Archive for August, 2011

Laying the Cultural Foundation for High-Performing Teams

Recognize This! – Building strong teams strengthens the individual as much as the unit.

Continuing on this week’s theme of company culture, Siemens AG President and CEO Peter Löscher was the featured interview in a recent New York Times “Corner Office” column.

Mr. Loscher speaks to three important lessons a wise leader will learn and apply in any global organization.

Trust and Teamwork

“But the underlying strength is the trust within the team — so that you actually are no longer just playing individually at your best, but you’re also trying to understand what you can do to make the team better.”

A classic approach to teamwork, it’s always important to remember the virtuous circle of a high-functioning, trusting team:

  1. A true team helps all members function at their individual best.
  2. When each team member is performing well, the team as a whole delivers greater results.


“So the challenge was how to lead a diverse team, and this was always one of my interests. My forefathers are from Italy, my parents are Austrian, my wife is Spanish, two of our children are American and the third is Spanish, so I have the United Nations at home. You have to adapt to a diverse environment and appreciate the diversity. … Our company does business in 190 countries, so you need to have diversity of experience. I put a lot of value on this.”

Your people are all different. This is much more obvious in global organizations, but no less true if you have operations domestically only. Wise leaders seek to understand the different motivators, concerns and cultural expectations of all employees because they know doing so leads to more trusting teams.

Company Culture

“But I think you create this culture where we are together, and together we are going to make ourselves better, we are not satisfied, and we are straight about it. So you celebrate successes, you rally the teams, but at the same time you say, how can we make ourselves better in every little single step that we are taking?”

Celebrating success, encouraging others, and recognizing achievements is only half the relationship equation in high-functioning teams. As with any performance management, appropriate corrective feedback needs to also be given. However, building a relationship of trust and appreciation lays the groundwork for mutual respect that makes both giving and receiving constructive feedback easier and far more effective.

Do you work in a team? What is the dynamic – one of trust and helpfulness, or one of dysfunction and self-preservation?

Purpose Must Come from the CEO

Recognize This! – We can all help each other find the meaning in our work. Purpose, however, must be established by the CEO.

Alan Mulally of Ford Motor Company is CEO of the Year, according to Chief Executive magazine. I’m not at all surprised and quite pleased to see this commendation for Mr. Mulally. He is very deserving of the recognition.

Bnet dissected his recognition based on the criteria Chief Executive sets for winning this honor, especially the category of “moral landscape,” which is defined as “courage, integrity, reputation and having a coherent and high purpose embedded in the corporate culture, due in part to the CEO’s example.”

Bnet author John Baldoni commented on this:

“Purpose, as supported by my research, drives clarity because it enables people to see the big picture. Even better they see themselves painting part of that picture.”

This idea of “purpose” is quite important – and quite different from meaningful work. Any employee – at any level – can help another employee understand the greater value and meaning of their work by recognizing and appreciating that person’s contributions and efforts.

Purpose, however, can only be established by the CEO/company head. As Baldoni rightly states, purpose must come from the top down – and it must be conveyed and communicated in such a way that all employees understand where it is the CEO is marching and how they each can help them get there. Mulally did this with One Ford – a clear vision supported by clear values and objectives to achieve that vision.

My CEO, Eric Mosley, and I wrote about this in our book, Winning with a Culture of Recognition, quoting Mr. Mulally:

“I really focus on the values and the standards of the organization. What are the expected behaviors? How do we want to treat each other? How do we want to act? What do we want to do about transparency? How can we have a safe environment where we really know what’s going on?”

The values and behaviors you emphasize are the basis of your culture – and the foundation for establishing the purpose of the organization. Making this real to every employee is the critical leap. Recognizing employees when they demonstrate behaviors reflective of those values and in contribution to achieving the One Ford vision makes it real in the daily work of all employees. That’s where so many companies fail. A vision is only a vision until it’s real and personal in the work.

What’s the purpose of your organization? Does the CEO make this clear or is it left to individual employees to assume and infer?

Engage Employees by Helping Them See Meaning in Their Work

Recognize This! -Meaningful work is a vastly powerful – but frequently overlooked – contributor to employee engagement.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that employee engagement continues to suffer, especially as talk of a potential double-dip recession picks up. Employees translate that to mean hiring will remain stagnant, their work load will remain high, and productivity demands will only increase.

Teresa Amabile, professor of business administration and a director of research at Harvard Business School out of Harvard Business School, reported on research she recently conducted that found what actually contributes the most to employee engagement:

“We found that the most important indicators on employee engagement [were] not things that most managers think about. The most important event that happened was simply ‘making progress in meaningful work.’ That’s not what we expected. … [Meaningful work is] work where the person is contributing something of real value, something they care about. If they could find meaning to the work — even contributing value to the team or the organization — this would make a difference.”

Meaningful work and a sense of value within the organization are indeed powerful elements of employee engagement. All work is meaningful and valuable (otherwise, why would you be paying people to do it). The trick is for management to help employees see that meaningfulness and personal value, especially during this tough economy and often stressful workplace environment.

This reminds me of the time I visited an aged relative in hospital. My cousin questioned why I thanked the janitor as deeply as I did the doctor. In my eyes, the janitor keeps my relative’s hospital room as clean and germ free as possible, which is critical to her speedy recovery. How is that any less meaningful or worthy of appreciation than the efforts of the doctor?Any heroic efforts by the doctor to save my relative’s life would be wasted if she had caught an infection in a dirty recovery room.

