Culture Made Me Do It

Culture Made Me Do It“Has culture
become a legitimate
basis for avoiding
responsibility?”

The concept of corporate culture burst on to management’s radar in 1982 with publication of Terrence Deal and Allan Kennedy’s groundbreaking book, Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life. The notion that financial results were not completely tied to financial planning, HR policies, or cost controls, but rather the values, rites, and rituals of the organization were a novel and somewhat controversial concept. Edgar Schein and other management theorists began to explore culture as an organizational success variable and culture fast became a tenet of organization development practitioners–yours truly included.

Which made the argument by defense attorneys that two Vanderbilt University students charged in the gang rape of another student “were changed by a culture of binge drinking and sex at Vanderbilt”  just a bit more than legal novelty. According to a report by Associated Press, defense attorneys questioning a neuropsychologist about the attackers state of mind asked “Is there anything in Vanderbilt’s culture that might influence the way they act or the way they think or the way they make decisions?” The neuropsychologist responded saying, “Yes, at that age peer pressure is critical… you tend to take on the behavior of people around you.”  The jury hearing the case disregarded the “culture made me do it” defense and found both students guilty.

While the abuse of drugs, and alcohol on college campuses is likely the worst kept secret ever, the notion that somehow the culture of college life is now responsible for sexual assaults and other forms of violence seems wildly out-of-place. What has become of personal responsibility, integrity, and respect among peers? What has become of looking out for one another? Is this particular form of misogyny, recklessness, and failure to accept responsibility being created on college campuses or has the “participation trophy generation” come to its natural end? How much of this culture is now being exported into the working world?

Leaders face never-ending challenges when it comes to holding people and teams accountable for their actions, inactivity, successes and shortcomings. The notion that somehow “culture” now becomes a legitimate basis for avoiding responsibility for personal behavior is almost too much to contemplate.

So what is the leader’s role in fostering positive work place culture? As a leader here are the five areas I’ve focused on with good results:

1. Healthy Doses of Sunlight. It’s starts with be as open as possible about what’s going on throughout the enterprise followed by assuring a healthy dose of respect among all team members. The sharing of goals, strategic plans, and financial results can fuel a focus on achievement. The mantra “we’re all in this together” is well, more than just a mantra. It’s a fact. There is little that will do more damage to an organization than allowing an environment where secrecy, negativity, put-down humor, gossip, or sexist attitudes can flourish. Some workplaces are still infected with mindless leftovers from another era and your job is to eradicate them or remove the people responsible for them as quickly as possible.

2. Recognizing Good Works. We all work for a reason. For some, it’s a desire to make a difference for our families. For others work is a means to fulfill their wish to change the world. And there are lots of other reasons in between. Whatever a team member’s reasons, recognizing their work contributions in a public, meaningful way is vitally important to the health of the team and the organization. Praise is a powerful motivational tool. Engaged team members are 50% more likely to exceed expectations and organizations will out-perform competitors with less engaged workforces. A contributing team member, with a positive attitude, willing to do whatever needs doing, matters way more than we often realize. Make sure you recognize it.

3. Strengthen Communications Transparency. Someone asked me the other day how you be sure you are communicating enough to your team? My response was simple. “Are you sick of saying it?” No?  Then keep repeating your message. Find new ways to share your goals. Post scorecards in the break room. Use different communication channels. Try walking around a bit to talk with other team members both inside and outside your immediate hierarchy. Keep in mind, that if you’re doing your job well there are no communication surprises for your team. Hopefully you’ve engaged them in crafting the messages you are sharing along the way. Rinse. Repeat.

4. Find and Foster Learning Opportunities. According to Forbes Magazine, companies spend over $130 billion worldwide for training. It’s well-known that high performing companies spend more with leadership development training capturing 35% of their training spend. In the accounting profession growing firms spend 4-6% of revenues on continuing professional education versus 1-2% for the typical firm. Leaders need to assess the potential of their teams and make certain they are receiving training for both hard and soft skills. Few things derail progress faster than having a team without the essential skills that foster productivity, help them excel at managing projects, or use their time effectively. Helping your team “sharpen the saw” is vital to their growth and essential to your organization and leadership capacity.

5. Keep The Organization’s Immune System In Good Order. Michael Watkins, author of The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter says culture offers “protection that prevents “wrong thinking” and “wrong people” from entering the organization in the first place.” If that’s so, keeping your organization’s culture healthy is critical to your leadership success. Being selective in your hiring, attentive to team member’s needs, using social events, public recognition ceremonies, and celebrations to foster a sense of unity–all serve your organization’s immune system. Whatever you can do to support a positive, engaging, and stimulating environment will go a long ways to keeping your cultural immune system in good working order. One caution–be certain your organization’s immune system isn’t so strong, it kills off new ideas and or changes before they bloom. Vigilance is required to keep up a healthy balance. And that is precisely what effective leaders do.

