Tag Archive for: #culture

Chris Kolenda: Is investing in your culture worth it?

Is investing in your culture worth it?

Should you invest in that off-site or training program that promises to strengthen your culture? 

I admit that I am a bit biased because I’m a believer. I support my clients in these ways, and I even have a trademarked program called Building an Inspiring Culture®

To give you a concise report, I asked my chatbot to outline the business case for Building an Inspiring Culture®.

Taken together, these studies suggest that investing in your culture can have a huge payoff, provided you invest in quality. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that culture drives employee retention, more so than pay and benefits. In a 2024 study, over seventy-five percent of job stayers reported satisfaction with their company’s culture, while less than twenty-two percent of leavers reported the same. 

Can’t afford to invest in your culture? These data points suggest that you can’t afford not to.

Are you ready to invest in your culture? 

Stay away from the goofy catch-me-while-I-fall-backwards gimmicks and one-off “morale-building” picnics.

Your best option is to invest in programs that provide you and your employees with simple processes that you can teach, evaluate, and improve.

Most leaders use unconscious processes that work to varying degrees. Because you cannot teach, evaluate, or improve an unconscious process, leaders get frustrated that employees are not picking up what’s intuitive to the leader. Employees get frustrated that the leader expects them to be mind readers and is not giving them the tools to be successful. 

What would be the impact if you had simple, practical tools to build your leaders and culture? 

The best places to find them are in my trademarked programs Becoming a WHY Leader® and Building an Inspiring Culture®

Becoming a WHY Leader® is a video-based program that moves you from being a “Hands-On” to an “Eyes-on, Hands-Off” leader, which is necessary if you want to lead multi-unit organizations and inspire people to contribute their best to your team’s success. 

Do you want to create a culture where people voluntarily meet your standards and expectations? Building an Inspiring Culture® is a video-based program that outlines the process for doing so. 

You can engage in these self-directed programs at your own pace and order. Do you want to improve your self-awareness or strengthen buy-in? Go directly to the module you want, watch a short video, and apply the process visual to get results immediately.

Each program retails for $997 or $1450 for both. 

I am offering lifetime access to you for $297 each or $397 for both until May 15th.

You can enroll in one or both of them using these links:

Becoming a WHY Leader®: https://sla.circle.so/checkout/becoming-a-why-leader

Building an Inspiring Culture®: https://sla.circle.so/checkout/building-an-inspiring-culture

Bundle It! Get both programs for just $397: https://sla.circle.so/checkout/why-leader-and-inspiring-culture

Do you want to license these programs for your organization? Send me an email, and we’ll set up a time to discuss.

Chris Kolenda: It’s what you’re hearing, Listen. You don’t have to suck at listening.

It’s what you’re hearing, Listen. You don’t have to suck at listening.

Do you find yourself repeating yourself or asking others to repeat themselves? Is miscommunication a challenge at your company? This could be a result of common listening errors.

“It’s not what you heard; it’s what you’re hearing, listen.” The immortal words of deceased rap star DMX tell us, “It’s what you’re hearing, listen.”

The trouble with hearing is that it can be hard to listen. According to a 2022 Harris poll, the average company loses eight hours of productivity per week per employee due to miscommunication. That’s one day per week and 400 hours per year down the drain. At a $50 per hour wage, that’s an annual $20,000 loss. In a company with 100 employees at that average wage, you are out $2 million. As DMX might say, “Errrrrr.”

If listening skills could improve at your workplace, you definitely want to read on.

Two common listening errors are distracted listening and listening to respond. 

Distracted listening occurs when you try multitasking when someone is speaking to you. Your mind pulls in two directions. You try tapping out a coherent sentence on the keyboard or phone while Jane is telling you about a problem in marketing. You’re probably looking at your screen instead of Jane. You’re hearing, but you are not listening.

Two things happen. First, your performance at each task is terrible. Your sentence is awful, and you get a fraction of Jane’s message. You waste time rewriting the sentence and asking Jane to repeat herself or acting on an erroneous understanding. Some studies suggest that your performance while multitasking is the equivalent of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 

Second, Jane thinks you don’t care. You may have your back to her or your eyes glued to the screen, making comments like, “I’m listening … oh, that’s awful … I’ll get on it … thanks for telling me.” Jane knows you only caught part of her message, and your lack of eye contact and reflective listening is insulting. 

