Category Archives: Corporate Culture

Energizing Employees for Better Performance

What exactly is “energy” – in the social or workplace sense?

There are a number of definitions and explanations, and perhaps this one gives us a good idea of what we are talking about:

“Energy is …a type of positive affective arousal, which people can experience as emotion (short responses to specific events), or mood – longer-lasting affective states that need not be a response to a specific event.”

The big question is, how do you attain that state of energy, in which people positively affect each other with their good moods, enthusiasm, and “can do” attitudes? Because there is no doubt that a happy, energized workplace is also a productive workplace.

According to research recently published by the American Psychology Association, energy is infectious whether positive or negative, and coworkers can infect each other either way. As Wayner Baker, one of the study’s investigators, put it in his article for the Harvard Business Review, “We ‘catch’ energy through our interactions with people.” This is called “relational energy”— and as the study concluded – it affects our performance at work.

This phenomenon can be understood well in other contexts too. Ask any stage actor how much better they perform when the audience is enthusiastic, responsive and energized. The vibe from a great audience flows across the footlights and positively infects the actors. The audience often feeds on it too.

The published study, entitled “Relational energy at work: Implications for job engagement and job performance,” cites energy as an emerging topic of importance to organizations.

And no wonder. There are people in the workplace who lift your spirits. They are energizing because they give off positive vibes, by seemingly loving their job or generally being in a good mood. Their vibe can be infectious, creating a positive and even a more inspiring atmosphere for those around them.

Similarly, an energizing boss, can help employees feel more engaged in their job, going so far as to create a sense of a personal stake in the outcome. The experience of relational energy created by a good leader can increase an individual’s motivation and desire to succeed which can translate into higher and better performance. The more people are energized both by what they do and each other, the higher their potential individual and cumulative performance as a team.

In the end, an energized workforce is a workforce that both understands and is committed to realizing its goals. That particular kind of energy is a vital organizational resource and asset; the trick is to engender and then harness it. Four examples come to mind as examples of ways organizations can encourage a culture of positive relational energy to help make that happen:

  1. Help employees foster high quality connections with like-minded colleagues through shared projects or challenges. These may or may not be directly related to their jobs.
  2. Create energizing corporate events with an explicit focus on creating energy, not just delivering content, products or services.
  3. Promote a “giver” culture. Helping someone at work creates energy in the form of positive emotions — the “warm glow” of helping. Receiving help creates energy in the form of gratitude.
  4. Organize high energy, team building events, that get the adrenalin pumping and allow people to have fun while working together. Being together doesn’t always have to be about the work.

 

Ultimately, the right kind of relational energy can help create an environment that makes work feel a little bit less like work, and more like a place employees are happy to be a part of. And as Baker puts it in the title of his article, “The more you energize your workers, the better everyone performs.” No doubt this benefits everyone.

 

Ido Rabiner is co-founder and CEO of Strayboots, a global provider of corporate team building events, workplace activities, and organized company outings. Strayboots helps customers increase employee engagement through customized mobile scavenger hunts designed to foster connections, improve performance and build trust. Strayboots hunts are used by more than 1000 organizations including Fortune 100 companies, city governments and businesses worldwide. To learn more about organizing your next team building event with Strayboots please visit https://www.strayboots.com/events/.

A Stand Up Guy

I never take it for granted that I’m able to work from my home. But be forewarned, it does take discipline, and challenges exist within. Here’s a quick tip from me #BehindTheScenes. For the lion’s share of the day, I’m working Han Solo, just me, my laptop(s), a phone, and a faithful puppy dog. One of the biggest challenges for me (full disclosure here) was the mid-afternoon “drowsies” ~ sometime after lunch, put me in a chair, listen to the hum of the A/C, and it won’t be long bef…zzzzzzzzzzzzzz So, about 10 months ago, I decided to stand up. A couple of boxes stacked on top of the desk, and voila! I’m a stand-up desk guy. It’s crazy how much this one shift in my workday has changed my productivity. You know what you can’t do when you’re standing up? Sleep! (my audience of reading horses should ignore this comment). Energy levels increase, circulation improves, you tend to focus more, “drift away” less, and most importantly – I’m KILLING it. For those of you in a corporate environment, prepare to have a few double-takes if your colleagues see you standing behind your desk all of a sudden, but take heart – Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens are a few notables who followed the same practice, and those fellas seemed to have done fairly well for themselves. It’s Newton’s 1st Law of Motion; “an object in motion continues in motion;” the Mrs. and I are now going to take it up a notch and get the desk treadmill. One more way to overcome that nagging thought about “wasting away behind a desk.” Not me, man, I’m walking. Stand UP!

