Welcome to Part 2 of Don St. Clair and I’s discussion of leadership.
Rick: I would assume that the culture has, there are many, many, many things that add up to a full culture of how we do things.
Don: Countless. You can’t enumerate them.
Rick: When you talked about kind of effective leadership is creating a buy in, this is getting back to, again, the idea of, do we, from a collaborative standpoint, how much input do we get from the entire team? And I’m saying the entire team to create a culture, or is the culture one of those that communicated from the leadership down?
Don: You’re going to get input from your entire team; the question is, is that input intentional or unintentional? You really have, as a leader, as a CEO or the president especially, you have a responsibility to model the culture that you want.
Let’s take a simple example. I mentioned punctuality. If I think punctuality should be part of my office culture and I come in 35 minutes late every day, that’s not going to work. People are gonna act upon what they see. You have a responsibility as a leader to act the way you want other people to act. You have that responsibility.
But I think it’s also more effective if you sit down with people and say, “What do you think our culture is? Describe our culture for us.” And listen to the things they say. And take note of the good things, but take note of the things that maybe aren’t what you wanted to hear, either, and be honest about it.
Rick: Because I’ve worked in some companies where they believe culture was very environmental, so we’re gonna have an open door policy. We’re going to have a ping-pong table in the lobby, and that culture was of free thinking and stuff like that, yet to me, it really wasn’t telling how the behaviors were gonna be done, and so that’s environmental culture.
But … you mentioned values, before, okay? Values to me is a pretty integral part of that. Seems like values and culture have to be kind of one and same.
Don: Absolutely. Values are the cornerstone of your culture. It’s what you believe in.
Don: It’s what you believe in. So, again, it can be we believe in service. We believe in excellent customer service or it can be we believe in innovation, we believe in being cutting edge, we believe in being in front technologically, or it can be any number of things that you value, but values are the cornerstone of the culture: what do you believe in? What do you believe in?
Rick: Right. So I used to work for a company that, back in the ’90s, when this particular industry was doing quite well, and the values were all about customer service and having the best facility, and so on and so forth, and then that industry went through a little bit of a rough time, and the values were still up on the wall, the same thing, okay?
Yet, there wasn’t the same thing of keeping the facilities going. So it was incongruency with the values. Now, if they would just say, “Hey, we’re in business to make money.” Great! I would have been aligned with that, but they tried to cover up to try to create values that really were not in alignment with their actual behaviors.
How often do you see where values are either forgotten, they were made 15 years ago, or they’re made to make the company look a certain way, and they never really follow through with those?
Don: You know, what we see more frequently is organizations that don’t even want to have the values discussion.
Don: They don’t even want to have the values discussion. So, we can go … we do a lot of strategic planning and we can go into a strategic planning project, and one of the first things we do is vision, mission, and values.
You can go into a room of nonprofit board members or city executives or corporate executives and you can mention the words mission, vision, and values and about half of them tune out, because they don’t want to do that stuff. They don’t want to think about the big … it’s not that they don’t want to think about the big ideas, they don’t think those things are important.
They want to get down to what are we gonna do today, and getting people to understand that what you believe is at the core of what you do is a really hard job. So, sure, I have a long career in higher education early on, and you would go to universities and you would see the five values up on the wall, and you’d walk around, and you’d go, “I don’t think that’s really happening here,” you see that.
But the thing we see more frequently is just people don’t want to have the conversation
Rick: So, it’s amazing, when we talk about how important values are, right? It’s one of the first things you ask these companies to do, yet … what is the fear? Why aren’t they embracing that they have to identify these values?
Don: I think there are a couple of answers to that or more. One is that it’s not … it’s not a quantifiable thing, so you can’t draw a straight line on your balance sheet from corporate values to profit. That is not always apparent.
The second thing I would say is it seems like a fluffy conversation. We’re sitting here in southern California today, and it’s what my friends back in the Midwest, it’s what they think we talk about in southern California, we sit around and talk about values and things like that.
