Is your universe a friendly place?

Comparably has ranked Google #1 for Best Corporate Culture in 2017.

Picking up on the news, Forbes reached out to its Technology Council members, some of whom worked at Google, and asked them whether the company truly deserves the award, given the diversity issues that surfaced last year.

The answer was a resounding yes, and each of the 13 Council members provided a different reason. As you read the testimonies, it becomes clear that for a company so customer-obsessed, Google seems to care even more about its employees.

Perhaps the most important manifestation of this caring is “Google’s willingness to trust its employees”, as one member puts it. My friends at LRN noted the power of trust with the acronym T.R.I.P.: when employees feel Trusted, they take more Risks, leading to Innovation and Performance.

Einstein once said that the most important question we can ever ask is whether the universe is a friendly place. Similarly, we can all ask ourselves if our workplace is trustworthy. Our answer will determine our behaviors and the policies we put in place, which in turn will determine our culture.

The art of repetition

My mom, whose first career was as a high school teacher, had a saying: “Educating is the art of repetition.”

Teachers (and parents) understand this. Not only do they have to repeat the same material with every new class, they have to repeat it with the same class until everyone understands the lesson. Different students learn in different ways and at a different speed, so teachers must find different ways to teach the same material. There is in fact an art to it.

As E&C professionals, we face the same challenge. Each employee learns in her own way. Some of us have to deal with multiple cultures and multiple languages. And, of course, we all get a regular influx of new employees.

It’s normal for us, and perhaps even more so for our business partners, to get tired of repeating the same thing over and over again. Eventually, we assume that everyone gets it as much as we do. That’s what the Heath brothers called “the curse of knowledge” in their book Made to Stick. Experts start believing that everyone else understands what they understand. But we all know that what seems like an obvious red flag to an antitrust lawyer is not so obvious to a junior salesman.

Clearly, we cannot stop teaching. So our job is to find new ways to deliver the same materials in innovative ways. We can mix it up with technology, with humor, or with artifacts (art-ifacts – get it?).

Pro tip: remember that your employees are not tired of hearing the message. This should give you the energy to keep going.


One word to greatness

I recently read the book Small Giants by Bo Burlingham. It tells the story of companies that chose to be great instead of big.

519jtUnq-eL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_There is one word that is used so often in the book that I was surprised not to find it in the index. One word that tied all these companies together and made them great.


Care about what you do and why you do it, of course. But more importantly, care about the people you lead, whether they be your employees, customers or suppliers.

Those who feel cared for, who feel safe, bring their best self to work.

Hat tip to JC Glick for inspiring this post.

Cultural risks on the rise

Ask 728 directors and C-level executives what the top risks are for 2018 and you’ll find two cultural risks among the top five.

That’s what Protiviti found in its most recent global survey:

  • Ranked at #2 is “resistance to change”, a significant concern given that the #1 risk is the “rapid speed of disruptive innovation and new technologies”.
  • Then, ranked at #5 is an “organizational culture that may not encourage the timely escalation of risk issues.”

In response, we would expect companies to invest mightily in measuring and improving their culture. Yet, there are no signs of that. Instead, we see billions invested in addressing other risks like big data, cyber threats and privacy. I’m not suggesting that these risks should be ignored. Rather, I believe we could spend significantly less, and address those risks faster, by getting our culture right at the same time.

When employees resist change and fail to escalate risks, they create a tremendous drag on the business. Companies that create the right culture will speed ahead of their competitors.


Groundhog Day

I recently watched this classic movie with my 10-year old daughter. I wanted her to know that we all feel trapped at times, wondering if this is as good as it gets (to quote another movie), and that the way out is to become a better person.

For most of us, each day is very much like the previous one. We wake up in the same home, with the same people, and go to the same job to do the same thing. It’s easy to be dissatisfied with aspects of our home and workplace. If we focus on that, we end up feeling like Phil at the beginning of Groundhog Day.

In the movie, Phil spends the first few weeks of his time warp in panic. Then in anger. Then in selfishness. Then in depression. He eventually gives up and resigns himself to an eternal life in Punxsutawney. Only then does he start to engage in random acts of kindness and his emotions are stirred. He continues to be kind, starts learning new things, and happiness grows. He becomes the most popular man in town, falls in love with a woman who loves him back and then, just like that, the curse is broken.

The way out of a poor corporate culture is to treat each (nearly-identical) day as an opportunity to make a small change and see if it makes your day brighter. If it does, keep doing it and make another small change. Do this every day, with patience and persistence, and you can change the culture.

That’s ethical leadership.


“He’s a mad dog!”

“She’s a bully!”

“He’s a snake!”

When we see people out of control, we often compare them to animals. That’s because we know that humans, unlike animals, have the ability to reason. We can choose not to surrender our reason to our passions.

The jerks in the office – those who constantly yell, pound the table, denigrate others – have lost control of their human ability to reason. They mistake their weakness for strength. They behave like dangerous animals. People around them spend their time trying to stay safe rather than taking risks and innovating.

Jerks don’t get more out of people. They are a drag on your business. Fire them and reap two benefits: less drag on your business and more drag on the competitor they join.