A Business Technology Place

Making Respect Part of the Culture

The word respect is so common in company core values that I wonder if it’s become ubiquitous.  How do we define respect? Is it treating people kindly, helping those in need, and recognizing the contributions of others? Most certainly. But the challenge is, these are surface level behaviors and don’t create lasting impact for the organization or individuals. If something is a core value, I would expect to find it deeply embedded in the thinking, behaviors, and expectations for a company.

Giving respect to others is a key component for molding the culture of an organization. It requires more than periodic displays of kindness. Respect is way harder than that, but so much more powerful. Respect requires a willingness to change an opinion. It requires admitting others may have more knowledge about a situation. It requires collaboration.  Respect is sustained actions and involvement of employees in continuous improvement and problem solving.

Listen with an open mind

Employees on the front-line of work notice weaknesses in product and solution delivery. Why do we so often discredit them because of their position or because their thoughts don’t fit the corporate narrative? Listening to others with an open mind and not having predetermined answers shows respect because it creates meaningful dialogue. When we seek to understand the viewpoint of others, we risk opening our minds to alternate solutions. But we also show the other person that we care about understanding their view point. Respect is two-way communication.

I’ve have ongoing dialogue with employees about the work-from-home policy. I can tell you I have a different opinion than they do about the right balance of office and home days. But I’m trying to be open to dialogue that centers more around work output and uninterrupted flow. I know we’ll reach a better solution with common understanding and approach.

Participate together in problem solving

An ultimate sign of respect is to involve employees in solving problems. Jim Womack describes it this way in an article respect for people:

“Over time I’ve come to realize that this problem solving process is actually the highest form of respect. The manager is saying to the employees that the manager can’t solve the problem alone, because the manager isn’t close enough to the problem to know the facts. He or she truly respects the employees’ knowledge and their dedication to finding the best answer. But the employees can’t solve the problem alone either because they are often too close to the problem to see its context and they may refrain from asking tough questions about their own work. Only by showing mutual respect – each for the other and for each other’s role – is it possible to solve problems, make work more satisfying, and move organizational performance to an ever higher level. “

This is a great example of driving respect into the culture through sustained actions rather than kind gestures. It shows respect for employee’s insights and skills. It creates a framework for employees to directly impact their work cells and production output. When an employee and team are part of creating a solution they feel more pride and accomplishment.  

Accepting constructive feedback

What we do with feedback from others is an indicator for how we respect them. If we dismiss feedback we could be overlooking an opportunity for improvement. If we take feedback personally we are telling employees not to be honest. If we retaliate against feedback by taking actions against an employee, then we create distrust in the organization.

In my career, I’ve had a manager question my ability to make a decision after I told them I thought they were showing signs of micromanaging. I’ve had a manager tell me I wasn’t onboard with the corporate strategy after I cautioned about moving too fast without understanding risks to business disruption. In both cases, trust was broken between the manager and I and I believe a lack of respect was present. They chose not to engage in dialogue, but to dismiss my feedback as insubordinate.

Learn together  

True learning involves sharing results with employees and guiding them in processes to problem solve for additional improvements. Learning is completing a cycle of plan-do-check-act and acting upon the results. When a group of people realize that continuous improvement is really about becoming a learning organization, then a cultural transformation is underway.

On my team, one way we’ve been learning together is by establishing visual metrics that align to our mission. We review the metrics weekly and discuss impact to our service delivery. Over time, we’ve adjusted the metric or even created a new metric as we’ve learn more by examining results. Growing together creates strong culture. Everyone sees progress and everyone feels setbacks.

In summary I would say respect is more than this –

Rather it’s best characterized by this –


Onward and upward!

How to be like a Jedi at work

Influence thinking, don’t control results.

That almost reads like a Jedi mind trick. But even the Jedi were susceptible to trying to control outcomes. The concept is something I’ve read numerous times in leadership thought articles and I’ll admit the case of proof is strong. Leaders that use influence get results that far outreach and outlast leaders that use control. Think about Dr. Martin Luther King and Jesus compared to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin.jedi mind trick

I relate this concept to a common trap in business management; trying to control results. I see it happen with micro-management or by not delegating properly. The person that is trying to control the results or outcome may not even realize what they are doing. It’s evident to me that one of the root causes is a lack of trust in the other individuals to complete a task.

In management, I aspire to create a system that explains the vision and goals for the team. But I don’t tell them how to get there. I like to make it clear that they are the experts in their field. They have responsibility for the “how”. As with anyone else, I’m not short of opinions and I’ll certainly offer my assessment of the goal. But the magic happens when I provide influence on the outcome more than controlling the outcome.

