3 Ways to Tell if Your Culture is Killing Your Organization

  1. Is your annual turnover higher than 20 percent? Hiring a new employee could cost as much as 50% to 200% of their annual salary.
  2. Do you have toxic leaders or employees? Workplace incivility costs an estimated $14,000 per affected employee.
  3. Is your workplace culture out of step with your strategy? If so, your team is underperforming. This is part of the reason most strategies are never executed.
Workplace Culture Economics

Culture eats talent for breakfast

“Culture,” the late management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “eats strategy for breakfast.” I like to see them as two essential courses, along with leadership, of a 3-course meal. Two out of three is not good enough. A poor culture will undermine a good strategy and drive out good leaders. Poor leadership will damage a solid culture and strategy. A bad strategy will impede the growth of a well-led team.

Culture eats talent for breakfast … and spits out anything it does not like. Talent that matches culture becomes part of the organization. Talent that does not fit gets rejected.

Here’s the trick: your workplace culture is not the same as your workplace values. The culture is defined by what actually occurs at work — hour-by-hour, day in and day out.

Organizations that focus their hiring practices on talent tend to have workplace cultures that grow organically — regardless of the official values that hang on the walls. Hire competitive talent and you will get a competitive culture, even if your official values champion cooperation and collaboration. Hire cooperative talent and your push for a competitive workplace will find resistance. Hire talent that is at odds with your values and you will eventually have a toxic culture.

One former client, James Cook Media, was experiencing an annual turnover of around 100 percent. This fast-paced, innovative company, was hiring highly talented people. The problem was that the new hires expected a steady rather than dynamic work environment. The revolving door was a massive drain on revenues that were bankrupting the company.

We help define culture.  We get results.

We helped them define their culture and the types of employees that would best fit. They began making culture fit their top priority. This dramatically reduced turnover and helped save the company from bankruptcy.

The American Association of Suicidology was experiencing declining revenues. Their dedicated employees had low levels of engagement due to poor strategic direction. When Colleen Creighton took over as the Executive Director in 2017, she recognized the need for a proper strategy. We worked together on this with the board of directors. Once approved, we coached the staff to develop a business plan to implement the new strategy. In effect, the staff was creating their own work-plans for the year.

Employee engagement rose from about 40 to 80 percent — with significant impacts on greater revenue, lower costs, and higher levels of initiative.

Here are three quick ways to check if your culture is damaging your organization:

  1. Is your annual turnover higher than 20%?
  2. Do employees report workplace toxicity?
  3. Are your culture and strategy aligned?

According to one study, poor culture fit accounted for 89 percent of hires let go within 18 months.  

Use our workplace culture quiz to help you identify the ideal culture for your organization, so you can specify values that make sense and improve your hiring practices.

 

Leader Development is Like Gardening

Leader development is like gardening

Leader Development is Like Gardening

I was struck recently by a Harvard Business Review article called “The Feedback Fallacy” by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall. The authors rightly criticized the faddishness of so-called radical candor and radical transparency, noting that such critical feedback is often counterproductive (and may be used as an excuse for office bullying and toxic behavior). The authors also caution that performance feedback can be idiosyncratic, revealing biases of the person giving feedback.

Instead of providing critical comments, the authors argue that leaders should focus on what each person does right and encourage them to do more of it.

This approach has its merits. To be sure, recognizing when people are doing something right is good for morale and self-esteem. People are more inclined to repeat and improve upon their natural strengths than to spend time and energy improving perceived weaknesses.

At the same time, I know I get better when my speaking coach, Jan Fox, tells me to stop doing X and to do more of Y. She’s tough, but always supportive. She helps me improve what I do well while also helping me tackle my problem areas. Would you want a speaking coach who ignored your “ums” and “you knows”?

Jan’s approach is best summarized by what Strategic Leaders Academy business owner John O’Grady calls gardening – you help the person amplify their natural strong points and prune away what impedes growth and performance.

The key to doing this well is by focusing on improvement without trying to turn someone into something they’re not. No amount of feedback, for instance, will transform an extrovert into an introvert; no amount of coaching will change a detail-oriented person into a visionary. Demands that someone become a different person are counterproductive.

