HBR: Build a Great Company Culture with Help from Technology

Are you making sure employees are challenged, motivated, engaged, and know that they are contributing to the overall success of the company? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Ashley Goldsmith and Leighanne Levensaler

Build a Great Company Culture with Help from Technology

Culture, and how to build and sustain one, is one of the toughest challenges for managers, especially in today’s fast-paced, highly competitive organizations. Every organization wants to create a culture that works from a set of core values, where everybody is on the same page about what’s important, where the company is going, and how it’s going to get there. But what happens when the external competitive environment — and the direction of the company — changes? And what happens as advances in technology constantly change how customers and employees expect to interact with your company? How do you manage the evolution of your company’s culture, and hold on to what makes you great, even as you change and grow?

Here at Workday, these questions have been central to our existence from day one. We were founded in 2005, and our cofounders, Aneel Bhusri and Dave Duffield who were both already highly successful entrepreneurs, understood that any successful culture would be built on a core set of values. For us, those values are employees, customer service, integrity, innovation, fun, and profitability. We are certain that our high customer satisfaction ratings and top spot on many best-place-to-work lists come from our early recognition that culture permeates every sales call, every employee interaction, and every product innovation.

As a provider of cloud-based finance and HR applications designed to help companies change and grow, our customers rightly expect us to lead by example. At the same time, we listen closely to our customers’ business challenges and successes — which in turn helps us change and grow.

While we hold on tightly to our core values, we strive to keep evolving our culture to meet the changing needs of our employees and customers. Perhaps not too surprisingly, technology plays a central role (after all, we’re a technology company). But if you asked most people to list the things that create and maintain a strong company culture, chances are they wouldn’t list technology. We’ve found that you can’t create a culture just through values, new processes, or an organizational restructure. Those things are necessary, but we like to think of values as the beating heart of culture, processes and organizational structure as the brain, and technology as the nervous system that makes sure heart and head are working together to move us forward.

For us, giving our people tools that empower them to work how they want to work — in everything from finding their next career opportunity, to hiring their next employee, to making data-driven day-to-day business decisions — is critical to holding on to the integrity of our culture in a fast-changing environment. This culture of empowerment has helped keep the company true to the core values on which we were originally founded. Here are the main components of that culture, and how they work:

Democratization of information. In their personal lives, people have become accustomed to having access to any piece of information they want at a moment’s notice. This hasn’t always been the case in the workplace. Data was usually kept in the hands of a select few, and extracting and using that data in a meaningful way was a long, painful process. But modern enterprise technologies and applications are pushing access to data and information to the front lines.

One area we see this playing out is within our own HR organization. At Workday, managers don’t have to spend valuable time with HR discussing headcount or status updates on new job openings — they already have this information at their fingertips. Instead, managers can spend their time with HR talking about how to get top performers to the next level, keep people who are at risk of leaving the organization, and align workers to meet business objectives. They can focus on creating value for the business by mobilizing talent.

Another area where this plays out is in hiring. When it comes to recruiting for fast-growing companies, talent acquisition needs to be efficient without sacrificing quality. Our managers can see all interview, resume, and references information in one place from any device, anywhere. Whether sitting on a plane or walking between meetings, a manager can immediately see the hiring team’s feedback and decide whether to move a candidate forward with a tap of their phone.

It’s good for any company to be able to make faster decisions based on immediate access to data, but it’s also good for the candidate — no repeated requests for a resume or work samples, no making them wait longer than necessary for news about next steps. And, with the race for top talent, speed-to-hire is crucial. And this says something to a candidate about our culture right from the start: We move quickly and we respect your time.

This democratization of information also enables greater transparency, which is critical to sustaining a positive culture. For example, we conduct online chat sessions that provide employees with the opportunity to ask our top executives whatever questions are on their minds. This is done in the spirit of keeping employees informed and is at the center of everything we do.

Culture of opportunity. Another area we’re passionate about is creating what we call a culture of opportunity. We’re not about stringent policies or old-fashioned career paths. We’re about being transparent about new positions and opportunities that exist within the organization and then providing the tools and information our people need to pursue them.

For example, we are rolling out a tool that will give employees a personalized view of positions within Workday that are a good fit for them based on the actual movement and success of other employees who held similar positions. Besides a real-time glimpse into the vitality of the company and how it’s evolving, it’s an employee-centric view of possible career paths.

