Beer in the Cafeteria

Do you need beer in your break room?

At a company I worked at years ago, my colleague wanted to bring a beer tap into the cafeteria. He thought this would boost employee engagement and make our company hip. While this sounded quite tasty, I knew this wouldn't work to improve our company culture.

I came across an article in HBR.com from another HR professional that resonated with me on this topic and I wanted to share it with you. According to Melissa Daimler, “there are three elements to a culture: behaviors, systems, and practices, all guided by an overarching set of values.” She explains that a great culture exists when all three elements are aligned with each other, as well as with the organization’s values. When “gaps start to appear,” problems soon follow. With enough problems and a little time, great employees start to leave.

Behaviors, Daimler writes have to be modeled by senior leaders. They need to be defined and everyone must be held accountable to them, even those at the top.

Systems-How are you aligning those behaviors into your systems like hiring? How are you assessing those behaviors? At one company where I worked, we defined our values into behavioral statements and included them in the performance review so that we could more easily determine who was adhering to them.

Practices are all of the ways things get done from making decisions and running meetings to feedback and corporate events.  If you ask someone why we do something and they answer 'because this is how we've always done it' then you know its a practice that must be re-evaluated.  As companies grow and change, the practices need to do the same or they will stagnate. 

Having worked in Boulder for a big portion of my career, I heard many stories of cafeterias stocked with goodies, bean bag chairs, and even beer kegs on Fridays.  These are not the kind of things mentioned by Daimler in her article.  The point is that culture and employee retention can't be bought.  It has to be crafted and built over time.  

A strong, stable workplace culture can ultimately induce people to stay in a position, or at least with an organization. If you have made some positive strides but haven't yet reached the pinnacle yet, do not fear.  It takes focused effort, with small incremental steps.  It's tempting to try to implement a 'quick fix" but its important to remember that culture can’t be patched on—it has to be built from the ground up.

Need some tips to get you started?  Here are some things I've tried over the years that have worked well:

Ask! Many companies I've worked with have tried to increase employee engagement without really addressing core issues.  Ping pong tables are not going to fix the culture when you have senior leaders in the business who are bullies.  Senior leaders can initiate the process and make final decisions, but ask your front line staff what's working and what needs to be changed.

Have a plan- You can't expect to make improvement without knowing what areas of engagement you're specifically looking to improve.  Target lower areas that will be meaningful for your employees.  Tell your employees what you're working on and get their suggestions.

Get help- Improving your culture is not for the faint of heart, nor is it an easy task.  It needs laser sharp focus.  With everything else on your plate you need to ask yourself if its going to be one of your top 3 priorities.  If not, it can be beneficial to seek the input of a trained expert who has done the work before.  They can create the spark to ignite the cultural change needed.

Involve your leaders- It’s critical that each department leader have an annual engagement plan developed and implemented based on lower scores for their area, if you're ever going to get traction organizationally, support from all leaders across the company is key.

Culture takes time to define.  It takes work to execute, but the payoff is invaluable.   

15 Questions for More Powerful Relationships

With so many personalities in the workplace, have you ever found it difficult to work with everyone?  In every organization, regardless of where you work, you will naturally have some coworkers that are more challenging to work with.  Hopefully you are in a culture that has very few of these but learning how to boost your relationship is a skill worth perfecting. 

Think about 1 person in your company with whom you would like to improve your relationship. Read on to find some important questions to ponder to begin nurturing a more positive and effective relationship. 


1.     If you could change one thing about this relationship, what would you change?  What could you do right now to effect that change?

2.     What is working well about how you both work together?  What could be improved?

3.     What would need to happen for you to walk towards this relationship?  What would cause you to walk away?

4.     How might you be misunderstood by this person?  How might you be misunderstanding them?

5.     How have you contributed to the current health of this relationship?

6.     Do you value this person’s success as much as your own?  If not, why not?  What could you do to change that?

7.     What, if anything, would have to change for you to describe this relationship as collaborative?

8.     What do you expect and need of this person in this relationship?  What are their expectations and needs of you?  How could you confirm the expectations?