How do you feel when you try to talk to someone in distracted listening mode? Jane feels the same way you do.

Listening to respond is a more subtle problem I suffered for years until I learned how it affected my ability to communicate.  

Listening to respond means hearing something that triggers you, and your mind drifts into crafting your response instead of listening to the entire conversation. You might be making eye contact, but your mind is focused on what you will say instead of what the other person says.

In meetings, I would play with various arguments in my head about how to counter or support a person’s point and miss the rest of their message. When I gave my response, it was often out of step with the flow of the discussion. They moved forward; I was stuck in the past because I wanted to deliver the perfect response to something someone said ten minutes ago. I was hearing but not listening.

Listening to understand is the way to go, saving you time and boosting your credibility. When you listen to understand, you give the person speaking your undivided attention, and you ask follow-up questions to make sure what they meant and what you understood are in sync.

Most people err on the side of brevity, so you’re only getting part of the message anyway, and you need them to amplify their main points. Some great open-ended questions include:

  • Tell me more about X.
  • When Y happened, how did you feel about that?
  • Describe in more detail what you observed.
  • Help me to understand your point of view on Z.
  • Talk me through your thought process on this.

As they answer your questions, you want to make sure you understand their message (and to be sure they know you understand it), so put their point in your own words, beginning with statements or questions like Help me to know if I understand you correctlyMay I summarize what I think are your key points on this matter before we move on? [The latter question works particularly well when someone is overexplaining or moving to a new point.]

When they say, “Yes, that’s exactly right,” you have mutual understanding and can co-create a way forward. [Check out my video on using RAVEN to encourage the psychological confidence of people to disagree agreeably.]

How well is listening to understand working for you? Send me an email and let me know!

Chris Kolenda: Here’s how the most respected leaders simplify.

Here’s how the most respected leaders simplify.

Do you find that getting everyone in your company on the same page is a struggle, especially in a hybrid work environment?

The benefits of everyone rowing in the right direction and cadence reduces anxiety and distress, increases cooperation and innovation, and avoids wasting time in misunderstandings.

The challenge, of course, is that our businesses are both complicated and complex. 

Complicated means you have many connected elements: step-by-step processes to follow so things work properly. A car engine is complicated – the engine, transmission, steering, brakes, etc. must integrate for the car to function. 

Your business is also complex, meaning interwoven. You have multiple dependencies outside your control, such as suppliers, partners, regulations, laws, competitors, technology, social changes, etc. These variables are constantly interacting, often creating novel situations and arrangements.

Inside your head, your business starts to look like this:

Imagine trying to explain this picture to your employees. Your complexifying would be incoherent. People would take away what they wanted and discard the rest. The result: employees are on different pages, pulling in different directions, and your business wastes time and money in misunderstandings, relitigating decisions, and heightened distress.

The likelihood that you are complexifying is worse than you imagine.

I asked my Chatbot to draw a picture of complexity arising from the interaction of only two variables over time. 

One of the examples of this picture the Chatbot provided was the interaction between Market Demand and Supply Chain Efficiency:

An increase in consumer demand can lead to complexities in the supply chain, especially if the supply chain isn’t agile enough to adapt. This scenario can result in stock shortages, delayed deliveries, or increased costs. Conversely, an efficient supply chain facing low demand can lead to overproduction and excess inventory.

Instead of trying to explain the picture above, you could simplify the matter using a double-axis chart like this:

You can plot where you are on the chart and take actions that move you to the upper right quadrant. Everyone can visualize the situation and actions that lead to the desired result.

Simplifying does not mean dumbing down. 

Simplifying makes complex information accessible while retaining its integrity. Simplification is a skillful art of communication that preserves content quality and improves understanding. Doing so respects your audience. 

Dumbing down, on the other hand, alters or diminishes the value of the information, removing important content and context and patronizing or misleading your co-workers.

