It’s a Decision

Do you work within an organization, division, department or team that you would describe as valuing ‘competence’ over ‘connection’ by a wide margin?

This is an environment that you might describe as static, procedural, technical or hierarchical far more than it is dynamic, connective, open and human-centered.

You might even say that it’s an environment fueled by fear rather than by love.

If this sounds familiar to you and you feel limited, stifled, stuck or afraid you have a few options:

#1. Wait for “them” to change it.
#2. Change it yourself.
#3. Leave.

If it’s a truly toxic environment, option three is the best bet for your longterm health and well-being. Yes, it’s risky but it’s a strong job market and there are plenty of good leaders building healthy and meaningful organizations that also perform.

As for number one? You already know what I’m going to say but you’d rather not hear it. A hero is not about to come riding in on a stallion to save the day. Unless the place is about to go under and those with real power demand radical change, the place is going to keep operating as is. This is because human beings are addicted to the status quo, even when it’s the worst thing in the world.

So, on to number two. This is where you come in. And you can, you most definitely can change it yourself. Not the whole thing, and maybe not even a large part of it, but you can change the area that is one, maybe even one and a half concentric circles beyond yourself. It’s just a decision. Here are some ways you might act on that decision:

  1. Get to work early. Be there when your colleagues arrive and greet them warmly to start the day.
  2. Check-in on your teammates. Ask about their work and stuff going on at home. Just listen. No judgments, no advice.
  3. Check-in on your boss. Find a few minutes once a week or so to say hello and ask how things are going.
  4. Offer to help. Where it makes sense and respecting context and boundaries, of course. Small things matter a lot. Be the person who picks up that slack.
  5. Take care of yourself. Eat well, exercise, read, see friends, hug your family.
  6. Never, ever contribute to negativity. Know and live your personal values. Know and live the values of the organization even if nobody else is doing so.
  7. Do your best work. No one knows what that means but you.

I predict that if you do most or even some of these things, you will feel better about yourself, your work and your workplace. What’s more, others will start to emulate your behavior and your small part of the enterprise will take on an energy that is envied by others. As long as you’re going to be there, why not control what you can control and make it the kind of place you want to be?

In summary:

Option #1 = Fantasy
Option #2 = Possibility
Option #3 = Escape hatch

It always was and always will be your decision.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Boring is Better

“Honeymoon experiences cannot be sustained. We must always return to the ordinary.”
Richard Rohr

Fancy: going “offsite”
Boring: better meetings

Fancy: brainstorming sessions
Boring: asking people how things could be better

Fancy: bean bags, free food, relaxation chambers
Boring: a clean, well-lighted workspace

Fancy: (pointless) performance reviews
Boring: regular, meaningful conversations

Fancy: for us to win, they have to lose
Boring: working hard, being generous

Fancy: “we need more creative employees”
Boring: “we need leaders who know how to access human creativity and put it to work for the business”

Fancy: email, text, Slack, etc.
Boring: picking up the phone, walking down the hall

Fancy: mission, vision, values posters/placards/videos
Boring: modeling the mission, vision and values

Fancy: company parties, generic “thank you’s”
Boring: specific individual/team recognition of good work

Fancy: the “open door” policy
Boring: getting out of the office to see what’s going on

Fancy: “high potentials”
Boring: we hire authentic, talented people; we teach them our culture; we help them grow or we help them move on

Fancy: the “suggestion box”
Boring: an environment in which people freely share ideas without fear of recrimination

Fancy: being the boss
Boring: being a human who cares about helping other humans achieve awesome things

*What would you add?*

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

How to Test Your Culture

If your company has a mission, vision and/or values and you are curious to find out if your employees are living them each day, there’s a simple way to find out.

And for the purpose of this post let’s say that one of your company’s values is integrity. To find out if integrity is practiced in the way that you have defined it, try this:

Invite a group of 5-10 employees to attend a meeting at which you ask them to respond to this request:

“Please tell a recent, truthful and specific story about a time you saw a colleague practice integrity.

Give them a few minutes to think about it and then sit back and listen.

Stories are the fastest way to the truth of what’s going on. If there’s a compelling story to be told, you have compelling evidence of the existence of that particular part of your cultural aspiration. If not, it doesn’t exist…or at least not how you hoped it might.

And that leads to your second request of the group:

“What ideas do you have about how to bring integrity alive in our organization.What would make it more likely that you would have more stories to tell?”

Repeat the conversation with another group and then another and another, until all leaders share the responsibility for being collectors of stories and facilitators of the ideas that will bring your culture to life.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.


Culture is a Playground

What if you thought of your organization’s culture as a playground?

You might establish clear boundary markers. You might provide resources that induce creative interactions. You might not legislate rules but rather allow them to form organically, as a result of your teams natural inclination to create a workspace of accountability and accomplishment. You might provide soft landings for those who risk, experiment and explore.

You might keep alive an enthusiastic conversation about where you are going so the team is reminded of why they chose this particular playground on which to play their game.

