culture

what have you done to kill innovation today?

No InnovationPeople are naturally creative and inventive. Most of it has been squeezed out of a person by the time they enter the workforce, but a little always remains. Creativity and innovation are the bane of exacting accuracy and efficiency. Trying something new or different slows things down and introduces errors and variability into processes. It flies against the virtues of the status quo and state of the art best practices.

Yet, no matter how much you insist on ruthless adherence to rules, policy, and precedent, there will always be people in your organization who find new paths. Here are a few thoughts for preventing them from disrupting your business:

Who you hire is crucial to the company’s future. If there is a preferred “type” for your organization, hire those people. Sometimes it’s pretty obvious – ethnicity and gender are easy to play to and that’s really an amateur move. A pro knows that sometimes you have to dig a bit to find what your company really values. Maybe it’s only hiring people from one or two preferred colleges. Maybe it’s a preference for a specific major or having worked for a certain competitor. Maybe it’s seeking people from a specific church or with particular social interests. Maybe it’s fashion sense or a certain hairstyle. Maybe it’s living in a certain suburb or neighborhood. Whatever it is, you’re wanting to make sure everyone is as similar as possible. Remember: any diversity (including backgrounds, thoughts, experiences, perspectives, etc.) goes hand in hand with creativity and innovation. The more that people in the organization resemble each other in every aspect, the less disruption there will be.

Foster an environment where being (or at least appearing) busy is paramount. There’s no time for thinking because thinking doesn’t look busy. If people have time to think, they don’t have enough to do.

Put policy above common sense, business sense, human decency, or anything else really. Policy exists for a reason.

Never introduce variety into the day. Even go as far as keeping the same meetings at the same times in the same locations. Every time. Don’t be tempted to skip a meeting if there’s nothing pressing and never hold it in a different location. Variety sparks creativity. Let a philosophy of sameness guide your leadership.

Questions only lead to ideas. If you do have to ask a question make sure is a yes/no question. Never ask an open ended question unless you already know the answer and it’s still best to make it an obviously leading question. Remember, you don’t actually want new answers or ideas, you only want to reinforce the ideas you already have.

Even though you never want to ask a real question, a great technique for eliminating new ideas is asking for people’s ideas and then never, ever do anything with them. This does two things: 1) it identifies your trouble makers; and 2) it subtly helps people figure out their ideas aren’t wanted and they’ll soon stop making any suggestions for improvement.

If someone has a new idea, never ever seek to understand. Obviously you don’t want new ideas – that means change and doing things in new way – so why waste time learning about something you’re never going to do? Better to show strong leadership and gently ridicule the idea. Be condescending and have pity for any person dumb enough to suggest such a thing. Then move on.

If a new idea somehow gains traction always insist that it be fully developed and perfected before being put into action. Never allow people to pilot an idea with a small group in a low risk way. Never allow an idea to be launched and improved through rapid iteration. Always insist on it being perfect from the start. If the idea somehow ever gets put into use, be sure to react strongly to any stumble and use that as a reason to neuter the idea or shut it down completely.

Benchmark your competition to make sure you are doing everything exactly the same. Obviously, the only way to get ahead of your competition is to do everything just like them. This is called “best practices” and can be used to justify any failure. As long as you fail just like everyone else, no one can ever criticize you (but fail in a different way and you’ll become everyone’s whipping boy – that’s why you don’t want to be different).

Reward tenure above all else. Even new hires will quickly understand that advancement comes from keeping your head down and agreeing with upper management. Those who do enter the company with any ambition or creativity will become immediately frustrated and soon leave. Problem solved.

Oddly, even though you obviously want unchanging status quo and unvarying efficiency, it’s trendy to talk about the importance of innovation. All businesses have to do it so they look modern. Don’t worry, it’s just lip service. Just tell your employees things like: I want you to take chances on new ideas, but you better not fail. You can espouse the need for creativity and innovation and, as long as you make it clear that it’s better to fail by doing nothing that it is to fail by doing different, nothing will ever change.

