Culture Change is a Complex Process
Make sense of it with actionable advice from experts on the front lines.
Make sense of it with actionable advice from experts on the front lines.
One of my favorite coaching mentors often said “hold it like a feather,” as he held his hand out and demonstrated the lightness he was describing.
He was teaching us that our questions as coaches can often land in ways we might not have imagined. And that our job is to assure the client that we are purposely not giving extra “mass” or “gravitas” to our thoughts or questions and giving permission to the client to let the idea just float off like a feather.
With care and intention, it is relatively easy to give that type of permission to others.
It can be equally useful and perhaps even more powerful, though, if we as individuals make a choice and give permission to ourselves to do much the same– to hold the thoughts, ideas and questions of others “like a feather.” In effect, to choose to give less weight to what others say or do. Especially when working with a boss.
I have the privilege of working with a variety of clients, some of whom work for people who are challenging.
Together, as we explore what clients are feeling, they relate stories to which we all can identify. Having a boss yell at you can be overwhelming, for instance. And a boss who readily shoots down an idea or insists that their way is the only way of achieving something can keep people awake at night. We’ve all succumbed to it, that’s for sure.
In coaching, we teach that intention is the boundary of change. This means that we can decide, by intention, that the boss – or indeed anyone else – does not hold sway over our emotions or thoughts. We can then make a choice.
Here are some ideas as you consider your choices:
“Simply repeat back to him what he said and ask “Is that what you meant?” (a standard trick ripped from couples’ therapy). If he agrees to your recap, ask him to tell you more about it. When you repeat someone’s perspective back to him, you give him a chance to expound and, crucially, to feel heard.”
‘It is important, not just at work, but in every aspect of your life to realize that no one can make you feel bad with words alone without your consent. People can say whatever they want to you, but your reaction to what they say is your responsibility, and potentially your problem.”
“We dissect others with the cold scalpel of raw intellect, feeling justified because we are right, or trying to help. People who are razor-sharp and calculating, surrounding others with apparent hyperawareness, can be intimidating without meaning to be.”
“The antidote to all forms of intimidation is self-esteem … ‘Strong self-esteem doesn’t rely on external attributes; it comes from knowing that you’ve overcome challenges with strength, courage, and dignity, and that you have a moral compass that guides you. The secret is: Nobody’s better than you. We’re all human.’”
With intention we can practice these four skills: 1) Leaning into resistance; 2) Recognizing that our vulnerability is not an open invitation; 3) Appreciating that the boss might not intend to come across that way; and 4) We can indeed create boundaries.
Of course, it takes time for these ideas to become embedded in your toolbox – to learn how to hold the ideas and words from others – especially your boss – “hold it like a feather.”
I invite you to give it a try!
This article originally appeared on bostonexecutivecoaches.com.
gothamCulture is proud to support the 2021 Paul & Dale’s Hack N’ Give Back Golf Outing on September 27, 2021, in Bettendorf, IA. The event is organized by the Ascentra Credit Union Foundation (ACUF).
Previously named, The Paul Lensmeyer Golf Outing, this year it has been renamed to the Paul & Dale’s Hack N’ Give Back Golf Outing to include Ascentra’s late President and CEO, Dale Owen. Paul and Dale were not just colleagues, but good friends.
We were fortunate to work with Dale at Ascentra Credit Union a few years ago. His dedication, passion, and spirit will remain in our hearts.
The ACUF was created in 2015, following Paul Lensmeyer’s unexpected passing to ensure his legacy of making a difference in the lives of our members, staff, and the communities we serve live on. Since then, the foundation has made a significant impact by awarding more than $543,000 in multi-year commitments and grants to organizations dedicated to economic and social development in their regions. The foundation’s primary fundraising event, the Paul Lensmeyer Golf Outing, has raised $125,417.25 to support this cause.
For more information about the Ascentra Credit Union Foundation, click HERE.
For more information about the golf outing click HERE.
gothamCulture Founder and Managing Partner, Chris Cancialosi, will support at the Management Consulting Learning Labs – Management Consulting Challenges in the Era of Covid sponsored by Western Michigan University.
Throughout the upcoming academic year, the Management Consulting Division will be offering a series of learning labs – virtual synchronous assemblies during which experiments, observations, and practices in the field of management consulting can be shared among members. The labs will address the needs and concerns of members across three areas: consulting, teaching, and research.
The first Management Consulting Learning Lab, on September 28 from noon to 1:00 pm EST, will feature consultants from big, mid-tier, and small consulting firms who will share the challenges they are facing in the era of Covid 19. They will discuss practices for managing these challenges, and importantly, suggest ideas for research to address these difficulties. For practicing consultants this is a perfect opportunity to improve your practice, and for scholars, this is a great opening to explore ideas for research.
A few weeks ago, I published a blog about “Finding My Solid Ground.” The article struck a chord with my readers, many of whom followed up with questions and comments.
One person asked, “Do you have any ideas on how I, as a leader, can help establish solid ground for the members of my team?” As I sat with the question, I replayed sessions with clients and conversations with colleagues where that very idea had been raised – indeed on how a leader can build a real team.
Contextually, of course, the most effective time and place to establish solid ground for your team is at the very beginning of your leadership journey with them. “Well begun is half done,” is an aphorism to remember for any of us embarking on a new endeavor and most especially when we take on the mantle of leadership within an organization or business.
For those leaders who might have already been in a role for a period of time, though, it is never too late to begin to “reset” your approach with those you serve.
Here are some ways a leader can set the foundation of solid ground for their people and in the process build a real team:
Each person is unique and yet each of us have common needs, beliefs and values embodied in the concepts included above. Those who seek to grow – as leaders and as fellow travelers on the planet – can best use these ideas not as a checklist of things to do, but instead as a way of being. For that is our essential essence as human “beings,” isn’t it?
This article originally appeared on www.bostonexecutivecoaches.com.