I tend to get complex descriptions when asking CEOs about their business strategy. I’ll query their direct reports and mostly get different answers. As you can imagine, the deviations increase as you ripple from the center to the periphery. 

The explanations make perfect sense to you but leave everyone mystified and confused. They do what they think is right, leading to people rowing hard in different directions at different cadences. 

Can simplifying improve your outcomes? I’ll help you see where you are complexifying and identify ways you can simplify without becoming simplistic.

Schedule a call with me or email me to begin your simplifying process.

Chris Kolenda: Harvard students cheering on Hamas shows why character counts

Harvard students cheering on Hamas shows why character counts

American students’ celebration of Hamas’s massacre of Israeli civilians shows that elite education is losing its soul.

Why it matters: employees who cannot grasp the three basics of character formation: think critically, conduct basic moral reasoning, and maintain an open mind, will stifle innovation, cut ethical corners, and undermine your culture. 

Trusting relationships are the glue that holds organizations together. You should assess a prospective employee’s character before hiring them. 

Education, Plato wrote in The Republic, is the guardian of the guardians. Its purpose was not technical training but intelligence and character formation. You demonstrated your character through action in the public square and on the battlefield.

“The function of education,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “is to teach one to think intensively and critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

Sadly, many students get indoctrination rather than the intellectual courage that comes from practicing critical thinking, moral reasoning, and agreeable disagreement. 

How else to explain their inability to see Hamas’s mass murder as beyond the pale?

One can condemn Hamas’s atrocities while at the same time empathizing with the plight of Palestinians and Israelis who want to live a peaceful and prosperous life, however they define it. One can support Israel’s right to self-defense while at the same time demanding their adherence to the laws of war and respect for Palestinian civilian lives. Hamas’s murdering thugs are Palestinians, but only a fraction of Palestinians are Hamas.

Who benefits from Palestinian misery and Israeli paranoia? Hamas, of course, and associated groups like Palestinian Islamic Jihad (whose errant rocket killed scores of innocent civilians outside a Gaza hospital).

Many students have become, in words ascribed to Lenin, the “useful idiots” of those who seek to divide humanity based on their chromosomes, categorizing them into colonized/colonizers and oppressed/oppressors. The former, in this simplistic view, are good, and the latter are evil, so any action against evil is justified. 

Hence, you have university students cheering on Hamas as they beheaded Israeli civilians and butchered children. It’s obvious who benefits, on both sides of the aisle, from pitting people against each other.

“The philosophy of the school room in one generation,” Abraham Lincoln warned, “will be the philosophy of government in the next.”

The Enron, Madoff, Theranos, and FTX scandals, among others, show the damage when people lack moral and intellectual courage. Given what we see on many college campuses, such scandals will likely increase. Employers aware of the danger have revoked employment offers from students who celebrated Hamas murders.

Before the indoctrinated become bosses, you may see a perverse Robinhood effect – talented, self-righteous employees who sabotage your company.  

Artificial intelligence can improve this problem by leveling the book-smarts playing field. 

A B-level graduate of character from a state university can tap into artificial intelligence for the book smarts. The reverse is not true for the elite college A-student who lacks moral and intellectual courage.

P.S. Many students report that self-censoring is a significant problem on many college campuses. It’s a habit that may carry into the workplace. Did you know employees who report low psychological confidence are reluctant to identify problems, offer fresh ideas, and try new things?

​​Employees with high psychological confidence report significantly lower stress and anxiety and substantially higher performance, productivity, and innovation. Dr. Mark Goulston and I developed this psychological confidence survey so you can assess and identify ways to improve. We can also survey your entire team and provide you with a Net Psychological Confidence Score.

Chris Kolenda: Do you want Awesome repeats? Three-peats? Make this one simple change.

Do you want Awesome repeats? Three-peats? Make this one simple change.

If you have good employees who perform inconsistently, I’ve got a way for you to boost individual and team performance with one simple change.

Most business owners I know are relentlessly positive people. Natural optimists who believe they can succeed and are willing to try new things to grow their business and bring out their employees’ best.

