Monday, 16 December 2013

Core Values - The Cowboy Way

My family were all sitting down watching a Charley Boorman 'travel the world' documentary last week, when a very young aspiring bull rider was asked about what it was like to be a cowboy. The answer he gave was....

"Stand up for yourself and others, respect your God, your country, your elders and don't tell lies to other people"

I looked for some other definitions, and found these two:

"Never cross over private fences, always speak the truth, respect your elders and respond with a yes Sir or no Ma’am"

 "If it's not true, don't say it. If it's not yours, don't take it. If it's not right, don't do it" -James Drury

Seen in another way these are value statements - they define the personal beliefs of a great many people (and not just those who wear Stetsons and ride bulls).

When you're trying to define your corporate core values, you need to understand that your employee population has some deeply held personal beliefs. 

If you want to get the best from them you should make sure that your mission statement, your values, and your methods of reinforcement align with both your business goals and the strengths of your people. 

I've seen some truly incredible examples of corporate bullshit - "Inspire through ingenuity" being my own personal favourite, so to counter that here's my take on some example core values for "Cowboy Inc."

1. Speak the truth
2. Do the right thing
3. Respect others

Too simple? Not really - because the three statements above (made by listening to the voices of our fictional employees) are all contained in the original phrases at the top of this page.

As people are all different, they will interpret these values based on their own internal values. These three hypothetical values will allow me to retain and attract believers in the cowboy way.

But that's not good enough - because some people in the company may not understand, and values like that are hard to add to performance management systems. So I need some expected behaviours, to clarify what I expect. This is where things get harder.......I would suggest the following....

1. Speak the truth

  • Be honest when you communicate, agree and disagree in constructive, respectful ways.
  • Don't give different versions of events to different people at different levels in the company.

2. Do the right thing

  • If you feel uncomfortable doing something that is asked of you, then ask for reasons before you decide whether to do it or not.
  • Make sure you treat people the way you want to be treated.

3. Respect others

  • Be polite, address others as Sir or Ma'am.
  • People in other departments are responsible for their areas - if you think they can do better go and talk to them, not others.

If you're reading through these and think they are over simplified and wouldn't work, then that's absolutely fine. You probably want to look elsewhere for employment because you will not fit in, you won't enjoy working at Cowboy Inc. and you'll probably leave shortly after I've invested time and money training you.

But these are definitions of what to expect if you come and work here. If you think that the same process of listening to your employees and building your value system around them would not work with your own company, then you are dead wrong.

Your company became successful based on the people that work there. Those people are your greatest strength, and have beliefs you need align with and reinforce. If your company needs to change direction, then make sure you identify the best people to get you there, and align around them.

Just please don't think you can do this by locking yourself away in a room with a whiteboard and creating generic gobbledegook.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Employee Engagement Through Gamification

Last week my Wife told me off again for using my iPhone after our 7pm household tech curfew 

We do this so we can interact together as a family......TV and radio are OK after this time, but the use of gadgetry is forbidden except in extreme cases of homework.

"What ARE you doing now" she asked.
"Just checking my Twitter feed" I responded, "No big deal - look my Klout score has gone up."

(then I turned it off).

But it got me thinking about my own motivations, and I came to the slightly uncomfortable conclusion that although learning is my #1 reason for engaging through social media, I do have an additional motivation that is rooted firmly in the competitive.

I measure my influence using Klout and Kred, look at my volume of retweets and how many followers I have on Twitter, and how many +1's I get on Google+. I like it when the numbers go up, not so much when it goes down. I heard this behaviour recently alluded to as being like collecting coins on Super Mario Bros - repeatedly performing the same actions to gain points....

Of course, these mechanisms help us all tune our broadcasts to appeal to people, and highlight the things we do well - fundamentally measuring social influence allows us to play to our strengths and develop them.

I still hesitate to bring up gamification with clients though (a word still so new it keeps switching to ramification in this spell check - hmmmm.....) because the implications of the phrase hint towards the frivolous. The definition above doesn't help a great deal either "exciting because it promises to make the hard stuff in life fun".