This is the idiosyncratic problem noted by the HBR authors: leaders tend to try to clone themselves; that is, their feedback can be aimed at making the employee become more like the supervisor. This approach only works when the employee has natural inclinations that are similar to those of the supervisor. For everyone else, the feedback is ineffective and often causes resentment. Over time, you can imagine how this damages diversity and balance in the organization.

Proper gardening – proper leader development – is a process.

It begins with knowing yourself and your employees. Knowing ourselves helps guard against idiosyncratic feedback and promotes diversity and balance. Knowing our employees helps us to provide feedback and developmental experiences that are most likely to bring out the best in each person and to prune away problem areas.

Our leader-persona assessment is a good first step to becoming a proper gardener for your employees. Knowing each employee’s leader-persona will enable you to help them be the best Operator, Reconciler, Maverick or Pioneer they can be. You will also reduce the tendency to provide morale-damaging idiosyncratic feedback.

Forge Balanced Teams
Take our leader-persona assessment below

“Our employee engagement improved from about 40% to 80%, thanks to Chris’ support.” Colleen Creighton, Executive Director, American Association of Suicidology.

Let’s discuss ways we can help you have positive outcomes, too.

Pro Tips:

  • Amplify your Operators’ strengths in planning and execution. Give them the tools they need to excel at these tasks and to hold people accountable. Don’t needle them about needing to be more visionary or more outgoing or to speak more during meetings. Do, however, address behaviors that may come across as badgering or clinging to a problematic status quo.
  • Amplify your Reconcilers’ strengths in teamwork and consensus-building. Empower them to iron out differences among teams or teammates. Don’t pester them about needing to be more innovative or a better planner. Do, however, address tendencies toward watering down issues, status quo bias, or running themselves ragged trying to please everyone.
  • Amplify your Mavericks’ strengths in solving wicked problems. Give them important issues to address and the license to pursue new ideas and solutions. They will need Operators and Reconcilers to keep those solutions feasible and grounded in reality. Avoid criticizing them on attention to detail or not being sufficiently enthusiastic in social gatherings. Do help them address challenges associated with aloofness, impatience, and impracticality.
  • Amplify your Pioneers’ innovative strengths. Encourage them to challenge the status quo and to come up with ways to push the envelope of performance. Make sure Operators are nearby to keep their ideas prioritized and practical. Avoid beating them up about attention to detail or planning. Do help them address issues associated with a lack of prioritization and overloading people in good ideas.

Follow these guidelines and be better at delivering helpful, thoughtful, and productive feedback to your team.

The Four People your Team Needs to Succeed

The Four People Your team Needs to Succeed

To grow sustainably, every team needs four critical people.

With them, your team has the right balance to execute, solve problems, innovate, and maintain harmony. Without this balance, an organization is vulnerable. These four people are the Operator, the Maverick, the Pioneer, and the Reconciler.

We derived these four archetypes by overlaying two critical characteristics: introversion versus extroversion and detail versus vision-orientation. These characteristics provide distinctive inclinations that reveal the roles in which people are likely to thrive.

Forge Balanced Teams
Forge balanced Teams

Operators are mission-focused.

They nail the details and hold people accountable. They help you execute to a high standard.

Mavericks like to question the status quo and solve chronic, wicked problems.

They help you avoid complacency and keep your focus on the issues that matter.

Pioneers love to rally people behind new ideas and innovations.

They will help you recognize emerging threats and seize opportunities.

Reconcilers are natural team-builders.

They know how to manage processes and to gain and maintain consensus. They keep egos in check and harmony on your team.

History provides some great examples.

George Washington, an Operator, built a balanced team as head of the Continental Army and later as our America’s first President [Hamilton (the Maverick); Jefferson (the Pioneer); and Knox (the Reconciler)].

Building America
Building America

Abraham Lincoln, a Reconciler, had a “Team of Rivals” [Stanton (the Operator); Chase (the Maverick); and Seward (the Pioneer)].