It’s not unusual for them to walk around the business complimenting people for their good work.

Stay awesome, Joe!

Keep on rocking it, Sara!

I appreciate you, Jane!

The effect of general compliments on employer and employee alike is easy to see: smiles, enjoyment, a boost in everyone’s mood.

Then, everyone moves on. Joe, Sara, and Jane keep doing good but inconsistent work. 

They know you appreciate them but don’t know what behaviors to repeat or adopt because your praise is too general.

What, exactly, is Joe doing that’s awesome, and what can Sara and Jane learn from it and vice versa?

If you want them to repeat high performance, you need to make your compliments specific. That way, Joe knows precisely what you believe is awesome about his performance.

Because he’s performed it and you acknowledged what he did, Joe knows what to do again. So do Sara and Jane, and they know what they can adopt from each other because you told them with a specific compliment.

Joe, I loved how you handled that customer’s complaint. You maintained eye contact, made sure she knew she was heard by repeating the complaint back to her, and used your discretionary funds to fix the problem and make her feel like a winner. Stay awesome, Joe!

Sara, the way you coached Brian to solve a problem he was facing was perfect. You asked him what he would do and what support he needed from you to make it happen. Brian’s solution wasn’t perfect – you knew that – and you knew that a good solution he owned was better than you giving him a perfect solution. Keep on rocking it, Sara!

This practice works everywhere you go. When I complimented a flight attendant on how well he treated people by looking at them directly and acknowledging them, I noticed he started doing it even more than he had before. The same happens with nearly everyone providing a service.

Specific compliments are your way to celebrate what right looks like, and the effect is infectious because your employee and their co-workers know precisely what to repeat.

General comments give a temporary mood uplift. Specific compliments give you a sustainable performance boost.

Let me know how this action works for you by sending me an email or leaving a comment.

What Oppenheimer and Civil War artillery tell us about agency

Oppenheimer, the movie, was riveting, and I highly recommend it.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, a theoretical physicist in charge of America’s Manhattan Project during World War Two, had qualms about creating the atomic bomb.

It was a weapon of mass destruction that would incinerate tens of thousands instantly and condemn more to slow, agonizing deaths.

The movie shows him expressing these qualms to President Truman after the war. Truman said that he deployed the bombs, so the responsibility was his. 

Oppenheimer should stop whining.

Truman was half-right. He, not Oppenheimer, was responsible for dropping the bombs, but the latter had agency, too. Oppenheimer could have slow-rolled or sabotaged the project. Instead, he did everything he could to make the bomb operational as quickly as possible because he believed in the mission.

Confederate artillery provides a similar insight. Enslaved people worked in the factories that made Confederate fuses and shells and routinely sabotaged them, making the munitions unreliable. 

Commanders refused to fire shells over the heads of their troops because so many fell short. Fratricide was common. At the battle of Gettysburg in 1863, General Robert E. Lee placed the fate of his army in the hands of his artillery and came up short. 

Union fuses had no such problems.

People crave agency. They want to have control over the quality and impact of their work. When they believe in what they are doing and the people alongside them, they’ll use their discretionary effort to make things go as well as possible.

They’ll use their agency to undermine progress when they don’t trust the organization or its leaders. 

When people feel they have little agency, they will find ways to assert control over their work, often by creating bureaucratic hurdles and other obstacles they can raise or lower.

When your employees are impeding your business, it’s your fault. You haven’t given them something to buy into, so they use their agency for self-preservation.

Gaining buy-in from your employees is less about change-the-world romanticism than behaviors that align your company’s common good with employee self-interest and confidence.

Are you a veteran looking to build a career as a consultant or advisor? The next 9-week program of Expert Consulting Mastery begins on October 11, 2023. Register for my September 20, 2023 webinar to learn more.

Create best value experiences: offer employees an EVP

Is your company trapped in the doom loop of high turnover, poor execution, and poor customer experience? 

This loop leads to your customers seeking alternatives, which means declining sales, lower profits, and a higher risk of bankruptcy.

Organizations typically take their employees for granted, failing to invest in their well-being and future growth because they don’t see the payoff. A recent Harvard Business Review article shows the impact of this short-sighted approach. 

