Managing in a Poor Culture

What do yo do when you are managing in an organisation that has a poor culture?

This is the subject of a great post by Miki Saxon.

She makes the point that the starting place has to be a conscious decision that this is a place where you want to be and do great work – in spite of the culture.  The alternative is to indulge in a ‘martyr complex’ the kind of ‘poor me’ response that I often hear.  This  usually appears as a belief that ‘there is nothing I can do to provide a great service and excellence until those above me get their act sorted’.

This is a convenient belief and a powerful one.  But it does little to help us make progress.  It lets us off the hook, allows us to avoid responsibility and put the blame elsewhere.  Once enough of us are doing this – and our beliefs are re-enforcing each other –  it can start to feel like a truth.  However it is still just a belief and we can choose to drop it!

So if you take a conscious decision to keep working in a poor culture you must try to reject this belief and take all the repsonsibility that you can for making things better.

You can read the full post here.

2. Say ‘Thank You’ and Smile…

When someone pays you a compliment.

Most of us are lousy at taking compliments.

We often  respond by down sizing our achievements;

‘Oh really it was nothing’

or

‘I was just doing my job’.

This down sizing achieves nothing worthwhile.

First of all it negates the judgement and the goodwill of the person  who offered you the compliments making it less likely they will compliment you in the future.

Secondly it is a kind of powerful ‘self talk’ that is bad for own self image.  We really begin to believe that our efforts were ‘nothing’ or it was JUST ‘doing my job’.

So next time someone pays you a compliment just smile and say ‘Thank You’.

NB: Perhaps you should get in the habit of giving more compliments too – but you may find the process discouraging as many of those you pay compliments too will react by downsizing.  To avoid this you can tag a question onto your compliment that will prevent them from downsizing.  So instead of saying;

‘I love the hair cut.’

try;

‘I love the hair cut.  Where did you get it done?’.

This trivial addition prevents downsizing and helps to get through the embarrassing seconds of silence that might otherwise follow.

1. Say ‘Thank You’ and Smile…

When one of your team members offers you a suggestion that you have already thought about but discounted.

Instead of saying thank you and smiling, many managers will respond to this situation by giving way too much information. For example:

“Yes I had thought about that but decided with the current focus on xyz now would not be the time”.

From the managers perspective this is a rational, open and transparent response.

But what does it sound like from the team members perspective?

There is a good chance that they will interpret this statements to mean some or all of the following:

  1. I am way ahead of you because I had already thought of that.
  2. I am cleverer than you because I can see why the suggestion is not that good (had you really forgotten about the current focus on xyz?)
  3. You are wasting my time by dragging me back to things that I have already considered
  4. Please don’t waste my time unless you have MUCH better suggestions to bring to the table

So instead just greet the suggestion with a big smile and a genuine thank you.

You might say that you will certainly put their ideas ‘into the mix’.

You might ask them how the suggestion might be made to working in spite of the current focus on xyz.

You might choose to give them some affirming feedback to encourage further sugestions in the future.

But mainly you just smile and say thank you.

Developing the Best Leaders

U.S.News & World Report and the Center for Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University just published their list of America’s Best Leaders.
The panelists rated nominees from to 1 to 5 based on how well they met the following criteria:

Sets Direction (25 percent):

  • by building a shared sense of purpose;
  • by setting out to make a positive social impact;
  • by implementing innovative strategies.

Achieves Results (50 percent):

  • of significant depth and breadth;
  • that have a positive social impact;
  • that are sustainable;
  • that exceed expectations.

Cultivates a Culture of Growth (25 percent):

  • by communicating and embodying positive core values;
  • by inspiring others to lead.

If your employees were given the chance to rate you against these same criteria then how do you think you would do?

  • What if you were rated by your boss?
  • Your peers?
  • Customers?
  • Investors?

For each of the three criteria what can you do in 2009 to so that you are able to rate yourself at least one mark higher than you do at the moment?

Full post – including the list of ‘America’s Best Leaders’ is here.

Inspiration…

I really enjoyed this clip on you tube – 40 inspiring speeches from the cinema condensed into just 2 minutes.

The Limits of Lean?

