Toxic Must Go

A study showed that replacing a toxic worker with an average one can be twice as profitable as upgrading an average one to a star.
{Adam Grant}


If you are willing to sacrifice your culture because of the discomfort of replacing someone who performs at a high level but whose attitude and actions make things worse for everyone else, you are paying too high a price.

No one is indispensable. And the damage to your organization of tolerating people who choose to operate outside the margins of your value system can take years to repair.

I’ve watched many teams suffer the consequences of a cultural outlier as leaders hemmed and hawed, taking action far too slowly and losing credibility in bunches.

The “superstar” mystique is precisely that. The sooner you remove the toxicity from the system, the sooner your “average” workers will have the space – and the oxygen – to breathe life into their own performance and into your results.


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 Wisdom of Simplicity

“Is he a good hang?”
{Cal Harrah}


One of my professional mentors, and one of the finer human beings I’ve met in my life, is also one of the smartest.

And so, when it came to making a hiring decision for my team I was confident that Cal would provide me with the kind of thoughtful and well-reasoned commentary necessary for such an important choice.

In other words, I assumed he would have a lot to say.

He did not.

Instead he asked a very simple question: “Is he a good hang?”

As in, is he the kind of person that you want to be with, that makes you better, makes life a little more interesting, a little more fun, that helps you learn at least a little – maybe a lot – more?

If we are, as is often said, the sum total of the five people we spend the most time with (and some have suggested that it’s an even larger group than that) it’s worth taking that group – and how we add to it – much more seriously.

Work is full of enough challenges to stress our days and invade our nights. The least we can do is make sure that we surround ourselves with people who help us keep our perspective and who help us smile once in a while at the craziness of it all.


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 Best of Both

I have a client whose expectation of his team is that they will do their jobs with exceptional skill while constantly striving to be even better human beings.

There is no trade-off, no convenient acceptance of sub-par performance for a “really great guy” and no acceptance of toxic, or even stagnant behavior for someone who is “just too good at their job for us to do without.”

Learning is the driver, about the work itself and about the even greater responsibility to be a person of deep integrity and generous character.


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.

Worth Your Next 5 Minutes

I offer for your viewing pleasure the following video featuring Patty McCord, the former Chief Talent Officer for Netflix. It’s called, “8 lessons on building a company people enjoy working for.” Please take 5 minutes to check it out and see what you think. I offer some personal commentary below.

What get’s in the way of our organizations – our leaders – making sure things work this way? One executive recently told me, with not a moment of hesitation, “It’s ego!” Another says “control,” another says “fear” and yet another says something like “the demands of short-term thinking.”

The common refrain is this, we continue to allow too many of our institutions – and our institutional practices – to be the tail and our employees to be the dog. Enough is enough is enough.

The institution only exists because some talented human beings got together and decided to do something cool, or interesting or worthwhile. That “coolness” is a beacon of effort and energy to which other human beings are magnetically drawn.  We want to experience purpose in our work, to be a part of something larger than ourselves. So, the institution – at its best – is a bunch of people trying to do something they care about.

Everything built and implemented in the name of preservation or protection but that ends up getting in the way of our genuine human drive for purpose and meaning must be stripped away. 

Patty McCord’s closing words are these: It’s a pretty exciting world out there, and it’s changing all the time. The more we embrace it and get excited about it, the more fun we’re going to have.”

Purpose, meaning and fun. Let’s get on with it already.


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.

Why is there no trash on the ground at Disneyland?

A number of years ago I participated in a customer service training at a Disneyland resort. The event included a behind the scenes tour of the facility, a chance to go where “regular” park goers don’t go and to learn a few secrets about the Magic Kingdom.

One anecdote came up in the form of a question: Why is there no trash on the ground at Disneyland?

The answer? Because there’s no trash on the ground at Disneyland, of course! The “Broken Windows” theory of community renewal applied to the theme park business.

The Disney team proudly proclaimed that they have fewer sanitation workers than other amusement parks because they have established a culture of no trash on the ground.

Sunday, at Disneyland’s California Adventure I just happened to notice a dirty napkin on the ground a few feet in front of me. My first thought, indoctrinated as I had been, was to reach down and get it but at that very moment a “cast member” was headed my way and I decided to see if he had been trained as well as I had.

He had not been, and he sailed right on by.

In that moment I remembered how hard the work of culture building is. I remembered how challenging it is to establish and maintain consistency in both mindset and behavior in a small company never mind an organization the size and scope of Disney.

It’s essential to have high aspirations and to fall short sometimes. How else do we learn?

I hope today was an anomaly for that employee and that the Disney service culture is as vigilant now as when I learned from them years ago.

Next time, I’m going to grab the napkin and give him the benefit of the doubt. Every aspirational culture deserves a little help.


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.

Observations on a Southwest Flight

On a flight departing 30 minutes late, one flight attendant asks for the drink coupons and checks to make sure they are valid.