In this episode, Kate Gerasimova talks with Conrad Moore, Owner of Maius Learning, about values and organizational justice in organizations. They discuss the impact of values pushed down from top leadership to the workforce and whether those values are reflected in employees’ daily work and personal lives. They also talk about how to spot an alignment or a disconnect between the lived and existing values and things leaders can do to close that gap. Moore emphasizes the importance of having an ongoing, cross-organizational discussion around what it is like to work at the company and how it connects to daily work.
Moore defines organizational justice as feeling like you are treated fairly and are valued in the organization. He says that decision-making is a big part of organizational justice and warns that there could be trouble if decisions are made by leaders in a vacuum and are imposed on the organization without context. One suggestion to remedy this is to include individuals in the decision-making process early on, even when onboarding. Also, provide resources to employees to help them express their experience at work.
Released: September 3, 2021
Welcome to the gothamCulture Podcast where we talk about any topic you’d like so long as those topics are organizational culture, leadership or people strategy. Each week we talk with industry leaders and discuss cultural opportunities and challenges in the workplace, providing you with actionable tips and strategies that you can implement in your organizations.
Hi, my name is Kate Gerasimova. I’m a senior associate at Gotham culture and I have a pleasure today, Conrad Moore is joining us. Hi, Conrad.
Nice to see you and hear you.
Nice to see you too. Conrad Moore, he’s an owner of Maius Learning and he had a career that exposed him to different workplaces’ styles and structures and beginning first as educator in San Francisco before cofounding a nonprofit and eventually moving to adult learning organizational development. He worked with a variety of organizations from nonprofit to governmental agencies and Fortune 500 companies with very different places and industries. He’s focusing on enhancing community connection and culture at work. So I have a pleasure speaking with you today, and I’m very curious to learn more about your work. And can you tell me in our listeners what excites you the most about the work you do?
Thank you for that lovely introduction. I think the thing that excites me about the work that I do is connecting with people. The story you told about my career is very winding. So I’ve been in a lot of different workplaces, work environments and taken on a lot of different roles. I’ve been a frontline worker. I’ve had some VP roles. I’ve started a couple companies by now. And so it’s really interesting to hear the different stories and where people are at work with culture, with connection with community and then to reach into my grab bag and think about, “Which of these experiences that I’ve had helps me relate to where they’re at and do I have anything in my grab bag that might help them move beyond any places that they’re stuck?”
But also, it’s a great way for me to connect to them and take learnings from them. Every client that I’ve worked with gives me a story that I can then learn from and tell to future folks that I work with. So I think the people in the end really make the work, fun and exciting and always new and interesting.
That’s great. Absolutely. I can relate to that as well. And I know when we met and we were talking about some of the work that you do, specifically two topics were brought to my attention, were the values, the work that you do around the values and organizational justice. I thought it would be really great to talk more about both.
Well, let’s start with values and I think it ties in back into organizational justice. Starting thinking about the work, do organizational values define what’s really important in the organization?
Yeah, and I’ve experienced that in a few different ways and I think a lot of places … You can feel the values in a work environment come through one way or another and sometimes you’ll see them on the wall. These are maybe top down values that were bestowed upon the people. And they may or may not be reflected in the work that people do. So there’s that value set that I think, especially in enterprise-size organizations and agencies, there is these marching orders that are values. And then there’s the lived values that we express every day. It’s the personal values that people bring to work, how those interact and overlap with other values and value systems that people have.
And so the workplaces that I’ve seen where values are really core to the identity of that place, that really shows up positively everywhere in the relationships, of course, in the ways that people communicate and connect to each other, but also the bottom line. When people really see a part of themselves in the work that they’re doing, I think it’s a lot easier for them to commit and really give their all towards producing. And so I think that that’s always to me when I think about doing values work like, “What am I dealing with? Is it a gap between the expressed values of the organization and the live values of the people working there or is there a more harmonious connection between the two?” And so I’m always looking for that first. It’s like, “What do you say you do and how are you actually feeling that?”
What happens if you see a disconnect?
Then we have to talk and those conversations are tough. The place says where I see, so I can even tell a story from my own personal working experience. I used to work for an organization where we did this whole month-long exercise as an organization that involves both facilitated conversations between leadership and frontline staff and then also a leadership retreat where we were really trying to focus on, “What are the values of this organization?” So it was fun. We did a trip to Vegas and Zappos was there and they’re very famous for their culture and how they think about their core values and that was supposed to inspire us.
And so we went in toward Zappos and learned about their culture and how they produced their core values and the way that they did that was they talked to everybody there and said, “Well, what do you think it’s like to work here? What are the best parts of what we do?” And that informed ultimately what became their core values. And so we were supposed to be taking a page out of that book, but what I experienced in my own story with this was there were folks on the leadership team, in frontline staff who were really committed and really inspired by that thought like, “Well, can we cocreate our values together and really create an identity together as an organization?”
And then there was a certain layer in the leadership team that it seemed like was just maybe checking some boxes here like, “Well, if we give them the chance to write the values, then maybe things will be okay,” but there wasn’t really any buy in from them. So that’s what I mean by hard conversations because I think that what they were really hearing were values that they didn’t feel represented their own. And so that’s where and that created a huge disconnect. In that moment. And ongoing in that company was there was one set of values that the top brass lived and worked by and those seem to cascade down from the top in ways that the folks who were living and breathing the rest of the work couldn’t identify with, didn’t understand and seemed to be in competition with the values they all cocreated together.
And so to me, when you have that disconnect, we need to have a cross organization discussion about, “What does it really like to work here and what do we want it to be like? And the values shouldn’t just be things that we put on the wall. It should be ways that we connect to the work and find it to be important to us.” Usually, those conversations can be a little prickly, but also if people come in with good intentions and openness and vulnerability, then you really can create values that are meaningful and actually impact the work, I think.
Absolutely. There’s definitely evolution of values as well. So sometimes what I’ve seen in the work that we do, companies started long, long time ago was a certain set of values and then grow, evolve from a small startup to large corporations. And sometimes when you see the values that the founder created, let’s say 10, 15, 30 years ago no longer work because it’s a different work environment. And the follow-up question would be like, “At what point would you recommend them refreshing those values or what point do you know that they’re no longer working what they have?
