Cast featured in Spirit magazine

Hey, if any of you happen to be moving about the country on Southwest Airlines this month, would you mind grabbing me a copy of the December issue of Spirit magazine? Great article on corporate culture by Jill Coody Smits, and featuring your humble blog host.

So, what does it take to engage employees? CFO-led Zumba classes? Freezers stocked with Lean Cuisine? Star-studded holiday parties? Knutsen says people aren’t snowed by those kinds of perks. “Employees want to be clear about where their organization is going, feel valued, make a fair wage, and have autonomy and a role that fits their strengths.”

Moreover, Knutsen says, they want to grow, learn, and feel tied to something that’s bigger. “People need a story to connect to, and if the employer doesn’t give it to them they’ll write their own.” 

More by Jill here.

More by me, well, here.

Listening when listening gets hard

There's an extraordinary story over at Yahoo Sports today about how one leader managed a challenge to his authority by welcoming it.

"It was practically a mutiny. It came very close to getting out of control. But the way Coach handled it was amazing. He let people have their say, and he listened, and he explained himself, and pretty soon it was like a big group-therapy session. In the end, a lot of positive things were said. We... came out of there stronger as a group."

"Coach" is Baltimore Ravens head football coach John Harbaugh, who surprised his team on a day they were expecting a light, walk-through practice by telling them to get into full pads. The decision didn't go over well with several of the Ravens' most respected veteran players, and they began to openly challenge Harbaugh's authority.

How would you handle a situation like that? How many leaders would have the presence, the patience, the emotional intelligence to invite the feedback, to validate and welcome the challenges, to explicitly risk their own authority by choosing not to explode, but to listen?

"I've never seen a head coach handle anything like that as well as he did," said a Ravens assistant who attended the meeting. "There were some things said where we were like, Damn.

"A lot of coaches would have acted like dictators and been very sensitive about the way their authority was being questioned. John said, 'Hey, let's talk about this.' He showed great leadership. Instead of worrying that it would make him seem weak, he turned it into a strength."

"John's great quality is that even if he goes down the wrong street, he's willing to say, 'I went down the wrong street' and correct it with the team. Whereas other coaches are so damn stubborn, they won't admit they were wrong, and it splinters the team."

The reason most leaders are so damn stubborn, won't admit they're wrong, and cling so fiercely to their authority is because they're threatened. Harbaugh is not:

"I wasn't threatened by it. That's the main thing. And, you know, they had some good points, and I had some good points. Other guys stood up and said some great things. To me, it embodied everything that you should have on a team."

Being an NFL coach is one of the most tenuous positions one can hold. There are only 32 jobs available, and as many as a fourth of them get fired every year. And yet John Harbaugh's not threatened.

Why are you?

Culture rolls downhill

Know why it's so hard to change a corporate culture? Because culture is a reflection of senior leadership, starting at the very top: 

Without a shift in thinking at the top of an organization, it is almost impossible to change an organization’s culture. A study conducted years ago shed some light on the role of senior leaders in changing organizational culture and behavior. The study concluded that the CEO’s disposition and personality had everything to do with the company's service orientation and collaborative mindset.

That's Ken and Scott Blanchard, writing in Fast Co., and they are spot on. This, of course, is why senior leaders are the last to think the culture needs changing: There's nothing wrong with the culture--it looks just like me.

Which is why Point #3 of the Cast manifesto says, "If the CEO's not on board, don't bother."

Which, in turn, begs the question: How do we get the CEO on board? We'll explore that later this week. 

[H/T: David C. Baker, whom you should follow if you're not already.]

“Feedback is a function of respect”

Brene Brown, interviewed in the Washington Post:

Feedback is a function of respect. But you know, the only feedback we get these days from leaders is corrective feedback. And the only way we can protect ourselves from that is by disengaging.

Real feedback is built on managerial presence, the practice that underlies all effective recognition and communication between a manager and her team. And it is a product of time, which too few of us choose to make.