9.     What mistakes do you need to recover from?  What mistakes do you need to forgive this person for?

10.  How much time and energy are you willing to invest in developing this relationship?

11.  How do you talk about this person when they are not present?

12.  What can you learn from others who have a good relationship with this person?

13.  What baggage are you bringing that you need to let go of?  What baggage are they bringing that they need to let go of?

14.  How would you describe your decision-making style?  In what way is this similar to or different from this person’s preferred style?

15.  In what ways would this person describe you as challenging to work with?  What would make this person not want to be your supporter or advocate?

 Spend some time reflecting on each question.  Ponder it for a while.  Jot down some notes.  Notice if you are seeing any themes pop up.  Improving relationships requires you to see the other person differently.  Then act!  You can continue to think about it for weeks, but acting on -those thoughts is the only way it will improve. 

3 Steps Every Leader Needs to Follow

Leadership is complex. Ultimately our job as leaders is the process of accomplishing work through others. As an individual contributor, you are measured based on the work you accomplished. As a leader, you will be measured by what you accomplish as a team and through others. 3 steps in the fundamental work of leaders is creating a vision, building alignment around that vision, and championing execution of the vision.

Many people know that a vision sets the stage for an organization’s growth. What might be new is that a vision doesn’t only exist at the lofty level of presidents and CEOs. Leaders at every level are responsible for crafting a vision. Your company likely has a vision statement, however Middle managers and frontline managers need to create a vision for their group that supports the organization’s vision. These visions will look different from top-level visions, but are equally important to the success of the organization. Vision statements for your group expands assumptions about what can be done. It provides purpose for organizations, teams, and individuals (including the leader). It drives the development of specific, vision-supporting goals and It unifies people.

Exploration Drives Vision
Although a great vision often sounds simple and elegant, a good deal of effort and insight has usually gone into developing it. There is a discipline to exploring new ideas that involves thinking at a big-picture level. It also involves resisting the temptation to choose the “right” idea too quickly. Leaders need to be intentional about exploring new directions and suspend judgment in order to consider a variety of ideas. Exploration involves giving oneself the time to weigh options.

Boldness Drives Vision Creating a bold vision doesn’t necessarily mean doing something on a big scale. But it does mean that the leader has a willingness to go out on a limb to champion bold new directions. Great leaders stretch the boundaries of what seems possible and challenge people to rise to the occasion. Leaders don’t make a big impact without being a little adventurous. People look to leaders for a compelling vision that excites them. Every great accomplishment begins with a bold idea. Being adventurous & speaking out will help when creating a bold vision.

Testing Assumptions Drives Vision Creating a vision requires exploring ideas and being bold, but it’s also crucial that the vision be grounded. Leaders can test their assumptions through several means, including seeking others’ advice and doing more formal research. This is not about looking for support, but instead is about soliciting objective input and surfacing potential problems. Leaders need to look beyond their own thinking to test assumptions. It's important to recognize obstacles when developing a vision. Consider a variety of methods in checking your hypotheses.

2. ALIGNMENT is gaining buy-in from the organization and your team. This is getting buy-in for the vision from everyone who will have a role in making it a reality. It ensures that everyone is on the same page, both from a task and an emotional perspective. Alignment requires ongoing one-way and two-way communication. In fact, the failure of a vision, no matter when it happens, can often have more to do with a lack of alignment than with the strength of the vision or the efficiency of execution. Too often, leaders treat alignment as something to check off a to-do list. In reality, alignment is a dynamic, ongoing process that requires the leader to continually monitor and realign as conditions and needs change.

Clarity Drives Alignment Some leaders have trouble translating their great ideas into words. Others struggle to stay on topic or fail to relay the most important points. When people don’t understand your vision, how can you expect them to get on board? When people understand a message, they can more easily buy in.

Dialogue Drives Alignment One of the simplest ways to get others aligned around the vision is to engage them in a rich dialogue about the “who,” “what,” “why,” “where,” “when,” and “how” questions. Involve others in two-way communications to increase by-in and also gain invaluable information. True alignment requires openness to others' ideas and concerns.

