marketing messages each day. In this crowded marketplace, Pink explains that “story” means having an impact on individuals and businesses that helps to distinguish your goods and services. How? Well, storytelling is sharing information and developing an identity or an image that people will remember and identify with.
Pink states, “stories are easier to remember – because in many ways, stories are how we remember.” He continues, “Story is high concept because it sharpens our understanding of one thing by showing it in the context of something else.” I can really relate to that. As I mentioned, in my first ever post, “if you don’t know me, then you will quickly come to realize I am the type of person who learns and connects through telling stories.”
My previous company, Entrequest, makes this a number one strategy for their customers and themselves. They help businesses develop a “story that sticks” by rediscovering or uncovering what’s remarkable about their organization and communicating it to their target market. In fact, I invite you to check out Entrequest’s recent blog post, Communicating Your Story to the Four Personality Types,to help you get started in understanding some of the elements that should be reflected in your story to help you connect with audiences.
For me, storytelling is a powerful communication tool that not only helps individuals outside your business connect to you and remember who you are, but also supports a “common language” and background for your teammates. You may be surprised by how many different “stories” you would collect, if you asked your colleagues to tell you about your organization. That’s not the end of it though, it’s an ongoing process. Once you identify your organization’s story, it’s important to share it internally and on a continuous basis to cultivate and strengthen your workplace culture. A side benefit to doing this is that it is another way to ensure that your organization’s story will be spread by your teammates, and remembered by their networks as well.
MKS&H, has a story that has been built over 65 years. This year we are challenging ourselves to bring it to life. It’s a venture that I look forward to sharing with you in future posts, but for now let me ask…What’s your organization's story?
Friday, April 08, 2011
I first met Vicky years ago when she was looking for a new job that would give her the opportunity to exercise the “right-side” of her brain and explore her creative spirit.
Prior to our encounter, Vicky held a consulting position with Accenture, had multiple degrees in engineering and was self-taught on the latest design software. Fortunately for her, the consumer products company I was leading needed another design package specialist. She was hired on a trial period. After 90 days, we sat down to discuss her performance. Through the organization’s eyes she had done extremely well. However, she said she missed applying the analytical side of her personality. It just happened that at this time that our company was in need of a website upgrade. Vicky took on this task with passion. She continued to leverage her intuitive "right-side" through the frontend web design. In addition, she was able to re-engage the "left-side" with the backend web development. Yet again, she crushed it! One of the most impressive qualities of Vicky was her ability to find a balance between her need to exercise her logical side and creative side. Indeed, Vicky did so well with harmonizing what society typical brands as opposing passions that she went on to start her own consulting firm called, “A little Moxie.”
I tell you the story about Vicky because she is a true example of what I just finished reading about in Daniel Pink’s book titled, “A Whole New Mind.” In it he embraces the concept that it is important to leverage both sides of your brain (left and right) to truly tap into your professional and personal development. As you can read in Vicky’s bio (click here), she is more than happy when she is pursuing both.
Many of us believe we are wired either one way or another. However, the left and right brain functions are not mutually exclusive; we require BOTH brain functions to optimally succeed. It’s not an either/or thing. The right brain gives us the “why” and the left brain gives us the “how.” It’s up to us to take full advantage of the right-side to continue to push the left-side. Today, I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and flex the brain muscle you feel you discount the most. If you are the creative type – try a crossword puzzle or Sudoku problem. If you are the more logical type – try some creative writing or drawing. Experts say simple exercises such as these will revitalize and expand your thinking...and what leader wouldn’t want that?
I would love to hear what you do to exercise your mind. Workout your right-brain and share your thoughts below in the comment section.
Monday, March 07, 2011
Rod and I woke-up hungry in Flagstaff, Arizona. The morning sun hung low in the sky and the air was crisp. With very little money in our pockets we made our way to the local grocery store and bought what any adolescent would buy to sustain them for the next 500 miles or so - a hostess cupcake pack and a 4oz carton of milk to split between us. After eating our ‘nutritious’ breakfast, we got on the bike and headed East on route 40 toward Vega,Texas.
As we continued on the road the valley gave way to thick forests and a more mountainous milieu. We could noticeably feel the cold chill in the air as we climbed higher in altitude. I looked down at my exposed hands clenched to the bike handles; they were red and starting to go numb. We were un-prepared for the extreme temperature change. After about 15 minutes I could not take it anymore and pulled the bike off the road. In a stroke of genius (or more likely, pure survival mode), we took our socks off and donned them as mittens. Well, I thought, this was a heck of a way to start the day…cold and hungry.
We rode on, huddled on the bike with our makeshift mittens, until we crossed into New Mexico. Something majestic occurred as we crossed state lines; the terrain was still high, but flat. The forests had thinned-out and we could see for miles across the horizon and into the deep valleys below. By late afternoon we were approaching the city of Albuquerque. What a spectacular site to behold. The city rose out of nowhere from the vast valley. Mountains flanked it on either side. The bright blue New Mexico sky stretched out behind them to set a limitless backdrop. Rod and I should have pressed on to make good time before it got dark, but the picturesque sight entranced us. We pulled over and just took it all in. In fact, by the time we drove down the side of the Colorado Plateau, through the city and back up the other side of the mountains, we had to stop again. The sun now was beginning to set and the deep blues, purples and oranges that exploded from the sky were absolutely amazing.
That night, when we reached Vega, we each had a snickers bar for dinner. We were exhausted and headed to the nearest motel that looked to be in the price range of such financially savvy travelers as ourselves. I haggled with the owner to give us a more “economical price” for a room, given our tight budget. Finally, after a little back and forth, we got the room for $7 (early evidence of my negotiating skills). As I settled into the grubby bed, I remember saying to Rod, “What an awesome day!”
I reflect on these 575 miles of the 3,300 mile trip to remind us business leaders that sometimes we get caught up in the day-to-day activities and challenges at work. More often than not, we should take time to “just take it all in,” or to be cliché, “stop and smell the roses.” Sometimes it’s the best thing to do, because it helps us refocus and reenergize. I believe that the age old saying, “it’s not about the destination as much as the journey,” is analogous to the work environment. Each organization has goals and objectives to meet, but goals can be restrictive. In the literal sense, they set an end to what leaders can achieve. I'm not advocating being irresponsible. I'm not suggesting working today with no thought of what the consequences will be tomorrow. What I am advocating is enjoying the trip of building your organization, your team and your leadership style –take time to reflect on how far you have come and the possibilities that lie ahead.
Monday, February 21, 2011
Did you know that the typical 5-year-old asks 65 questions a day, while the typical 44-year-old asks only six? Children are curious as they are developing. I believe that businesses should be curious as they continue to develop.
