Accidental or Intentional?

A young friend of ours recently started a new job.  The work itself is great, but the environment isn’t, at least for him.

Soon after starting, he discovered something that wasn't apparent during his interviews.  People in the company are routinely subjected to razzing.  No doubt it is well intended, but it's often executed without finesse and comes across as biting sarcasm.  Of course, thickness of skin varies across individuals.  Our young friend is incredibly good at solving technical problems, but is neither good at creating this kind of banter nor comfortable receiving it. 

He spends a significant portion of his time worrying about whether he’s fitting in.  Twenty minutes after each difficult exchange, he finds himself thinking, “Oh, I should have said such-and-such.”  His reactions are those of someone faced with bullying.  It is never far from his mind and is the main topic of the conversations he has with his manager. 

What he’s doing is trying to reconcile himself to the culture of the company.  This consumes perhaps a third of his day. While he’s doing this, of course, he’s not doing what the company is paying him for.    

Whether you consciously created it or not, your company has a culture that determines how your people feel about their jobs hour-to-hour, day-to-day.  It's what they discuss at the water cooler. 

And it's defined not by the values you espouse, but by the behaviors you tolerate. More than anything else, it’s what determines how much your people care, how engaged they are in their work, and whether or not you’re getting what you’re paying for.  

There is no right or wrong culture for companies.  Every business has its own. What matters is being intentional about it.  We doubt that the leaders of our friend’s company set out to create a culture of bullying, and we suspect they’d be shocked to hear that this is what they've done. 

What’s worse, however, is that having created that culture, they've failed to be clear about it to both current and potential employees.  This decreases productivity and increases turnover.  Both kill profit.

Our young friend already knows that the company is not a good fit for him.  He’ll stay there only until something else comes along.  Until then, the company will get less from him than they could.  They will lose a talent that they might prefer to keep.  They'll have wasted the time and money they spent recruiting him, and they'll spend more time and money to replace him. 

This is a losing proposition for everyone involved.  And it will happen without the company making conscious choices – without intent.

Being intentional about your culture is what matters – actively creating the culture you want and building a strong, cohesive team that fits it.  This is never easy, but it can be simple and it can be done.  If you’re having a hard time figuring out how to make it happen, we can help.

Are You Making The World A Better Place?

We have a confession to make.  We hate Mission Statements.

In his newest book, The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni quotes one that sounds like every mission statement you’ve ever seen framed on a company wall.  “Our mission is to be the premier provider . . . “ You know the rest.  It turns out to be the mission statement of Dunder Mifflin, the fictitious, bumbling company at the center of the TV show “The Office.”

Mission statements may be well intentioned.  But they typically are so intangible and aspirational that they are useless when it comes to defining the culture, purpose and focus of a business. 

To create a real sense of mission and direction in your business, try figuring out what purpose, cause or passion truly drives you and your colleagues.  Hopefully, something more important than money gets you and your best people out of bed every day to do the difficult work.  What is it? 

Here are a few examples:

  • For Toyota, it’s making the world better by providing safe, reliable, affordable transportation
  • For Zappos, it’s building a great company through extraordinary levels of customer service.
  • For one of our clients (a medical practice), it’s being known for being as technically skilled as the Mayo Clinic and as good at guest experience as good as a Four Seasons hotel.
  • For another of our clients, it is simply, “Doing the Job Right.”  To them that means never cutting a corner, not even to offer a lower-priced option that some customers might want.

 This is the “Why” of your business.  Figuring it out and stating it clearly will attract people who genuinely want to make the journey with you and will make them much more engaged in their work.  (To learn more about why this is true, watch this short but fascinating video. 

Should you care about that?  Research shows that, at best, 30% of workers are actually engaged in their jobs.  40-50% are just putting in time, and 20-30% are so disengaged that they’re actually working against you.  That’s if your company is just normal. How much stronger would your company be (in particular, how much stronger than your competitors) if 100% of your people gave you everything they had, every day?

You can make that happen.  The starting place is making sure that everyone in your company knows how the work they do helps, even in a small way, to make the world a better place.