Inspiration Drives Alignment How do leaders get people truly excited to start a new project or initiative? They inspire others by painting an exciting picture of the future, sharing their own passion, and showing confidence in the team’s ability to succeed. Leaders who are able to inspire others in this way are much more successful in gaining and maintaining buy-in. Real buy-in isn't just getting people to go through the motions. When you express your passion, others become more committed. People need to see how their efforts will contribute to success.

3. EXECUTION At the most basic level, execution is making the vision a reality. The leader must make sure that all conditions are in place so that everyone can do the work necessary to fulfill the vision. Often people think of execution as something that happens in the trenches, while the leader sits in an office thinking up the big ideas. But the truth is that successful execution of a vision can’t happen without the deep commitment and support of the leader. Execution propels the development of concrete strategies and makes the vision actionable. It gives people a sense of achievement wile fulfilling the promise of the vision.

Momentum Drives Execution Leaders often set the pace for the group, so when they tend to be too low key, people may not feel the sense of momentum that’s needed to realize the vision. By being driven and proactive—and also by acknowledging others who take initiative—leaders send the message that getting things done at a brisk pace is important. Leaders often set an example when it comes to momentum. People tend to perform to the level of momentum that’s expected. Without a sense of momentum, projects can stall out and fail.

Structure Drives Execution To execute on a vision effectively, leaders need to ensure that people have enough structure to follow. Without appropriate processes, policies, and expectations in place, teams operate inefficiently and are less likely to create high-quality outcomes. To create structure, leaders need to make well thought-out plans and analyze complex problems. To work productively, people need to know what is expected. Effective leaders respond to the structure needs of their teams. Structure helps to produce predictable, reliable outcomes.

Feedback Drives Execution In order to ensure that the vision is executed, leaders must provide both critical and positive feedback. When inefficiencies and complications are evident, leaders need to be willing to speak up. And, when people are performing well, it’s equally important to provide the appropriate praise and recognition to keep everyone engaged. Feedback from leaders helps people know how they're performing. Leaders need to be willing to address problems head-on. Recognizing contributions encourages ownership and engagement.

Leading Remote Teams

With the increase in globalization and more telecommuters than ever before, leading remote teams is a skill that is increasing in necessity.   

Societal trends with Millennial’s and Gen Z are pushing more businesses towards adopting more flexible working policies allowing at least partial telecommuting.  Gen Z, in particular, doesn’t know a society without an internet.  They are very comfortable with newer technology and are seeking remote and/or flexible working arrangements.   

Leading them the same way you lead an in-person team will not retain and engage them in the long run.  A recent study with E&Y discovered that less than 50% of global professionals trust their current boss, team and organization.  Additionally, a lack of learning and progression opportunities leads to high turnover rates. 

Transitioning from an old school style of leadership will be essential in order to retain and build this new team.  Leaders of virtual teams need to be intentional in how they engage their widely dispersed teams.  They need to realize the incremental benefits of nurturing and re-engaging existing teams.   

Here are a few tips to get you started:

The highest-performing virtual teams make an effort to have face-to-face meetings with new team members within the first 90 days.

Create a team operational rhythm.  Schedule meetings for the same day, time and share agendas in advance.  Remember your 1 to 1’s and ensure that you don’t cancel them.  Cancelling leads to a lack of trust and a feeling of non-importance with your team.  Consider quick 5-minute check-ins calls daily.  A team of 6 only takes 30 minutes. 

Find opportunities for the team to engage.  Surveys have found that a lack of social interaction leads to lower productivity and a lack of engagement.  Keep an online open communication, such as a chat room, open all the time for team members to just hang out.  Declare, “break times,” ”lunch,” ”game time,” “check-in times,” etc.  It’s a modern-day version of a water cooler.

Run effective virtual team meetings.  No monologues.  Ask a lot of questions and opinions.  Validate that participants have been heard.  Call everyone by name.  Start and end on time.  Be concise.  Long, detailed information should be sent in advance.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.  In an office setting, the hallway chatter reinforces organizational and team messages.  Remote employees need to hear those same important messages repeatedly.  Share how and when you like to be contacted for the ordinary and the urgent.    