Winning the Civil War
Winning the Civil War

During World War Two, Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight Eisenhower, a Reconciler, carefully cultivated and maintained his balanced team [Bradley (the Operator); Montgomery (the Maverick); Patton (the Pioneer)] that, together with the Soviets, defeated Nazi Germany.

Winning World War II
Winning World War II

What happens if your team does not have all four?

Google is a good example. In the 1990s, founders Larry Page (Maverick) and Sergei Brin (Pioneer) excited many investors with their breakthrough ideas. They, however, could not make the business work. At the insistence of the investors, they brought onboard Eric Schmidt (Reconciler), and Jon Rosenberg (Operator) as CEO and Senior VP. Google became one of the most successful companies in history.

Google's Balanced Team
Google’s Balanced Team

Key Tips:

1.  Hire intentionally – make sure you have all four represented and empowered
2.  Assign people to roles that enable them to thrive. Most vision people can do details, and vice versa, but doing so drains their energy faster.
3.  Check to see if you have a balanced team (take our quiz below). If not and you cannot bring someone in to fill the role, then consider hiring a consultant or adviser. You can also ask someone on your team to play the role, but you will need to find ways to address that their energy may drain faster.

Which American President Are You?

Which American President are You?

These American Presidents lead with authenticity. When you know your leader archetype, you are empowered to become the best version of yourself. When you learn the archetypes of others, you can coach them to be the best version of themselves. Which American President are you?

What’s your Servant-Leader Archetype?

Which great leader are you?

Servant leaders come in one of four broad leader-archetypes: Pioneers, Reconcilers, Operators, and Mavericks (PROM). 

Your servant-leader archetype is outward-facing, describing how you best contribute to the world, whether that is your company, cause, vocation, or community. 

 Once you know your servant-leader archetype, you can be very intentional about serving as the best version of yourself. Once you know the WHOs of your team, you can help them serve as the best versions of themselves. Your energy, team performance, and internal communication will improve significantly … immediately.

Take our assessment to find your PROM Servant-Leader Archetype. Share it with your team and compare results. Do you have key leaders among all 4 types?

Are Expert Board Members Killing Your Nonprofit?

Expert Board Members could be Killing your Nonprofit

So, you or someone you know are starting a nonprofit or looking to bring new members to your existing board of directors.

Seeking subject matter experts seems to be the right way to go. After all, shouldn’t any nonprofit want the top academics, advocates, and expats from the areas you serve to guide the organization?

But here’s a surprise.  Often, the answer is no.

Certainly, many expert board members take their governance responsibilities seriously. But others, with the best of intentions, carry their own agendas and pet projects into the nonprofit. This can result in significant conflicts of interest, decision-making paralysis, wasted resources, and bickering and back-biting. These problems undermine the integrity of the board and the impact the nonprofit seeks to make.

The purpose of a board of directors is to govern the nonprofit.

Governance responsibilities fall into three categories: Strategy, Oversight, and Policy. Strategy determines how the nonprofit aims to pursue its mission and vision with the greatest possible impact. Oversight deals with stewardship of donor dollars, transparency in spending, and adherence to acceptable accounting practices. Policy addresses matters such as by-laws, hiring and evaluating the executive director, and selecting and maintaining a competent board that governs according to sound rules.

Unfortunately, being a subject matter expert, academic, advocate, or expat does not necessarily help board members fulfill their primary responsibilities. Superb thought leaders or people with important lived experiences who have little to no training or experience with governance can damage your organization, usually inadvertently, by drowning meetings in esoteric debate and scrimmaging to fund pet projects.

These problems create internal revenue bleeding. Decision-making paralysis forces the organization to tread water. Shifting priorities lurch the efforts of your team from one initiative to another. This burns the time and energy of your team. You cannot create and sustain momentum or generate the kind of productivity that comes from consistency. Your employees get frustrated, which lowers their levels of engagement. You spend endless hours dealing with drama, interpersonal disputes, and sometimes even subterfuge, rather than growing the organization. Many nonprofits detect the damage too late and never recover.