Stand Up Guy

I never take it for granted that I’m able to work from my home. But be forewarned, it does take discipline, and challenges exist within. Here’s a quick tip from me #BehindTheScenes.

For the lion’s share of the day, I’m working Han Solo, just me, my laptop(s), a phone, and a faithful puppy dog. One of the biggest challenges for me (full disclosure here) was the mid-afternoon “drowsies” ~ sometime after lunch, put me in a chair, listen to the hum of the A/C, and it won’t be long bef…zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

So, about 10 months ago, I decided to stand up.

A couple of boxes stacked on top of the desk, and voila! I’m a stand-up desk guy. It’s crazy how much this one shift in my workday has changed my productivity. You know what you can’t do when you’re standing up? Sleep! (my audience of reading horses should ignore this comment). Energy levels increase, circulation improves, you tend to focus more, “drift away” less, and most importantly – I’m KILLING it.

For those of you in a corporate environment, prepare to have a few double-takes if your colleagues see you standing behind your desk all of a sudden, but take heart – Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens are a few notables who followed the same practice, and those fellas seemed to have done fairly well for themselves.

It’s Newton’s 1st Law of Motion; “an object in motion continues in motion;” the Mrs. and I are now going to take it up a notch and get the desk treadmill. One more way to overcome that nagging thought about “wasting away behind a desk.” Not me, man, I’m walking.

Stand UP!

7 Lookouts When Inspecting Your Culture

Let’s conduct an investigation, shall we? Put on your houndstooth jacket, ascot, and thinking cap, and let us partake on an endeavor to assess the “real” culture of your company. That means bypassing the red herrings, smoke screens, false positives, and similar shiny objects meant to distract.

To help, here are 7 “lookouts” when you are defining your culture:

  1. First, separate the “noise” from true cultural traits. What really influences results at the company vs. what seems important. Wheat from the chaff stuff, get all biblical with it. Don’t accept corp-speak, have people communicate with their own words. For example, what the hell does this mean? “We strive to be the supreme customer-oriented provider while facilitating extraordinary growth with sustainable profitability.” I don’t see people using that in everyday conversation, do you?
  2. Don’t mistake “squeakiness” with criticality. There can be loud bleating that leads nowhere, volume does not equal importance. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, right? Yep, and it also monopolizes your time and resources; sometimes the wheel is squeaky because it needs to be replaced (a little HR humor; very little, I realize.)
  3. Take time to research the history. There may be sacred cows in the organization that are ingrained so deeply into the fabric of a company that they absolutely must be included in a culture definition. Quirks, personality traits, little peccadilloes that are as much a part of you as your own obsession with pointing all desk ornaments to face Westward. Shut up, it’s perfectly normal.
  4. Use your eyes more than your ears. When describing culture, employees may be quite adept at paraphrasing the corporate mission statement. Watch how things really work when defining a culture. I work for a company that defines itself as “Casually Intense” – as I walk around the campus I see leaders of industry in jeans and Sanuks as they carry about the business of curing cancer. I’d say that my eyes vouched for my ears.
  5. Ask the same question in various ways to calibrate the meaning of various terms. Example: “Would you define your organization as risk tolerant?” Then later, “What mistakes are not tolerated?”
  6. Explore the data behind the message. A “Performance Culture” can be easily identified by historical information regarding merit rating (and dollars) distribution. I’ve yet to meet an executive who doesn’t vocalize the fact that his/her company culture is “performance driven“; but when you look at the numbers, a different story materializes. Could a 3rd-party observer immediately recognize your key performers by looking at a spreadsheet of historical merit awards and/or bonus awards? If not, you’re not quite there yet.
  7. Don’t only focus on the usual suspects. High-potentials and Senior Leadership are great at explaining the culture, but make sure to check in with the people shoveling the coal, too. There’s also value in looking outside the company to see what others are saying. Customers, former employees, current employees on social media – your reputation is highly indicative of the culture you have cultivated.