Set expectations and hold them accountable.  Share what you expect the output to look and feel like.  Determine any processes or tasks needed.  Establish milestones to track progress and create a “deliverables dashboard” visible to all on whatever collaborative hub you are using.  Check in, without micromanaging, to lend support or provide opportunities for clarification. 
Establish team norms.  Create a charter to establish behavior when participating in a virtual meeting, such as limiting background noise and side conversations, listening attentively, not dominating the conversation, talking clearly and at a reasonable pace and no side work being done during the meeting.  Also establish which communication modes to use in which circumstances, for example when to reply via email vs. picking up the phone or webcam.

Personalize the team.  You don’t have to become best friends, but you should get to know everyone professionally.  What motivates them?  What stresses them?  (Consider DiSC as one tool.) What’s going on in their personal life at the moment.  Take time during meetings to ensure some socialization and fun as well.

A Two Legged Stool Doesn't Work

“I used to believe that culture was ‘soft,’ and had little bearing on our bottom line. What I believe today is that our culture has everything to do with our bottom line, now and into the future.” – Vern Dosch, Author, Wired Differently

A Two-Legged Stool Doesn't Work

Leadership, culture and strategy are the trio that directs the organization toward excellence. It’s essential that they be in sync with one another.  Many leaders focus on strategy at the expense of leadership and culture.  A 3-legged stool will topple if only 2 legs are strong. 

Organizational culture is defined in many ways.  My definition is a system of shared assumptions, values, belief and behaviors that governs and shapes how employees get work done in an organization.  It’s the way it feels as you walk into different businesses.  At its worst, culture can be a drag on productivity.  At its best it is an emotional energizer.

So what’s the cost when a leader isn’t upholding the organization’s values?  It can certainly impact their ability to drive results.  Poor leadership can reinforce the wrong values, behaviors and attitudes. 

They can create toxic cultures and discord between how a company is viewed and how it actually operates.  It can create confusion with staff who sees something written on paper and something else being demonstrated.  Many studies have been done that show leadership can have a measurable impact on results.  Leadership and culture can give a competitive advantage to your business.

A leader needs to…
Fit within the culture and model desired behaviors.  A leader sets the example for the organization and shapes the culture with their words and actions daily. 

Be self-aware and intentional-As a leader you need to understand who you are and have a clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions.  Your behaviors have an impact, regardless of your intention.

Connect with employees on an emotional level.  Put the cell phone down and give your team your undivided attention.  Reach out to others, engage them in discussion, and actively provide feedback.  If you lean more towards introversion, this is a skill you will need to develop.

Instead of trying to change the culture itself, which can be a job of herculean effort, try changing the behaviors within the culture. Behaviors are tangible and measurable.  Culture change does tend to follow behavior change.  What are the behaviors you want in the new culture?  Instill those in your leaders and measure them.

Focus on a select group or the opinion leaders in a certain area.  Pick individuals who are likely to model the behaviors and are likely to spread them.  Focus on specific behaviors that if put into action would have a great impact. 

Find a few things that positively effect business performance.  Maybe that’s how individuals speak with customers or how they are solving a client issue the first time.  Translate the new behaviors into critical steps that an employee can take.  Check in that they feel good about these new behaviors so you are tapping into their emotional commitment.

Companies can gain a competitive advantage when they focus on trying to change a few specific behaviors, tap into employees’ powerful emotions and enlist influential opinion leaders.

When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.”   - Kenneth Blanchard

Decide. Commit. Succeed.

Are your team members committed to the goals of the organization?  Most teams fail not because of a lack of desire, but a lack of commitment to their goals.  A team that fails to commit...
• Creates ambiguity among team members about direction and priorities
• Watches windows of opportunity close due to excessive analysis and unnecessary delay
• Breeds lack of confidence and fear of failure
• Revisits discussions and decisions again and again
• Encourages second-guessing among team members
How do you know if you have a lack of commitment on your team?  Decision are rushed.  There are concerns about timing and priorities being expressed.  There is a lack of confusion about how a decision was made and how or if to proceed.

Teams that commit to decisions and standards do so because they know how to embrace two separate but related concepts: buy-in and clarity.