That’s an excellent question. I personally feel, and this is something I’ve practiced in my own organizations, that that needs to be just an ongoing conversation. That doesn’t even mean we need to every month come up with a new set of core values necessarily, but we do need to have an ongoing discussion about the work experience, “What is it like here? What are the stress points that people run into and where do those come from? And are we doing the work the way that we say that we’re doing it or we intend to do it? And if we’re living out of alignment with those values, what’s causing that?” To your point, it could just be, “We’re bigger now. Those don’t apply,” or it could be that those were never real. I just recently worked with a small startup business unit in a larger organization and so that larger organization had its values. They’ve been around since the ’90s.
This new unit was comprised of new employees who bring their own experiences in automatically just by virtue of being new or creating a new shared value system and so I came in to do a team building exercise. And that was largely the discussion that we had, “You have a parent organization here that has all these values. Is that how you feel your work is and what it shouldn’t be like for you?” There are some values like there was one that stood out to me which was urgency. That’s, to me, I don’t want to say a scary value, but a very particular value.
A lot of pressure comes to that, when you-
Exactly, and to have them be a startup entity within a larger context, there’s already pressure to begin with, to succeed, to grow, to prove that you should have been an investment, this company made in the first place. And then to feel like … They had that startup vibe. So there’s already urgency going on anyway. And so we talked about that. And so what we ended up doing was creating a team mission statement and a set of core values, and laid them next to the larger company’s mission statement and core values, but find a way for you to have your own identity that reflects who you are and what you do and complements the work that the larger company is doing and in a way that doesn’t set up a competition between what you’re doing, acknowledges where your starting point is which is them, but also really leans into who you are and what you want to build.
And so I think I’m still working with them, so we’ll see how that evolves over time. But I think that it was really interesting way to try to intervene in values that weren’t really applicable for them.
So interesting, especially it’s always a question, “Where do you start? Do you start with the bigger values and you tried to figure out what you have as a subculture fits in that or is it the other way around?” I don’t know if this is the right way to do this. What’s your point of view?
I am very much interested in the idea of giving folks as much autonomy and self-governance as we can. I think you can stray too far in one direction or the other, right? If you’re too top down, then people have no freedom of expression and creativity. I think that hinders innovation and you can go too far in the other direction where like, “Okay, you guys are doing really cool things over there, but how does that connect to what the main company is doing?” And that’s a delicate balance, but I do think, especially from a leadership perspective, it’s helpful to have an ongoing, I think, like even just a mental exercise, but really a discussion of, “How can we delegate our decision making power and ownership further down the org chart?”
It takes great amounts of stress off of you because you’re not really responsible for everything anymore. It also lets people know that you trust them, that you’re willing to invest and have faith in what they can do. And so, I think having that be an ongoing discussion and working towards letting people control or have input on as much of their work experience as you can, so that their values come through and your values mean something. That’s not just words on the wall. You’re living values, you value your people, you value diversity, etcetera and then you express that by having trust and faith in your people.
Also the question comes to mind is, for example, you’ve been in an organization, but you know that your values are not completely aligned, well, one, can you find an organization that completely aligns to your value? And two, what do you do if you feel like you’re not aligned?
Well, to your point, first of all, I’ve never met that organization, big or small. To me, it’s a global thought process starting from hiring, right? You want to hire, of course, that talk about cognitive diversity, right? Diversity of thought. So you don’t want everybody to have the exact same values and everybody went to the same school or came from the previous company because you’re not really getting that diversity of thought that you want. But if there’s a misalignment within an individual or a team, I think there’s a couple ways you can approach that. You could explore like we’ve been talking about. Do we need to reboot their core values? Are they no longer relevant or add some nuance to them?
You could also do what I think some of the more innovative companies do is highlight those differences and try to celebrate and integrate them into the larger system. So rather than creating an environment that says, “We have seven core values. If you aren’t living into those, then you don’t belong here. We have these seven core values. We tried to embody them as much as we can and we have an openness to new ideas. We accept that this isn’t actually the way that it’s always going to work. And so I think a company that famously does this really well is Google where they’ll actually, because they have the money, fund projects where the people seem to have ideas that are out of the mainstream, but they might be a good idea if you just let it evolve and grow a little bit. And I don’t know that we all have the resources that Google has to let everybody run away with their competing values.
But I do think there is … If people seem committed to the work, but they see it from a different angle, I think there can be beauty and innovation in that. So I think the question is just, “What am I looking at here? Are we out of alignment because these values just don’t work for us or is there something of value in this difference? And how can we work with that to really build a more diverse and interesting workplace?
That’s very beautifully said and it was a very hard question to answer.
I got there.
I think also one of the biggest value that they bring to the company is promoting the desired behavior. So me as a leader, I would know if there is a set of values created. They’re basically created for the purpose of promoting those behaviors. What’s your view on that? How do companies usually use those values to promote desired behaviors?
Well, the short answer is I don’t know if they do. That’s how I feel so often when I do values work with folks. More often, I feel like, that’s probably why they come to me, more often I’m running into, “Oh, yeah, we just talking about these things. We haven’t really checked to see if people are behaving in this way.” And so a lot of that, again I think you can start with the hiring process and make sure that you’re trying to recruit and hire people who come in predisposed to behave in that way, but something I’ve also done comes through in the development of job descriptions. So if we’re looking at all of these different duties, I would sit with groups like I had to one of the companies I used to work at, where I was VP of operations. I had to restructure the whole sales and operations team.
And part of that process, well, actually, most of that process was not me coming in and saying, “Here’s how things ought to be.” It was talking to everyone and asked them what they thought things ought to be because they were doing the work. I think that from there, you can say, all right, so then a new job or this job has these duties to it, “What does it look like to be performed in accordance with our values? What behaviors would we see? So let’s say we value open communication.” So we started to go down all the different bullet points of each job role that we were building and looking at all the different duties and saying, “Okay, these are the systems that people interact with. These are the soft skills that they’re going to need to have, the communication skills, the customer service skills, say, the relationship building skills.”
And then if we were to see somebody performing this job and living up to our values, what would that look like? How would they perform this particular duty according to our values? And then, we turn that in interview questions where we would pose different problems that either we had already encountered and solved in one way and wanted to see if they agreed with that or just hypotheticals to see if we could hear like, “Oh, are we hearing that same value that we’re looking for in a way that they are theorizing performing the work?” So we’re really trying to look at the job duties themselves and then the associated behaviors and value connection that we would want to see and then have conversations about that with folks.
So that helped to see specifically like what behaviors that the company have right now or what people are seeing and are they’re aligned with the desired behaviors that originally thought up?
And how would you measure those behaviors as a company? So some of the things you mentioned like during maybe performance management process or starting all the way from the hiring process?
Yeah. So I think again part of behavior analyzing is just having these values be present in all of our conversations from the hiring and interviewing and training and onboarding when we talk about like, “Hey, this is how you do this thing, but also this is why you do it and why we think it’s important to do it this way.” And so then you have those ongoing performance check ins and you have the formal review at the end of the year. Some organizations are dropping that now, but have that really be woven into all of the “official conversations” that we have. We talked about it in meetings, right? If these are really values that we truly care about, then we should be referring to them often and trying to connect with them.
It’s like the way that mission-driven organizations, I hope, are connecting with the mission when they do the work like, “Those doing this work fulfill our mission.” And it might be the same way that we talk about core values like, “How can we do this work in a way that really represents who we say we aspire to be?” Because we’re not living out our values all day, every day. I always think of it as a horizon that we’re sailing towards. And if we take our eyes off the horizon, then we’re not going to ever get there. So as we do this work ongoing, we should keep talking about, “Is this the way that we feel about how we’re supposed to be doing this work?”
Absolutely. That’s a great point. And some of the things that you mentioned is always bringing it up and having that conversation about it.
That’s how you can see to like, “Oh, that value is not here anymore. We keep saying it, but we don’t really see it represented anywhere in the work, so we can’t measure that.
Is it an extensive period of time? Have you ever put a timeline to that or is it, “We’re not seeing it for a while, let’s-“
That’s a great question. Usually, when I’m talking to people, it’s been out of alignment for a while. That stuff shows up to me and like what we’re seeing right now, I think, is a gap in a lot of the expressed values of organizations and the lived experiences of the people working there with this whole great resignation and everybody’s either quitting or thinking about quitting and employers are having a harder time bringing people back. I think some of that is just fundamentally our employees feeling valued in the first place, but it shows up in those types of places like turnover, retention, engagement surveys and those things where you can just tell like, “Do people really want to be here?” because that’s some measurement or expression of either displaces at least out of alignment with the employees values, but probably even out of alignment with their own expressed values.
That makes sense. We’re going to take a very quick break and we’ll be right back.
This episode of the gothamCulture Podcast is produced and sponsored by our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting. Communicating with your customers, stakeholders and employees can be challenging at times. The team at Blue Sky Podcasting provides high-end production and postproduction support to organizations looking to leverage podcasting as a tool to increase transparency and engagement with their customers and employees. If you’re interested in learning how podcasting can provide your organization with a highly engaging communication tool that’s easy to scale, you should check out our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting at www.blueskypodcasting.com.
We’re back and we were discussing values with Conrad and talking about values, and especially now in this day and age and then last year, companies specifically started to express more deeper value towards diversity, equity and inclusion. Conrad, in your opinion, how do values connect to organizational justice and diversity, equity and inclusion topic?
I think this is such an important question to ask. I’m really excited first and foremost to see those types of conversations enter into the workplace more consistently and I think that the world is replete with examples of those conversations going poorly of large organizations, especially paying lip service to diversity, equity, inclusion and then not really living that. And some of that is I think we’re at the beginning of a cultural shift, just in general, but then also at work and then you add on to that, a pandemic and now this move towards hybrid work.
So there’s all this stuff happening that’s shifting conversations around and I think we’re far past the time … We can’t ignore this stuff. and so if companies are going to say, “These are our values,” then we really have to see where the rubber meets the road and that’s what organizational justice is about. It sounds a little bit like social justice and there’s actually, I think, a spirit in there that is similar. Organizational justice at its core, and this is a topic that started out in the ’90s even before I was in the workforce, frankly, but I think now it’s starting to become more relevant again. It’s just the perception of how fairly I’m treated and valued at work.
And so I think that’s the easiest and quickest way to describe this is, “How fairly am I treated and how valued do I feel?” There’s some more academic definitions we can get into, but I think at its core organizational justice, it’s just that.
And what could be a couple examples would you see in organizational contexts?
So this came up pretty extensively for me with a recent client. We were doing a leadership program. They’re a medium-size nonprofit and they were in year two of their DEI journey. They had a DEI steering committee and brought me in to complement the work that they were doing. Extensively, I was just doing a leadership program. And usually, the way I work is all broadly outlined based on our conversations like, “Here’s what I’m hearing. Here’s what I think we ought to do and let’s build in some space because we’re going to hear things that tend to only come out when a stranger is in the room and they think management’s not around and they can say stuff.”
That’s always been my experience is you hear things in trainings and facilitations that might be new to managers and leaders. And so I said, “We’re going to leave some space in this program for what comes up and we’ll generate content around that.” And a lot of the stuff that came up was around organizational justice topics like decision making. So in this particular organization as well as media organizations, I’m sure you’ve run into this also, there was a propensity for big impactful decisions to be made at the C-suite level, unbeknownst to everyone else and then leaders would come from on high and say, “Here’s the decision we have made that we didn’t tell you we were making and now you all have to follow this order.”
