Tag Archives: company culture

Rebuilding Relationships

wine_toast

At a recent business dinner, the conversation was lively, the atmosphere cozy, and the mood light, as someone rose with glass in hand. “I’d like to offer a toast to Patty, for the terrific way that she has supported us this past year.”  Looking over the clinking of glasses and the round of warm congratulations sat an embarrassed but clearly gratified Patty.  This simple scene represented the culmination of a years-long journey to rebuild tattered relations between the groups present — and therein lies our story.

The Back Story

For more than a decade, relations between marketing and one of the lines of business had been frayed, sometimes to the breaking point—reflecting in large part the contentious relationship between the heads of both groups. Words like toxic, angry, skeptical, uncommunicative, antagonistic, and the like could be used to describe the tone between the groups at various points.  How did things move from this paralyzed state of affairs to the happy dinner scene above?  In a word, hard work—a series of steady, persistent actions over the course of years.

Lessons Learned

Several steps — some intentional, some happenstance — served to break the logjam and help move the relationship between the groups forward.

  • Change in Players—The first key event was the departure of the marketing head (for reasons unrelated to this situation).  The hard feelings between the two heads had become so entrenched that no Continue reading

Leadership: For-Show, or For-Real?

Do we lead as good shepherds … or simply as hired hands?

“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me…and I lay down my life for the sheep. ( John 10: 11-15)

Today’s post departs from my usual focus on business leadership to examine political leadership in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s massive destruction in New York and New Jersey.  My comments reflect not the sentiments of any political party or ideology, but rather a deep disappointment with what I observe to be a failing of leadership from many quarters—as many succumbed to style over substance.

The Approaching Storm

As Hurricane Sandy approached, leadership at the local, city, and state levels seemed to do a very good job getting the word out to the people.  And then, when the storm hit as hard (or even harder) than expected, political leaders were everywhere to be seen—holding hourly press conferences, surveying the storm damage, and generally maintaining everyone’s spirits with calm pronouncements, heartfelt compassion, and a palpable presence.

At the worst of times, political leaders rose to the challenge and showed their finest colors.  For 24, or 48, or 72-hours, it was inspiring to watch. Resources were marshaled, hope was spread, and there was a clear sense of direction, engagement, and can-do, we’ll-repair-and-rebuild, by-your-side-every-step-of-the-way leadership.

And then a funny thing happened… as the days passed, and  the tv spotlights started to dim, the politicians–who seemed to be everywhere only days before–suddenly became harder and harder to find. Continue reading

Lighthouse Leadership

I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16)

This week, Hurricane Sandy’s massive power left millions seeking a light in the darkness (both literally and figuratively).  The news photos and stories of devastated communities longing for relief brought to mind the image of a lighthouse—a beacon of light, hope, and safety.  It strikes me that this is a good and proper depiction of the role of leaders in both good times and bad—pointing the way forward, toward light and safety.

Organizational Needs

I’ve had the occasion recently to help two organizations implement performance management and employee development systems.  In both cases, they were organizations run by experienced, dedicated, and charismatic leaders, with strong leadership teams, and healthy and positive employee cultures.  Remarkably, though, in both cases, leadership felt that well less than fifty-percent of their employees had a clear understanding of the organization’s direction, why they made the decisions that they made, and where they were heading—a circumstance that the leaders attributed to poor communication on their parts (sins of omission, if you will).

It really struck me that two otherwise high-performing, well-respected leaders openly acknowledged they needed to do a much better job of communicating the organization’s vision and direction to their employees (instead of taking for granted that “everyone knows where we are headed”).  After coming to this realization, both were determined to redouble and refocus their communication efforts.  And both were certain that this would have any number of tangible and intangible benefits to performance, productivity and morale.

It is axiomatic that everyone looks to their leaders for direction.  These leaders believed firmly that if their employees had a clearer sense of where the organization was going, they would advance in that direction much more confidently, quickly, and directly (and with considerably less anguish and costly uncertainty).  This is leadership time well-spent, they reasoned.

Lighthouse Leadership

Strong leaders serve as lighthouses for their employees, offering:

  • Light—shining forth, cutting through the fog of an uncertain environment
  • Hope—giving confidence that the organization has a plan (or at least a direction) for the future (and a path for getting there)
  • Safety—reassurance that someone is standing watch, guiding their ship toward safe harbor

Even in good times, the leaders I worked with this week recognized the need to communicate vision and point the way forward with clarity and confidence.  In difficult times—of economic, operational, and environmental distress and uncertainty—this is doubly and triply true.

Let us remind ourselves often of the need for clearly communicated vision—and let us help leaders point the way with confidence. May we all help steer our organizations to safe harbors.

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Our thoughts and prayers are with all those suffering the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

Performance Reviews: Missing the Forest for the Trees

A discussion with a friend about his recent performance review reminded me that, as human beings, we’re all apt to “miss the forest for the trees” on occasion.  Sometimes we can do something well, and still miss the point of the exercise.  This is such a story.