Think about this in terms of your workplace. Who are the people that make it possible or easier for you to get your work done? Who are the “mighty middle” employees – those in the vast majority of middle-tier employees in terms of performance – who make it possible for your stars to shine? What are you doing to celebrate those employees, their contributions and their achievements? How are you helping them see the meaningfulness of their work?

Tell me – what’s meaningful about your work that others may not recognize or appreciate?


How Confident Are You in Your Leaders?

Recognize This! – Listening and courage are two primary ways for managers  to restore employee trust and confidence.

Employee trust in their management is critical to employee engagement and performance. After all, would you give your best to a manager you don’t trust?

The trend for decades now, however, has been a reduced level of trust in management. Korn/Ferry tracks the level of confidence in leadership and the impact on economic data. While Q1 2011 showed favorably, I think the latest data will show a downward trend again.

Here’s an interesting quote from Korn/Ferry Leadership and Talent Consulting CEO Ana Durita:

“We continue to track confidence in leadership against economic factors, but this wave of data suggests other environmental influences may override the impact of economic data. With many different types of economies, the most important question is how and why factors such as financial, geo-political, and ethical volatility are destabilizing confidence in corporate leadership with varying intensity in different parts of the world.”

That’s an important factor to always keep in mind. When employees begin to lose confidence and trust in company leadership, it may not be leadership’s fault (or, at least, not entirely leadership’s fault). As the economy still slowly recovers and many employees are not seeing a lessening of the burden they first felt during the aftermath of the recession, they may blame their managers and senior leadership for factors out of leadership control.

What can leaders and managers do to counteract this slip in trust and confidence? Dave Logan offered suggestions in a recent BNET article:

“Many of the worst leaders I know don’t listen, don’t like to listen, and hide in their offices talking to a small circle of people who think like they do. … Courage goes far beyond avoiding moral lapses.  It means finding a set of principles that the leader will use to make decisions, so that no one doubts where they stand.”

Listen – even when you don’t like what you’re hearing. And have the courage to do what needs to be done. These are two excellent ways management can restore employee trust and confidence.

If you don’t, you may end up in the same boat as Newt Gingrich whose entire campaign team left him when he didn’t listen to their wise counsel and who didn’t have the courage to do what needed to be done.

Do you have trust and confidence in your management team today? What do your managers do (or should they do) to build your trust?

Show Employees Their Value with Recognition

Recognize This! – Employee recognition is not a grab for attention. It’s a powerful way to motivate and encourage employees by communicating their value within the organization.


Why is employee recognition important? There are many reasons, not least among them the ability to reinforce company values and strategic objectives through frequent, timely, specific recognition.

One reason not often discussed, however, is recognition helps employees feel valued. A recent article in TVNewsCheck noted:

Employee recognition programs work. They help employees to feel that their contributions and efforts are valued by the company and make a difference in meeting company goals. Programs where employees are nominated by their peers are particularly effective. As [Anna] Schiefer [human resources director for McGraw-Hill] observed, it only takes a few minutes to compose a personal note thanking or recognizing an employee, and the return on that investment is quantifiable and significant.”

Too often, people view recognition as a grab for attention. It is not. Employees (at all levels) need to know their work is necessary, needed, valued and appreciated. Recognition is the optimal means for conveying that value and appreciation — preferably frequently, specifically and as soon after the event worthy of recognition as possible.

Increasing productivity while keeping headcount the same is a primary goal of CEOs (as reported by Hay Group). Employees are wearing thin. Simple acknowledgment and appreciation of hard work well done is something we all need if we are to keep delivering at the top of our game.

Do you feel valued at work? What do your colleagues or managers do (or do you wish they did) that make you feel valued and appreciated?

How to Treat Company Culture as Strategy

Recognize This! – Company culture has more impact on business outcomes than any other factor.

Long-time readers of my blog know how passionate I am about the importance of a strong company culture of appreciation and how wise leaders use strategic employee recognition to proactively manage their company cultures.

SmartBlog on Leadership recently featured the results of a LRN survey on this topic. Key findings include:

  • 68% indicated that creating long-term value for the business is a principal benefit of promoting an ethical culture
  • Yet 57% are still not giving ethics the same weight as business outcomes in performance evaluations
  • 54% never formally celebrate acts of ethical leadership

LRN executive vice president David Greenberg suggests as a solution:

“Treat culture as a strategy: An ethical culture is not created by accident. It is deliberately crafted at many levels of the organization under the guidance of leaders who hard-wire it into the processes and practices by which business gets done.”

This is quite true. Doing just that – hard-wiring ethics and values into the daily work – is what many find challenging. The most effective and positive way of achieving this is through frequent, timely and appropriate recognition and appreciation. Strategic recognition uses the company values as the reasons for recognition, encouraging all employees at any level to frequently and very specifically recognize their colleagues and peers any time they demonstrate those values in their daily work.

This approach makes the values real for employees – not just a plaque on the wall. And the most success is achieved when this is encouraged from the CEO down through the ranks.

Winning with a Culture of Recognition, the book I co-authored with my CEO Eric Mosley, describes in much greater detail how you can build a culture of recognition based on your values so you can proactively manage your company culture to become what you want and need it to be.