Monday, 30 September 2013

Fluffy Bunnies & Corporate Culture

I'm sorry about this, I really am. But I feel the need to point out a few basics about corporate culture.

Corporate culture does not mean happy, friendly, fuzzy bunny teamwork.

It does not involve sympathy, peace, understanding or doing the right thing for others.

Nor does in mean showing respect, reciting core values and promoting personal development.

It MAY mean some of these things; but I keep having conversations where people are clearly mentally substituting 'culture' for 'hippy'.

Here are some diverse organisations for you to think about for a moment....

(Apple, US Navy Seals ,Google, British Olympic Cycling Team, Starbucks, IBM, UK National Health Service, JCB, Virgin Atlantic)

Do they have the same culture? No.

Do they have strong cultures? Yes.

Are they successful at what they do? Yes.

Could they do better? Always.

What they DO share is a group of people drawn to others with the same beliefs, visions and aspirations as themselves. They provide an environment where people can 'fit', feel comfortable and be part of a large tribe working towards a common goal. Could most employees from one easily fit in another? No.

The culture of a company is what defines it's heart & soul. Changing culture means changing (and challenging ) behaviours, perceptions and beliefs. 

Never try and emulate another companies culture - be proud of what you have, remember that people came to work with you because they were drawn to you.
  • If you need to change your culture, make sure you know what your culture looks like today, and make sure you properly measure it's current state.
  • Be absolutely clear on your business goals, and why the culture you have is a risk to their delivery.
  • Then work towards changing culture from the top down, the bottom up and the middle out. 

Use employee engagement methods, behavioural changes, leadership training, communications skills, corporate events, fire the people who don't fit, promote those that do, make your actions match your words and commitments.

But above all else - measure the effects of everything you do. Measure the engagement improvements, the attrition rates, the effect on quota achievement, on employee opinion, on social media, on the multitude of things that contribute towards your success (financial or otherwise).

And remember. You are unique, your company is unique. It may be that you need to be more aggressive, more dictatorial, more individualist. It may be that you need to work harder together, it may be that more respect is needed. It WILL mean tough decisions.

Lose the fluffy bunny from your mind.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Women Deserve Lower Pay?

On my way to London on the train, I was surprised to hear a group of young women talking about executive pay - and in particular this BBC story about women being paid half the bonuses of men.

Trains to London are fairly crowded - so leaning across the aisle, I asked them if they'd mind sharing their thoughts about 'why'.....

The girls in question were 15 years old, and after realising that I was asking them for some serious feedback, and then some discussion they decided that women generally received lower bonuses because they "are more likely to take time off work to have children." 

As you might imagine this brought some attention from others on the train (not an easy task during commuter runs - most try to insulate themselves from the world).

I pointed out that whilst that is undoubtedly true, this should only delay a career by the number of weeks/months/years taken out - and therefore should have no effect at all on male:female bonus awards. I asked did they have any other ideas.

"Maybe they are more likely to need to leave work early if there's a problem with a child."  

Inside my head I was picturing myself reciting this exchange to a government inquiry.

I made the observation that either parent can perform that duty - and that most companies understand the occasional needs of family, and do their best to accommodate it. 

Then I asked them about the women leaders they knew. No names were forthcoming. Head of Yahoo? I asked. No. What about IBM? No. Facebook? No.

For once I was lost for words. These girls were smart, from a good school and sat discussing executive pay. But none had heard of Marissa Mayer, Ginni Rometty or Sheryl Sandberg.

I thanked them for their time, wrote down "Lean In - Sheryl Sandberg" on a piece of paper and handed it over with a suggestion to give it a go.

Shery Sandberg - Don't Hate Me - Time MagazineMarissa Mayer - Fortune MagazineGinni Rometty - CEO IBM

I'd love to know who students look to and admire, or aspire to be these days. At 15 years old, I wanted to be Gene Kranz, or Bob Crippen, or John Young. I thought that Steve Furber, Geoff Crammond and David Braben were amazing, and Michael J Fox in "Secret of My Success" was a genius. In school we learned about the economists, politicians and thought leaders of the day - surely that still happens?

I sincerely believe that we have a problem in our education system, and this issue needs to be addressed starting there. I plan to ask some of our local schools if they teach diversity in the this space.


One more thing, I'm a numbers junkie. I love analysis (see here for examples), and two of my favourite quotes are these:

"There are lies, damned lies and statistics" - Unknown
"In God we trust; everyone else bring data" - W. Edwards Deming

The problems these two quotes cause with research (especially in this field) is dramatic. No two people are alike - so how can you possibly compare compensation across diverse groups? What other factors are in play?

But I did manage to obtain some data to investigate myself - and the facts were damning. No matter which way I cut the information, men were paid more (on average) than women. Same roles, experience, tenure, geographic location, ethnicity - I found that with very few exceptions men get paid more than women. Not good.

This needs to be fixed - and it needs to start with setting expectations in our schools and end with proper legislation that forces companies to review and (if necessary) change  their processes.

It's Your Fault When Communication Fails

One of the many great things about working with culture is that no two days are the same, and you never quite know where inspiration may come from next.

Last week I visited a bathroom at a clients office, and on the door was a big brightly coloured panel with some cryptic acronyms together with the word "shelter".

Back outside, I asked what the sign meant - and nobody seemed to know. So I asked at the reception desk - they didn't know either. Finally, I asked a security guard,  and with a slightly uncomfortable look he explained to me that in the event of any form of disaster - these were the locations that people were meant to run to.

The building in question has a glass atrium, open areas, and is wonderfully designed. The bathrooms were specifically architected in the strongest areas of the building to act as shelters should anything happen.