Unfortunately, over time many organizations settle into a ‘know-it-all’ mentality; they get stuck in the business models, processes and cultures typical to their industry. Most organizations are not asking questions regularly to initiate true innovation, nor are they digging into the core of what makes them unique. As Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO and well known innovation speaker states, “organizations focus more on optimizing the business machine rather than creating value.”
If you don’t innovate around your products and services then you aren’t optimizing your ability to successfully grow your organization and expand in the marketplace.
So, what does it take to spur innovation?
While not all inclusive, there are two common resources for leveraging your differences and establishing authentic innovation within your organization.I focus on these two because they provide a substantial return on the effort expended:
- Drawing inspiration and learning from industries and markets that are tangential to or different from your own
- Hiring or selecting a “diverse” team of talent
Innovation is not about understanding your common ground, it’s about celebrating your differences. Take the Volkswagen Beetle for example; when first released in the United States in the mid-fifties, the car design was considered ugly and not functional. These failures only made the company consider upgrading and refining the car’s utilities. Mmm...they respectfully ignored the obvious criticism from consumers. Then, at the height of the criticism, their 1960s advertising campaign was launched. Each ad embraced and celebrated the car’s unique design and features. The attributes of the Beetle were simple - it was a small, well-made car that was inexpensive. The ads created used these facts, but never used the words themselves; they simply used the concepts to illustrate (typically in a humorous way) the aesthetic differences and functionality. This “innovative” campaign made the brand stand out in a marketplace crowded with cookie-cutter ads showcasing stylish cars and the ideal lifestyle you can have by owning one. What is especially amazing is that even today, the success of the Volkswagen Beetle brand stems from its now iconic design.
How we view our opportunities and make decisions is largely based on the lens through which we view the world. Taken on a grand scale this encompasses every observation we have amongst all the areas of our lives. When we are in the mode of viewing things from a preset angle we can miss opportunities that are right in front of us.
Joel Arthur Barker was the first person to popularize the concept of paradigm shifts relative to organizational behavior. He began his work in 1975 and pioneered the concept to explain the importance of vision to drive change within organizations. His model suggested that the “outsider,” someone who really doesn’t understand the prevailing paradigm in an organization (sometimes they don’t understand at all!), is one of the individuals who can affect change and innovation within an organization. Barker goes on to explain, “The outsider has the advantage of asking the dumb questions...They don’t realize they shouldn’t challenge the present practices because they haven’t learned those prohibitions yet.” Many business leaders throw deaf ears on suggestions from outsiders. Their experiences and teachings have trained them to think of these ideas as “absurd” or “too radical of a change.” However, what may sound ridiculous could actually be the origin of a new business model, product or service.
Take for example KUKA Roboter GmbH. Since building its first industrial robot in 1977, KUKA has become one of the world´s largest manufacturers of industrial robots. KUKA robots are utilized in a diverse range of industries including the appliance, automotive, aerospace, consumer goods, logistics, food, pharmaceutical, medical, foundry and plastics industries among others. So, when your organization has saturated the marketplace – how do you keep growing? Where do you go next? The answer for KUKA was the amusement park. Yes, born out of demand for more interactive theme park rides, KUKA brought the “Robocoaster” to market in 2003.This was the first robot in the world to be approved for carrying human passengers. The interactive ride can be designed to match customer’s requirements in theme, intensity and realism. It is more cost effective than a traditional ride since customers can change themes to adjust to rider appeal and create an infinite number of rides by using one programmable industrial robot. With large theme park corporations such as Walt Disney incorporating robotics into their stage entertainment since the early 70s, it’s amazing that someone did not combine the industries sooner. That’s why it’s important to continually observe and look outside your industry to see how other strategies, resources, and practices could be used within your organization to enhance or even differentiate products/ services.
Your innovation muse does not have to be externally driven either. As a business leader, you should also look internally. Hiring or selecting a “diverse” team when it comes to driving innovation means not following your organization’s or industry’s culture of defined technical talent.You want to look for individuals who demonstrate strengths in other business areas and/or offer a different set of skills. For example, another interesting fact about the Volkswagen ads is the composition of the advertising agency team that put them together. The firm selected and used a diverse creative team of writers and art directors. In most agencies at this time these functions were separate. By bringing these functional areas together the firm was able to draw from the interdisciplinary perspective of the entire team. Along the same lines, in one of my endeavors I had the opportunity to hire a group of people whose primary goal was to provide the outside of the box thinking and fresh ideas that would lead to innovation within the organization I was working with. They were true “outsiders” with no industry knowledge, let alone any deep business experience. The team was made up of recent college graduates. Since they were not limited by preconceived notions, they quickly solved the challenges provided to them. The observations they made and solutions they posited led to changes within the company’s business model and processes. Many of these changes could be directly tied to increasing customer satisfaction and growing the company’s bottom line. When you get a chance, I recommend reading my full account, “skunk works.”
These examples go to show you that teams of exceptional and diverse talents can work together to create amazing, novel ideas.So, to get you motivated today to start true innovation, I’ll ask the first questions: What areas of your organization could benefit from being reviewed through a new lens? What products or services can benefit from or be created by brainstorming with a strategic partner? What teammates can you cultivate within your organization to solve current business challenges?
Any new ideas or thoughts on innovation? Please share them in the comment section. I’d enjoy reading about them and who knows what fresh idea you may spark for someone else.
Friday, January 07, 2011
Reflecting on 2010 and where we want to take our firm, I keep asking myself two questions: What do I believe about teams and leaders? How effective have I been as a teammate and team leader? The answers to these questions have been shaped over the years by my experiences and through a passion for learning about the dynamics of leadership and teams. To give you a sense of my personal enlightenment, let’s start at the beginning...
I began my career as a transactional leader. I was focused more on myself and establishing a sense of responsibilities with my teammates to reach our business goals. My first decade in business, the 1980’s, was very successful. I learned a lot, I made a few dollars and I lost a few dollars. At the beginning of the 1990’s I lost everything. Well, not everything, just the financial everything. What I did not lose was the knowledge and experiences gained by spending my twenties growing two separate companies. One of my businesses went from nothing to something and then back to nothing during the decade, and the other, well… toward the end of the decade, we went from nothing to nothing. As I regrouped, I spent time considering my leadership style and its impact on the success of my organizational teams. Since then I have worked very hard on becoming a transformational leader - a leader whose approach causes change in individuals and social systems (…more on that in a later post).