An employee can not only see what moves others have made, they can also reach out and connect to those specific individuals to talk with them about their experience. With a tap you can introduce yourself to set up time to connect or simply ask a question.

And as mentioned earlier, we listen to and learn from customers. Adobe, for example, often “pulses” its employees to get quick feedback on their experience. We were inspired by this approach when we built a tool that we use to ask one or two simple questions that can be answered via any device in a few seconds such as, “Has your manager talked to you about your career goals in the last month?” Our aim is to quickly and easily capture employee sentiment so that we can calibrate our efforts to reinforce our culture.

Performance enablement. For us, performance enablement is an evolution of the traditional performance management process that stresses regular, ongoing feedback, and takes an employee-centric approach to helping our people thrive. Several of our customers, like Ellie Mae, are passionate about this approach as well and have set a great example to follow.

Measuring an employee’s impact is more efficient and ultimately more effective thanks to tools and technology that allow us to regularly capture and aggregate real-time information.

The annual review process at some companies is not very transparent — and, there can be demoralizing surprises. It can also be demoralizing to only receive feedback once or twice a year. We now expect managers to have regular check-ins with their direct hires, ideally on a bi-weekly basis.

It doesn’t make sense to only flag areas for improvement once a year, and more often than not, an early course correction heads off bigger issues. By the same token, there are many positive behaviors, such as suggestions for process improvement or innovation, which might not get immediate feedback in a more traditional environment that are important to encourage.

From a manager’s point of view, regular check-ins give more visibility into not just their team, but how their workers are interacting with other parts of the organization.

In the end, our goal is to hire and retain the best people in order to provide the best service to our customers. To do this, we need to keep our employees happy, make sure they are challenged, motivated, and engaged, and know that they are contributing to the overall success of the company. We want to keep learning, adapting, and listening to our people as we grow. We know that technology is most effective when it’s designed to support and encourage the behaviors and processes that lead to innovation — and we believe that this is what will continue to foster our great company culture.

 

Do I Have an Opportunity to Do What I Do Best Every Day?

I read Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton many years ago. I was listening to a podcast about managing your directs’. The podcast talked about developing your directs’ strengths. It mentions this book, so I pulled it off the shelf. Below is excerpt from the book about opportunities.

The more you ponder the question “At work, do I have an opportunity to do what I do best every day?” the more Now Discover Your Strengthscomplex it becomes. There are many reasons that a particular employee in a particular role might say no. He might genuinely feel that he lacks the talent to do the job. Or perhaps he possesses the talent, but the organization has overlegislated the role so that he has no chance to express his talents. Perhaps he feels he has the talents and room to use them but not the necessary skills or knowledge. Perhaps objectively he is perfectly cast, but subjectively he feels he has much more to offer. Perhaps he is right, or perhaps he is deluding himself as to where his true strengths lie. Perhaps he was perfectly cast in his previous role but was promoted into the wrong role because the organization couldn’t think of any other way to reward him. Perhaps the organization sends signals that it is a “pass-through” role, and thus no self-respecting employee will ever say he is well cast in it even if he knows he is.

At first glance this complexity can be overwhelming. To address all these possibilities and thus ensure that your employees say “strongly agree” to the question, you would have to attend to many different aspects of each employee’s working life. To address his fear that he lacks the talent for the role, you would have to be careful to select people who seem to possess talents similar to your best incumbents in the role. To avoid the overlegislation problem, you would have to hold him accountable for his performance but not define, step by step, how he should achieve the desired performance. To overcome his fear that he lacks the necessary skills and knowledge, you would have to construct coaching programs that help him develop his talents into genuine strengths. To address the “delusion” issue you would have to devise a way to have every manager help each employee discover and appreciate his true strengths. To avoid the “overpromotion” problem you would have to provide him with alternative ways to grow in money and title other than simply climbing the corporate ladder. And, finally, to deal with his perception that he is in a “pass-through” role, you would have to send the message that no role is by definition a pass-through role. Any role performed at excellence is genuinely respected within the organization.

Listed back to back like this, the challenges associated with building an entire organization around the strengths of each employee appear almost incoherent, “try a bit of this, do a bit of that.” But dwell on them for a moment, and you may soon realize that all these challenges cohere around two core assumptions about people:

1. Each person’s talents are enduring and unique.

2. Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of the person’s greatest strength.

As you can see, we have come full circle. We presented these assumptions earlier as insights into human nature that all great managers seem to share. What we are saying now is that as long as everything you do is founded on these two core assumptions, you will successfully address the many challenges contained in the question “At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?” You will build an entire organization around the strengths of each employee. Why? Let’s play out these two assumptions and see where they lead:

  • Since each person’s talents are enduring, you should spend a great deal of time and money selecting people properly in the first place. This will help mitigate the “I don’t think I have the right talent for the role” problem.
  • Since each person’s talents are unique, you should focus performance by legislating outcomes rather than forcing each person into a stylistic mold. This means a strong emphasis on careful measurement of the right outcomes, and less on policies, procedures, and competencies. This will address the “in my role I don’t have any room to express my talents” problem.
  • Since the greatest room for each person’s growth is in the areas of his greatest strength, you should focus your training time and money on educating him about his strengths and figuring out ways to build on these strengths rather than on remedially trying to plug his “skill gaps.” You will find that this one shift in emphasis will pay huge dividends. In one fell swoop you will sidestep three potential pitfalls to building a strengths-based organization: the “I don’t have the skills and knowledge I need” problem, the “I don’t know what I’m best at” problem, and the “my manager doesn’t know what I’m best at” problem.
  • Lastly, since the greatest room for each person’s growth lies in his areas of greatest strength, you should devise ways to help each person grow his career without necessarily promoting him up the corporate ladder and out of his areas of strength. In this organization “promotion” will mean finding ways to give prestige, respect, and financial reward to anyone who has achieved world-class performance in any role, no. matter where that role is in the hierarchy. By doing so you will overcome the remaining two obstacles to building a strengths-based organization: the “even though I’m now in the wrong role, it was the only way to grow my career” problem and the “I’m in a pass-through role that no one respects” problem.

These four steps represent a systematic process for maximizing the value locked up in your human capital. In the pages that follow we flesh out this process. We offer you a practical guide for how to use those two core assumptions to change the way you select, measure, develop, and channel the careers of your people. Needless to say the individual manager will always be a critical catalyst in transforming each employee’s talents into bona fide strengths; consequently, much of the responsibility will lie with the manager to select for talent, set clear expectations, focus on strengths, and develop each employee’s career. Taking the ideas found in First, Break All the Rules a step further, however, we have aimed this practical guide at the challenges facing larger organizations as they strive to capitalize on the strengths of every employee.

5 Golden Rules of Teaching Company Financials to Employees

Below is a blog post from The Great Game of Business. Are you helping your employees understanding their part of the financials?

5 Golden Rules of Teaching Company Financials to EmployeesNotes_to_the_financial_statements_l

If you approached an employee at your company and asked them who creates the financial numbers in your company, what would they say? Odds are, they’d probably point to the accounting department. Sure, Accounting has a lot to do with your company financials, but they don’t really create them. Your employees create the financials through the decisions they make and the actions they take. So how do you help your employees understand their part in creating the numbers and how their actions can affect those numbers? We recommend you follow the Five Golden Rules of Teaching Employees about Company Financials:

1)     Teach the numbers, not accounting. Focus on numbers that matter most to your company, not those that appear in an Accounting 101 textbook. This includes understanding how profitability is driven, how assets are used, how cash is generated, but most importantly: how employees’ day-to-day actions and decisions impact business success. Employees rarely need to know about debits and credits or how to do an adjusting entry.  But, depending on the company, they may very well need to know how production efficiency is calculated, or why receivable days matter, or how the purchase of a new computer system will affect the income statement and balance sheet. The bottom line is this: People remember what they find relevant and useful.  The purpose of financial literacy training is to give everyone in the company a common language, so they can understand the numbers that measure their performance, talk intelligently about improvements and make better, more informed decisions.

2)     Teach business, not just the numbers. Remember, your employees aren’t learning the financials to pass a CPA exam. They’re learning so that they can understand what their company is about, how it makes money, where it’s headed and how success is ultimately measured.  Business can be exciting!  It’s where you match wits with the marketplace – and where, if you’re successful, you can create real wealth.  So convey a little of this excitement. Gather your people together and talk about the big picture.  People are curious about the company’s market, its strategy, its competitive advantages, and what it’s focusing on over the next couple of years.  They want to know what’s in store for them.  Without that context, they won’t have any reason to care about the numbers.

3)      Establish a line of sight.  Ultimately your employees want to know how they can make a difference.  It’s critical to the success of your financial literacy efforts to always make a connection between what they do every day, both individually and as a team, and the financial outcomes of the business.

4)      Support formal training with informal practices. In other words, use The Game to teach people the business.  Remember, you’re trying to educate people about your business, not create a bunch of accountants.  Make the learning events casual, interactive and impactful to them.  Continue to put things in context for people, and then reinforce the lessons in frequent engagements around the real numbers.  Ultimately, you want your business literacy efforts to become just another part of your everyday culture.  At SRC, we often use short Training Bites like this one to teach basic concepts during our weekly Huddles (staff financial meetings).

5)     Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Give your employees the opportunity to see and use numbers regularly. Eventually, they will begin to understand and remember them.

Would taking this approach help your employees to better understand your financials?

The post 5 Golden Rules of Teaching Company Financials to Employees appeared first on The Great Game of Business.

Marshall Goldsmith: Turning a Negative into a Positive

Now is the time to set next year’s goals. Marshall Goldsmith talks about making positive change by eliminating destructive comments. Below is a great way to improve your leadership.

Turning a Negative into a PositiveLeaders Can Turn Gray Into Great

“Fining” people for making destructive comments (and giving the money to charity) will help your company and people in need.

by Marshall Goldsmith

I have helped more than 70 major organizations identify and profile desired leadership behaviors. Almost every company I work with wants to encourage collaborative leadership and has in its inventory of desired behavior such things as “effectively builds teamwork,” “develops positive partner relationships with co-workers,” or “creates synergy with other parts of our business.”

One specific item that I encourage my clients to include in their leadership profiles is “avoids destructive comments about other people or groups.” This is a bad and all too common habit!

While we all support the theory of building partnerships across our organizations, our day-to-day behavior can create the opposite result. Let’s face it; we have all stabbed our co-workers in the back in front of other employees at one time or another. And when we bash our colleagues, what message are we sending about our commitment to be their partners?

Failing Your Own Test

I don’t want to sound as if I’m preaching at you. I also get feedback – and like all of my clients, I also try to get better. My best feedback comes from my customers. I was certainly not ranked as one of the “top 10 executive educators,” “top five coaches,” or “most credible thought leaders” by my staff or my family!

(In fact, after reading about one of my awards, my daughter smiled and said: “Daddy, I want to go into your field.” “Kelly,” I replied, “that makes me proud. Why do you want to go into my field?” She laughed and said: “The standards are low!”)

I used to manage a small consulting business. I will never forget the first time I received 360-degree feedback from my own staff. My score on “avoids destructive comments” was in the eighth percentile – meaning that 92% of the world was doing a better job than I. I failed a test that I wrote!

I immediately had one-on-one conversations with each member of our staff. I said: “I feel good about much of my feedback. Here’s one thing that I want to do better – quit making destructive comments. If you ever hear me make another one about a person or group, I’ll pay you $10 each time you bring it to my attention. I’m going to break this bad habit!”

We’re All Human

Then I launched into an emotional pep talk, encouraging them to be honest and diligent in “helping” me. As it turns out, my pep talk wasn’t needed. They tricked me into making nasty comments to pick up the 10 bucks.

By noon of day one I had already lost $50, locked myself in the office, and refused to speak to anyone for the rest of the day. The next day I lost $30. The third day: $10.

Do I still make unnecessary, destructive comments on occasion? Of course, I’m still human. But I know in this area I am better than I used to be. The score I earned on that item the last time I received 360-degree feedback was 4.8 out of a possible 5!

I had moved up to the 96th percentile. What does this prove? Pay a few thousand dollars in fines – and you can get better!

In my executive education courses, my clients are “fined” $2 for each destructive comment they make. These can either be comments made directly to another person, or comments made behind someone’s back. They also may be unnecessary, negative comments about the company, other divisions, or functions (e.g., lawyers, accountants, HR, IT).

The money is all donated to a charity of their choice. How much money have we raised for good causes playing this little game with my clients over the years? More than $300,000!

Think Before You Speak

When I suggest that my clients should avoid destructive comments, I am not saying that they should avoid all negative comments. Companies, teams, and individuals have to get honest feedback so that they can know what to improve and begin to create positive change.

A simple test can help you determine whether the comment that you are about to make is merely negative or is unnecessarily destructive.

Before speaking ask yourself:

Will this comment help our customers?

Will this comment help our company?

Will this comment help the person I am talking to?

Will this comment help the person I am talking about?

If the answers are “no,” “no,” “no,” and “no,” here’s a strategy that doesn’t require a PhD to implement: Keep quiet!

We often confuse honesty with disclosure. We can be totally honest without engaging in destructive disclosure. For example, I may think that my co-worker is a complete idiot. There is no moral, legal, or ethical reason that I have to share this opinion with the rest of the world.

If you want to stop destructive comments in your own organization, institute the $2 rule. The amount of money you collect won’t hurt people very much, negative behavior will be reduced, your office will be more positive, and you may be helping people who need the money more than you do.

(originally published in BusinessWeek)

Deal With Problems Immediately

Pile of trash 2
Pile of trash 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How are you dealing with issues in your business? Below is a great blog from Manage Better Now.

Deal With Problems Immediately

When people go away on vacation, this is not what they imagine seeing.

I had a friend that worked for the Busch Gardens amusement park in Tampa.  She told me that employees there could be terminated if a manager witnessed them walking by litter on ground.  When I first heard that it seemed a little extreme to me, but then I thought about it a little more.  Many families will save up for a year or more for a family vacation.  The expectations are high as the family set off on that first day of vacation.  They want a magical experience that takes them away from the realities of their day to day life.  They come to amusement parks like Busch Gardens to escape reality.  When you first walk into Busch Gardens you do feel like you have been transported to a magical land.  The park is pristine and the landscaping is impeccable.  I can imagine that discarded soda bottles and other litter would very take away from the magical perception that you get when you walk in.  I don’t know if Busch Gardens actually does fire employees for walking past litter, but I understand the principle that they are trying to enforce.  Problems should be dealt with swiftly by the first employee that encounters them.

It is a good philosophy for managers too.  It is important for managers to address any problems that they encounter swiftly.   If you are a manager then your employees have an expectation that you are going to be the problem solver for your team.   When problems arise, you cannot bury your head in the sand.  You have to be the leader and address issues head on.

Squabbles between employees, attendance issues, performance issues, and feuds between departments are just a few of the issues that need to be dealt with promptly.  If you do not deal with these types of issues, then there are a number of things that are likely to occur:

  1. The problem will get bigger:  If you allow employees to come in ten minutes late without saying a word, then eventually someone is going to starting coming in 20 minutes late, then 30 minutes late.  Where do we draw the line?  Who has to pick up the slack when employees come in late?  I will tell you who does, the employees that were conscientious enough to come in on time.  How do you think they are going to feel about you not addressing tardiness issues with some team members?
  2. You will not be a leader:  In order to be a leader, you have to have followers.  If your employees start to sense that you are not going to do anything to solve problems, then they will start taking their problems to someone else.   Maybe your manager or another department’s manager.  When this occurs, you are a leader in title only, and your employees will jump ship at the first opportunity they can find to get off of your team.
  3. Morale will stink on your team:  When managers overlook important issues, morale starts to drop quickly.  Low morale leads to high turnover.  High turnover leads to much higher training costs and much lower productivity.  Higher costs, high turnover, and poor morale leads to a new manager.

It can be intimidating to jump into a situation and have an uncomfortable conversation with one of your employees, but I assure you that procrastination is only going to make the problem worse.

Twelve Questions to Measure Employee Engagement

Cover of "First, Break All the Rules: Wha...
Cover via Amazon

The other day I found this questionnaire I’ve used to capture my employees productivity, profitability, retention, and customer satisfaction. These are from First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham. You could download the PDF by clicking on the Title:

The Twelve Questions

Please answer the following questions.  1 is “no, I strongly disagree” and 5 is “yes, I strongly agree”.  These questions will help to improve your workplace. Please return by[Insert Date].  Please do not write your name on the survey.

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?          1  2  3  4 5
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?        1 2 3 4 5
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?       1 2 3 4 5

4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?   1 2 3 4 5

5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?   1  2 3 4 5

6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?         1  2 3 4 5

7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?                                                  1 2 3 4 5

8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?          1 2 3 4 5

9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?                   1    2    3    4    5

10. Do I have a best friend at work?                                                    1    2    3    4    5

11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?   1 2 3 4 5

12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?                 1 2 3 4 5