Would This Conversation Happen In Your Company

One of our clients is planning to step down as CEO in a couple of years and wants to appoint his successor from inside the company. What makes this tricky is that there isn’t a single, obvious candidate.  Recognizing that whoever he chooses will need some time to grow into the role, he wanted to get an early start.  The first step was finding out who was interested and how the rest of the team felt about them.

Rather than bury this issue in a series of secretive one-on-one conversations, he asked his team a simple question:  “Who among you is interested in becoming our next CEO?” Three hands went up.  

What happened next was remarkable.

The CEO asked each of the possible candidates to spend a minute or two telling the team how interested they were, how becoming CEO would fit into their future plans (professional growth, career aspirations, retirement, etc.), and how long they thought they would stay in the job if they got it.


Next he asked the team to give each candidate some direct, real-time feedback about their respective strengths and weaknesses in relation to the CEO role, and the amount of development they would need in order to be ready for it.  As part of that feedback, one of the candidates was told, with love and respect, that while he’s great in his current job, he would need so much development to become CEO that he is unlikely to be considered.

With that, the CEO thanked the team for giving him the information he needed, and they moved on to other issues. 

The secrecy with which issues like this are usually handled is fertile ground for rumors, gossip and politics, all of which help the water cooler but hurt the company.  They also waste a ton of time.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

This team is a little over a year into the EOS® process.  Over that time, they’ve learned to trust each other enough to have this kind of conversation openly.  That flushes out the politics, gets everyone on the same page, and saves time – the CEO got the information he needed in just 30 minutes instead of weeks or months.  It makes trust even stronger, and it leads to better decisions.  Instead of the CEO succession becoming divisive, it is now an open and honest dialog in which there are no secrets and everyone is fighting for the greater good of the business.

You might be thinking that this team started with a high level of openness and trust.  They didn’t.  In fact, one of the issues they’ve worked hardest to solve over the past year was a deep lack of trust between two members of the team – who happen to be the two remaining candidates to become the next CEO.

So ask yourself, “Would this conversation happen in my company?”  It can, and we’d be happy to show you how.

Traction - 7 Magic Minutes

One of our clients is restructuring their distribution channels in response to huge changes in their industry.  It’s a critical step on the path toward achieving their growth plans.  Step 1 is creating a new strategy and a transition plan.  The head of marketing took these two big deliverables on as goals for the current quarter.
He started the way most of us would – by gathering lots of information and doing some hard thinking.  Then he pulled his thoughts and ideas together in a 28-page presentation and asked the leadership team for a 90 minute meeting to review it.  
But this wasn’t your typical slow slog through the slides with frequent stops for long discussions.  Instead this leadership team made extraordinary progress in remarkably little time.  
Their process was simple.  The marketing leader went through the presentation with zero discussion.  The other team members listened carefully and called out issues as they saw them.  But instead of stopping to discuss each issue as it emerged, they simply put the issue on a list and kept going.  So instead of running over or getting through only a few pages (a sinkhole – lots of discussion, no results except the need for more meetings), they got through the entire presentation in the allotted time and identified 30 issues that needed to be solved in order to move forward. 

They gave themselves a few days to let the presentation sink in and to make sure they hadn’t missed any issues (they hadn’t).  Then they reconvened for two hours of pure issue-solving.  Again, they started on time and committed to ending on time.  They put all 30 issues on a whiteboard and prioritized them so that they could be sure they were working on the most important issues first. 

Finally, they tackled each issue using the highly effective EOS® process we call IDS (Identify, Discuss, Solve).  The emphasis here is on digging down to the root-cause of each issue, and only then proposing and agreeing to actions that will make the issue go away permanently.  “Discussion” comes mostly from trying to solve a problem when you aren’t clear what the problem is.  When you get down to root causes, discussion becomes unnecessary.  Effective solutions become much easier to find, and you save tons of time. 

Here’s what the team achieved: 
1.    They solved all 30 issues in less than two hours. 
2.    Including both meetings, they needed just 3.5 hours of team time to resolve one of their biggest challenges. 
3.    In most companies, a conversation like this would stretch out over months.  This team accomplished all of this work in the course of a single week.
4.    Again including the time they spent in both meetings, they identified and solved issues at the rate of 1 issue every 7 minutes. 
That’s what Traction looks like. 
Are you making this kind of progress in your company?  If you're not and you'd like to, we'd be happy to help you make it happen.