What are you doing that’s different in your organization culture that is positively impacting engagement? Share it here.

Six Ways to Attract Engaged Members in 2015

Wired4Leadership BlogWill “Castle and Moat” Strategies Help You Win
Engaged Members?

Active, engaged members remain the number one challenge for associations and professional societies. Why do so many nonprofits end up leaving them stranded? There are great strategies for assuring success in recruiting, retaining and engaging members if you’ll commit the time and resources to making it happen. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Are your members, customers, and stakeholders like wayward sports fans? Does membership ebb and flow with the perceived “wins and losses” created by your team? You get a legislative win and members flock to your door. Former White House Chief of Staff and now Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel famously said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste” So solve a crisis for your profession, cure a disease, or defend against an egregious regulation, and you’re golden, right? Oddly enough, the answer probably is not so much. How could that be. Does success beget apathy or disengagement?

Is it fickleness when members drop membership, decline to donate, join or become a subscriber, or customer? Possibly, but probably not as much as you might think. There are radical shifts afoot in your marketplace and organizations that want to thrive will need to find their own unique ways to influence them.

If you’re leading a membership organization, members will almost universally tell you they seek networking, peer support, and learning opportunities. While those needs are real, the ability to fulfill them has now expanded far beyond the framework of your organization.  In today’s marketplace, there is an abundant and growing collection of both informal and formal networks, on-line education from top schools, and support platforms available to everyone twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. A smart phone delivers immediate conversations and idea sharing with friends and strangers across a global frontier. When your members want to know something about their industry or profession, they are far more likely to access Bing, Google, or Yahoo as they are to go to your organization’s website. Where are you in this new frontier? If you’re not in the top ten results for any of these search engines, you’re invisible.

If this notion has you yearning for the good old days of “Castle and Moat” strategies, I understand. In the membership model of yore, associations owned the Castle. If someone outside the Castle wanted knowledge or information, they had to become a “member” of the kingdom. When they did so, we lowered the bridge over the Moat and allowed them entrance to our “kingdom of knowledge”. And it was good.  We were all doing well by doing good.

Funny thing, the “Castle and Moat” strategy is back. It’s back as a model of investing deployed by Warren Buffet and as a business strategy by Google. But it’s different. Nowadays, most of us willingly pay for access. Not for information alone, rather we subscribe to virtual tools, services, and access delivered from the “cloud” when we want it, how we want, and on whatever device is nearby. Subscription business models are the new iteration of “Castle and Moat” for associations, professional societies, and businesses.

Continue reading Six Ways to Attract Engaged Members in 2015

Showing The Love for Wired 4 Leadership 2014

Showing_The_Love_for_Wired_4_LeadershipLeaders have a lot to learn, me included. While you may be tempted to dismiss this notion as trite or cliché, it is and remains the central tenet of effective leadership. The rate of technical progress is increasing exponentially, we are discovering more effective ways to use our brains and bodies to learn, and leaders at all levels face challenging environments–global and otherwise–that for lack of a better description are always “on”.  You can’t stop learning.

At Wired 4 Leadership we recognize the demand you face in  re-thinking your business models and the need for strategies that optimize all available resources gave you plenty to think about in 2014. With our sincere thanks to those of you who shared your responses and reviews, here are your favorite posts from Wired 4 Leadership in 2014:

3-D Leadership in a Changing World – There’s a new normal afoot that I’ve taken to calling 3D leadership. You don’t need those cheap plastic glasses to see or experience it. You will however want to think hard about your worldview with an entirely new lens.

5 Reasons Complexity Is Your Friend – Business leaders. Community leaders. Association leaders.  Education leaders. Political leaders. Thought leaders. As a rule, they are smart, driven, and extraordinarily capable women and men.  Many of them are increasingly confounded by the complexity they face each day.  Who could blame them?

Leaders: Get Your Head In The Game – “Get your head in the game” is the clarion cry of coaches demanding athletes regain focus and bring their talents to bear on the success of the team. That’s incredibly true for successful and effective leaders as well.

New CEO? Five Ideas To Help You Thrive – Congratulations! You’re the new CEO. Ruh-roh! Now what? Every leader faces the inherent challenge of making their mark. None more so than a newly appointed CEO.

Why Leaders Should Practice Forgetting – When it comes to common knowledge, leaders have a lot to learn about forgetting.  Why?  Because forgetting is essential to finding new, innovative solutions to long running problems and challenges.

The Meaning of Change for Leaders – Leaders need to revel in change. There’s no other way to say it. Without a bona fide commitment at the top to alter an organization’s way of doing business, change will fail. Not at first and maybe not for some time. But it will fail.