And you can imagine that really wrinkled people. And it was big stuff like hiring and firing staff where actually in some instances, there were like, privacy and legality reasons for why leadership wasn’t being 100% transparent about what they were doing, but still the feeling of the average employee in that organization is that they have no input on these decisions, that their opinions aren’t valued, that their knowledge and expertise isn’t valued. And so it just comes off as though you are not trusted or respected by the folks who mean to lead you. So that was an expression of a part of organizational justice which is basically called procedural justice and then it’s like, “How are decisions made? How are people given input into those processes?”
And again, you can’t always give people input, but then there has to be a followup outside of that where you say, “Hey, we made this decision,” like for example, “We had to let this person go. We know this person was well liked. There were some activities that just for fundamental reasons, we could not allow it to continue. We have spoken to this person several times. And while we can’t give you full view into how and why that decision was made, just understand that there were legal implications for why we did that.” And that’s what they could have said afterwards, so people go, “Oh, I understand now. I wish I had known about that, but I see why you can’t tell me,” and that never happened. It was just, “Wow, we fired that person. Everybody liked her. Why?” and that was it.
And then there’s this distrust that builds because it feels like there’s an unfairness that has happened. And again, it’s the perception of fairness. Sometimes we are actually being treated fairly, we just don’t have the full viewpoint, but it is the perception that’s going to drive the morale of everybody.
Absolutely and there is a people perception of what actually happened. And then this particular situation that you’re describing, what are some things that leaders could have done or could do now to improve the situation and could rebuild the trust because the trust is broken?
Those revelations started to come to me. This was a six-month program and that stuff came out in month two. They came through so strongly like the emotions. I think we were talking about some of these was like new manager training or training for managers who never had manager training and we were just talking extensively just about decision making, but those conversations became so charged so fast that I turned around to my point of contact and said, “Hey, I think we should start talking about organizational justice here,” and we should start having an open … I’ve explained the topic to them and all the things that entails, but actually what I did with them was help facilitate their solutions to these problems and acted as guardrails like in the example that I just gave to help them understand like, “You can’t have full transparency into every decision for a number of reasons. And so with that, what are the reasons, right?”
So we started to talk about who makes what decisions and we use this tool called the decision tree. It’s just not like the tool that you see in project management with all the splintering off of different nodes and that sort of thing. It’s actually just a metaphor, a visual metaphor for different types of decisions that are made and who has the authority to make what decision. And the idea was they would keep this and I’ll explain it in a second, but they would keep a running log of different decisions that were being made and then categorize them. And so a leaf decision is a very small, low impact decision that you as an individual, you don’t need to tell your manager like, “Hey, I’m going to go take a bio break. I don’t need to check in with anybody about stuff like that, right?”
But then you might have a branch decision, which is something a little more important where I still get to make my decision, but I do need to notify my manager that it happened. And so this might be, I don’t know, like closing down a particular customer complaint. That’s part of my job. I’m supposed to do that anyway, but this particular customer complaint was pretty serious. And so even though it’s within my authority to handle all of it, I’m going to still let my manager know what happened, what I did, so that there’s some record. And if the organization ever needs to do more with it, I’ve communicated that.
Then you have trunk decisions and that’s where I have the power to come up with a solution, but I really need to run that solution by my manager before I actually execute on it. And then you have root decisions which actually need to be escalated up the ladder. And so the idea there was to have them start logging down all the different types of decisions that were being made in different parts of the organizations and then look at those and go, “Okay, could we do anything with a higher level decision that would allow us to essentially delegate or offload it.” Right now, I might have the authority to make a route decision because I’m senior, but is that in the best interest of transparency, collaboration and inclusion? Maybe not. Maybe what I should be doing is making this decision, but also exposing the decision making process to people underneath me, so they understand how it works, and then over time, they can actually start taking part in those decisions.
And so that became a tool that a lot of different managers and leaders started to use and it’s just an ongoing. There’s like the decisions that that are named for us to make in our job descriptions and then there’s all the stuff we’re doing all day long that we’re not really tracking. And that was an opportunity for them to see like, “Oh, these are the different decisions that we’re making. Right now, we’re making them this way. How else can we make them so that we can include more people in that process?”
What a great solution.
I thought it was fun.
It is. Can anybody in the organization see that tree or is it also visibility defined by the level?
It would depend on … So the way that I set it up with them was just between managers and direct reports, but then it’s like now where everyone has that awareness. And so we didn’t get into that with them because the nature of their work in the populations that they were serving, there were medical things. There were things that I didn’t feel confident in advising them on. In terms of best practice, I would say the more open and accessible you have, like if you have, say like an intranet like SharePoint site and you can showcase that process decision making and how it’s made and how it evolves, I think that’s great because that helps everybody understand things better, but also there’s some stuff, like I said, you can’t share all of that with everyone for legal reasons and other stuff.
That’s tough. And one thing that came to mind while you were describing this is sometimes there are different pockets of organization and then they are very different pockets, so there could be different subcultures or the work that they’re doing or some of the work that they’re doing could be disclosed from other sections of organization just because the confidentiality of that work. And then the decisions being pushed from top down and I understand they’re all made was being as fair and equal as possible, but at the same time, what is the best way for organization, and I know it’s tough, to make the differences?
So not everything will be fair and equal, but at the same time, there are differences that needs to be addressed because the differences between departments, the work they do, they’re not going to be all the same. So how do you draw the line between being fair and equal and allow for that innovation or difference to happen?
Well, something, stay on that one client for a minute, that I thought they did really well and that really resonated with me because since you can’t always be fair and transparent, what then do you do when you can’t be? And they had a practice of circling up when somebody felt like a serious harm had been perpetrated against them. And so that was helpful for me as a facilitator because they already had these practices where, “Oh, we have to have a tough conversation. We’ve already got these ground rules for how we do that.” So that would be my recommendation for any organization, especially when you make that and I shouldn’t say when you make bad decisions, when you make unpopular decisions. Just to be ready-
Yeah, right, that’s diplomatic, is to be communicative about those. We understand that this was a hard decision for us to make. We knew that not everybody would feel happy or served by this decision and we want to talk about that. We know that even though the decision has been made, the experience isn’t over and we want to find our way to heal the culture as best we can, so that we can all move forward together and we can actually execute this unpopular decisioning. Because that’s the other thing is when you come out from on high and bestow upon the people, this new direction that you’ve decided on unilaterally without their input, it’s also a lot harder for people to execute that decisioning because they don’t understand the context in which it was made. So if you come in afterwards and say, “All right, we know how you feel. Here’s as much of the process as we can share with you in our reasoning, and we want to hear from you your feedback so that maybe in the future we’ll both consider that when we make this type of decision.”
That’s a great process that you just described. I wish I’ve seen those more circle or in place. What do would you call them?
Well, so they were following a particular restorative justice. I don’t know how familiar folks are outside of education and nonprofit that work with that, but restorative justice is a particular field of work that tries to look at harm that was that has occurred, bring the parties together who committed and experienced the harm and to have the party who is responsible for that harm find a solution that restores the relationship that brings trust back into the relationship that acknowledges that, “You’ve been hurt and the person who unwittingly or no cause that hurt and try to find a way for me to make it right with you.” And so the classic example they use in a lot of restorative justice circles is, “I hit a baseball over the fence and it broke your window and I help pay for the window, right? Because I understand I’ve damaged your home and I’m going to do my best to make it right for you.”
That is a good example and a very simple one, but going back to the example that you provided, there is a lot to do with trust and rebuilding trust which takes time.
And then just thinking about organizational justice overall, what are some criteria given to organizations or if there is any that helped them decide whether this organizational justice is assured or if there’s anything individuals can do to raise their concern?
Yeah, well, so I feel like we spent so much time on the part of that work which is procedural justice and decision making. And it is not all decision making. That’s a huge part of it, but the other dimensions of it are the feeling I get of being valued and heard and seen and appreciated. So that’s like a soft skill cultural professional skill element, right? So some of that, for example, is like, “How do we onboard people? Do we just give them a checklist and they run through the checklist and take a bunch of eLearning and now they’re on boarded or are we actually really taking very personal steps to welcome them, to introduce them to people, to integrate their voices and views and meetings and even decisions early on if that’s appropriate or possible?” So there’s kind of an energy of inclusion and belonging that is a part of organizational justice as well that really comes out in business processes like hiring and meetings and things like that.
And then the other part, again, it’s like the perception of fairness, “So how are rewards distributed in distributive justice?” It’s like this other pillar. And so looking at things like, “How are we promoting people? Who’s getting promoted? Does it appear?” Sometimes, for example, we’re promoting the right person who also happens to have really strong relationships with the layer that they’re getting promoted into. And so that can give the perception that they got the job because they’ve got the right friends and so, “How are we talking about promotion and what is the criteria that we’re using to promote people so that we can talk about that messaging and what people’s perceptions of fairness are? What about raises? Are there other particular perks that come with working at this organization and does everybody get those or do only certain people get those and then why?”
The one thing about organizational justice that’s hard is its perception. And so you might actually objectively be engaging in fair decision making and processes, but someone else can perceive it. From where they sit in the organization is unjust. So like I was saying about values, I think that organizational justice is a horizon that we’re sailing towards, that we’re always trying to aim to reach and we understand that we’re going to fail sometimes. We’re going to miss something. We’re going to make mistakes and then it always has to come back to, “How do we talk about that? Do we acknowledge it? Especially this is so hard for leaders, a lot of leaders sometimes, but do you admit mistakes in attempt to atone and change your behavior or do you just soldier on and pretend like it didn’t happen?” And I think a lot of people do that.
For sure. And one last question for you is what can I, as individual in a corporation, organization or startup or whatever company I am in, do to help the company see or be better aligned with organizational justice?
Especially if you’re new, I think that can be a really intimidating pursuit, right? Because you really just want to blend in and hope that everybody likes you and that you can keep this job and succeed in it, but the first thing I would start looking for is what resources do employees have like employee resource groups or affinity groups. Are there places where, I don’t know that I want to paint this fully as like a power struggle between the top of the org chart and the bottom of the org chart, but what avenues do employees at any level have to express their experience at work?
Oftentimes, it’s like an HR survey or something or maybe to a manager, but I would just try to identify first like, “What are those channels, frankly, for a dissent? If I have an opinion that might ruffle some feathers, is there a place for me to channel and express that opinion? If there’s not, this is going to be a tough place to work.” Most places have something somehow and then some places are really well resourced. Like I was saying, they have employee resource groups or affinity groups, groups of people with particular social identities or particular interests where you can go into a community of people within an organization that are like you, that have similar experiences and you can commiserate about the bad stuff and you can celebrate the wins.
And so as an individual, I would look for those things first, and then over time, you’ll know it based on how everyone’s talking and how you experience it. You can tell that grumbling around the watercooler is probably some dimension of organizational justice, “I don’t like how that decision was made. I disagree with it. Nobody values my opinion,” that sort of thing. So you can see it in the ways that people behave. I don’t know that I’m aware of, if you walk into an unjust organization and you’re the one person blowing the whistle, I’m not aware of anybody succeeding at that. That’s an unhealthy toxic work environment. And then fortunately, there’s a lot of those out there, but I do think you can just ask yourself the question like, “Do I feel valued? Do I feel important? Does it feel fair to me? And if it doesn’t, why not?”
Thank you, Conrad and thank you for those resources. And thank you for the time today. It’s been a great conversation. I think I can continue talking to you for a while on both topics.
Thanks, Kate. It’s been such a pleasure chatting with you. And I’m sure we’ll do this again sometime.
And one last thing is how can our listeners find you?
Sure. Well, you can find me at Maius Learning which is M-A-I-U-S, learning, dot-com and see all the fun trainings and other activities that we have going on there.
That’s great. I hope to stay connected and enjoy your weekend.
All right, you too. Thank you.