I ask myself now, years later and wiser from wear - what do I believe? I believe leadership spins, as suggested in Team Building by Dyer, on the continuum of Educator to Coach to Facilitator. Or as I see it, on the revolving continuum of Teach-them (educator) to Show & Involve-them (coach) to Broaden the path for-them (facilitator). You see, one of the things that I have found is that the transactional leader has to dictate…and at some point it becomes difficult to grow beyond that – it’s a limiter, and you don’t fully tap into individual talent that way. You know the saying, ‘you can feed them, or you can teach them to fish’. It may take a little more time and effort, but teaching rather than telling empowers teammates to become a part of the organization’s success and puts accountability on the collective shoulders of the team. Facilitating allows your teammates to share in your headway and learn to carve out a path of their own. I believe that teams are terrific vehicles to accomplishment. I’ll even go a step further to say achieving results at the highest level requires the emotional engagement of all of the team’s members. Katzenbach, in The Wisdom of Teams, makes a very poignant assessment when he says, “What sets apart high-performance teams is the degree of commitment, particularly, how deeply committed the members are to one another.”
All of this leads me to contemplate….how effective have I been as a leader? I have made more leadership mistakes in my career than I have made teammate mistakes. As a result of learning from these mistakes, I believe that I am a better coach (leader) than I am a player (teammate) these days. The beauty is that the teams I have been a part of have failed just as majestically as they have succeeded. It is the failure that has allowed me to understand the intrinsic value of a highly functional team. I don’t believe that failure is a badge of honor. As a matter of fact, there is very little fun in failure. However, the Zanders’ put it beautifully in The Art of Possibility when speaking about playing a particular passage from Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, “The risk the music invites us to take becomes a joyous adventure only when we stretch beyond our known capacities while gladly affirming that we may fail. And if we make a mistake we can mentally raise our arms and say how fascinating, and reroute our attention to the higher purpose at hand.”
I have no interest in life, let alone business, without teams. There have been many teams in my world: sports teams, musical teams, work teams, community service teams. Whether on the diamond, in the gym, on stage, in the boardroom, or building homes with habitat for humanity - I have come to realize there is no higher purpose at hand than participating and succeeding as a team.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
As a business leader you have the opportunity to meet a seemingly unlimited number of people, but there are only a few individuals who make a lasting impression on you for all the right reasons.
One individual that comes to mind for me is Pete Truby. When I met “Truby,” I never could have imagined that this 20-year old would inspire me to bring his passion and energy into the organizations I help to shape.
I first met Pete when I was working with the innovative consumer products company…not to date myself, but this was a number of years ago. I was recruiting a National Sales Manager for the company, and Pete applied for the job. His initial application came through normal communication channels, but was discarded. On paper Pete didn’t stand apart from the other applicants, who had 10-20 years of work experience. He was young and had limited experience and training – but that did not stop him from pursuing his passion and applying for the job with us over and over again. Reminiscent of Bud Fox’s breakthrough moment in Wall Street (for those of you not around in the 80’s, Bud’s character gave new meaning to the word persistent), after attempting to reach me time and time again to no avail, one day he appeared at the office and asked to speak to me. The receptionist notified me. I was surprised that he took the time to seek me in person, so I agreed to see him. I walked into the conference room, and there sitting in front of me was a 20 year old, very athletic looking, adolescent who was grinning from ear-to-ear. He shook my hand confidently, looked me in the eyes, and stated very seriously that he was interested in applying for the National Sales Manager position. As any good interviewer would do, I asked him to tell me a little more about himself before we discussed the details of the position.
For a young adult, Pete had some solid entrepreneurial experiences. After graduating from Annapolis High School, he went on to college in Cleveland. While there he obtained an internship with the Cavaliers. Excellent at forming relationships “on-and-off the court”, he was quickly chosen by one of the players to head the guerrilla marketing campaign for the player’s custom shoe line. The job entailed a lot of street pounding and grass-roots sales efforts, and Pete said he loved it. He had completed the internship and had great success with the campaign. Then circumstances at home brought him back to Baltimore. Pete told me that he would be finishing out the rest of his academic career in the area and that he was looking for a unique company where he would have the opportunity to continue utilizing his passion for product development and promotion.
I knew he was not appropriate for the National Sales Manager job, but told him I liked his tenacious personality and would look for a more appropriate opportunity to include him into the company. A few days later, a thank you card appeared on my desk. On the front was a picture of Pete; he was flexing his bicep and pointing to a pen drawn tattoo on it…of our company’s logo. My meeting with Pete and the unconventional customized card had a lasting effect on me and definitely kept Pete Truby top of mind.
A year later our organization had an opening that I thought Pete would be perfect for. I called him and discovered he was doing street promotions for a well-known, all organic sweet tea. After some discussion, he declined my offer, but said that he would keep in touch.
Many years later, I had moved on to another company. Priority number one at the new company was a kick-off initiative that required the development of a “score team”. For our purposes today, I will only tell you that the qualities needed on the team would be critical to driving change management for the company. As I was developing my ideal team for this project, Pete came to mind. He possessed the attributes we needed – energetic, passionate, entrepreneurial mind-set, and authenticity. It took three days to track him down; at that point he had moved on and was a regional manager for a prominent company selling “green” household products and foods. Unfortunately again, as much as he liked the idea, he was not ready to convert jobs. He had found a niche for his passion, and it was in the organic food industry.
A few years passed and I found myself, yet again, in another organization with the opportunity to include Pete. The organization made a decision to acquire freshly minted college students for a program that would infuse well-trained young sales talent into the organization and set them on a path to become future sales superstars. Immediately, the company dubbed it the “Truby” program after hearing my first experience with Pete. Now it just needed a vibrant, contagious leader to oversee the team. I called Pete to tell him about the program. He was flattered that he inspired the program and granted us the permission to use his last name. However, he declined to run it. By now he was the national sales manager for an all-natural peanut butter company.
A few years later Pete contacted me. We chatted a bit and he told me he was starting his own organic chocolate company (Salazon Chocolate Co). For once, he was calling me to talk about business. I have to say I was not surprised by his choice. It seemed like the next logical step in his career. Having observed the remarkable passion that he brought to everything he pursued, I knew he would succeed.
Throughout the time that I’ve known Pete, he has grown from that blindly ambitious kid with the somewhat naïve spark in his eye, into a remarkably successful business owner. Ironically, I never had a chance to work directly with Pete. He had found his business calling without me. However, that first impromptu meeting with him sparked my passion, as a leader, to always cultivate spots for young, ambitious people in the organizations I supported. You never know who you will inspire or who will inspire you. As we move into 2011, I challenge you to rediscover your passion and infuse it into your business. The results will be remarkable and will enhance your leadership at both the individual and organizational level.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
As a business leader I’m a proponent for developing a positive culture within the organizations I work for.
An ideal culture for me is one where employees are seen as teammates, everyone is included in cultivating ideas for making the business better, and people are just generally happy to come to work day in and day out. So, given my passion for affecting positive change, I was psyched to hear that MKS&H’s organizational consulting practice, MKS&H People, developed an online Culture Assessment. This new tool is a unique, straightforward litmus test for assessing the nature of your organization‘s culture based on whether it has a “Want To” vs. “Have To” mentality.