Lean

Earlier this week I went to ‘An Evening with Simon Hill’. Drawing on his experience of manufacturing industry and Yorkshire Forward, Simon Hill, Executive Director of Business at Yorkshire Forward talked about strategic business improvement using ‘Lean Principles’. Simon chose not to offer a quick reminder of what these Lean Principles are – leaving a proportion of the audience in the dark. As a reminder they are:

  1. Specify what creates value from the customers’ perspective
  2. Identify all the steps along the process chain
  3. Make those processes flow
  4. Make only what is pulled by the customer
  5. Strive for perfection by continually removing waste

With its origins in the world of total quality management Lean Principles provide a wonderful way to ensure efficient product or service delivery by allowing the whole business process to be analysed and made efficient. It emphasises systems, compliance, analysis and objectivity in pursuit of the perfect process. It really is scientific management for the late 20th Century. It is one of several business improvement tools that can help an organisation with one of its purposes – that of the efficient delivery of a product or service.

However increasingly efficiency is not the only game in town. Indeed it is not even the main game for most organisations. Renewal, re-invention and transformation are increasingly the key drivers of sustainable value creation in modern knowledge based economies. If I heard Simen rightly then after a considerable investment of money and time in implementing Lean his business had just about managed to stand still. Now this is an great achievement for a manufacturer of automotive components in South Yorkshire – but I doubt if it carries the seeds for a major economic re-birth.

My concern is the ‘story’ that Lean tells about the nature of business and enterprise. That it is about analysis, rationality, incremental improvement and mediocrity – giving the customer just what they ask for – when they ask for it. It is that the expectations of the customer should drive the production of the organisation. And Lean is not just a set of tools – it is a management philosophy – a culture. It becomes the way we think and act.

Andrew Mawson – one of the UKs most outstanding social entrepreneurs tells of the first time he asked some members of his community what they would really like to do. It turned out that they aspired to go on a day trip to the coast. Fair enough thought Andrew and worked with them to make it happen. After the trip had been undertaken he asked them what they would like to do next? And the reply came – ‘Let’s go on another trip to the (same) coast’! Let’s do it again! Andrew recognised that the aspirations of his customers were narrow. That he could provide experiences far more powerful and effective in driving community development. He understood that they had no real idea of what was possible. So he proposed that their next project was to be a journey across the Sinai desert. As their supplier he transformed their ideas of what could be achieved based on his on his knowledge, experience and expertise. This would never had happened had been trained in Lean principles.

And now Lean Simon tells us Lean consultants are being engaged by Yorkshire Forward to increase organisational efficiency. No doubt pieces of paper will soon be travelling less far on their journey through the offices, being touched by fewer people and processes generally more efficiently. And many of the employees perceptions will be reinforced that their role is not to facilitate the entrepreneurial re-birth of the region – but to design and administer effective bureaucratic processes.

For me business is about emotion, aspiration, imagination, passion, energy and risk. I am not making an argument for waste (although I do often find myself encouraging clients to ‘create slack’) but I am arguing for cultures that favour action and re-invention over perfection. If the price of Lean is a culture that favours analysis and incrementalism over imagination, re-invention and risk taking then I for one find it a price I am not prepared to pay.

At the end of the presentation I asked Simon whether he really felt that Lean held the answers to sustainable competitiveness in knowledge based business – whether it could drive the creativity and innovation necessary to compete in the future. And he answered ‘ No!’.

Just Imagine…part 2

Stairway to Organisational Heaven?

Just imagine…

1. You work in an organisation where everyone gets 30 minutes every week 121 time with their manager to look at how the right work can be done more effectively and to work on communication, trust and respect;
2. Everyone is coached – every week – by their manager. They learn things on a weekly basis and use what they learn to create value;
3. Everyone gets feedback – several times a day. The feedback recognises, appreciates and encourages the good stuff. It also raises awareness around behaviours that people might want to re-think. Everyone knows that feedback is not an emotional big deal. It is just information that is designed to help;
4. Everyone delegates effectively. They expect to be delegated to at least every other month as part of their professional development. Managers ‘delegate and develop’ routinely so that they can consistently do the important (but never urgent) stuff well (stuff like strategy, RnD, customer contact, stakeholder management etc).
5. People who struggle to deliver on their role in the time that the organisation pays them are helped – through feedback and coaching – to find ways to get what they need to get done in the work hours available to them.

What difference would developing these 5 management processes make in your team?