Examples of influence.

The software development life-cycle that is used by a programming group is something the development manager and product manager need to agree to. They need to create the process flow and interactions. I tell them they need a consistent software development process that provides predictable outputs with relation to time and quality (influence not control). If this isn’t happening then I may facilitate discussions to help move the team in that direction.

Service organizations expect team members to respond to customers in a timely and professional manner. Yet in many organizations the Information Technology group has a reputation of poor customer service skills and not partnering with other departments. Why is that? My aim in this situation is to influence the results of the team by modeling customer service skills and partnership attitudes. The technology steering committee I chair has more non-IT members than IT. It’s about partnership and cooperation and I stress this in meetings with my team.  The base level of customer service in IT is the service ticket. I don’t require a specific lingo, format, or response template. But I do make sure that technicians understand the power of responses to the customer in a professional and timely manner.  They have the ability to influence a customer’s decision for repeat business!

So be a work Jedi. But this is no mind trick.

The best part is that all employees can influence others but not all employees are positioned for control. Use that thought the next time a coworker complains about not being able to control a situation because the team doesn’t report to them.

Using influence instead of control has many benefits that include:

  • Employee development – Trusted employees learn and grow their skills through experience more than someone telling them exactly what to do.
  • Diversity of thought – Despite what I may think, my way is not always the best. Engaged employees bring diversity of thought to a problem which provides more potential solutions to draw upon.
  • Employee respect – Respect employees enough to honor their skills. They were hired to do a job, let’em work!

Working from home is intertwined with employee retention and relationships

Should working from home be listed as a company benefit?

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer created an industry stir recently when she announced a ban on working from home. That’s the type of announcement that will send media and bloggers straight to their keyboards as they position what it means and what motivated the action. A spokesperson for Yahoo! gave this quote a few days later, “This isn’t a broad industry view on working from home–this is about what’s right for Yahoo, right now.” That quote captures the key point. Mayer is operating and making decisions on what she believes is in the best interest of Yahoo! Individual policies are a means to an end for her. These policies are not her ultimate goal which is to make Yahoo! a healthy and growing company financially.WorkFromHome

Working from home home is not often listed as a company benefit. In many companies, it’s an informal agreement between the manager and the employees. It’s a perk. It’s part of the work hour flexibility program. It eases work-life balance for employees with long commutes. It can often be used as a salary offset (what’s a day at home worth to you in salary?) I’m not sure about other functional areas of the business, but working from home at least once a week has become an expectation for today’s technology work force.

Employee retention is at the core of the conversation.

Beneath the surface of this conversation on working from home is employee retention. Mayer wants to encourage closer collaboration from teams by eliminating some of the challenges with remote communication. But if good employees leave does the policy back fire and end up hurting Yahoo! more than it helps? Employee retention is now a critical metric for technology leaders. Outside of their technology skills, employees have institutional knowledge composed of systems, business rules, customer knowledge, and inter-departmental relationships. When a good employee leaves their institutional knowledge leaves with them.

Can you build relationships at home?

Laurianne McLaughlin of InformationWeek.com captures another piece of the core implications in her commentary about the Yahoo! policy on working from home. She includes a quote from Martha Heller, a CIO and IT leader recruiter, “The No. 1 skill in IT leadership right now is the relationships they can build with people in the company. CIOs have an issue right now where they can’t find people to report to them with that skill. You can’t build that at home.”

Good relationships will keep teams together and bad relationships (or no relationship) will break them apart. Technology leaders need team members that work well together and they need team members that work well with employees outside the technology department. While communication from remote employees is technologically easy, it does not enable the full relationship benefits people receive from being together.

Working from home once a week does not make building relationships unachievable. But once a week is 20% of the work week. If team members work from home on different days of the week it creates a more complicated matrix of when they can interact. The amount of time when the full team is together decreases and the idea of building relationships through co-location is more complicated than it seems on the surface.

So what does a technology leader do about it?

Allowing employees to work from home is a means to an end. A primary end goals is employee retention. Working from home isn’t for everyone. Some employees may live close enough to the office that they would rather be in the office each day. Some employees may recognize that they are too easily distracted with home life to be productive. But for others, working from home may provide them with the flexibility they need in their personal lives so they can be a full contributor to the team success. So I believe a work from home policy must be handled individually but should be supported in general terms as a company policy.