Thanks for joining us this week on the gothamCulture Podcast. Make sure you visit our website gothamculture.com where you can subscribe to the show, find show notes or contact us for support regarding your organizational culture challenges. Special thanks to Blue Sky Podcasting for producing and sponsoring this episode. To learn more about producing custom podcasts for your organization, check out the folks at Blue Sky at www.blueskypodcasting.com. Until next time, this is your host, Chris Cancialosi and I look forward to our next discussion.
I was fortunate to work on the senior team of an airline president who epitomized servant leadership.
If he was carrying a pen with the corporate logo on it and an employee complimented it, he gave it as a present. He would lend his car to those of us who commuted by subway when we needed to get around the New York City metro area. He was invariably the first in the office and usually the last to leave.
When we were at a company-sponsored event, he never ate until everyone had their food. And he absolutely never missed a company orientation for new hires. Perhaps the most telling thing about him was his lack of pretension in any situation. He helped to clean airplanes when we arrived at our destination, and I recall times when vans would pick us up and he would sit in the “way back” with the luggage because the vehicle was too full.
Most importantly, he was always “present” in the moment when he was talking with you. He wasn’t looking beyond you to see who might be walking by; he was engaged in you as a person and you never had any question that his focus and interest was on you. He modeled a behavior I always wanted to emulate and still do today.
Juxtapose that with another senior manager with whom I worked. While ostensibly a kind and decent man, his actions were virtually opposite that of the other leader I described. When you traveled with him on an airplane, you would sit down next to him and ask him about his family. He would quickly respond and briefly ask about yours.
Then he would open up the Wall Street Journal or New York Times and not speak with you for the duration of the flight. I did not feel he was fully “present,” and did not experience curiosity in him related to you as a person. When food was served at a meeting, he did not wait for the others in the room to eat first. And, in the midst of darkening economic storm clouds at the company, I can still distinctly remember him selecting a foreign luxury car as his company vehicle, as he disliked driving a domestic one.
Such actions can make or break a leader.
Can Executive Coaching change such behaviors? The answer is not easy, as so many of our actions are driven by our innate styles and beliefs. But it is likely that the second company manager never stopped to realize how others perceived him. He had such confidence in his own abilities that he may not have realized that the perceptions of others can damage a leader’s reputation.
Focused executive coaching can facilitate tools for awareness through 360 evaluations and confidential interviews with colleagues, thus educating clients about who how they are seen. The emperor was never told he had no clothes, and so it is with many executives, who rise to positions of prominence and, in their mind, well-deserved importance, without realizing that they need to stay grounded and never stop being servants to their people.
David Neeleman, the founder of JetBlue and himself a servant leader, often said regarding pilots, support staff and other “behind the scenes” people at the company, “We serve them, so they can serve our customers.” Neeleman understood that the essence of “Servant Leadership” is about service to everyone in our companies, and most especially those who pay our salaries by purchasing our goods and services.
A fundamental part of coaching is a relationship of trust between the client and coach, where you can learn about yourself through a number of tools and then to explore them in a confidential setting. Awareness of who you are and an understanding of how you want to change is a first step, followed by action planning and execution related to your own behaviors and style.
We can better change when we become curious about how others see us and seek data and perceptions about our own developmental opportunities. That’s a critical part of the value of coaching.
This article originally appeared on bostonexecutivecoaches.com.
In the workplace and in life we sometimes enter a phase where we feel as if we are standing on uncertain ground. We become disoriented and struggle to find our balance in order to regain equilibrium.
Sometimes it can be a new job, or a promotion, or even a transfer. It can be a change in the team around us, or it can be the way others might view us, using a different lens for a new role we have taken on. Whatever the cause, each of us can experience it.
As a new vice president at a Fortune 50 company a number of years ago, I remember walking into each meeting with trepidation. I had been promoted ahead of a number of more senior people. As a result, at times I felt like an imposter, at other times as if I was being judged, and most often as if I was somehow out of my league. And each time an issue was raised I felt as if I had to have the answer and take ownership of anything my department touched.
Most importantly, I looked at the other vice presidents and more senior leaders with a mixture of amazement and, honestly, some disappointment, as I saw their efforts at navigating corporate mazes. Some would use “buzz” words which tended to set up smoke screens. Others would commit to an action and then change their story at the next meeting. The most adept open field runners would pivot (I even saw a few pirouettes!) in the middle of meetings as they saw which way the company “wind” was blowing. The drama and uncertainty I felt as I observed those things was palpable to me.
I was fortunate to work with a coach during my career who helped me learn more about myself and how to change how I approached such situations. I know that helps me serve my clients because each has experienced times when the “ground” under them seems to be uncertain.
Here are five perspectives to help you find solid ground again:
1. Perspective – As we get enmeshed in corporate life, we can sometimes begin to think that the company and its goals are the most important things in the world. They’re not. The actor Richard Burton once provided this perspective on his career, “Give it all you’ve got but never forget it’s just a bloody movie, that’s all it is. We’re not curing cancer.” Most of us from corporate life would do well to heed his words about our own endeavors.
2. Understanding – Look around the corporate boardroom table and don’t look at titles or the personas that might be displayed by the other leaders. Just look at them as fellow human travelers on a journey. They’re doing the best they can in the world and it doesn’t help to be overly impressed or at all judgmental about their behavior. Be curious about what they know and don’t worry about what they don’t. Be empathetic – you will learn from everyone that way.
3. Gratitude – “The struggle ends when gratitude begins,” is a quote by Louie Schwartzberg. Each day we have much to be thankful for. The job provides us monetary compensation and self-actualization. And yet there is so much more to appreciate in life. A wise person once said, “Remember these three priorities in life: First, take care of yourself so, second, you are able to take care of your family. And only then worry about your job.”
4. The Calm in the Center of the Storm – Find the calm in yourself and then pass it on to everyone! That doesn’t come from having all the answers – it has to do with being able to step out of the chaos and then attending to others, feeling comfortable with expressing your thoughts when necessary, listening a lot more than you talk, and continually exuding a calmness and kindness to others.