Vulnerability and Trust at Summer Camp

A young woman we know is in her first summer as a counselor at the camp she attended for years.  She did something remarkable last week.  We thought we’d share it because she provided a great lesson for us all.

As part of their training, she and her colleagues took a practice canoe run down the river on which they would soon be leading kids.  Although it was supposed to be a training exercise, the counselors treated it mostly as a lark, much to the displeasure of the couple who own and run the camp.

So what did our young friend do?  Instead of hiding from the camp owners’ displeasure or becoming defensive, she sought them out and asked what they thought she did wrong, and could and should have done better.  Having heard their answers, she then pulled out a much longer list of things SHE thought she did wrong, and what she will do differently and better the next time.

In his landmark book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni explains how genuine trust leads ultimately leads to accountability and results.  Far from being “soft stuff,” the conscious development of trust is essential to the effectiveness of any team.

Elsewhere, Lencioni and others explain that trust exists only when people are willing to be vulnerable to one another.  Vulnerability is the willingness to put your short-term comfort at risk in pursuit of something greater.  It is the willingness to be transparent, to own up to your weaknesses, to be held accountable for your actions, to risk rejection. 

The problem is that we’ve all been taught since childhood not to appear weak.  That’s a hard habit to break.  Vulnerability takes a lot of courage.

Our young friend displayed vulnerability and accountability in their purest form.  Many of us would have been tempted to hide from the conflict, to make excuses or, worse, blame others, all in order to avoid appearing weak.  Had she done this, she would have diminished the ability of the people she works for to trust her.  Instead, she took responsibility not just for her actions, but for making the relationship with her employers stronger.  This will allow them to be even more open with each other in the future and will help her give her campers the experience they deserve.

This young woman is just 18, and we’re not sure how she knew to do this at such a young age.  But we’re glad she did because rarely do we see such a clear demonstration of the vulnerability, accountability and trust-building that lead to great results.

Steve Jobs – OS Guy!

No, we’re not talking about OSX version whatever.   And we’re not talking about Steve the Mad Genius.  This is Steve the Leader.

In our last post, we described how having a strong “Operating System” in your business will make everything else work better and help you get what you want.  One of the key components of your operating system is People – organizing seats around simple, clear lines of accountability, filling each seat with the right person – someone whom everyone on the team fully trusts to do that job brilliantly – and then fostering completely open, honest debate in which everyone fights for the greater good of the company. 

In this 2-minute video, you can hear the late Steve Jobs describe how he accomplished that at Apple. 

What Jobs describes is exactly the kind of team we help companies create by implementing EOS®.  If you would like to unleash the power of your team so they can help you get what you want from your business, please contact us!

How Strong Is Your Company's "Operating System?"

The device on which you’re reading this has an operating system in it – the most foundational layer of things the computer must be able to do in order to work at all.  As a user, you spend very little time actually touching it, yet that foundational layer is what determines how well the machine works.

 The same is true in your company.  There's a set of things you do that creates the foundation for everything else that happens in your company, although if you’re like most business owners, you may not be aware of it.  Yet more than anything else, the strength of your "business operating system" will determine how well your company does and whether you get what you want from it.

There’s a foundational layer of things every company deals with because you can’t have a company and NOT deal with them.  These are the true basics – figuring who we are, why we’re here, where we’re going, and how we intend to get there.  Figuring out who is going to get us there, how to know if we’re getting there or not, and how to deal with all the issues that arise when we find out we’re not getting there.  Figuring out how to prioritize, to set goals, to stay focused on them and achieve them.  Even something as basic as figuring out how often teams should meet and how to run meetings so that they produce results.

Like the OS in your computer, you probably spend very little time directly touching the components of your “business operating system.”  And yet – again, just like your computer’s OS – these foundational capabilities turn out to determine both how and how well your business runs.  Time after time, we’ve seen that when companies get really strong at these components, the business does better.  It’s like taking Windows Vista out of your business and replacing it with Windows 7 or MacOS.  The machine just plain runs better.