The underlying message here? Transparency – be honest and encourage the same from those who contribute to the discussion. There’s no prize for fabricating a culture you aspire to have, the key is identifying what makes your company tick, then improving where you see an opportunity.

 

 

Organizational Autism

Curiosity and adaptation are natural, right?  You’d be surprised – I know I always am.

I was talking with my friend about his child’s autism.   Our conversation wasn’t about the real or perceived causes of autism, rather what it meant to the individual (and family) as they assimilate the world around them.

I opined that while most of us respond to and incorporate information around us, then come up with a new thought, approach, or behavior, the autistic human being accepts only what “fits” into his/her world. “Adapt” does not enter the equation.  My friend said I was spot on, to which I replied “duh!”.

He was surprised that I had such a good handle on the topic because I’m childless and haven’t spent time around autism.  And that’s where I quickly corrected him.  I’m around it all the time.

Organizational autism is rampant.  No matter the level – organizational, functional, or personal – I deal with it all the time.  The organization or the function doesn’t think they need to adapt.  “That’s not the way we do it around here”.  They miss or ignore the signs and trends in the marketplace.  On a personal level, people ignore feedback, whether it’s from their boss, peer, or 360 degree feedback tool.

I can’t tell you if it’s because of politics, ignorance, stubbornness, or all of the above.  I do know that if you embrace organizational autism or choose to act in an autistic manner at work, you will go the way of Kodak.  And if you don’t adapt your personal behaviors, you better get an organizational protector…

– Mary Fors

Meet Mary:
Mary is Strategist who brings business and people together.  If you want to improve the way you lead in order to improve the results you get, give Mary a call.  Her approach is simple, snarky, and stylish.  She worked her way from facilitator through coaching executives, and on the way got a couple of master’s degrees and way too many certifications.  She’s done the leadership thing in a number of different industries.  She’s currently in Nashville, TN, with her dogs and cats, working on the leadership focus for Asurion.

Fish or Cut Bait

You’re doing something wrong.

A new study released by Towers Watson, titled “Only One-Quarter of Employers Are Sustaining Gains From Change Management Initiatives” clearly delivers a message we already know all too well; companies do not do a good job training and/or preparing managers to lead change.

Well, duh.

But the frustrating part is the disparity between the awareness of the problem vs. the solution to the problem.

The companies surveyed already know two facts:

  1. Training and preparing managers to effectively lead change is critical

    change-fear
    “Looks good to me.”
  2. They really stink at it

Almost 90% of those surveyed (North America, Europe, Asia) actually train their managers in change management ~ but only a fifth (22%)  say they do it effectively.

So, basically we’re lost, but we’re making great time!

The reason is simple – “Change” is still treated as a situational, transactional, project-oriented event instead of a fluid, ongoing part of your culture. You can’t “train” people to be effective change agents in a one or two-day session. It’s a nice way to offer development, but there’s no way you can realistically expect a new mindset like “change agent” to stick for long.

It takes commitment, reinforcement, and (here’s the sales pitch) a budget that reflects the importance of learning the skill. This what we do at Pritchett ~ offer you the opportunity to transform your organization instead of training your organization.

You can’t stick a toe in the water and call it swimming ~ time for adult swim, let’s go at this solution with the commitment and respect it deserves.

Mulligan Stew

Mulligan Stew. A traditional dish thought to have originated with poor Irish (“Mulligan,” get it?) immigrants whom, managing through tough times, would literally throw whatever they could find into a pot, boil it up & serve. Potatoes, onions, carrots, squirrel, ham, cabbage….you get the idea. Sounds freaking horrible. It IS freaking horrible.