People who feel unfulfilled and taken for granted tend to be on the lookout for a better fit. That means they are paying less attention to your company’s well-being because they are preoccupied with their own. It’s no wonder 69 percent of Americans report being unengaged at work. 

People feeling undervalued jump ship. Losing people you’ve trained reduces productivity and heightens the likelihood of poor execution. 

Poor execution damages your customers’ experiences, leading to more problems you need to fix. Unsatisfied customers will vote with their feet for a competitor.

Now you’re paying penalties on two levels. 

First, losing existing customers undermines your business and makes you invest more heavily in attracting new customers (keeping existing customers tends to be cheaper than finding new ones).

Second, you get consumed in damage control. Instead of focusing on strategy, innovation, and growth (why you get paid X), you are cleaning up problems that a junior employee (who you pay Y) should have prevented in the first place.

X minus Y is your opportunity cost. If your salary is $250/hour and your employee’s is $50, your damage control costs you $200/hour. 

[NOTE: Micromanaging has the same math.]

An employee value proposition (EVP) helps you reverse the spiral because your employees see how you are investing in them as people. A good EVP includes tangible and intangible benefits, both short and long-term.

Many organizations focus on short-term tangible benefits, such as pay, and neglect the other three areas that emphasize purpose, belonging, and growth opportunities. Beyond a certain threshold, these factors are more prominent in stay-or-go decisions than pay.

Creating an EVP for your employees is an important forcing function that gets you to provide compelling, intangible benefits that will attract and retain the right people.

If this blog resonates with you and you are wondering about the next steps, Schedule a Call with Chris Kolenda. 

Do you have 360 awareness?

360 external awareness occurs when you know what people think and feel about you and their workplace. The key stakeholders include your bosses, peers, and the employees you lead. The latter is the trickiest, and Northwestern University football coach Pat Fitzgerald was fired for neglecting this responsibility.

I remember watching Pat Fitzgerald play football at Northwestern in the mid-1990s and cheered him on as he became the head coach who turned around a lacklustre program.

The allegations of serial hazing on the team are disheartening. The stories of cruelty and mistreatment keep materializing.

Fitzgerald should be fired as the head coach, whether he knew about the hazing and condoned it or did not know such activities were happening on his watch. 

Leaders must discover what’s happening in their organizations, particularly regarding their most vulnerable employees. 

Knowing what your bosses and peers think about you and your organization is normally straightforward. 

Figuring out what your employees think and feel about your workplace is trickier. 

A camouflage net obscures your view from above. You only see what you want to see, the bits that emerge into plain sight, and what people are willing to reveal to you. The net conceals everything else.

The best leaders develop ways to get underneath the net to see things as they are, identify problems, spot talent, and gain fresh ideas.

Here are some ways I help leaders do that.

  1. Feedback loops. Use a combination of short questionnaires, focus groups, and individual interviews to get ground truth. Identify the issues you want to address, tell your employees, follow through, and follow up.
  2. Trusted Advisers challenge your assumptions and help you see what’s hidden in plain sight. Your biases do not inhibit them, so they’ll notice and report issues and opportunities as they find them. 
  3. Off-sites get people out of their comfort zones and open minds to new ideas. These adventures increase trust, strengthen relationships, and improve communication. People report problems and offer fresh ideas when they trust the people around them. Taking people to powerful places like national parks and historic venues creates experiences that last a lifetime and pay massive dividends for your organization.

It’s too bad Pat Fitzgerald did not find ways to peer underneath the camouflage net to see things as they are. 

He’s not alone, of course. Many good people have fallen from grace because they fooled themselves into thinking they could see everything from up high.  

Would an adventure off-site improve trust in your organization? View our programs and schedule a call with Chris to see if it could be a good fit. 

Special D-Day edition: D-Day shows how the best leaders shape and adapt to events

D-Day shows how the best leaders respond. 

General Dwight Eisenhower could not control the Nazi High Command, but he reinforced their biases that General Patton would lead the main attack at the Pas de Calais. The deception enabled the Allies to secure the Normandy beaches and move inland. 