You might lead by example, creating a higher standard of engagement for those who have the most responsibility and the biggest paychecks. You might not allow team members to “sit this one out” but rather learn how to have the conversations that re-engage them in the work. You might help the bullies and the narcissists and the prima donnas find the exit as fast as humanly possible.

You might provide drinks and snacks and sit together once in a while to celebrate a job well done, a game well-played.

You might.

But will you?

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world

The Divided Brain

I am currently reading the book upon which this brief talk (one in the great “RSA Animate” series) is based. It is called “The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World” (by Iain McGilchrist) and it is utterly fascinating. It is a stretch read to be sure – for me at least – and yet it is utterly readable, completely compelling and, I believe, essential.

It is essential for anyone who wants to escape the pervasiveness of pop-culture neuroscience and educate themselves at a deeper level about the radical realities – and implications – of how our brains really work.  It is essential, too, for those of us whose work it is – through coaching, consulting, teaching – to help others solve problems, small or large in scope.

I first got interested in the “right brain movement” (if it can be called that) when I read Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind,” a terrific book in its own right, providing a very solid baseline of understanding and proving highly practical in its application. If you haven’t read anything else on the subject you might consider starting there. Or, you can check out this pdf about “The Master and His Emissary” which is a dialogue with the author and also includes critiques by others invited to read and comment on his work.

I hope you find this work as enthralling and useful as I have. The implications are massive.

Small Moves for Big Change

There is a fascinating profile of Pope Francis by James Carroll in the December 23/30, 2013 edition of The New Yorker that I believe is essential reading for anyone who bears responsibility for the leadership of meaningful change. “Who Am I to Judge?: A Radical Pope’s First Year” is a compelling account of Francis’ road to the papacy as well as the actions he has taken and statements he has made in the first 10 months of his tenure that mark a significant break from his immediate predecessors, especially in tone and what I will amorphously describe as “feel.” Catholics and non-Catholics alike agree that the new Pope is quite a different leader and all are watching in earnest for how his leadership will impact the church and it’s 1.2 billion followers. What we are watching for is how and when, beyond tone and feel, his leadership will lead to change.

Carroll quotes Francis as saying: “Many think that changes and reforms can take place in a short time. I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change. And this is the time for discernment.” Francis also referenced the words of John XXIII who frequently repeated the motto “See everything, turn a blind eye to much; correct a little.”

What Francis is telling us, by recollecting the words of a predecessor who led the church through the renewal and reform of Vatican II, is that the leadership of change comes first from the patience of intensive discernment (knowing and understanding what’s going on at a level of profound depth) and, second, from the ability to understand the critical importance of “timing and dosage.” He acknowledges that leading change is essentially a frustrating, difficult and lonely enterprise, not for the faint of heart, as it requires great tolerance for all that is not working and the ability to apply minor corrections to the most important issues in precisely the right way to insure they can be sustained over time. To put it simply, it is about playing “small ball” – hitting for contact instead of swinging for the fences.

I had the opportunity to experience the wisdom of these sentiments directly when I shared in the design and facilitation of a cultural transformation at TaylorMade Golf company between 2005 and 2012. The mandate was to create a “coaching culture.” Through highly personalized and specific leadership development activities we were to build the capacity of the organization’s leaders to be more adaptive, agile and responsive in the face of constant change. Our approach was simple: we would take it one leader at a time.

While the impact of the learning initiatives we put in place – one-on-one coaching, team off-sites, quarterly learning events – are notoriously difficult to measure what I can report is that the company’s top-line tripled during the period of our efforts. And, not surprisingly, employee engagement soared as well. It was a period of intensive learning, creative exploration and risk-taking and it was completely energizing.

The most important takeaway from the experience was how I learned to appreciate the importance of taking the long view; the understanding from direct experience that small shifts made in the context of a larger, meaning-filled vision, always require powerful awareness of the context in which you are operating, generous tolerance of what is beyond your control and the ability to apply consistent effort over time. The latitude for much of this is typically in short supply in for-profit organizational life as the demands of speed and immediacy are always present. We were not exempted from these pressures but we were fortunate to enjoy a rare window of time to do things the right way – slowly, steadily, consistently – that afforded us an impact we would otherwise not have achieved. Since we knew it wouldn’t last we did our very best to make the most of our time, hopeful that our efforts would exceed their immediate application and extend well into the future. Others will have to weigh in as to whether or not we achieved that goal.

Is it even appropriate to suggest a comparison between the leadership challenges of the Roman Catholic church and the cultural transformation of a golf equipment manufacturer? In many ways, of course not. And, what’s true is true: the leadership elements of meaningful change – sustainable, necessary, growth-inducing change – remain the same regardless of the enterprise:

1. See everything – know the landscape and understand it in a deep, meaningful way. This requires listening.

2. Ignore what you can’t do anything about. There’s plenty of it so let it go.

3. Apply the right timing and dosage to what you can control. Correct a little, using small moves in support of a big, compelling vision.