Simply put, the Culture Assessment is an interactive survey that evaluates the current culture of an organization on a "Want-To/Have-To" scale. The test recognizes that cultures aren’t strictly “Want To” and “Have To” and shows where they stand in a spectrum from green to red, with red being the negative area representing a ‘Have To” culture. A perfect example of the mindset in a “Have-To” culture is when you hear a lot of statements such as “it is not my assignment, I’m just doing it because I have to.” Overall, teammates are not committed and they’re not involved. In contrast, people in a “Want-To” culture arrive ready to work, they’re eager to get started, and they show genuine interest and enthusiasm for what’s going on that day. The benefit of pinpointing a culture’s attributes on the “Have-To/Want-To” scale is that it enables business leaders to better understand how to approach and influence their workforce in a positive manner.
Even without an assessment, good leaders are in tune with their organization’s culture, and usually have a “gut” feeling about whether it is a “Have-To” vs. a “Want-To” culture. Regardless of how well you know your organization, sometimes your greatest cultural attributes appear when you have a “catastrophe” in your business or organization. By catastrophe, I mean a situation that that puts the company under pressure and forces it to either rise to the occasion, or fail. This situation is the true test to discovering where you sit on the “Want To/Have To” spectrum.
Case in point, the warehouse inventory tracking system (for the innovative consumer products company I worked for) crashed right at the kickoff of our peak season – which is when we distributed our leading seasonal product. Almost needless to say, this is when we made the majority of our sales for the year for that product line. It wasn’t the time for a holdup of that magnitude. We thought we could fix the problem in-house, but after a day of tinkering, we ditched our efforts and called in a specialist. The specialist reviewed the system and gave us the diagnosis that it would take approximately four weeks to fix the problem. This was horrible news. We had over 4 million pieces of seasonal product boxed, sitting, and unidentifiable. There was no way we could fulfill the orders in the queue and ship them out on time…unless we rallied the troops.
Having decided that drastic measures were in order, we brought the entire office to the warehouse. By everyone, I mean everyone. From the CEOs, middle managers to administrative people…everyone. Most of these teammates were used to sitting behind a desk, in a state-of-the art office, and were responsible for a 45-50 hour work week. The warehouse, cold, full of industrial forklifts, floor to ceiling shelves, and oversized dusty boxes, was obviously not their normal work environment. The work we were going to ask them to do was not required per their job descriptions, but it was necessary for the company to continue to be successful.
As leaders of the company, we gave an inspiring, win one for the "Gipper" speech. It made them aware of the challenges that we were facing, and the action that was needed to make it through the peak of busy season with a botched inventory system. We asked people to sign-up and give when they could. We knew we had a strong team oriented office, but the result was remarkable. We actually had to turn people away!
For four weeks, teammates rotated night shifts in the warehouse (6 p.m. – 4 a.m.), tirelessly breaking down the thousands of boxes of product and repacking them to meet our clients’ orders. Oddly enough, I knew how to drive a forklift, so I volunteered my skills nightly and hoisted pallets off of shelves with the regular warehouse crew. This physical work was exhausting, but it didn’t break our culture’s spirit - in fact, it only enhanced it. I have many fond memories of late nights of the on-duty group breaking out in song or lively debates around current sports team’s standings.
In hindsight, why did this work? Why did people rally together for the company? Why did they take on extra responsibilities and give-up their personal time to help? I think the result starts with the core principles that we adhered to when building the company and culture. Our core principles permeated every niche and process of the organization - they were the guiding light of our strategy. As leaders we lived into these principles. We made sure that: people were given autonomy, responsibility and resources; the bar was set high and expectations were clearly laid out; individuals were challenged by the work that was assigned to them; the environment fostered friction to inspire new ideas; everyone lived into the servant leadership philosophy; and, that our performance management system was in place to help teammates achieve, not to grade their success.
The results spoke for themselves; we were ranked as the 9th fastest growing company in the country by Inc. Magazine in 2004. But, the overwhelmingly result was that our teammates stepped up and delivered. The entire team took ownership and responsibility...what could have been sheer disaster proved to be a beautiful accident. The way our team overcame was inspiring and served as encouraging evidence that we had done something right.
However, I understand many of us business leaders don’t have the opportunity to start a culture from scratch. Often times, you inherit it, along with the challenge to mold it into the vision set forth by the organization. This undertaking takes persistence and commitment. A “Want-To” culture doesn’t happen overnight, and you shouldn’t wait for a “situation” to occur to figure out what cultural attributes your company needs to improve upon. Instead, you should take the time today to be introspective and analyze your organization to gain insight into what’s going well and where you have opportunities to invest in the right approaches to catalyze positive change.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Earlier this month I was watching ESPN…I watch ESPN often. On this particular day I was tuned in to see Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith get inducted into the 2010 Class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Unfortunately, the first part of the ceremony was not keeping my attention – we all know how drawn out things can seem when we’re waiting for the key notes. In fact, I was deep into catching up on email when an energetic voice from the television grabbed my attention. I looked up expecting to see a pastor, but to my surprise, it was Floyd Little. He was (finally!) being inducted into the Hall of Fame as well. His demeanor was engaging and I was quickly drawn into his acceptance speech.
I suggest you watch his speech in its entirety (if you have not already done so), to learn the qualities of delivering a captivating speech. The entire speech was impressive, yet, it wasn’t until the end of the speech (at the 6:20 minute mark) that I came to the realization that Floyd Little could teach us all something about being better business leaders. It was at this point in his speech that Floyd shared the two primary drivers that he acknowledges as being the empowering forces behind his success: Focusing on his strengths rather than weaknesses, and the support he receives from his esteemed influencers: family, teachers, friends, etc.
As any good business leader knows, that what differentiates their company, their teammates and themselves, are their combined strengths. Focusing and capitalizing on these strengths, and the synergy that arises from banding them, is what allows a company to do what they do best. During Floyd’s speech, in a few brief sentences, he reinforced this best business practice advice by saying, “Don't listen to the naysayer... Don't focus on your weakness just so you won't become a victim.” I believe this translates well for business leaders. We can easily lose sight of our strengths by being hypercritical on our weaknesses compared to our competitors or teammates. Even worse, when the “naysayers” appear, all too often a leader will back-down from an enterprising and innovative idea in the face of criticism over the implied risk of trying something new. Think about this though - we would not be where we are today if the great business minds of our time, such as Thomas Edison or Henry Ford, had given into their industry naysayers.
Floyd had truly touched on what I think is the best way to build an organization - which is by focusing on the positives. As the above mentioned inspirational message whirled in my head, my ears perked up even further when Floyd looked into the camera and said, “I truly believe that none of us is anything until the least of us is something.” My heart skipped a beat.
If you know me by now, I don’t refer to my colleagues as such; my predominant choice of terminology is “teammates”. Floyd’s eloquent, powerful phrase summed up my theory of organizational development, of reinforcing a team culture by finding affirmative ways to include everyone into making your organization successful. In the same way that Floyd drew upon the support of his friends, family and teammates, we are, and should continually strive to be, each others support system in the combined success of our respective organizations.
In general, I think Floyd Little’s speech is a wonderful reminder to us as business leaders to focus on the positives which make us stronger leaders and businesses. But, most importantly, we should not neglect our teammates because they are truly the ones that support our success and carry it forward.
Friday, July 30, 2010
Now that I have your attention…let me explain what I mean by “Steal from Your Employer.” I don’t mean it in the literal sense of swindling an employer financially or “borrowing” from the supply closet for your home office. Under my intended context, this phrase is meant to inspire individuals to take advantage of overlooked opportunities to grow and enrich their skill set and professional accountability in the workplace.In other words, to encourage them to look for things to take away.
During my early days as an accountant, I adopted the metaphor, “Steal from Your Employer” as a phrase whose meaning I sought to impart on my teammates.I often used the phrase as a punchy introduction when training “freshly minted” college grads. It was a known fact in the firm (and is a well known rule of thumb in the public accounting world) that after three years at least half of the recruited team would be gone by their own volition. I was charged with the task of inspiring the new teammates to work hard and setting forth the expectations of the company.
Standing in front of the new recruits, it became a habit for me to intertwine the phrase – “Yes, during your time here we expect you to steal from us.” The dozen or so recruits would perk to attention in their seats. I would continue, “Sure, the company name looks good on your resume, but what will you really gain here? What will you take with you?” I would then challenge them to “steal” opportunities to learn more about their profession and implore them to bring passion to their professional activities. As much as I encouraged them to take, I advised them of the importance of giving in kind.The employees were able to see it evident in our culture. By giving all they could toward their experience they would create a quicker route to professional success and enjoy a more rewarding work experience. You could tell that the successful individuals in the company took this mantra to heart; they delivered significant ideas and quality work year after year.
As an employer, this type of open communication and attitude toward employee success created a mutually beneficial relationship. We saw higher productivity, higher retention rates and more individuals who were on a faster job track.These dedicated and passionate teammates brought a high level of experience, professionalism and quality service to our clients. The teammates, clearly obtained a much higher level of job satisfaction and sense of purpose. Even if they did decide to leave, they knew the value of what they were taking with them and we had received a significant return on our investment.
What opportunities have you stolen today? More importantly, what loot have you put out there for your teammates?
Friday, June 18, 2010
A company’s ability to innovate—to tap the fresh value-creating ideas of its employees and those of its partners, customers, suppliers, and other parties beyond its own boundaries—is anything but easy.
I am sure we have all been in a position where we have met with the response, “It’s how we have ALWAYS done it around here. Why change it?” In most corporate cultures change is viewed as painful and problematic, and while innovation may be dabbled in, it is rarely viewed as attainable. So, how does a leader overcome the “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality that plagues many corporate environments? In my experience I have come to be certain of one simple truth: Opportunities for innovation can be found anywhere or created by anyone.
In my career I have had firsthand experience with leveraging unexpected and unconventional forces of change. I am reminded of the environmental and engineering consulting firm I had the privilege to work for. In my role as CFO, one of my responsibilities was to challenge the status quo. We were an organization that had begun to slip in the market. The driving force of the company was the people who held the technical skills; they were the engineers, environmental scientists, and architects. Many did not have the mind set to incorporate innovative behaviors into their daily routine. As an outsider looking in, you could see this was hindering our growth and profitability. Therefore, I knew it was going to be a challenge to bring fresh thinking into the field to produce the required work results. I knew that I was going to need help in order to bring the needed change and energy to the culture.
One day in my office it hit me - “Skunk works”! The designation "skunk works", or "skunkworks", is widely used in business to describe a group within an organization that is given a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy. The group’s objective with any project is primarily for the sake of innovation. This term has a rich history. It was officially coined by Lockheed in the 1940s to describe their elite group of engineers working on designing top secret aircrafts for the war effort. Remarkably, the program was so successful in developing new aircrafts and prototypes that it is still in utilization today.
I thought a skunk works team was a perfect way to break our organization out of its lethargy. I hired six new college graduates. They had diverse academic backgrounds such as marketing, English, and biology. The group did not have any knowledge of the industry standards or structure.To ensure that they did not break any federal and state laws, a civil engineer was hired to manage them. However, he was given strict instruction to never impede their work, just keep them out of trouble.
The challenge presented to the young recruits was to build a faster process, with equal quality, for the company to turnout their assessments and testing done on job sites. Their only rule was that they were not allowed to base it on any current procedures. When the team was first introduced to the company, they were dismissed. No one paid attention to them or thought that they could enhance the company. I’m sure many thought, “What can these young professionals do differently than the firm’s highly skilled and experienced practitioners?” Six months into the project certain departments started to take interest. They saw the potential in the ideas being set forth from the group and actually supported implementing them. The “Skunks”, as the group dubbed themselves, brought not only marked improvement to the firm, but an energy that had not been seen in a long time.
This unlikely team became seen as a resource for the technical people, to help them “think outside the box.” Over time, the Skunks led a shift in the firm’s mentality from complacency with the traditional and established to progressive and forward thinking.
The point of my story is not to go out and build your own think-tank, but to be innovative around your resources. Who would have thought that a group of new graduates, people to whom the company and industry were completely foreign, could produce such beneficial ideas and improvement? What unlikely resources are you using in the workplace to drive innovation? I would love to hear about them.
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
This month, marks the start of a unique move for the executive leadership at MKS&H. They have decided to challenge themselves to look more deeply for opportunities for their teammates to grow and strengthen their careers within MKS&H. The focus is on servant leadership. In brief, the approach fosters a better work environment by placing the needs of teammates before the leaders. When your teammates see personal opportunity in their career and are inspired to come to work every day, the company thrives, and delivering remarkable client service comes readily. Our discussions and brainstorming sessions surrounding Servant Leadership brought to mind a group of students I had the privilege of working with called “Little Bang.” These students inadvertently cultivated servant leadership within the organization I was working for at the time.
The philosophy of the executive leadership was for the company to give back to the community. We thought the best way to do this would be to start a mentoring program. Our vision was to make it a lasting experience and bring real value to the participants. We decided that our mentoring program would include 10 students starting in 8th grade. Sadly enough, what inspired us to choose that age was the reported dropout rate occurring at that time for children between 8th and 9th grade in Baltimore city. It was the second highest dropout rate behind the transition from 9th to 10th grade in the city’s high school system. Our goal was to help this small group of students graduate from middle school and see them all the way through to their graduation from high school.