The other flight attendant waves off the coupons offered to her with a playful, “Put that away.”

It’s the same airline, on the same flight, on the same day. Just two rows apart, in fact.

Is there a policy that guides these choices? Is it simply personality, one a “rule follower” and one a “free spirit”?

Do we raise an eyebrow at the inconsistency, the “unfair” treatment?

Do we celebrate Southwest’s culture of employee “ownership,” even when it’s inconsistently applied?

It’s both confusing and endlessly fascinating to observe an organizational culture this closely. An enterprise as service-oriented as Southwest – one who wants us to feel the “LUV” – only makes it a more dissected entity.

Maybe they think we don’t notice the inconsistency? Maybe they know that we do (How can you not when the “service distance” of a 737 is the equivalent of a customer walking around the Starbucks counter to stand next to the barista while ordering?) and don’t really care? And not so much a harsh “don’t care” as a subtle request that we just accept the predictable human messiness of it all.

I’m one drink coupon lighter tonight and still grateful that the aspirations of this particular organization keep me interested and aware.

I can’t think of another service organization that makes me feel that way.


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.

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.

What do we expect from work?

Gimbel’s manager: “Why are you smiling like that?”

Buddy-the-Elf: “I just like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite.”

Gimbel’s manager: “Make work your favorite. That’s your favorite, ok? Work is your new favorite.


I recently spoke with a student about her career plans. She’s feeling the tension between her growing sense of direction and purpose and her family’s expectations of transactional practicality. They want her to get a well-paying job. She wants that too, but in a way that allows her to do what she loves.

Her father’s never been happy with his work and he never expected to be. He believes that work is only meant to provide an income and that satisfaction in life comes from the quality of his personal experiences.

We are overwhelmed by dualistic thinking in our society. And when it comes to the workplace it’s sad…heartbreaking even…how willing so many people are to make this trade-off.

Trading time for money is a trap. It’s the legacy of the old corporate ethos that employees are commodities meant to be utilized and operationalized in the quest for even greater efficiency. In exchange for being treated like machines the corporation provided steady employment, medical benefits and a pension fund.

As that era of the long corporate experiment takes its final few breaths we are not left with a clean break from the past but rather a muddied set of interpretations about what the “new deal” should be, or if there should be one at all.

In the face of that unknown, the old pattern of thinking about what work means, what it should feel like and the role it should have in our lives remains largely intact. In the absence of a clearly defined “better,” the human condition is to stick with what we know.

While there are many companies working hard to set a new standard and many firms in existence to measure whether or not they really are, I remain dubious. In part, because the “best places to work” industry feels like the corporate replica of the much maligned college rankings. It’s a game of putting a shine on something that might not be so shiny, after all.

It’s the anecdotal evidence of people like my student’s father that make me take pause. If so many companies are creating meaningful, human centered workplaces, why are so many people still so disenchanted with their work? I think it’s because they expect to be burned, because our faith in institutions remains at a historic low, and that it’s much easier to say “it’s just a job” than to invest that job with any level of personal meaning that, if compromised, would be devastating. Could this explain why, after all of the studies of employee engagement and all of the dollars spent to increase it, the numbers just won’t budge?

I don’t know and I’m not sure we’ll ever know. What I do know is this: it’s possible that “smiling is my favorite” and “work is my favorite” can coexist. It’s possible that our workplaces can foster and facilitate a more human-centered experience while also achieving extraordinary results. It’s possible that we can find employment that feeds our bank account as well as our emotional reserves. It’s all possible.

Will we expect it? Will we work for it?


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.

 

 

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.

The Constant Gardener

A few years ago, during a renovation of our backyard, we established a garden area that contains four raised-bed planter boxes. Those beds, with our care and feeding, have yielded beautiful lettuces, bucketfuls of cherry tomatoes and a variety of peppers, carrots and peas. It’s a garden that, once started, tends to take on a life of its own. Such are the favorable growing conditions of southern California!

This year, for so many very good reasons, the beds are empty. Optimistically, we replenished them with potent new soil but then simply didn’t follow through and get them planted.

The image of those empty beds came to mind yesterday as I was thinking about what happens in too many organizations; mission, vision and values statements are decided upon, videos are made and posters are placed without any clear plan for activation.

Just like my empty planters, those high-minded statements and principles contain essential nutrients. They have the potential to sustain the growth of something quite powerful but only if thoughtfully activated and carefully tended.

You would never assume that just creating the space for a garden and filling it with fresh soil would lead to a bumper crop.

So why is it repeatedly assumed that videos and posters are sufficient means for helping thoughtful people act upon something as important as what your organization stands for and who you aspire to be?

Culture is the sum total of the conversations you have about the things that matter most. It has the potential for vigorous growth – in precisely the ways you would like it to – but only after it is properly seeded, watered, picked and pruned. In other words, paid attention to.

You can build those planters in a day or two. But you will never be done with the gardening.


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.