Ironically, these capabilities are so basic that the world of business and leadership education seems to take for granted that we all know how to be good at them.  We don't, simply because no one ever teaches how.  If you're like the most business leaders, you could probably be doing these foundational things better than you are, and getting more of what you want from your business as a result.

The good news is that this doesn't have to be a mystery.  If you'd like to get more from your business, we can show you how to systematically and predictably strengthen the components of your company's operating system.  It will get you there.

Leaders As Risk Takers

A new company in Chicago, born from a great pedigree, follows the following doctrine.:

  1. Reflect unimpeachable high integrity.
  2. Endorse or create business or models that most people find too risky or too far ahead.
  3. Hire and partner with people much smarter that us in pertinent domain expertise.
  4. Encourage a work environment of unbounded creativity on one hand that is balanced with process rigor on the other.
  5. Create a work environment where good people can do great things, and great people can achieve extraordinary things.

For this leadership team the safest place to be is to be far, far ahead of what experts deem possible and workable.

Currently they consist of 750 employees and have established offices in Chicago, Washington D.C., Shanghai, Kiev and St Petersburg.

Who are they?  The Galvin brothers of Motorola fame, who understand leadership and have a family tradition of pursuing innovation as a driver of growth and wealth.

Who Loves Peer Accountability? The CEO

Imagine my surprise and delight as I am reading Patrick Lencioni’s new book “Advantage” where he talks about the essential nature of accountability as an ingredient of successful companies, and then he goes on to say this:

...That’s because peer-to-peer accountability is the primary and most effective source of accountability on the leadership team of a healthy organization.  Most people assume that the leader of an executive team should be the primary source of accountability -- and that’s the norm in most unhealthy organizations.”

What was so delightful about reading Lencioni’s position is that what we do really well is implement peer accountability.   And Lencioni is right, it is the most effective source of accountability.

Peer pressure is a more powerful motivator because our individual social identity in our peer group is a driving personal need.  For peer pressure to work in a company, the peer relationships must be valued relationships.  Creating that kind of high value relationship is the real trick.

When we implement the Entrepreneurial Operating System we do several things to cause those relationships to develop and flourish.  First, the Accountability Chart process we use causes the members of the team to invest in one another’s success.  Second, we use discipline around company values to ensure the people working together share the same values.  When someone shares your values the relationship tends to grow naturally.  Third, we do something very subtle every week that deepens these relationships.  And finally, we put a structure around accountability that forces it to the surface over and over again, every week.  Interestingly, the team ends up loving it.  It is fun to be part of a great team.

Who benefits the most?  Well one thing we know, the CEO thinks that it’s the CEO.  Peer-to-peer accountability takes a lot of pressure off the CEO.  This isn’t all Pollyanna.  As Lencioni point out “The leader of the team, though not the primary source of accountability, will always be the ultimate arbiter of it.”

No longer does the CEO ever have to ask “Say, you were working on XYZ project. Where are you on it?”  This is a painful question to ask, because you know if you have to ask it, the answer is not going to be good. In the EOS implementation, this question never needs to be asked because the CEO knows that the right things are being worked on and knows the status of every initiative every week.  If something is likely to go off-track, the pressure of the peer group and the process ensures it gets resolved.

Leaders As Risk Takers

A new company in Chicago, born from a great pedigree, follows the following doctrine.:

    1. Reflect unimpeachable high integrity.
    2. Endorse or create business or models that most people find too risky or too far ahead.
    3. Hire and partner with people much smarter that us in pertinent domain expertise.
    4. Encourage a work environment of unbounded creativity on one hand that is balanced with process rigor on the other.
    5. Create a work environment where good people can do great things, and great people can achieve extraordinary things.

For this leadership team the safest place to be is to be far, far ahead of what experts deem possible and workable.

Currently they consist of 750 employees and have established offices in Chicago, Washington D.C., Shanghai, Kiev and St Petersburg.

Who are they?  The Galvin brothers of Motorola fame, who understand leadership and have a family tradition of pursuing innovation as a driver of growth and wealth.