5. Prayer, Meditation, and Mindfulness – Every client with whom I work spends time in quiet reflection – some in prayer, others in meditation, and all in some sort of mindfulness exercise. Opening up to something outside of yourself is both humbling and energizing at the same time. We can never navigate this world alone.
Ship captains seldom get seasick. They aren’t special human beings. But they have a secret: They keep sight of the horizon, not the waves. That makes all the difference for them. The waves come and go, but the horizon – the long-term goals and who we are as people – that will always be there.
This article originally appeared on bostonexecutivecoaches.com.
At gothamCulture, we conduct bi-weekly internal meetings dedicated to discussions about Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) and how to continuously embed them in our operations, services and work. One of our ongoing initiatives is to ensure the diversity of our network of partners and suppliers and the fair opportunities for them to be included across our projects and workstreams. In other words, we are actively working on achieving and maintaining supplier diversity; a key item of any DEIB strategy.
So what is supplier diversity?
Supplier diversity is a proactive effort to ensure that all potential suppliers have fair and equal opportunities to conduct business within an organization’s supply chain. Organizations that exert this effort create opportunities for inclusion of minority, underserved and underrepresented group-owned businesses such as ethnic minorities, immigrants, women, LGBTQ+ people, armed forces veterans, and people with a disability.
Why is it important to achieve supplier diversity?
Like every genuinely developed and implemented DEIB initiative, supplier diversity is critical for your people, your customers, your business and the bottom line, and the wider community.
People: Across the nation, people have vocalized their expectations around prioritizing DEIB in their organizations. In our own State of Culture 2021 study, we found that organizations performed better from a culture perspective when they openly and honestly discussed diversity and social justice issues. Moreover, the new generation of candidates value working for organizations that are actively investing in DEIB. Therefore, supplier diversity can impact employee satisfaction and in turn retention as well as widen your talent pool for recruitment. Read More…
Did you ever stop to recognize that we are all bombarded with “noise,” be it in the form of sound or motion or the endless pressure of the workplace, robbing us of the time we need to collect our thoughts, take a deep breath, and perhaps even have the chance to innovate?
Working with busy clients, I find the new normal to be one of near-constant interruption and a resultant inability to spend time in reflection – and real deep thinking. One executive, who was trained as an electrical engineer, put it simply: “The signal to noise ratio is unacceptable in today’s workplace.”
Signal to noise is technically the ratio of the strength of any signal carrying information to that of the interference that is present while trying to discern that signal. While it is generally expressed in decibels, it has come to be used in any number of fields, including WiFi networks. There are a significant library of equations describing it.
What my client referred to, however, was the ratio of useful information – the actual “signal” – we receive vs. the overload of “noise” that is endlessly transmitted our way. We effectively lose the “signal” due to the noise.
Our workplace has been transfigured in a little over thirty years. In the late 1980s, an “in” box and “out” box sat on each desk and letters and reports were drafted by hand or on typewriters. Back then, a phone call could interrupt us, but it was not forced upon us, especially if there was a savvy secretary sitting in the outer office running interference.
Fast forward to today, as emails pile up on our computer screens, chat boxes populate on top of them, and our personal devices hum with personal and professional texts. Often, we use streaming music to try to drown out the cacophony. And even then the inevitable mandatory video conference invitations (ironic that they are called invitations, isn’t it? Perhaps “mandates” would be more appropriate). Some clients lament that of 40 hours at work (virtual or in the office), all of those hours is scheduled in video or in-person sessions.
What can we do as leaders to mitigate the “noise” in our lives or at least take some initial steps? The first step, of course, is awareness that there is an issue. By naming it, we can begin addressing it. It might serve leaders to consider the following list or to develop their own. Try a few of these ideas – they have worked for many of our clients and can effectively help you hear the “signal” better and indeed reduce the “noise.”
Summer is officially in full swing, and for a lot of us, that means more time for reading. Sure you want to have a few easy and fun reads but it’s also nice to read thought-provoking books that continue to challenge you as you get through these warmer months. If you’re looking for a book that’s going to stick with you longer than your average beach read, the team at gothamCulture has compiled a list of stimulating and conversation-starting books that we’ve enjoyed.
A couple of months ago, Tim Bowden finished Humanocracy: Creating organizations as amazing as the people inside them by Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini. The authors highlight the massive costs of bureaucracy in organizations and offer a roadmap for creating organizations that replace complex, hierarchical chains of command with systems and structures based on trust and transparency. It’s a great read for anyone who wants to unlock the inherent creative capacities and unique talents of their organization to drive innovation and resilience.
Zad ElMakkaoui recently read Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn which explains what mindfulness is and why it’s not reserved for Zen practitioners and Buddhist monks. It gives you simple ways to practice it in everyday life, both formally and informally while helping you avoid the obstacles on your way to a more aware self.
James O’Flaherty recommends Noise by Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, and Cass Sunstein. It shows the detrimental effects of noise in various fields like medicine, law, economic forecasting, strategy, performance reviews, personnel selection and outlines ways to reduce both noise and bias to make better decisions.
James also recommends Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. This book discusses how our irrational and misguided behaviors are not random or senseless, but rather systematic and predictable.
Kate Gerasimova recently finished How to Change, by Wharton professor Katy Milkman, which talks about how to help us make changes stick, whether it is a return to the office or setting up big goals for the year. The key is to enjoy it more and surround yourself with people who believe in you. The author suggests using more specificity when setting goals, and pairing them with an activity you enjoy. Like going to the gym and listening to a book you like. It is a great read to see and try some experiments in trying to change our daily habits or the way we live our lives for the better.
Andrea Bennett started reading Influence by Robert Cialdini which explores the science and practice of what factors cause one person to say yes to another person and which techniques most effectively use these factors to bring about such compliance. Backed by Dr. Cialdini’s 35 years of evidence-based, peer-reviewed scientific research—including a three-year field study on what leads people to change—Influence is a comprehensive guide to using these principles to move others in your direction.