Buy-in is the achievement of honest emotional support for a decision. Too often, consensus is not real. False consensus arises when, instead of discussing the conflict, team members just nod their agreement and move on. When team members are unwilling to weigh in and share their opinions, there is a high likelihood that they’re not going to commit to whatever decision is made.  Commitment is about a group of individuals buying in to a decision precisely when they don’t naturally agree.
In other words, it’s the ability to defy a lack of consensus. When people know that their colleagues have no reservations about disagreeing with one another and that every available opinion and perspective has been unapologetically aired, they will have the confidence to embrace a decision. This is not nasty name calling or throwing of insults.  This is spirited ideological debate regarding direction and ideas.  Team trust is essential for this process.
Good leaders drive commitment among the team by first extracting every possible idea, opinion, and perspective. Then, comfortable that nothing has been left off the table, they have the courage and wisdom to step up and make a decision, one that is sure to run counter to at least one of the team members, and usually more.
The fact is, however, that most people don’t really need to have their ideas adopted (a.k.a. “get their way”) in order to buy in to a decision. They just want to have their ideas heard, understood, considered, and explained within the context of the ultimate decision.  Setting agendas ahead of time to allow people time to think and process will help to ensure you hear from each person around the table.  Also allowing some processing time after the meeting before a final decision is made can be fruitful.
Clarity requires that teams avoid assumptions and ambiguity and that they end discussions with a clear understanding about their final decisions.
When it comes to commitment, the most critical ground rules that team members must agree to relate to timeliness at meetings, responsiveness in communication, and general interpersonal behavior.
They must also commit to other principles such as purpose, values, mission, strategy, and goals. At any given time, all the members of a team must also know what the team’s top priority is and how each of them contributes to moving it forward.
Increasing the commitment of individuals can have a significant impact on goal achievement in your business this year.  If you need help in this area, please drop me a line.

Long-Distance Leadership

Businesses everywhere are becoming larger and more global.  This inherently increases the number of employees working remotely and the urgency to know how to lead them. 

Common Remote Challenges
When I speak with leaders across the U.S., I often hear about their challenges of leading remote employees: 

  • What are “they” doing?

  • How are “they” doing?

  • Not enough communication

  • Unclear expectations

  • What and how work is being done

  • Less opportunity to “check in”

  • I need to be connected 24/7/365

  • A lack of trust

Do any of these ring true for you?  If so, you’re not alone.  As leaders we have the responsibility to overcome these challenges.  We have to take responsibility to fix it. 

We Need To Be Intentional
When employees are working remotely we can still have great interaction and communication.  We just have to work harder at it and do it differently than we did before. 

When we work together in the same building—or down the same hallway, the communication happens serendipitously.  We walk by and we say something.  The next thing you know a problem is being asked about, or a problem is being solved.  Trust is getting built with these small interactions over time.  Relationships are improved and productivity is grown. The same can happen with remote teams.  We just do it with more intentionality.

5 Skills To Sharpen
Here are some traits of Long-Distance Leaders that I found in the book the Long-Distance Leader.

Communication-  Our ability and need to communicate grows as our teams become remote.  I’ve never worked in an organization (even without remote teams) that ever said we communicate too much.  All organizations need more communication.  When you add the remote piece in, it gets even more important. And necessary.  We can’t just assume it’s happening.  We need to work on it.

Relationship building skills—People want to follow people that they know, like, and trust.  If we don’t have a relationship with the people who lead us, we will be less engaged and less satisfied. It’s important for leaders to have strong relationships with their teams.  At a distance it’s even more important.  There are specific things we need to think about doing and specific times we need to think about doing it.  We can’t take it for granted.

Higher EQ- All of the things you think that might be called ‘soft skills’ take on a greater meaning because we have fewer interactions when our employees work remotely.  Each of those interactions take on a greater importance and role.  A lot of it is being mediated by technology.  We need to work on our Emotional Intelligence skills because they play a bigger role. 

Technology skills - If I’m leading at a distance there are some technology skills I better have.  No one wants to be on a phone or a laptop when a meeting is supposed to begin and not be connected to the group.  Or think about the time that is wasted when the leader is fumbling during a meeting to open a document or find something and the team is just waiting. 