We looked at a number of places, finally selecting a middle school in the Highlandtown area that looked like its students would greatly benefit from the program. We met with the principal and head counselor and told them what we had envisioned. They loved the idea and supported us in making it happen.
The program’s structure was simple. The students would come in once a month and work from 9- 3 p.m. A bus was provided to pick them up and drop them off. A strict schedule was to be followed and each student was assigned two mentors from within the company. As they learned the specific roles and responsibilities of their mentors, they had to transfer that knowledge to an assigned team project. The team project was to develop a product and take it to market. This was to be done over the five years they were in the program. In addition, a curriculum was created around strengthening the group’s general development. In these meetings we met to discuss “Life Lessons,” such as business etiquette, the importance of a resume, etc. We also incorporated speakers into the program from all walks of life, such as then Mayor Martin O’Malley, IBF Light Middleweight Champion, Vincent Pettway, Former Battalion Chief and Public Information Officer of the Baltimore City Fire Department, Hector Torres, and from the city police department Major Ruffino Garcia.
The first time the group met at our facility, the students were very quiet. They had spent most of the day with their department mentors and as a group brainstorming a team name. For a team name they decided upon “Little Bang,” appropriately chosen since the company at the time was called “Big Bang Products.” At the end of the day, I circled back with the newly formed Little Bang group to tell them a little more about myself and to see if they had any questions. I told them that I would be meeting with them each time they came in and recapped the value of participating in the program. In addition, I told them I would be there for them if they needed anything. From the back of the room, a young man by the name of Michael raised his hand. I called on him. “Mr. Gib, by anything do you mean, you will you come to my soccer game?” he asked. I told him I would make it if possible. Another hand shot up. A girl spoke up and asked, “Will you be there for our graduation from middle school?” Of course I’ll be there for your graduation and your mentors will be there too.
The questions were not in context of the situation; this was the group’s way of probing to see if I would be true to my word and if the company would really be committed to their development for such a long period of time. I could only image the countless times before when these students had been promised something and then let down. Through this small interaction it quickly became apparent, that for many, this would be their first experience of someone outside their circle of influence serving and supporting them.
Nevertheless, as the mentor group became established in our organization’s environment you could tell that the impact of serving was not only felt on the students but on the entire office. Each time the students were scheduled to come in, you could sense the excitement building. The mentors and teammates would be buzzing about the success of the children, what new information they were going to share with them, and how the group’s product project was coming along. The level of synergy it created was unexpected and deeply valuable for everyone. We were creating a culture of servant leadership through an uncommon source.
I look forward in future posts telling you about the great accomplishments of the Little Bang group and the impact it had on me as a leader and on our organization. But for today, I challenge you to take a moment and think about what you can do differently to better serve a teammate or your community as a business leader.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
There we were in the desert, somewhere near the city of Needles, CA. No gas, no food, no water. Sure I could be mad at my friend Rod; his failure to notify me of the turn-off for gas had landed us in this horrible predicament. (Click here to view Part 1 of the story). Yet, as the bike spurted out its last bit of fumes, I realized that getting upset with him wasn’t going to help the situation. I had to take on a new level of responsibility to make sure we advanced cross-country in a timely manner. As friends, we had never needed to discuss our roles. However, as we huddled around the dead Yamaha Virago talking about our options, you could sense the change in momentum. Rod was now relying on me to make fair, reasonable decisions that affected the outcome and success of our journey. I was taking on the role and responsibility of the leader.
After kicking around some ideas, we decided on a plan. Rod would stay with the bike and I would try to hitch-hike to the nearest gas station and back. Fortunately, it did not take long for us to hear the roar of an approaching vehicle, not just any vehicle, we could see it was a pick-up truck! We immediately scrambled to the side of the road and stuck out our thumbs. The pick-up rolled to a stop on the side of the road. A man leaned out the driver’s side window and asked us where we needed to go. We explained we were on our way to Baltimore, but could use a ride to the next town for gas.
“Well, I’m heading to Flagstaff,” He said, “You’re welcome to come if you want. We can put your bike in the back.” Delighted and relieved, we accepted his offer and loaded the bike into the back of the truck. Then we jumped in the front seat and headed off down the dusty highway.
As the pick-up truck rumbled into Flagstaff, I kept thinking what dumb luck we had. Rod’s mistake had originally been a set-back, but the outcome it produced was better than the original result required. In a few hours we had shaved off nearly 2o0 miles, something we could never have accomplished so quickly on our bike.
For me, the lesson of this story is twofold. First, it taught me the importance of sharing responsibility and not getting upset with those who let you down. It is better to understand where you (as a leader) can improve, and how you can help your teammates avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Second, this personal story touches upon the transition from a peer to a leadership role. For many budding leaders in the business world this may not be a smooth changeover. I believe the number one rule to follow is to leverage your current relationships to create an environment of mutual success. I didn’t disregard Rod’s ideas; we worked together to compose a plan to rectify our situation. In the end, both Rod and I felt accomplished in making the most out of our situation.
I felt confident that this situation had helped clear up our expectations set for each other and we would be prepared for anything….or so I thought.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
It takes a certain personality to be a leader, let alone, run a business. I’m sure we can all think of times when we have become bogged down and had a bad moment or day. When I start to get that ‘glass half empty’ feeling – I take a minute to reflect. In so doing, I think back to an inconsequential stranger and how our brief encounter changed how I articulate my view of the world forever.
It took place one spring day, early in my career, when I was working at my specialty retail store. About an hour before the store was due to open, I was finalizing some paper work for the day. All of a sudden, the heavy glass entrance door flew open. Since it was a pretty blustery morning, I assumed it was the wind. I was about to move away from behind the counter to close the door, but stopped short. From the other side of the open door, I saw an arm and a speckled, wrinkled hand appear. The hand grasped a three-footed cane. Slowly, a small statured, elderly gentleman shuffled into the entrance. He looked around the store and then spotted me in the back. Caught off guard by the sudden intrusion and the man’s discontented demeanor, I broke the number one rule in retail and asked, “How can I help you today?” Invariability this draws the age old, “I’m just looking.” However, in this case, I received the abrupt response, “I’ll be there in a minute.”
Like any effective retail store, our layout was designed so that the customer walked through purposefully placed merchandise on their way to the check-out area. The old man, not sure of foot, started making his way through this perilous labyrinth. Realizing I could be waiting all day for him to make it to me, I made a move to meet him and chirped again, “Are you sure, I can’t help you with something?” In a gruff, stern voice he replied, “I told you…I’ll be there in a minute!” I quickly retracted my steps and waited patiently for him to approach.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the gentleman made it to the bar-height counter I was working behind. Warmly I said, “How are you doing today?” In a Kilroy like moment, he peered over the counter top and instantaneously responded, “I’m jumping up and down.”