With that knowledge in hand, my sainted Irish mother will still try to serve up Mulligan Stew once a year. THIS is the power of tradition; five generations removed from Ireland, my Mom is still sticking to a few of the “non-negotiables” that define our heritage. Even the gross ones.

The image of Mulligan Stew hit me when discussing a culture issue with a client. I don’t think any of us will argue with the real “power” of company culture. In no way is that more apparent than during the merger integration process, where seemingly insignificant “traditions,” values, habits, and behaviors begin to undermine the success of the merger itself. Instead of prioritizing the critical non-negotiable values and/or “flash points” (Pritchett, Culture Integration) at the front end, we are left with this….a big stinking pot of Mulligan Stew.

(Once again, it bears repeating – Mulligan Stew is horrible.)

The question is, how do you reverse the recipe if you’ve already gone through the process? How can you remove 95% of the ingredients (personally, I’d start with squirrel) to leave the essential components of the new entity?

In the weeks to come, that’s the question we’ll try to answer. “We,” in that you are the people who have lived this experience, or you may be living through it as we speak. Where do we start?

*Editors Note – No squirrels were harmed in the posting of this article

 

Company Christmas Parties – DEFCON 4

“Colonel Conley, Take us to DEFCON 3 and get SAC on the line…”

If you were still a kid in the 80’s, “War Games” is a movie you probably still fondly remember (if not, you’re dead to me, but that’s beside the point.) Matthew Broderick plays “David Lightman,” the geeky teenager who manages to accidentally hack into NORAD and start a full-fledged panic by the US Military, almost to the point of an unprovoked nuclear missile launch. The movie requires quite a bit of suspended reality, but it was pretty entertaining back in the day.

The real star of the movie is General Beringer, played masterfully by boiler-plate Texan Barry Corbin ~ when he’s not shoving a a wad of Red Man into his cheek, he’s dispensing nuggets of cinematic gold (“Dammit, I’d piss on a spark plug if I thought it would do any good!” ) while deliberating on how to properly respond to the potential of starting World War 3.

According to the scale we’re taught in the movie, “DEFCON 5” is peace on Earth, DEFCON 1 is goodnight Earth ~ a huge neon board indicates the state of affairs at any given time . It’s a pretty solid and simple idea really…perhaps companies should use a similar board:

  • DEFCON 5 ~ (Not sure, someone else will have to tell me what that looks like)
  • DEFCON 4 ~ National Sales Meetings*, Office Christmas Parties, sub-standard Quarterly Report #1, outsourcing existing job functions, harassment claims, sudden influx of well-dressed “guests” attending closed-door meetings, ADA claims, increased use of the word “deposition”…
  • DEFCON 3 –  Mergers (on the acquirer side), private scandal, consecutive sub-standard Quarterly Reports, workplace violence incident, patent expiration, loss of key talent to key competitor…
  • DEFCON 2 – Layoffs, “right-sizing,” down-sizing, mergers (on the acquired side), product recalls, public scandal, bankruptcy claims, Jim Cramer downgrading you to “Risky,” lead story on Nancy Grace
  • DEFCON 1 – Probably unnecessary, as anything this serious will probably announce itself, if ya know what I mean….(see Enron, Arthur Anderson, et al)

It would certainly help Human Resources to have an indicator at the front entry, give us a little prep time for what lies ahead? Looking at the abbreviated list of events listed above, you can quickly target those areas where you may be able to make a difference – for the other events, chances are we’re sharing the same life raft with the rest of the employee population.

What did I miss?

(*National Sales Meetings – Take hundreds of sales people from around the country, put them in a hotel for a week, add “hospitality suites” and late evening dinners, allow to simmer, and…….”work baby!”)

 

 

 

"remember that Vegas meeting last year?
“remember that Vegas meeting last year?

 

 

 

 

 

Now, wouldn’t you rather play a nice game of chess?