To add to the problem, experts may be less likely to donate to your nonprofit. Many rationalize that their academic work and volunteer support for the board is sufficient skin-in-the-game. This is an understandable sentiment, but it could hurt your organization. Nonprofit watchdogs and grant-makers want to know if each member of your board is a donor. When board members do not donate, watchdogs and grant-makers perceive that significant internal problems must exist.

What to do

  1. Hire board members with governance experience who agree to donate to the organization. The amount of the donation does not matter.
    Create a board of advisers for subject matter experts. They can give you the benefits of their research and experience and not be put in a position to damage your organization.
  2. Develop conflict of interest policies that prevent board members from participating in discussions in which they have a vested personal, financial or professional interest.
  3. Conduct governance training as a part of your board development process.

French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau famously remarked that war is too important to be left to the generals. Like generals, subject matter experts can be helpful to your nonprofit with their research, experiences, and professional backgrounds. Exercise great caution before letting them run the show.

Which Hall of Fame NFL Coach are You?

Which Hall of Fame NFL Coach are You?

Find out what NFL Hall of Fame coach shares your leader-persona

Take our 9 question quiz. Share it with your team and compare results. Do you have key leaders among all 4 types?

Authenticity

 

Authenticity – It Begins with Self-Awareness

Gosh, I tried hard to be an extrovert. I’d bought into the idea that the best leaders were extroverts. I convinced myself that I needed to work the room, be energetic ALL THE TIME, and be the life of the event. It exhausted me and, frankly, I wasn’t very good at it. I made some key mistakes along the way.

Extroverts are people who get their energy from being around other people. Introverts, by contrast, recharge their batteries when they are alone or with people who are close to them.

Sure, there were plenty of times when I felt highly energized being around people. I loved being with my soldiers and with people who shared common interests and aspirations. But being with a bunch of people outside those parameters was hard for me. I preferred chatting with one or two people rather than try to small-talk my way to meet everybody.

I still envy those who can work the room and speak with everyone effortlessly. It’s just not me.

I learned after much study that extroverts have not necessarily cornered the market on good people skills and that introverts do not automatically lack charisma. Some extroverts can be boorish jerks just like some introverts can be reclusive. Extroverts can be engaging and introverts can be inspiring. Extroverts and introverts can be great leaders.

Like many non-shy introverts, I’m what people call a situational extrovert. I get energized being around people in certain contexts.

I also tend to enjoy working through complex issues —precisely why I find a place like Afghanistan so compelling.

I know that nailing the details is essential for any solution to work. I could do the details well, but the process would exhaust me. As a leader, I always found that having detail-oriented people around me made me better, enhanced my energy, and improved our team.

All this makes me what we call a Maverick; that is, a visionary introvert. My comfort zone is nerding-out on wicked problems like the Afghan peace process, or helping organizations with culture and strategy, or creating a business franchise so former senior military professionals can build a thriving consulting business. To make any of these endeavors work, I need Operators, Reconcilers, and Pioneers to complete our team.

Over the past 30 years of leading people and teams, I’ve seen great leaders among all personas. What do they all have in common? Authenticity. Authentic leaders are comfortable in their own skin and willing together put a diverse team.

Authenticity starts with self-awareness. Do you know your leader persona?

To help you see yourself, we designed a simple, 8-question quiz based on our leadership and behavioral sciences research. You will discover your leader-persona and what it means. You can sign up to receive highly-personalized information that will help you build diverse and balanced teams that get the best from yourself and others.

Why waste time in jobs that suck you dry? Imagine what happens to productivity when you match the talent on your team to the roles that suit them best.

What was the cost when your team:

  • missed a critical detail?
  • missed an opportunity?
  • failed to anticipate a change in the market?
  • unintentionally damaged a key relationship?

Go ahead, take the quiz and share it with your team. See how well balanced your team is and if any gaps exist. Learn how to make the most of your natural inclinations and to bring the best out of others.

what's the difference between a strategy and a plan?

What’s the difference between a Strategy and a Plan?

Here are three things you need to know.

What’s the difference between a strategy and a plan?