The Story

Looking somewhat dejected, my friend handed me a copy of his performance review and asked me to read it.  Seeing his demeanor, I was expecting to find nasty comments or low ratings on the review.  As I read through it, though, I saw that it was clearly a very positive review, with a number of strong compliments –even ending with a handwritten note from his boss thanking him for his service and looking forward to even greater success in the coming year.

“I’m a little confused,” I told him. “This is a great review.”

“It is,” he replied.

“It looks your boss has done just about everything we would teach in a Continue reading

Good HR vs. Bad HR

Can a fresh set of dry erase markers and a clean whiteboard really be tools for "good HR" (and bad)?

I had an experience this week that provided an “a-ha” moment for me about the power of “good HR” – HR support that helps bring ideas to life in ways that help organizations progress.

Scenario

I was helping a small team come up with a list of performance traits that denote excellence in their field.  They plan to use these characteristics through the full HR cycle of events, from interviewing and selection to performance evaluation and professional development.

The same group had gone through a similar exercise a few years ago.  At that time, they accomplished the task – i.e., they put words down on paper – but (and this part won’t be a surprise for anyone who’s spent any time in HR or organizations in general), the document then sat on a shelf unused for years, to the point where people even forgot it existed.

An Example of Bad HR

This is a good example of “bad HR” that we unfortunately fall into in many of our organizations from time to time.  Good people Continue reading

The Clarity of Power

NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell

National Football League commissioner, Roger Goodell, recently issued fines and suspensions related to the “Bountygate” scandal that are unprecedented in league history in terms of their severity and scope.  Goodell’s strong action has given me pause to reflect on the clarity that power — when used prudently but decisively — can bring to an organization, providing both direction and calm.

Bountygate

In early March, the media began to report that a 3-year internal investigation by the NFL revealed the New Orleans Saints had offered “bounties” (cash bonuses) for injuries caused to opposing players.  A week or so into the media storm, Mr. Goodell announced suspensions and fines including: Saints general manager, 8 games; Saints head coach, Sean Payton, the entire 2012 season; and former Saints defensive coordinator, Greg Williams, indefinitely (but at least one year).  All were suspended without pay (in Payton’s case, costing him most of his $7.5 million annual salary).

When the news came out, you could hear the proverbial “pin drop” from the immediate shock. There was no doubt who was in charge, whether he was serious or not, and what was or was not acceptable in the league anymore.  Mr. Goodell had made very clear what wasn’t up for debate.

Closer to Home

I recently observed something in my own organization that brought home a similar point about the prudent use of power.  Continue reading

The Wisdom of Others

After trying and mostly succeeding to post once per week for most of the past eighteen months or so, I’ve hit a bit of a dry patch – letting more than two weeks pass since my last post.  It’s been somewhat of a tumultuous period in our office, which has left me a bit tentative regarding my reflections and observations.  This too shall pass, as they say, I’m sure.

In the meantime, though, I recall a wise person telling me, “When you’re struggling with something, it’s often helpful to go beyond yourself – to change your mindset by focusing on helping others.”  Very good advice, indeed.  To that end, I wanted to share with you brief notes on four fellow members of the HR/leadership blogging community from whose wisdom I have benefited greatly over the past few years.  They’re each deeply thoughtful and intuitive about different aspects of the human condition we call “leadership” or “management,” and it is a privilege to recommend them to you.

  • Young Leaders – John Demma is a young manager who writes insightfully about what it is like to be a young manager – the struggle to learn the craft of guiding and motivating others, balancing just-learned grad school lessons with the realities of the school of hard knocks that is the real world of business, and juggling it all with the pressures and joys of a young family.  Written with an authentic, earnest voice, John posts regularly at On Becoming A Leader.
  • Day-to-Day Management, Part I – As someone who struggles to write anything in less than 700 words, I greatly respect those amongst us who can get to the point and regularly share three or four helpful nuggets of advice in 300 words or so – and do it five days a week, to boot.  Experienced executive and blogger, Stephen Meyer, is just such a person.  With a been-there-done-that credibility, he shares immediately useful suggestions for managing employees, organizations, and HR issues at HR Café.
  • Day-to-Day Management , Part II – In a similar vein, Sharlyn Lauby, aka The HR Bartender, speaks with the authenticity of someone who has been through the wars and survived to tell the tale – but always with a upbeat, forward-looking take on things that is nothing short of refreshing and inspiring.  Similar in nature to HR Café in a number of ways (down to the food metaphor), Sharlyn somehow manages to offer her practical, eminently insightful advice and perspectives – without the world-weary skepticism or snarkiness that often infects other HR blogs — on a daily basis at HR Bartender.
  • Executive Leadership – For rising leaders, or those who advise and guide them, executive coach and leadership expert, Scott Eblin, is absolutely required reading.  A former Fortune-500 HR Vice President at a young age, Scott now advises leaders around the world who are striving to get to the Next Level (the name of both his book and his blog).  Scott has a remarkable ability to view current events through the prism of leadership and offer three or four insights you can use every time out.  He can be found at Next Level Blog.