As we at Wired 4 Leadership look ahead to 2015, there will surely be enormous challenges and amazing opportunities for leaders as new media, business services, products, and technologies surface to support the extraordinary efforts of our teams, customers, clients, and members.

We close out 2014 by wishing you all a warm and wonderful holiday season, a very Happy New Year and a most prosperous 2015. You deserve it.

Leaders: Five Ways To Step It Up in 2015

Leaders: Five Ways To Step It Up in 2015The economic reality of 2014 was far better than many expected.  Unemployment fell to its lowest level in six years, the stock market climbed to historic highs, gasoline prices fell and commercial interest rates remained steady and low. The continued gridlock in Congress and the coming shift in majority control fuels some uncertainty and likely gives even the most optimistic leader among us pause. Normally, with the turn of the New Year just a month away, taking stock and setting a course for 2015 would already be overdue, but in today’s world, savvy leaders know there’s always time for fine-tuning. Here are five ways to step it up in 2015 to navigate the coming trends and challenges in the New Year:

Readiness, Resiliency and Re-adjustment Will Be Your Mantra.
For too many years, leaders acted as though the coming year was simply an incremental adaptation of the prior year. Don’t even think about it.  The nature of leadership today demands that we identify and prepare short, mid and long-term strategies for all of our key activities. In meetings with CEO’s, business owners and senior executives, I increasingly hear about their six-month sales strategy, the twelve-month strategic plan, or the three-month capital equipment budget.  Much of the foundational business planning familiar to many of us is giving way to a near-term focus with a healthy dose of long-range re-adjustment strategy in the wings.

Think Deeply About Your Members.  What business are they in and what’s happening to their employees and customers?  What problems are your customer’s customers facing? Chances are if your members or their suppliers are involved in transportation, graphic communications, logistics, financial services, home building, auto manufacturing and the associated supply pipelines, 2015 will be difficult.  Scott Stratten, in his book, Unmarketing talks about the importance of remarrying your current customers. Your members have high expectations and the current trend line in customer experience is heading in the wrong direction. Does your organization have a member assistance plan in place?  Stepping up the focus on your career center programs, offering free or low cost business counseling, focused research or resume banks will continue to serve a vital purpose.  If your membership is company-based finding new ways of reaching out to the various internal departments (HR, supply logistics, finance) with ideas, tools and resources will be essential to success in 2015.

Step Up Your Personal Member Communications.  When former United States Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson headed up Goldman Sachs, he made 50-60 phone calls just after New Year’s Day to simply say hello and share goodwill for the coming year with the firm’s top clients.  Association leaders should do the same.   While there’s a better than even chance you’ll get an earful about the political gridlock, and uncertain times, there’s an equal chance you’ll strengthen the connection between members and your association.  No doubt some of you reading this will say, “but we’ve got 10,000 members, we can’t call them all.” Well you can call some of them. I called three hundred members and prospects in the space of a month. You can pick thirty members randomly from across the country. Call them. Now.

Prudence, Pragmatism and Frugality Rule.  Being productive, efficient and wise with resources never goes out of style. Uncertainty provides an ideal opportunity to engage your team in finding ways to keep a lid on expenses or exploring new ways of doing day-to-day things more efficiently. To be clear, few of our associations can shrink their way to success. We are already doing far more, with far less than we are used to doing. As a leader however, you can use the moment to inculcate staffers of the importance saving money, seeking new efficiencies and considering new means to productivity are more than leadership clichés.

Master Your Own Voice and Share Your Great Story. It’s a given, nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. And this great story isn’t about you. Don’t let that stop you from developing a vision for where your association is heading in 2015, how you’ll get there, and why everyone around you—staff, membership, Board members, stakeholders and customers—will feel stronger, be better looking, and succeed beyond their wildest dreams, when you do. As humans, we are social beings and connecting through stories is what we do. Leaders understand great stories stir emotion, are memorable, authentic, and conclude with a powerful call to action.  That’s hard to get from reading the Association’s latest strategic plan or its financial statement.  Just like the increasingly popular “dashboard” tools, stories illuminate the unity behind our purpose and mission.

You’re it. Vous êtes le chef.
What’s your story going to be in 2015?

Happy Thanksgiving Day

Happy Thanksgiving 2014“I run from hate, I run from prejudice, I run from pessimists . . .” *

To our readers, colleagues and friends throughout the United States may this Thanksgiving Day holiday bring you moments of reflection, renewed optimism and visions of hope shared amidst the companionship of good friends and loving family.

Our best wishes for a wonderful  2014 Thanksgiving Holiday!

* Source: “I Run To You” written by Tom Douglas, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood.