I recently read an article about our individual ignorance (Why We Believe Obvious Untruths) that made me stop and think about the current state of our union. To say that we are living in two Americas is a gross understatement. And for society’s sake, we have to bridge this divide and learn to listen to each other (notice I didn’t say agree with).
With the start of the new year behind us, now is a great time to get your house in order from an operations viewpoint. You still need to do all the usual tasks (close the books, update payroll and 401K information, etc.), but should also have on your to-do list tasks like re-visit your employee handbook and take another look at your internal processes.
Internal improvement is a constant and often invisible process. There is no silver bullet and you can’t solve every problem overnight. It is a long slog and you have to balance short-term ‘putting out fires’ with long-term process improvement that will (hopefully) make life easier and set you up for future success.
The electrification of rural America in the 1930’s and 40’s went unnoticed by most people in large metropolitan areas, but it was a life-changing event for the people in those communities.
Tasks that took most of the day now could be done in hours. Studying and reading by candlelight or oil lamps, which would have looked no different to someone hundreds of years earlier, were a thing of the past.
No less momentous is the current effort to bring broadband internet to many of these same communities (in many cases by the same electrical coops formed so many years ago during the New Deal programs to electrify rural America). Read More…
“Politics is tricky; it cuts both ways. Every time you make a choice, it has unintended consequences.” – Stone Gossard
Talking politics is always a touchy subject, but as we look at the current primary season from an organizational view, leaving the politics of it aside, we have some very interesting issues going on in our body politic right now. And from an organizational development standpoint, these issues provide some lessons that we should consider. Read More…
At gothamCulture we talk a lot about corporate culture – how the collective culture of everyone at a particular business creates environments where people thrive (and where people don’t). With the recent news about Uber having such difficulties bringing their services to Germany, I thought it would be interesting to look at the culture of Germany and how Uber may have misread it.
Uber has met with significant success in the US against monopolies that, by and large, have failed to meet consumer expectations. Consider that practically every obstacle that is being put in their path is from municipalities or interest groups like taxi associations. But, I have yet to learn of any serious opposition from the consumer. Come to think of it, what I hear is almost fanatically positive.
What’s not to love? You don’t stand on a street corner, wondering if a taxi is going to happen by. You pull your phone out and digitally hold your hand up. Typically, moments later an Uber driver responds and is on their way (and don’t tell me you aren’t addicted to watching the map while their little car is making its way to you!).
They may pull up in a Prius, but to you it’s a Lincoln town car with your own on-demand chauffeur. And even better, you know before you get in the car what it’s going to cost. It’s not the taxi driver’s fault, but watching that meter turn over and over in a cab is really annoying. You simply get in and get out at your destination. No awkward exchanges of money or worrying about not tipping well enough.
And, with the Uber driver’s accountability comes results. You get a bad or filthy Uber and everyone is going to hear about it. You get in a cab and it’s pretty likely that you will never meet again. Sure, there’s that whole annoying surge pricing issue, but contrast that with simply not being able to get a ride. At least you have the option.
What Was Lost In Translation?
So with all there is to love about Uber, why did they run into such problems in Germany? Here is where we get into culture.
Uber thought that what motivates Americans, namely price and convenience, would work everywhere else. The problem is that there is a much different attitude in other parts of the world, in Europe and Germany in particular. Germans love bargains as much as the next person, but they have even stronger feelings about everyone following the rules.
While Americans applaud the scrappy entrepreneur who is able to stick it to the man (whomever the man may be), Germans believe that to get along you have to go along, meaning that they have little tolerance for someone cutting to the head of the line or otherwise ignoring the RULES. Seriously, the German government has an office called Ordnungamt, which literally means ‘the office of Order’.
This adherence to order, quite frankly, is the heart of the matter. Uber believed that it could do as it has done in America and beg for forgiveness later, rather than ask for permission first.
For many Americans, Uber has changed the way they travel on a daily basis. But as their recent challenges in Germany exemplify, there are many new considerations when an innovative company like theirs begins to expand globally. Uber has run into the age-old fact that not everything translates well from one culture to another. The question is, will they successfully adapt their way of doing business to the cultural expectations of an international audience?
The onboarding process is one of the most important experiences your new employees will have at your company. It’s a way for you to welcome them with open arms as a valued new member of your organization’s culture.
If done well, your new hires will feel important, supported and immediately motivated to do their best work for you and your organization. When left as an afterthought, however, new employees may end up feeling undervalued, unsupported or even ostracized from the rest of your team.
Like many companies, gothamCulture aspires to be better at the way we bring new members onto our team. We are constantly refining our onboarding process to make team members feel welcomed by the team and get them the information and resources they need to quickly ramp up.
Surprisingly, one of the best experiences I’ve had recently around onboarding came from a backpacking trip with my son. While you may not think the two are related, there are some critical lessons to take away from this recent experience.
Onboarding, Culture and Philmont Scout Ranch
Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, NM, is the oldest Boy Scouts of America (BSA) high adventure camp. It sits on over 130,000 acres of New Mexican wilderness. They have welcomed over 1 million ‘customers’ to date, including 22,000 scouts and advisors over this summer alone. They have over 1,000 employees to help make this an adventure of a lifetime for many of those scouts.
With so many new visitors travelling their backcountry, Philmont must have an effective, consistent, onboarding process in place. It is this process that has kept Philmont and its culture as an enduring legacy since 1939.
Here is how it works:
Like any new team member, you are excited to be on board but aren’t quite sure what you are supposed to be doing. In most cases, you have come by plane and then bus to get dropped off at the welcome station. There, a staff member welcomes you and asks your crew to form a pack line (just line up your backpacks against one another on the designated post).
You are then introduced to your Ranger (in our case Ben), who will be your mentor at Philmont and accompany you for the first two days in the backcountry. They give you some basic orientation, answer any immediate questions and arrange to meet you at the mess hall for dinner. After you get your gear all put away at the tent city, there is some downtime for scouts to visit the trading post to buy ice cream and soda.
Takeaways: Constant communication is key for new employees. On their first day, they need some direction as to what they’re supposed to do. But, don’t overwhelm them with a constant barrage of orientation. Allow some downtime for them to digest information and informally get to know the rest of your team.
The Day Before Heading Out
The morning before heading out, you’ll meet your Ranger at the mess hall for breakfast. Afterwards, they take you on a tour of basecamp and get the required stops out of the way: logistics/registration, medical pre-check, equipment and initial food pickup, and facilities like the post office and lockers.
After lunch, they meet you at your tent cabins and pull absolutely everything out of your packs to show you what you need and what may have been unnecessary to bring. Though they might have the best of intentions, for example, scouts generally don’t need to carry 5 lbs. of m&m’s in their backpack for the next several days.
The night is capped off with a welcome campfire program, where they introduce you to the history of northern New Mexico, Philmont and the scouting legacy. The evening ends like every campfire program; the Philmont hymn, which, like the Philmont prayer before meals, is another reinforcement of the Philmont culture.
Takeaways: Onboarding requires a few different things in order to succeed. You need to educate your new team members on the policies and procedures of your organization. But, in order to instill a sense of belonging, you should also fill them in on some of the company lore that exists below the surface. Stories are a great way to communicate your culture—from the history to current traditions—they can help make your new hires feel as if they’re part of something bigger than themselves.
On the Trail
At your first camp, your Ranger introduces you to the ‘bearmuda triangle’: the red roofed outhouse, a sump for dumping smellable liquid waste and the bear cable. You don’t camp inside the triangle and usually try to set up your tents in previous tent spots to minimize impact. Your Ranger then shows you how to hang your bear bags and takes you through the first meal. Lessons include how to sterilize cookware, prepare your meal, and cleanup before getting the crew down for the night.
The next morning, you pack up, make a wonderful breakfast of snack bars, pop tarts and/or instant oatmeal. Meals may seem like a brainless routine, but during this time, our Ranger was constantly showing the boys how to follow ‘leave no trace’ and, in the case of the bear bags, reinforcing the idea behind them as protecting the bears. New Mexico policy is to tag a nuisance bear twice and then kill it, so the point is that the scouts know they are helping to possibly save a bear when they follow these rules.
Finally, each night they do ‘roses, thorns and buds’ – this is a chance for every scout and advisor to tell the crew what they liked about that day, what they didn’t like and what they are looking forward to the next day.
Takeaways: Hands-on mentoring with a combination of demonstration and delegation helps each team member learn to follow the processes and execute them competently. Regular check-ins are a chance for the team to build camaraderie while making sure your new team members are engaged in the process. From beginning to end, constant communication is key to success.
The Rest of the Journey
On the last night together, your Ranger hands out wilderness cards to each scout and asks them to think long and hard before signing them and committing to protecting the wilderness (they also, at their discretion, share a Sara Lee pound cake and tub of icing that they have been hauling along, depending on how good of a crew you have been). The next morning your Ranger is gone and the crew is on its own. In our case, we were on our trek for another nine days, hiking for over 75 miles and seeing some of the most beautiful backcountry there is. We stayed at trail camps and staff camps and got to enjoy some great campfire programs. We had our ups and downs as only a group of thirteen and fourteen year-old boys can, though we didn’t descend quite to the level of Lord of the Flies and managed to bring everyone back without any major injuries.
Takeaways: While mentoring and constant check-ins are important to ramp up your employees, empowerment is truly tested when they are on their own. At the end of the process, your team should be ready and able to carry on the behaviors and values that make up your company culture.
I have never met someone who went to Philmont and not described it as one of the best and most memorable experiences of their lives. I did not have the chance to go when I was in scouting and took this as an opportunity to bond with my son (and maybe show a fourteen year old that I am not as old as he thinks…). I hope that in future years he will look back and remember the experience fondly as well.
From an onboarding perspective, I have to admire the way the Philmont takes in hundreds of scouts on a daily basis, plugs them into the program and gets them on their way into the backcountry, all while instilling them with the idea that they are doing something awesome. Scouts know they have a responsibility to their teammates, and to Philmont, to dig deep and be the best team member that they can be.
How are you instilling these kinds of values into your onboarding process?
I have worked in finance for over 15 years and have always made sure that I am servicing ‘the client’ to the best of my ability.In most cases, my clients are my fellow employees and the executive team.
One of the biggest issues that I have encountered over the years is that, as the financial person in the company, I am expected to make sure our employees and bills are paid and the invoices are collected, all while trying to find time somewhere in between there to bring value and visibility to the financials for the executive team. It is hard to give the 30,000 foot view when you are stuck in the weeds of your daily work.
My current role as General Manager of gothamCulture is no different:There are high-level tasks that must be completed in addition to a barrage of daily tasks and requests from our growing team.
I imagine that you, as a leader in your company, can relate.
How do you effectively manage everything on your plate in a rapidly growing company? The answer for me has always been to work smarter, not harder. With that in mind, here are 5 of my favorite productivity tips that I’ve learned over the years:
1. Outsource Your Payroll
There is absolutely no good reason why anyone should be doing their own payroll processing; even Cisco Systems, a tech 100 company, uses an outside vendor. You cannot hire someone for the cheap price that most payroll providers charge and, more importantly, you are avoiding all the liability of making a mistake on tax reporting and remittances. Leave this to the payroll experts and focus on value-add.
2. Automate What You Can
As almost any support staff knows, a lot of little tasks can all add up to one big distraction. For example, I was the Controller for one company still doing paper timecards – the process was cumbersome and took the better part of a day to validate and then enter into the payroll system. Almost immediately, I moved the company to an electronic timekeeping system, cut the process down to an hour and a half, and got that day back every other week.
The less we touch data, the faster the process and the less room for error. At gothamCulture, we use a time entry and expense system and align everything else to it.That way, there is one data entry point to monitor and validate. Everything else; payroll, invoicing, payables, and reporting, flow from that system semi-automatically and save a tremendousamount of time. Even something as simple as creating invoice templates can help – no amount of automation is too small!
Automate everything you can and get that time back for more important tasks.
3. Stick to a System
I am a world-class procrastinator, so being a finance professional presents somewhat of a dilemma for me. In response, I’ve learned to manage my daily tasks through a series of systems. I operate by my calendar, checklists and processes. I look at my calendar to see what is coming up the next day and the rest of the week (orMonday as it may be) and have links in my calendar to specific checklists and/or processes like reconciliations, journal entries, month-end prep, month-end close, AR, AP, etc.
4. Minimize Distractions
Keeping your inbox clean and no web browsing – you have heard this a million different ways, but the fact is that this is a major distraction for many people. I give myself 15 minutes in the morning to look at nytimes.com and then shut the tab. Same with email: the night before I look at items needing attention and address them in the first 1/2 hour of work. After that, it is for true emergencies only until after lunch, when I take another 1/2 to answer emails. I don’t always stay true to this schedule but have found it to help me be more productive by limiting the amount of online distractions throughout the day.
5. Keep Meetings On Point
Meetings can be a huge time suck for a company of any size. To control the amount of time we spend on them, we do a 1/2 hour standup meeting every Monday and a 1/2 hour closeout meeting every Friday for support and planning staff. These meetings are deliberately kept brief and are supposed to help the team as a whole know the workflow and see where they might be able to support the team. In addition, we hold a 1/2 hour meeting after the Monday meeting for the larger team for quick Q&A’s, operational announcements and anything else that that the entire staff needs to know. This keeps the team efficiently aligned; aware of what’s going on besides what they immediately touch, and lets them know that the support is always available.
So why do I do these productivity shortcuts? Like I said at the start of the conversation, it is all about customer support and the customer is my internal team. These shortcuts help me make the everyday ‘time sucks’ as minimal as possible, which leaves the maximum time available to support the team and analyze the finances for having meaningful discussions with the leadership.
We are a small, growing consultancy with enormous flexibility, but for someone like me that can mean I am still working after putting my kids to bed. This process helps me organize my workflow and deliver ‘true’ value-add while ensuring that I have enough down time after work and on weekends to enjoy the life that I am working so hard to earn money for in the first place!