We were executing our plan perfectly. All of our metrics indicated that we were on an upward trajectory. We were working hard, creating efficiencies, and consistently improving. We felt very good about our performance.

And yet, we were not succeeding.

That was exactly how I felt after the first 60 days as a commander in Afghanistan. I learned that while successful organizations perform at a high level, the reverse is not necessarily true.

When we begin talking, many of my clients express the unsettling feeling that something is missing – and that missing “something” is creating a gap between high performance and success.

The normal approach to this problem is to stay on the trajectory but work harder, in the belief that this will lead to incremental progress and greater efficiency.  

The problem, however, is that high performance does not necessarily equal success.

This is a difficult truth to swallow, especially for leaders. To admit that is to recognize that the plan is flawed. What we are directing our employees to do, what we are prioritizing, and what we are measuring may all be off-target.

Leaders excessively concerned with execution can begin to drink their own Kool-Aid, believing that blips in performance are leading toward success. This can reinforce the blinders and refuel the desire to do the same things over and over again, but expecting different results. The technical term for this is confirmation bias.

This is where strategy comes in.

Strategy helps you expose disconnects between success and performance, ask the right questions, and adjust as the marketplace shifts under your feet.

Here are three critical differences between a strategy and a plan:

  1. A strategy faces outward, first. A plan faces inward
  2. A strategy orients on factors you don’t control; a plan focuses on what you do control
  3. A strategy measures success; a plan measures performance

Let’s break these down.

A strategy faces outward, first. A plan faces inward

A sound strategy begins with a diagnosis of the current marketplace and your place within it. This establishes the context in which you will advance your vision and mission.

This context is always dynamic. The marketplace is in a constant state of flux, influenced by factors like technology, social and political changes, government policy, competitor choices, and so forth. Your strategy should identify those factors most likely to affect your outcomes. How you believe they will unfold and shape the future become your assumptions.

Once you have outlined the context, you can develop your theory of success. This expresses what you intend to do to succeed. A good strategy process will develop and evaluate more than one theory of success, so you can choose the one you think is best.

Your plan faces inward. It focuses on how to execute the course of action delineated in your strategy. A good plan ensures these tasks are integrated and properly resourced.  

*PRO-TIP: THIS 5-D PROCESS HELPS YOU DEVELOP A STRATEGY

What's the difference between a Strategy and a Plan?

A strategy orients on factors you don’t control; a plan directs what you do control

As outlined above, a wide range of factors will impact the environment within which your business exists and may potentially impact how successful you can be within a given context. You cannot simply wish them away. But what you can do is develop a tool that monitors and addresses these external drivers of change. That tool is your strategy.

A strategy is not a crystal ball that foretells how your organization can move toward a desired end-state. Nor is it a blueprint of the bridge from the present to the future. These analogies are too deterministic and too self-centered for a dynamic and uncertain marketplace.

A strategy is a hypothesis based on your diagnosis and chosen theory of success. It is a best guess that relies on assumptions about the future and factors you so not control. A proper strategy is explicit about these assumptions, allowing you to monitor them as the future unfolds.

Revising your assumptions later on is not a sign that you were wrong, but a reflection that you have been sensitive to the salient changes in the environment. When you revise your assumptions, you may need to modify your strategy.

*PRO-TIP: DISCUSS THE STRENGTH OF YOUR ASSUMPTIONS DURING YOUR QUARTERLY BOARD MEETINGS

Now that your strategy outlines how everything fits, you can make an implementation plan to direct the activities under your control. These activities should be properly resourced and integrated, and then broken down into team and individual workplans.

*PRO-TIP: HAVE THE PEOPLE RESPONSIBLE FOR EXECUTING THE PLANS DRAW THEM UP.  MORE OWNERSHIP LEADS TO BETTER EXECUTION

Strategy measures success; a plan measures performance

Your strategy should outline your mission, vision, values, and goals. Your goals should focus on the impact and outcomes you seek to achieve. These become your strategic measures.

Your plan outlines the critical tasks you selected as important to implementing your strategy. Measuring performance enables you to assess the strength of the execution.

Keep your impact and outcome measures separate from your performance measures. This is because impact and outcomes are influenced by factors you cannot control.