Greater intentionality –This is probably the most important on the list.  Leaders must be more intentional.  We allow more room for error when we see people in the hallway or see them 4-5 times during the day.  When we see people casually we are building trust.  It’s easier to engage our team and easier to know if they’re not engaged when we see them, are around them, or we walk in from the parking lot with them. 

So when our folks are remote, either part of the time or all of the time, we’ve got to be more intentional.  We need to be thinking about what we need to do, planning it out, making the other skills on this list a part of our day.  We can’t walk through the day the way we used to do and try to get the same results.  Even if we’re an excellent leader.  We’ve got to do some things differently.

There are probably more traits that could be on the list, but if you do these 5 well, you will be in better shape than most.  When we do these better, we will lead at a distance better.

Spooky Leadership

If human beings had genuine courage, they’d wear their costumes every day of the year, not just on Halloween.
— Doug Coupland

Halloween is a day when you can bring your alter ego out and no one blinks an eye.  It’s a day when you can authentically become anything you desire.    When I was in the corporate world, I worked for a company that celebrated Halloween in a way that was second to none. 
Here’s how it worked and some of the lessons I learned along the way:

Teamwork soared
The employees would plan their ideas for MONTHS.  Teams would select themes and decorate their departments.  The project was held as the biggest secret until the day of the big reveal.  It brought teams together in a way that no ‘team building’ activity ever could. 

Creativity abounded
The buzzing energy could be felt.  There was an electric charge in the air for weeks before and after.  Engagement climbed, and employees felt empowered.

Leaders not exempted from the fun
This was not something ‘just for staff.’  Senior leaders dressed up too and went to all departments and locations creating a sense of community.  Employees felt a connection in a way that didn’t happen during the normal workweek. 

Imagine if every day were Halloween?
Halloween shouldn’t be the only day of the year to have fun at work.  As a leader, don't have a reputation of spooky leadership.  Create an environment where folks are laughing, smiling and feel a sense of comradery.  Ask your team what needs to happen to make it more fun on a regular basis. 
Know that when fun is happening, creative juices are also flowing, and this translates back into the form of innovation into your business.  High employee engagement means higher member loyalty and profits.

Every day is Halloween isn’t it? For some of us.
— Tim Burton

7 Tips on Creating a Culture to Drool Over

Trying to create a winning business culture?  It might not be as complicated as you think.  Much has been written on the value of a great work culture and how it can support the goals of the business and maximize profitability.  Companies that have bought into this are Southwest Airlines, Zappos, Google, and Edward Jones.  They seem to be on the ‘best of’ lists all the time.  It can be a significant differentiator from your competition and can create a competitive advantage for your company.  Who wouldn’t want to work for a company named on Fortune 100’s best companies list?  Imagine how much easier it would be to recruit and retain the best and the brightest talent.  Yet it’s amazing how many businesses fail to make the long term investment needed to achieve this success.  Many focus instead on slick marketing campaigns, reducing expenses such as rightsizing, implementing new technology and spending a wealth of resources on any of these and more.  According to Steven Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Effective People this is focusing on what’s urgent rather than what’s important.  There is no harm in the short term, but in the long term, this is just firefighting and not getting to the crux of what will make you truly a company that will be touted by your existing employees and creating a line of applicants of the highly skilled waiting at the door.  Here are 7 steps to get you started in the right direction to create a culture for which anyone would drool.

  1. Hire the right fit for the culture you are creating. This means being clear on what that culture is and even more importantly what it is not.
  2. Move the wrong ones off of the bus. This can be hard with long tenured staff who have provided much value in the past or are still contributing.  Offering a severance package and signed release of claims allows them to leave the business with dignity and grace and giving them security for the short term.
  3. Start at the top with senior leaders and have well defined values that you hire and fire to.
  4. Hold others accountable to the values you have defined. Incorporate these into your HR and business practices.
  5. Start with your own team. Invest in them and help them become more effective as a unit.  This is a great way to ignite other areas of the business once they have seen the positive change from within your group.
  6. Assess where you are and what needs to change. Conduct “stay interviews” to find out why your best and brightest stay and what they value in the current culture.  They have their boots on the ground and will be able to give specifics about what needs changing.
  7. Develop an action plan and stay the course. Changing culture is not for the faint of heart.  It takes perseverance but the rewards are plentiful.