4. Take the long view…it’s just over the horizon. (Remember that diamonds are formed with consistent pressure over time.)

Quick fixes and silver bullets are sold by the arrogant and purchased by the foolish. Do you really want to bet your future on the possibility of a home run in the bottom of the 9th?

Winning with Culture

I spent nearly eight years of my professional life working to bring a “coaching culture”  to life within the TaylorMade Golf Company. Alongside brilliant product creation, exceptional marketing efforts and flawless sales execution, our ability to sustain a purposeful culture of learning and development led to some truly incredible results. Hardly a perfect science, in the pursuit of a coaching culture we rarely got it all right. But that’s missing the point because culture is always unfinished business. It is a work in progress if ever there was one. But, when a company grows 4X over 12 years you can and should look to many reasons why. If you don’t look at culture you’re missing a huge part of the story.

Here’s a piece from the Wall Street Journal that does a nice job of explaining the measurable elements of TaylorMade’s rise to dominance (How TaylorMade Made Its Move). What it fails to address is one of the most glaringly obvious reasons for this historic growth: a company culture that will knock your socks off. I appreciate that the WSJ lives mostly in the land of the rational, the measurable and the known. I further appreciate that culture, leadership and learning are decidedly fuzzy and definitely “soft.” As such they don’t get discussed in the mainstream business media which is a sad reality that has to change. I know the role that culture played in achieving those results because I was there. But you don’t have to take my word for it since TaylorMade isn’t the only one linking an intentional culture to incredible results.

Zappo’s has been playing this game for a little while, also. And they also have the results to show for it as they have taken the idea of an intentional and purposeful culture to an entirely new level. Zappo’s leaves no room for doubt that it is the squishy stuff like culture that took them to a billion dollars in revenue.

I had the opportunity to visit their headquarters last December and it is obvious from the very moment you step foot in the place that there is nothing “squishy” about what’s going on there. For as much fun as they seem to be having they are dead serious about maintaining a culture that allows them to deliver exceptional business results. Again, it is their culture that allows for the results to follow. This is on purpose for one simple reason: it works.

I appreciate your skepticism. The media never talks about it because they haven’t figured out how to do so. I suggest you go see for yourselves. The good people at TaylorMade and Zappo’s are waiting for your call.

They say they want creativity…

This is the lead-in to an article by Jocelyn Glei called “The Top 5 Qualities of Productive Creatives (And How to Identify Them)”:

“A recent BusinessWeek article reported that, “According to a new survey of 1,500 chief executives conducted by IBM’s Institute for Business Value, CEOs identify ‘creativity’ as the most important leadership competency for the successful enterprise of the future.” While the study’s results will come as no surprise to hard-working creative professionals, they do raise an important question: How do we identify – and hire for – the qualities that add up to creativity?”

(I hope you’ll take the time to read the whole thing – you can find it here – because then the rest of this thing will make sense!)

Of course “CEOs identify ‘creativity’ as the most important leadership competency for the successful enterprise of the future.” That is old news. The bigger question for those same CEOs is whether or not they will lead the creation of environments in which those “creatives” (and every other employee) can express the full extent of their creativity. It’s almost quaint that in 2013 we’re still talking about “identifying creatives” when everyone knows that 75% of the workforce is actively disengaged. And we know that they are disengaged because, as Gary Hamel says, organizations are a “buzzkill.” They default to conformity and compliance over creation and connection.

And why is that? Because it’s a big, messy, chaotic world and our senior leaders are deeply conditioned to respond to that mess with control and constraint rather than curiosity and collaboration; to close off rather than open up; to stay safe in the spirit of preservation instead of exploring the edges in the spirit of growth and possibility.

We take for granted that finding and hiring more creative employees will lead to innovation and renewal. Shouldn’t we start to ask ourselves whether or not our organizational environments are set-up to maximize their creative output rather than demand their creative compliance?

A Development Culture is an Innovation Culture

Leaders who are intense about their own development and who create accountability and offer support for the ongoing development of their teams and peers create, perhaps without even knowing it, a culture of innovation.

Why is this so?
Intensity about development means one is willing to take an honest look at oneself, see the good and the bad from a perspective of appreciation and empathy and decide to do something about it. This is a distinctly humanizing act and if others see this and have a chance to participate in the leader’s development “conversation” they are more likely to see the leader as fully human (check out the Johari Window). If that’s the case they are a heck of a lot more likely to be open with ideas, suggestions and possibilities. They might even give more of their discretionary effort, that part of ourselves we choose to give or not give to our work depending on how safe and open the leader has made the environment. If it’s safe and open more gets discussed, put on the table, debated and explored. That’s a culture of innovation.
So, what does this mean for our organizations?
It means that we must offer professional coaching, leadership and management development opportunities because we believe – perhaps more boldly, we know – that if more leaders, those with direct responsibility for creating the environment, are more actively pursuing development, more good stuff happens. And, in this equation, more good stuff equals more employees offering more of their best selves to the company every day.