This small moment and single phrase, uttered from this cantankerous man, has inspired me. For the past 25 years, I have repeated his statement every day, and it helps me to bring a positive perspective to all that I do. Additionally, when someone asks me, “How are you doing?” More often than not, I cannot resist saying, “I’m jumping up and down!” My retort is delivered with more enthusiasm than my brief acquaintance had shown. The impact of the sentiment however is alike… unexpected. I hope it makes people pause for a moment and think, “What‘s making me jump up and down today?”
Monday, April 05, 2010
MKS&H strives to obtain critical feedback externally from our clients and internally from our teammates. We do this through a variety of means, ranging from simple surveys to one-on-one conversations. These processes are in support of our goal to continually build better relationships. Seldom in the workplace environment do you find organizations that are open to critical feedback and use it to inspire positive change. In fact, most individuals squirm at the sound of the words and construe the wrong motives behind why they need to give or receive feedback.
This negative frame of mind has its roots in fear. As a leader in the position to give feedback, it is usually the fear of hurting someone’s feelings that makes you uncomfortable providing it. As a recipient of feedback, the fear of not living up to the required or desired expectations floods your mind.
As business leaders, we must challenge the perception of critical feedback and conquer the fear. The boxer’s analogy is the best example that I have found, because it hits upon the necessity of overcoming this fear…no pun intended. It comes from an experience I had when I was working for an innovative consumer products company.
To empower our teams that it was acceptable to provide input, even to C-level management, we met in groups containing a mix of different departments and levels. As I was prepping my thoughts for the conversation in the meeting room, I mulled over finding the simplest way to get my points across. Looking up from my notes, I saw the answer – Vincent Pettway.
To Baltimore natives and boxing fans, Vincent is better known as “The Ambassador” and 1995 IBF Light Middleweight Champion. Vincent (now retired from the ring) was sitting a couple of rows back from where I was presenting. Pettway’s record is an impressive 43-7-1, with 32 KOs. A few minutes into the discussion I called upon him, “Vincent, what happened in those rare moments when you lost?” Vincent stood up and without delay went into his boxing stance. You could see the intensity in his eyes take shape. He then led the group gracefully through the motions that led to his first professional loss. “It was the first time the soles of my shoes where not on the canvas,” he said, “and I didn’t know what happened.”
“Do you think your manager thought twice about hurting your feelings when you came to the corner?”
“Geez, no” he replied, “My manager would tell me what I did wrong all the time. I would listen because it kept me safe and provided me with the advantages to beat my opponent.”
“Excellent,” I said, “So even after you landed a knock-out, you still went back to your manager?”
“Yes, that’s right. All feedback – positive or negative – was helpful to improving my skills. I guess you could say my manager felt responsible to provide as much feedback as possible. Without it, I could not do my job successfully.”
For me the lesson of this conversation is fundamental to overcoming the fear associated with giving and receiving feedback. From the vantage point of the boxer and manager relationship no one would doubt the necessity of providing and accepting critical feedback. Yet, the true measurement of success for a leader is when you start to see your teammates coming to you and asking for it.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
This is my second venture into the accounting world and my first busy season… in, let’s just say, quite a while. As I look around the firm at our team diligently working away; I’m reminded of the 80/20 Rule, or Pareto Principle. The exact 80/20 proportion is not as relevant as the general principle: that a large portion of results come from a small portion of causes, types or circumstances.
For leaders, the value of the Pareto Principle is that it is a reminder to focus on 20 percent of the activities your team does during the day, those which are the most consequential. That 20 percent likely produces 80 percent of total results… In many cases, the 80/20 rule is a fairly simple way to identify where to target your team’s efforts. Now imagine how powerful that 20 percent is when combined with a teammate’s passion in the work place.
Case in point, my experience with a dynamic, young person named Kristen. Through a referral, she ended up at the door of the sales consulting company I was working for at the time. Kristen was bright, articulate and had very high self-awareness.
Kristen had been in the business world for about a year. In her brief experience she didn’t know what she wanted to do – but knew exactly what she didn’t want to do. During the 45 minute interview, she tried convincing me (but really herself) that she was not a fit for this “sales” focused organization. In the end, I told her point blank, that she was a perfect candidate. I promised her that no matter what position she was assigned to, she was going to have the opportunity to use her talents to find the right fit. With that in mind, she agreed to start as the receptionist.
A few weeks into her new position, Kristen took hold of the perfect opportunity to leverage her passion. She had seen our proposals going out of the office and approached me for the chance to rework them. Holding true to my word, I let her take the next few to develop. What she brought back to me, were masterpieces. I quickly realized her talent – no, I should say her gift! It was writing. She had ingeniously crafted a stodgy mass of small print and tedious terminology into a beautiful B2B relationship management story. Needless to say, a few months later when the company wanted to explore the advantages of the web and having a blog; Kristen was our go to girl. The project thrived with her talent at work. So much so, that we strategically created a new position within the firm for her and Kristen became our DOC. or Director of Creativity.
Kristen is a perfect example of how you should harness 20 percent of your time to better yourself as an organization (Her personal, innovation story is reflective of the re-circulating NYT article I twittered about last week too). So today, take a moment to identify and focus on those activities that are significant to your organization’s performance. Then assess all your teammates. Remember, you might be pleasantly surprised by where you discover the unique resources that will take your business to the next level. In addition, you may even encourage someone to employ their passion and discover their dream job.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
I’m a big advocate of learning from your mistakes. The idea that your ‘failures’ are part of the journey to success, is a concept that many people don’t embrace. More often than not, the people I meet see failure as a set-back or a road block to achieving their goals. One of the stories that I like to share begins, like all my failures, with a passionate idea…
It was a beautiful, clear fall day and the plan was simple – Leave L.A. on Halloween and arrive in Baltimore on Thanksgiving. Gazing over my newly purchased Yamaha Virago motorcycle, I felt confident. Despite its high mileage, it wasn’t a bad bike. It started pretty easily and sounded ferocious. As far as I was concerned, it was going to do the trick.
Perched precariously on the backseat was my friend, Rod. The fact that this was his first time on a motorcycle did not seem to faze him. He was just as psyched about the trip as I was. A couple of hours before we planned on leaving; I took him on a few laps around the neighborhood to get him acclimated.
My faith was now not only in the bike lasting the 3,300 mile trip, but in my friend. He had two responsibilities – first, to make sure he leaned when I leaned, and second, to keep an eye out for gas stations. Now erase any images of Easy Rider out of your head….because besides me sporting Dennis Hopper’s hair style…our adventure was to be PG. As such, the trip began calmly with Rod and me riding north out of L.A. toward Barstow, CA. Ominously, with only 20 miles of our cross country trip behind us, the hot Santa Ana winds began circling and rising in full force around our tiny bike. The wind became so vicious, kicking-up sand, trash, and dirt that trucks and buses were pulling off the road. Pressing on, wobbling by the immobile vehicles along the shoulder, and committed to the road ahead, Rod and I leaned sideways cutting the wind in two. This confirmed that Rod was focused on his first responsibility.