But gamification IS an incredibly useful tool for boosting employee engagement - and it's already being used widely, you probably just call it something else.

If you use any kind of internal social media - you are bringing elements to your workforce. It could be an internal portal with some message boards or community sites, Salesforce Chatter, Microsoft Yammer or a private LinkedIn group. 

Any one of these allows for improvement in communications, better sharing of ideas, improvements in productivity and a greater feeling of involvement - and if that isn't a dictionary definition for engagement, then I'm not sure what is.

BUT it also allows people to see what others are most interested in, to collect 'likes', or comments to their posts. It allows people to collect followers for groups they create, and delivers a level of recognition that is not dependent on rank or position - but rather on skills and expertise. The more you share, the more 'points' you get - the better the level of engagement and the more fulfilled the employee. 

How about rewards and recognition within your company? Do you have a place to give public 'shout outs' to people? Gifts for work well done? Tenure awards? 

Then you're driving engagement through gamification - the simple act of giving is a powerful motivator, and recipients are being rewarded for the kind of behaviour that the company wants. 

If you ever ran a competition within your company to come up with a new idea, or solve a company problem - then you started a game. Serious business benefits for sure - but allowing employees to suggest new things (and then acting on them), is a sure-fire way to build engagement from the ground up. 

Don't ever forget that the people making those suggestions probably know a lot more about the opportunities and issues than those at the executive level - and it takes effort to make their ideas public, so respect their risk.

So there are two other critical points to make here.

Firstly - gamification is not 'on' or 'off', it's a graduated scale that can bring great benefit - especially if you recognise it's power in improving employee engagement. In one company I worked with recently over 15% of the workforce were actively posting in the largest internal community - which also happened to be focussed on culture and business improvements. That's over two thousand voices that were not being heard before.

Secondly - appreciating that those with the most 'coins' are likely the most engaged, it's easy to find them, listen to them and develop them into even greater corporate assets - and that can only lead to increased success for your business.

Now - back to that Twitter feed to see how many extra followers I've picked up.......(sorry Wife)

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Bring Your Jelly Babies To Work

I'm a big fan of 'bringing yourself to work', and I always have been. I suspect it's because I'm too simple minded to try and have multiple personalities - but I've always figured that if people don't like or respect me for who I am then that's OK. No big deal. Better that than I become a pretend person for others.

As I collected my morning coffee from James this morning (7th customer of the day apparently) - he mentioned that I was the first person to say say 'good morning' to him. He must have seen me looking confused, because he went on to explain that those before me had replied "Toffee Nut Latte" or similar when he greeted them. Rude.

Then I got to thinking about the lady in Sainsbury's who waited until a customer had stopped talking on their phone before putting their shopping through, and how I felt the companies response (an apology) was wrong. Talking on the phone when someone else is talking to you? Rude.

And the poll from the Telegraph would indicate that 89% agree with me (unsurprisingly). I asked a few people in my local Sainsbury's about it - they were disgusted with their own executives that day.

Then there are the countless people I see on aircraft refusing to take their headphones off or make eye contact with the air crew serving them drinks and food, checking if they are OK, and generally caring for their passengers. How would you feel if you were talking to someone and they didn't make eye contact? No excuses. Rude.

I was brought up to treat others the way I want to be treated. It's not hard - and it makes sense. Sometimes I can take it to far I'll admit; last week on the train I had a bag of jelly babies and offered them around the carriage - either listening to the voice of my mum telling me to share or embracing my inner Doctor Who. You decide.

So when I start working with companies on their leadership, their company culture or their level of employee engagement I'm ever watchful for those that conceal themselves from their colleagues, manage their image upwards (and downwards) - and generally seem to focus too much of their time on trying to be someone else.

I've found that the people who do not fit their corporate cultures are often in this mould, and I've come to believe that it's a side effect of trying to be different people all the time. 

If you do that, then you are setting yourself up with different internal beliefs, and in turn that effects your behaviour. You'll never be truly comfortable, or fit in with the tribe at any company you work for because there's an internal level of indecision and discomfort that is holding you back - and others can sense it.

So bring your authentic self to work. It will make a difference.