The Germans assumed for six more weeks that Patton would make a more significant landing at Calais. Eisenhower’s deception plan (Operation Fortitude) worked better than he imagined.

Eisenhower could not control the weather nor how well the German military units reacted to the invasion. He postponed the invasion for a day due to bad weather and made a risky call that the seas would be calm enough for the June 6 landings. 

In the quiet hours before the assault, he wrote a letter taking responsibility if the invasion failed.

Eisenhower recognized that he could influence events to a certain extent and that he could determine how he responded to unfolding circumstances.

Brigadier General Norm Cota landed at Omaha Beach with the second wave. The German fire was so intense that the first wave’s survivors crouched behind a retaining wall. German artillery began to take its toll.

Omaha Beach, looking up to the high ground where the Germans dug in.

Cota knew that the troops needed to get moving immediately or get ground down. Individually, each was safer staying put; collectively, they were safer moving forward and attacking the German positions. 

Cota adapted to circumstances and said, “Follow me,” taking the fight to the enemy. Soon thereafter, the Americans broke the German defenses. Cota influenced events by adapting to circumstances.

D-Day, which happened on June 6 79 years ago, holds myriad examples of the interplay between influencing and adapting.

The best leaders recognize their limited control of external factors and exclusive control over how they respond. They are response-able, to use Stephen Covey’s term. 

In so doing they:

  • Refrain from blaming subordinates for outcomes outside their control
  • Resist the temptation to promote people based on good luck
  • Innovate to seize emerging opportunities and mitigate risks
  • Maintain perspective
  • Challenge practices and beliefs that are no longer fit-for-purpose
  • Avoid self-delusion.

The chart below shows the importance.

People who believe they have so much influence over external events that they never have to adapt have spent too much time watching “motivational speakers” and believe everyone else must join their comfort zone. Examples include Twitter mobs, Stanford Law students, bigots, Luddites, and Sears and Blockbuster executives. Such people refuse to adapt; they approach every issue with an open mouth and closed mind. 

By contrast, a person who believes that they cannot influence or adapt are victims adrift in the world.

Someone who believes they cannot influence anything but can only adapt to the forces buffeting them about are like old-school Calvinists who believed in predestination. In business and life, they are the people trapped on the hamster wheel, feeling they can only govern how fast or slow they go and not whether they can get on or off. 

You find people at work who blindly follow orders and fixate on “that’s how we’ve always done it.” They don’t innovate, they stay in the ruts others have made for them because they don’t believe they can make any difference.

Leaders who believe they can influence, not control, events but can control how they respond are response-able. Like Eisenhower and Cota, they innovate, seize opportunities, and avoid blame games. 

Amazon could not control information technology, but they adapted to the new realities and drove Sears out of business. Netflix did the same to Blockbuster.

Understanding what you can and cannot control leads to sound judgment.

What is your top takeaway from this article? Write a comment, DM me on LinkedIn, or email me at chris@strategicleadersacademy.com.

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What the Great Resignation and the Big Election Beatdown Have in Common

In August, over 4 million Americans quit their jobs — the so-called Great Resignation — despite COVID unemployment supplements expiring. Last Tuesday’s election delivered shockers such as a Republican winning Virginia’s gubernatorial election and Minneapolis, Seattle, and other cities rejecting Defund the Police advocates.

Common to these seemingly disparate events are a backlash against the finger-wagging classes who tell people to shut up and do as their self-appointed betters tell them to do. People are challenging the mandate-centric approach to leading and governing.

People don’t leave their jobs; they leave their bosses. Seventy-five percent of those who quit their jobs did so to get away from their managers (Gallup, 2019). The 2021 numbers could be even higher.

COVID has lowered people’s tolerance for bad bosses and self-appointed betters. Leaders — public and private — should be exemplars, not overlords.

Persuasion gains buy-in, which motivates people to provide their discretionary effort. Coercion may gain compliance, but it also creates resistance. People vote with their feet.

There are times when mandates are necessary. When you establish a reputation for using persuasion to gain buy-in, you will get the benefit of the doubt when a crisis emerges.