We rode unbending for 30 minutes more until the infamous wind died down. Finding ourselves on route 40, I glanced back to see how Rod was doing – he was grinning from ear to ear. Yelling over the roar of the bike, I instructed him that we needed to think about getting gas in about an hour or so. As the road opened up before us I settled into the cruise zone…and so did Rod. An hour or more must have gone by when I noticed a large blue sign that read, “Gas – 60 Miles Ahead.” As the desert quickly expanded around us, my heart sunk. There was no way we were going to make it to the next stop.
I bet you are wondering how we got out of this one. Nevertheless before I answer with another riveting post, I have to ask you this question: How do you turn a teammate’s failure into an opportunity for growth?
Think about it and let me know your thoughts.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
At MKS&H I’m proud to introduce the “TOOTIE” award. Aptly named because “Tremendous Overachievement On Team Initiatives and Efforts” was too long of a title. The award was created to recognize our MKS&H colleagues that have gone beyond the call of duty and “toot” their horn on a job well done. The winner not only has the honor of having the largest paper weight in the office (a trumpet on a stand), but knows that their efforts are clearly appreciated by the team.
This brings up the importance of incorporating “Visual Cues for Success” in an organization’s environment. We all know it’s important to recognize individual’s accomplishments and I like to have some fun with it! Make it a production – make it special for the entire group – make it a tradition. When I worked at a large engineering consulting firm the challenge was getting the various departments to communicate with each other and increasing the participation in achieving the firm’s business’ goals. So one day, I got a crazy idea. We needed to build a wall to tear down the “organizational silos” that were blocking our progress. Laying the brick represented a teammate’s accomplishment. In addition, each brick had a monetary value associated with it, representing the firm’s revenue goal. After further brainstorming the idea with department managers, I raced to the local masonry supply house. I came back with all the essentials: brick, mortar mix, trowels, buckets and even hard hats. We had decided that we were going to physically build a skyline in our lobby (which is a pretty appropriate theme for an engineering firm). As soon as I requested help unloading the bricks and tools, word spread like wild fire about their crazy CFO’s antics.
However, the first time we announced that we were going to lay bricks it was a struggle to get people to attend. At that point, people did not understand what we were doing. As soon as we had 30 people in attendance, I explained the concept and asked a manager to step forward. The manager stood in front of the group and said a few words about the remarkable work her teammate, Judy had done. Then she asked Judy to come forward. She approached cautiously. Placing the mortared trowel in one hand and a brick in the other, she successfully laid the first brick. The next manager came up and recognized his teammate, Bob for his outstanding work. Bob came forward and laid brick. The process repeated. As the little stack of bricks grew, so did the cheering and clapping. For the next brick ceremony, almost the entire organization was there. When the skyline was half way completed, we got to the point where we set up webcams to capture the occasion for people working remotely.
The brick wall project was a huge success. Not only was it a physical way to reflect how well our company was doing and the people who were helping to make it a success; it was a reminder for departments to communicate with each other and work together as a team to meet our business’ goals. That year our revenue doubled. Clearly, we created a different environment, one where it was a sense of “our goals” not “my goals.”
So what have you done lately to create a positive buzz in your organization? I would love to hear about your traditions for recognizing teammates or to see pictures. And, if you decide to build a wall….I can recommend a great consulting firm to supervise it.
Thursday, February 04, 2010
If you want to foster and maintain an extraordinary relationship with your customers, you must first strive to foster and maintain an extraordinary relationship with your teammates. Creating a ”teammate centric” environment can work wonders in any organization. The word teammate is one I use with colleagues, no matter the title printed on their business card.
A short but consequential story comes to mind when I think about this topic. When I was working for an innovative consumer products company, the organization had increased its’ teammate count from 9 to 90 in three years and we needed to move to a larger facility. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to grab a space in the Columbus Center by the Inner Harbor. The environment was unique. The only rooms that had walls were the conference rooms and the janitor’s closet. What were considered our outside walls, were floor-to-ceiling windows that captured the majestic beauty of the harbor. There were only a few seats that did not have this amazing view, and ironically enough they were adjacent to the janitor’s closet….and conveniently enough, there were only a few of us at the C-level. Now as the leaders of the company, we were establishing a business of “value” for all who participated and wanted to deter any notion of “The Great Unwashed.” Therefore, our teammates received the prime locations with waterfront views and the leaders did business with the grandiose view of the janitor’s closet. It was amazing to see that everyone quickly embraced the open-space concept and no one elected to turn the janitor’s closet into an office. Everyone that came to see us made sarcastic remarks about our less than ideal seating locations. Yet, there was a lack of surprise by our teammates about us sitting there. This small physical act showed that we cared for the team and that we recognized them as the true drivers of our business. In fact, that year our Company was recognized by Inc. Magazine as the 9th fastest growing company in the country.
Through the years, I’ve tried a number of best business practices to increase productivity with my teams, but the golden thread I found is simple: Treat “human capital” as an asset on the balance sheet, not an expense in the income statement. The leaders, who build true value in an organization, show that they genuinely care for their group through large and small acts, and reap the greatest returns when teammates start finding it common place. Please share how you treat “Human Capital” as an asset. I’d enjoy hearing your powerful stories.
Friday, January 01, 2010
If you don’t know me, then you will quickly come to realize I am the type of person who learns and connects through telling stories. Talking to clients and contacts comes easy to me and that’s how the idea of this blog was born. We are heading in a new direction at McLean, Koehler, Sparks & Hammond. This blog serves as a platform for sharing our knowledge and innovative ideas with a focus on how they can lead to more business success for you and your company. I am also looking forward to developing my relationship directly with you as that is how we learn and grow as a firm.
Occasionally, I’ll blog about current events — Mostly, I will relate to you stories about leadership and progressive management, many from my own personal experiences. From the time I started my career, I have had some great successes and some great failures. I’m passionate about learning, mentoring and innovating. I’ll share my ideas about these and other topics in future blogs too. Finally, many people have asked me how I made it from LA to Baltimore on a motorcycle. It’s a great story with some funny anecdotes that will make you rethink what is important to you as a business leader.
I’ll leave you with this last thought…I am going to make you rethink what you know about accounting firms and the expectations that you have about them. I’m not here to give you guidance 24/7, that is what our wonderful team of CPAs, OD practitioners, IT specialists and business consultants are for, I’m here to welcome and connect you to MKS&H’s community side because at the “end of the day” (for those of you that really know me, please excuse my verbal crutch), It’s About You and us working together to be successful business leaders and people.