There you are. It’s not an exhaustive list, just some ideas to get you started on eliminating creativity and innovation from your team or even organization. Again, people are naturally creative so you’ll have to be persistent to create and continually reinforce a culture of consistent sameness. Good luck.

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would you get inked for your company?

128px-NicksGunSo much of what is on the cutting edge of building employee engagement is really just applying well known customer service principles with employees instead of customers. Most of it is just about creating human connections and treating others at least as well as we’d want to be treated (wait, you say that’s not a new idea?).

There’s a next level though. A level of engagement where people are happy to accept less-than-the-best pay; where people would eagerly move across the country for the opportunity to be an employee; where it’s not unusual for employees to enthusiastically get tattoos of the company’s logo.

Think long and hard about that. What would it take for you to identify with your employer so strongly that you’d get inked? Heck, what would it take for you to proudly wear clothes with the company’s logo when you weren’t working (and still had clean laundry)? What are these companies doing that is so different?

I have some thoughts, but they come with the caveat that it’s just my thoughts and observations, not the results of a scientific study. I’d love to hear from people who actually work at a company that creates such an intense connection. [Two quick thoughts about the tattoos: 1) I’m just using them as a dramatic example, but there are other ways people demonstrate a strong personal connection with their employer; and 2) at least one company out there gives employees a raise if they get a logo tattoo – that’s not an example of love for the company, that’s a business transaction – and it doesn’t count.]

Creating Next Level Engagement

How could we attempt to create the kind of loyalty and love that has employees wearing their heart on their sleeve? What is so different?

Establishing Identity / Culture. These companies have a very strong identity that’s echoed throughout their culture. They don’t try to please everyone by offending no one. Rather they have a strong flavor that probably isn’t for everyone, but is loved by a few. Think “death by chocolate” ice cream to the typical corporate plain vanilla.

Valuing Individuality and Diversity. Employees are free(er) to express themselves through their clothes, appearance, desk decorations, etc. No one feels they have to conceal or downplay non-mainstream interests. No need to leave important parts of themselves at home or strap on the identity straightjacket when they come in to work.

Getting Selection Right. They use their strong identity as a first line of selection by turning off those who wouldn’t be a good fit and creating a strong attraction for those already in tune with the culture. Then they make hiring the right people a top priority instead of an afterthought and take a rigorous approach to selection.

Creating Internal Communities. Employees have fun together and intentionally build internal communities that create strong connections between employees based on common interests, company sports teams, charity work, fun runs, etc. They might also strongly encourage cross-departmental collaboration, both formal and informal such as mixed or open workspaces, eating lunch together, etc.

Encouraging Championing. This isn’t the right name, but I don’t know what else to call it. These companies want their employees on social media and vocal in the community. They are more concerned about people not sharing their passion for the company and its mission than they are about people saying the wrong thing. Yet, how many more typical companies actively smother any love their employees have for them by not trusting and discouraging/preventing people from speaking up, speaking out, and sharing their love?

Shedding Blood. People support those who support them, sacrifice for those who sacrifice for them, and shed blood for those who shed blood for them. Few things build loyalty faster than knowing the company is unquestioningly behind them when things get tough.

Celebrating the Love. These companies proudly show off their employee’s love. They have pictures of the tattoos, custom or homemade t-shirts, or whatever on the website and actively use that love to further build the brand identity and culture. Contrast that with companies that would cite the logo tattoo as being against dress code and a violation of the company’s trademark (“Did you get use of the logo approved by marketing and compliance?”)

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your ideas or examples of what these rare companies do that’s so special.

[Photo Credit: By THOR via Wikimedia Commons]

why so serious, HR?

The Killer HR Robot, destroying fun in the name of credibility!

The Killer HR Robot, destroying fun in the name of credibility!

HR has a credibility gap. We just don’t get the respect we deserve. Or, at least, it seems HR likes to think HR has a credibility gap. There is no shortage of HR folks who think they don’t get the respect they deserve. Maybe they don’t, but it’s interesting to see what they think will create credibility.

I attended the Illinois State SHRM conference recently (a great conference that’s worth crossing state lines for) and a participant, fairly new to HR, expressed concern that we weren’t allowed to have fun in HR. Um, pardon? Apparently her boss and other HR leaders in their community felt that having fun destroys credibility. They believed executives wouldn’t respect HR if we were ever viewed as having fun.