Culture Change makes for Odd Couples

The lines can be blurred when determining a true “culture” change vs. a change in business practices. Take McDonald’s (please) as an example ~ can they really pull this off? Fruit and veggies with a Happy Meal?

"do you smell a trap?"
“do you smell a trap?”

How could you possibly bet against the marketing machine that is McDonald’s, the same place that now offers Cafe’ Latte and Oatmeal? As reported in the Wall Street Journal (9/27, Julie Jargon), McDonald’s plans to have fruits, veggies, and salads replace french fries as an option in Happy Meals implemented in 20 markets (that comprise [you guessed it] 85% of sales) by the year 2020.

Nutritional information and an emphasis on healthy eating (again, this is McDonald’s) will be included on the packaging. Water, milk, or juice will be offered with Happy Meals (we may need a name change after this) instead of soft drinks. Up is down, right is wrong, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!…what’s going on here?

Is this truly an attempt at a culture change??? Or, would a more jaded eye guess this is a conscious business decision to appear a more thoughtful, friendlier fast-food giant?

  • Fact – McDonald’s is smart enough to respond to the world around them, i.e. they felt pressure; Corporate Accountability International is among those who have proposed healthy changes to McDonald’s (and others). Even if McDonald’s officially rejects the overtures (as they did), their Mommas didn’t raise no dummies -they responded.  There is certainly a wealth of Goodwill to be gained here, it seems to be the smart move to at least attempt such a shift in corporate modus operandi.
  • Another possibility? McDonald’s will change the core being of their culture…fruits and veggies are just the start; soybean burgers wrapped in lettuce are in the near horizon. The Hamburglar is out, the Tofu Kid is in.

But wait, the buying public knows full well that fruits & veggies are a healthier option. We buy and eat fast food because we want to buy and eat fast food. If I’m going to McDonald’s, it’s not to educate my children on the benefits of healthy food – it’s a convenience, period. In that case, it’s nice to have the option of healthier foods, but…have you ever tasted McDonald’s french fries?

McDonald’s is not built to carry this out – you can respond to your critics, but at some point you will ultimately respond to your customer. You can bet that reduced revenue will usurp any health benefits provided by rabbit food.

Time will tell – McDonald’s has scheduled performance checks scheduled at 3, 5, and 8-year benchmarks, the results of which will be monitored by a 3rd party. The results will be reviewed by a 3rd party organization, but I don’t put much water in this being a long-term change…my sources tell me Mayor McCheese has the committee in his back pocket.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); like this post? Try this onethis one, or even this one….go ahead, I’ll wait.

 

Get Out There and Fail!

See if you can spot the error in this scenario…

failure-right-sign
“Call me crazy, but I’m going right.”

While working for a company dependent upon a robust and innovative Research & Development contribution, it was whispered that the “C- level” leader of that particular business unit was intolerant of mistakes.

“Knock knock.”

Who’s there?

“Donut.”

Donut who?

“Donut expecta to succeed ifa you afraida of failure.” (Sorry, I have kids, I’m a purveyor of bad jokes.)

So, to recap, you have the leader of a group of highly intelligent and creative people who inadvertently created a culture where “mistake free” work is the goal. Predictably, within five years, the product pipeline had all but dried up. Unable to produce new products, the growth strategy of the company became focused on buying or brokering the products of others. Immensely talented R&D professionals began to jump ship (it’s always the strong swimmers first, remember?), looking for opportunities to fail.

Talented people seeking an opportunity to fail? Yep, that’s not a misprint.

An environment that values innovation must also recognize the value of failure; how many times have your heard a manager encourage his people to fail? I’ve worked for companies that professed an affinity for risk…at least that’s what they say…until someone makes a mistake.

As a leader in your company, your reaction to mistakes will send a strong message to those around you. Blame, finger-pointing, admonishment – these are the tools of soul-crushers. It may sound counter-intuitive, but celebrating those big ideas that failed will only encourage the ideas that succeed.

Now make me proud – get out there and fail.

 John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); like this post? Try this one, this one, or even this one….go ahead, don’t be chicken.