Posted: November 24, 2010
The one culture practice everyone needs
Take this challenge -- the results will amaze youBy Lisa Jackson
Culture is a fancy word for "how do we work together to achieve our business goals." If people work in your business, you suffer a form of "BPMD" - business multiple personality disorder. BPMD is the ability of certain personalities to dominate, take over, play favorites or run hidden agendas.
In two decades of working with leaders to build cultures that enable strategy, we have seen over and over how one particular practice has singularly become a transformational element of an organization or team's ability to execute better. It is rarely done well, and it is an effective antidote for BMPD.
Before I reveal the practice, a few words about the role personalities and pent-up emotions play in business. (If this statement made you uncomfortable, you're not alone. There is not a recognized role for personalities and emotions in business, even though they exist and cannot be stifled.) Most leaders try to ignore this messy territory and keep the focus on the task at hand, rather than learning the nuances of how to harness them.
There are two "scales" of personality that impact business execution more than any others (and when allowed to run wild without tempering, this is where BMPD comes into play):
Resilient -------------------- Rigid
This is a person's response to adversity, conflict, or change. One type of person responds to such situations with excitement, energy and optimism. The other type responds with frustration, defeat-before-loss, and pessimism (often because they have only "one way" of doing things or "black v. white" thinking). Sometimes in your workplace, it can feel like a war between the "Yes We Can!" versus the "No We Can't" people. Even when people don't say the words out loud, this dynamic has an astounding impact on performance (one or two people in key positions in the "We Can't" camp can be toxic). This is why it's crucial for a leader to take a strong stand on a believable goal and mission that is a catalyzing force to align "we can" and "we can't" people.
The second high-impact characteristic is:
People often think of these terms as "loud and out there" versus "quiet and shy." This is really how a person gains energy and shows up in how they communicate. The extrovert is the first person to speak up in a meeting - they often interrupt. They always have an opinion and think out loud. The introvert needs time to think before they speak. They tend not to speak up in groups unless invited or the process is designed for it (ie, storyboarding). Yet they often have great insights or ideas. The impact on business is best seen in meetings where some of the best ideas never get on the table because 2-3 people who dominate lead a group down a path - and often it ends up being an incomplete path or the wrong path.
If these personalities have such big impact on the ability to execute, how do balance them? If diversity is the fabric of strength in a world of rapid change, how do you harness it?
Which brings us to the one culture practice. This is one simple change you can make immediately, that is powerfully unifying, builds creative energy, develops leaders - and best of all, it costs nothing. It is not a magic bullet for weak business systems or broken processes, but it is a powerful tool for creating stronger teamwork. When implemented with sincerity and consistency, it will transform a workplace.
It requires you to remember only two words:
How many times a day as a leader - whether you are the CEO or a team lead - do you express thanks to people for an effort, idea, insight or task? Most leaders notice the big stuff - the person who finishes a big project, signs a new client, or negotiates cost saving terms on a contract - but what about people who are living examples of your values? What about the fact that someone spoke up about customers who complain they can't find parking? The woman who consistently puts in long hours to meet impossible deadlines? Those who took your idea and made it come to life even though you lost the deal to a competitor?
We can't think of a better time of year to take the "Thank You" challenge. Follow these simple steps:
1. Say "Thank You" at least 10 times a day as a new habit.
2. Write it down to keep yourself honest. You probably think you do it more than you do.
3. Look for opportunities in everyday conversations to thank people who are exhibiting the qualities of an agile, adaptable workplace: Risk-taking, customer-focus, constructive problem-solving.
4. Don't limit it to the workplace. Think about it at home, in your interactions with everyday service people.
5. Good substitute words: "Great perspective ...I hadn't thought about that." "Interesting idea, let's talk about that..." "What a great insight - tell me more ..."
6. Notice the impact after 30 days, on people stepping forward, being proactive, solving problems, and exhibiting the values that are important to you.
In a world plagued by too much conflict and negativity, every person needs and wants more positive attention. Give it to them, and you'll see people start modeling what you do, and begin thanking each other. And you can visibly watch the BMPD impact give way to greater cooperation in your business.
And who knows, maybe it will even improve your family gathering this Thanksgiving.
Lisa Jackson is a corporate culture expert on assessing, defining, and improving culture's impact on business performance, especially during mergers and strategy shifts. Look for her new book "Fit to Compete: 9 Truths for Transforming Corporate Culture" this fall or visit her on the web at http://www.jacksonandschmidt.com.