Sounds great. I'd hope that all employers put as much thought into employee safety as this particular company. Except of course that nobody knew about it. Or at least none of the group I was with - which posed several questions for me.

Firstly - how much of the communication within that building was lost? I'm pretty sure I would open an email that said "In case of disaster......" - and I'm sure that such communications were in place, or it's part of the induction process, or maybe there are too many emails, or.....<insert your own excuse here>. Whatever the reason -  is anyone listening to the corporate voice?

Which is the core of many cultural problems in companies. 

So who is to blame? Why not blame the communications group? Next to HR, I find they are typically the most maligned of internal resources. Too much comms, not enough. Too many emails. Not enough information. I've heard them all. Never mind that they are an advisory resource - and that everyone at the company typically wants to tell everyone else everything.

Or maybe it's the CEO's fault. Let's face it, people DO tend to read emails from the top - so maybe she should have sent the email about the shelters.

But the reality is that it's almost certainly your fault when things are not communicated. Whatever level of the company you are at - it's you. Where's your curiosity? Where's the wish to learn? The drive to discover? 

I wanted to know what the sign meant. Then I told everyone. It was a personal message from someone who clearly cared enough to pass it on.

Many culture issues are often connected to a lack of engagement and an individual expectation of being spoon fed information.

The solution? Very few have the commitment to try it. Stop with active communications. Active communication leads to passive recipients. Turn off the tap (or faucet if you're American). You'll soon see who the most engaged employees in the company are - and engagement WILL increase - I promise. 

Atos are the headline act for experimenting with this - read about their zero email here in the FT.

Focus instead on making information accessible - whatever works best in your environment. It could be using Yammer or Chatter, it could be a pseudo Facebook page, posters in the halls (or in the bathrooms). But be sure to measure that engagement as you go - don't trust to luck. Take a look here on my website for some measurement ideas...

Force feeding information reduces the expectation of people to learn. If you're not learning, you're not growing, and if you're not promoting a culture of continuous learning, you're falling behind more progressive (and frankly better) companies. 

Monday, 2 September 2013

Miley Cyrus, Twerking & Expected Behaviour In The Workplace

No such thing as negative publicity? I'm not sure about that, but the antics of Miley Cyrus this week certainly 'thrust' the issue of appropriate behaviour to the forefront of the public eye. I couldn't agree more with the excellent open letter to her daughter from Kim Keller which went viral last week. 

One question I don't see being answered, is what kind of expectation drove this behaviour? We've seen the increased sexualisation of music video and stage performance on everything from the X-Factor to the music screens at the local sports centre - and it's forced some conversations with our children that we'd rather have left for a few more years.

In the case of the 'Twerking' and tongue antics of Hannah Montana (which is how my 9 year old daughter sees her) - it certainly achieved her desire of headline grabbing, ongoing media attention and album promotion. 

(No, we are not expecting MTV to be family viewing, but the news media so extensively covered her antics that shielding our kids from it became an impossibility - want to know why? - A brilliant satire piece here explains how CNN may or may not see it)

As I endeavour to help people change workplace culture there are many instances where I find managers questioning the behaviour of their staff, or CEO's questioning the way their divisions are working.

I recently provided a company with a 'culture DNA' sample - which clearly showed poor behaviour flowing through the ranks of several organisations (those ugly red blocks in the graphic) - yet it took several meetings, and a great deal more time than it should for the leadership team to recognise that one person can influence a team so greatly.

Just one chair slinging, tantrum throwing abuser can create a cancer within your organisation that will spread throughout a team, changing the behaviour of previously good leaders and tarnishing entire divisions. 

Be quick not to reward that - or you will be seen as promoting it. This same lesson applies for any individual who blatantly flaunts your core values - whatever they may be.

Here are two very simple statements:

  • It would appear that the answer to stopping the flow of sexualisation seems to be in the hands of retailers and media outlets.
  • I would also appear that the answer to stopping the flow of bad corporate behaviour seems to be in the hands of managers higher in the organisation.

Both of these statements are true, but are equally weak, simplistic and optimistic. They represent a view that lacks courage of conviction and acceptance of responsibility.

If you don't want a sexualised society, then turn off the TV when something you object to appears. Don't buy the products that are advertised in the commercial breaks. Don't buy the produce of the artist. Don't buy the newspaper or magazine with the suggestive cover or intrusive photograph. Even better, walk out of the shop that displays them. As cash flow slows, behaviour will change.

In the workplace it becomes more complex due to one overriding factor. Income.

In the first scenario, you are withholding expenditure from artists and companies you disagree with. In the workplace you are risking your income by standing up to poor behaviour - or are you?

Here are some things to think about....

  • If you don't like the behaviour of your manager - then don't copy it. They will not be your manager for ever, and the memory of your behaviour will live long after they are gone.
  • If you witness poor behaviour, then wait for a quiet time and talk to them about it. Is risk involved? Of course - but without crucial conversations and risk taking, nothing ever changes, and people (just like companies) start to stagnate.
  • Emulating the behaviour of your manager can often lead to short term promotions - one of many problems with improving the diversity of organisations comes from people employing in their own image. But this is a betrayal of who you are. It's not worth it.
  • When you start to copy poor behaviour, you are effectively starting a cycle of abuse that will only end when you and your influencers are removed from the company. 
  • Who are the leaders you REALLY respect? Not just in your company, but in those you admire. Who would you choose to be your mentor? These are the people to emulate.

Change happens one person at a time. If you want change to happen, make sure that person is you. The rewards will come - professionally and personally. 

Do not compromise who you are for short term gain - a lesson that can be applied equally in the showbiz world as in the workplace.