Building relationships is a key component to employee retention. Technology leaders need to stretch themselves in this area and try new techniques. That may mean using video conferencing services (i.e. Skype, Google Hangouts, etc.) instead of text based instant messaging. That works for team meetings in addition to one-to-one conversations. It may mean creating “drive-bys” for remote employees as well. We get interrupted each day from co-workers that stop at our desks to chat. Why not do the same for remote employees to create the in-office feel? Maybe that becomes to disruptive, maybe it doesn’t. But the bigger point is building and maintaining relationships that help with employee retention and ultimately productivity. I suspect technology employees are open to trying new ways to make it better. Just make sure someone still brings the donuts on Friday morning.

How to Change Your Organization’s Culture

How do we change the culture around here?
During a Q&A session this week, after a presentation containing touch points of a future vision, a team member asked me the culture change question. “How do we enact cultural changes here?” The question implied an agreement with the future vision, but acknowledged the challenges cultural changes require to move away from old habits.

I love the question because it gets at the heart of attitudes, customer service, brand, and leadership within a business. It’s gets to the challenge of winning the hearts and minds of the people. Changing a culture is no easy matter. Shawn Parr of Fast Company describes why Culture Eats Strategy and just how culture is a pillar of an entire organization. The greatest strategies in the world will fail if they don’t influence the right cultural mindset of the employees of the organization. cultural change

People will change if they see the value and benefit.
My answer to the question centered around value. It’s the same concept as sales. A sales transaction takes place when both parties see a value in what they are receiving. In an organization, people will rarely change behaviors if they don’t see, understand, and desire the benefit it will bring.

Expressing value is part of leadership. If people get your vision they will want to follow. One of the roles of executive management is to create the context within which the culture of the organization is built. It’s a people thing.

But we are talking about values, assumptions, and behaviors.
No one gets up in the morning with a goal to not do their job and not provide service to their customers. But there are many factors which affect our ability, willingness, and desire to deliver superior service. It’s not easy. This Wall Street Journal article discusses a more systematic and incremental approach to change an organizations culture. If you have read any of my other writings, you’ll know I’m a big proponent of incremental changes to reach a goal.

The bottom line is we are talking about people. People make the culture. The processes, beliefs, values, etc. are a means to the goal. But the culture of an organization lives in the minds and hearts of the people. If they believe in the culture that management wants then they will execute it. So the “how” is not so much about changing organizational layout, processes, and managers. It’s about winning the hearts of the people by showing the value and reaching the heart level.

(photo credit: www.stage2planning.com)

Two leadership system takeaways

I attended a brief course on a “leadership system” earlier this month. The material of the course was filled with relevant and practical thoughts on how to establish, promote, and maintain a leadership system in the work place. Leadership System Two of the items that stuck with me at the end of the course were inspirational leadership and a leadership process.

Inspirational Leadership

Inspirational leadership is about inspiring team members to high performance. That’s an assumed goal in any organization, but how is it achieved? What is it that motivates team members to high performance levels? Some of the attributes and behaviors of inspirational leadership include:

  • Explain the business need and value for a set of business objectives – Simplify and deliver a message to team members to show them why and how their work is relevant to the overall benefit of the organization
  • Maintain a positive attitude when faced with challenges and roadblocks – Team members will believe the objectives are achievable if the leader models this behavior and presents a no non-sense case of how to work through the barriers.
  • Stay aligned with the mission and values of the organization to maintain relevancy – Human nature is to move towards people or things that are relevant.   One sure way to stay relevant to the organization is to maintain alignment with its core set of beliefs. Team members respect this and will be inspired by leaders that role model this behavior.

Leadership Process

If you’ve read other posts on The Merchant Stand blog you’ll know that I often write about processes. I’m always thinking about how to improve existing processes to be more efficient at achieving the end goal.  The leadership process described in the course resonated with me because it followed closely the high level steps of product development.

  • Set a direction or plan – maps to Concept and Strategy
  • Engage and align to the plan – maps to requirements
  • Perform – maps to build-out or development
  • Review and make adjustments – maps to quality testing and defect resolution
  • Learn and innovate – maps to lessons learned, adjustments, etc.

In the context of leadership, this means that leaders make sure their teams align with and follow those steps.  Unlike a product or project that has a set beginning and end, the leadership process is a continuously evolving one. Adjustments and innovations are made based on lessons learned. The direction or plan will change periodically based on factors such as the external environment, stakeholders expectations, regulations, etc. But the process to lead and achieve the plan remains within the framework of the system.