And the third thing is, and I think this is the real thing, it’s hard. It’s hard. It is really hard. It is way easier to have a conversation about marketing strategy than it is to have a conversation about what you believe as a company or an organization. It is hard.
Rick: That belief, which again starts to create kind of that roadmap, when you’re doing these trainings and you’re consulting, again, how many people do you feel it takes to get information from them so there is a good value… I don’t want to say list, but you know what I mean, where we can uncover what are the values of this organization. How many different people, what kind of input do you think is the best?
I mean, you’re in this situation all the time.
Don: Yeah, I think more is better, recognizing that efficiency is an issue, though. You want to identify the constituencies that are important in the organization, so you might identify a board of directors. You might identify the executive team. You might identify key middle managers. You might identify some key frontline workers. You probably ought to identify some constituencies or customers, depending on what kind of organization it is.
And you’d have to talk to everybody, but you need some samples. You need some valid samples out of those constituencies, so you can kind of … you can vector those a little bit and see, is the board of directors saying the same as the CEO? Is the CEO saying the same thing as the senior management team? And by the way, the people who are on the front line doing the work, are they saying anything that’s similar?
And you see different things. You see times when there is a great deal of alignment and they’re saying the same thing more or less, and then you see other times where you’d have that conversation at the executive level and you’d have that conversation someplace else in the organization and you’d swear you were in two different organizations. And that lack of alignment’s a killer.
It’s a killer for culture; it’s a killer for your organization for the long haul.
Rick: So, if we go from the idea of fluff to alignment and you’ve consulted for numerous organizations, let’s say you get through that first difficult conversation and people are onboard with a certain set of values, okay?
How is that reinforced? How is that now, and I know it gets back to culture a little bit, how is now that become what people day and day out now are aligned with?
Don: Well, it doesn’t become that way because you put it on the wall.
Don: That doesn’t work, because after about three days, you walk by that plaque and you don’t see it anymore. So, putting it on the wall? That’s not gonna help you.
I think it happens a couple of ways. I think it happens, first of all, the actions, the daily routine actions that the leadership, the leader, and the leadership team … do they do what they say? Do they do things the way they say they should be done?
I think the second thing is, and this is huge in leadership overall, and that’s intentionality. So, do you seize opportunities to reinforce those values to communicate and reinforce those values? When you have staff meetings, do you refer to the values?
When you’re making a hard decision, do you actually stop and say, “We have these five core values. What do these five core values suggest we should do?”
You see some really good organizations do. Lots don’t, though. And the other thing is, is communicating those values as often as possible and as many different modes as you can so that the values become, just a part of your daily language.
Rick: Right. So, as … what are some of the biggest challenges from an organizational leadership standpoint? In this day and age, we have … there’s more competition, there’s more of everything’s gotta gets done today and stuff, but from a leadership perspective, what are some of the biggest challenges?
Don: I think that the single biggest challenge is a lack of intentionality, and let me tell you what I mean. You just said it: in 2018, unless you’re extremely fortunate, you are in an organization where you have a leadership role, but you actually have real work to do.
Your tendency can become to look at the budget forecast or the marketing plan or the sales call or whatever the activity is, your tendency can easily slip to that being considered the real work, and leadership is something you’ll get to later. And that’s upside down.
Your real work is leadership. And you’ve gotta figure out how to constantly be leading while you’re getting your other work done, so you don’t come in on Monday morning, and you have your Monday morning staff meeting, and at the end of the staff meeting, you walk out and you check the box, I had my meeting, I led, now I can go do my real work.
And you see that. And it’s not malicious, Rick. It’s not nefarious. It’s that people have a lot of responsibilities and it’s really hard to understand when you’re in a leadership role and the higher you go in the leadership setting that your responsibilities first are to lead and then you gotta figure out how to get that budget forecast done.
Stay tuned next week for Part 3 of Don and I’s discussion, as we talk about effective communication.