A significant part of my career has been in leadership development and I’ve traveled around and spoken to and worked with leaders in many companies, in many industries, in many countries. Never once did any leader say, “You know what destroys leadership credibility? Fun! I hate it. When I’m looking for strategies to get the most out of my employees, forget someone who can link selection, development, and retention to solving business problems, I want an HR leader who is bitter, dour, mean, and boring. Get me someone who can put fun to the side and make this a culture where our employees hate being here. That’ll solve our business problems!”

Fun doesn’t have to mean frivolous. Fun doesn’t have to mean silly. Fun doesn’t have to mean you don’t know what you’re doing. Fun doesn’t have to mean you don’t take serious issues seriously. Fun can mean that people create significant results and enjoy doing it; that although they take their jobs seriously, they don’t take themselves too seriously. It is entirely possible to be outstanding at what you do AND have fun.

Work isn’t always fun. Often, it’s difficult, complicated, and unpleasant. Which is why I think it’s doubly important to bring fun to it when we can, to find ways to make it more enjoyable, to find the joy in our work. If nothing else, to have fun working together. To look forward to being around our teams. HR can’t make every day a great one for each and every employee, but there is so much we can do to create a positive culture, a great employee experience, and a strong employment brand.

It saddens me to think about the culture and employee experience and business results these anti-fun HR managers are creating. No one looks forward to going to work, giving it their all, and staying around year after year in a miserable environment. I can only imagine the recruiting, retention, and performance problems these companies have.

And they think “fun” will ruin their credibility? Too late.

 

you say you want a revolution: three steps to changing culture

Company culture . Can’t escape hearing about it, but why is it important? Stripped of all buzzword mystique, culture is just “the way things are done” in the organization (or the team). It’s the personality of the company. Just like people, some are stiff and precise, some are loose and casual, and some are all over the board. We usually refer to the company, but culture also applies at the department or team level. Every group has its own feel or culture.

If the culture isn’t what you want, no problem. Changing the culture of a company, department, or even a team isn’t easy, but it is possible. It takes time, patience and persistence. There are three broad steps to reshaping the culture.

1. Decide what you want the culture to be. One way of thinking about culture is to consider it the default decisions and actions. When X event happens, we always take Y action. For example, “We have a culture of the highest integrity. When any dishonesty is discovered, we terminate the person immediately.” Or, “We are a customer service culture. When a customer wants to return an item, we always accept it, no questions asked, no hassle involved.”

So what do you want the culture of your team or company to be? What are the characteristics you would want anyone and everyone to use to describe the atmosphere?

Here’s the challenge: whether you consciously and deliberately choose a culture or not, there will be a culture. It will be whatever decisions and actions you support, reward, and tolerate.

2. Design processes and rewards to support that culture. If you’re trying to create a culture of high quality but the pay scale is based on volume, you will have a culture of volume – always. If you want a culture of simple, fast customer service but the processes are onerous, cumbersome, and unfathomable, you will continue to have a culture of complex and cumbersome customer service. If culture is the default way of acting, then the default way of acting IS the culture. Words won’t change it, only action. Different action = different culture. Same action = same culture.

3. Make selection decisions that support the culture. If you want a culture of outstanding customer service, don’t hire misanthropes. New hires should have the skills to do the job (duh!) but also the behaviors and inclinations that will allow them to both support and thrive in the culture you are creating. People who won’t support the desired behaviors/actions will be a continual drain on the culture. If they already exist in the team/company, they need to move along to a company with a culture better suited to them. NOTHING destroys attempts at shaping culture quicker than continuing to reward and employ people whose actions are in clear opposition to the intended culture.

For example, if you want a culture of integrity do not continue to employ people who clearly lack it just because, “they get results.” Doing so, only reinforces a culture of getting short term results by any means necessary.

There you go: know what you want to create, reward and support the necessary behaviors, and make selection (and de-selection) decisions that support what you want. Have patience and perseverance. It won’t change overnight, but it will change.