High performance on your implementation tasks coupled with low achievement on your strategic goals is an indication that factors outside your control are undermining your ability to advance your mission and vision.

You need to understand these factors and adjust your strategy and plan accordingly.

*PRO-TIP: MINDING THE GAP BETWEEN SUCCESS AND PERFORMANCE WILL HELP YOU ADJUST FASTER THAN YOUR COMPETITORS 

Getting the strategy right enabled our team of paratroopers to succeed in Afghanistan. A sound strategy helps our clients to create sustainable growth and impact.

To learn more about the difference between a strategy and a plan (and why a “strategic plan” tends to be a reverse Goldilocks), see our short video “Strategy versus Strategic Plan.”

Creating a winning culture: the Cleveland Browns

CREATING A WINNING CULTURe

3 Things You Can Learn From The Cleveland Browns

What I learned talking with the team before their big win on Sunday.

Changing the culture

The Cleveland Browns won big on Sunday – their first road win since 2015 and first back-to-back win since 2014.

What’s changed recently? The coaching staff, now led by interim Head Coach Gregg Williams, is creating a winning culture based on Discipline, Accountability, and Focus. The team is starting to believe.

His assessment of what had been undermining the Browns’ performance: it’s not the talent, it’s the culture that needed to be fixed.

I see many small businesses and nonprofits grapple with culture challenges, too. Gregg’s approach is very practical and effective.

Discipline, Accountability, and Focus have been his watchwords.

Gregg asked me to talk to the team about creating a winning culture on November 24th, the day before meeting their in-state rival in Cincinnati.

Discipline, Accountability, and Focus

I told the story of how Bulldog Troop went from being our most troubled team in 2005 to our best by 2007. This was thanks to the extraordinary leadership of Captains Nathan Springer and Tom Bostick.

Both of them believed in Discipline, Accountability, and Focus.

  1. Discipline: doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.
  2. Accountability: holding one another to the highest standard.
  3. Focus: every repetition, drill, decision matters. Make each one count.
Creating a winning culture

Do this 1-60-24. Make each 1 count, every minute, every hour. Turn these winning hours into winning days. Turn winning days into winning weeks. Turn winning weeks into winning months. That’s how an organization builds a winning culture.

And that’s exactly what Nathan Springer and Tom Bostick did.

This culture of winning was tested in Afghanistan, under dire circumstances. On July 27, 2007, Tom Bostick was killed in action leading his paratroopers during a massive firefight.

So many times, the loss of the leader in combat leads to a unit disintegrating. But not for B Troop. The lieutenants and sergeants took charge and continued taking the fight to the enemy. Their willingness to step up, believe in themselves and their training, and finish the fight saved many lives that day.

Joey Hutto continued this culture of winning when he took command of the Bulldogs. Based on what we learned, we adapted our strategy and began to win over the people. The result: a large insurgent group stopped fighting and eventually joined the Afghan government.

The insurgent leader and his men are now fighting on the side of the government against the Taliban. This outcome may be the biggest win since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.

The Cleveland Browns could see themselves in this story. Their response was overwhelming. It gave them one more reason to believe their instincts: Discipline, Accountability, and Focus – 1-60-24 – is how teams create a winning culture.

The Browns are doing just that. It’s a long and bumpy road requiring persistence and hiring people who fit the culture.

Small businesses and nonprofits

How does this affect small businesses and nonprofits?

The words may be a little different, but the concept is the same.

  • Set clear expectations about performance and values (discipline)
  • Hold employees accountable to meet them
  • Be held accountable to your team for setting expectations, strategy, and development
  • Make every task and decision purposeful and make them count (focus)

Do that 1-60-24 and you will get a winning culture.

“The discipline has been great,” veteran center JC Tretter told the media Monday. “It’s something we desperately needed…[Williams] has reined everybody in and gotten everybody focused on one single goal.”

The level of clarity Gregg Williams achieves with his message of Discipline, Accountability, and Focus has given his team confidence and on-field competence. They are beginning to believe in themselves.

Your team can do the same.