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Your Mother Was Right

By Glenn Kaufman on Nov. 13, 2015 in

I was riding the NYC Subway to a doctor’s office for my annual check up when the train grinded to a halt and sat there for what felt like an eternity.  It moved a few feet, and then again, it stopped.  Three PA announcements came on, each proclaiming a different reason for the delay.  I was now going to be seriously late.  I had no phone signal, and to make matters worse, the train eventually changed tracks and I was now several blocks further away from the office that was my ultimate destination.

After sprinting over to the appointment, obviously angry and stressed, it was no surprise that my blood pressure was very high, even after several readings.  And this was just the start of my day.  Many of my good intentions were now foiled or hampered by my unfortunate commute.  I was triggered.  My emotions got the best of me.

In this instance, I was lucky because I suffered through it alone…it didn’t involve other people.  At work, however, we often get triggered during our interactions with other people and now the potential for damage is greater.  In fact, sometimes we are convinced that it was another person that actually triggered us, and things can deteriorate rapidly.

There are basically two categories of events that can do this to us.  First are those things that disrupt our expectations and we genuinely cannot control, like my train situation.  These triggers are reality-based.  Second are things that we perceive as some sort of insult to our pride, our values or our beliefs.  Often, these situations contain a leap in our thinking that exaggerates our response.  However, they are not as threatening as they seem- we just react as though they are.

I did a lousy job of restoring my equilibrium after the train event, as evidenced by my very real blood pressure readings.  I let the transit system get the best of me that morning.  But what could I have done differently?

Basically, with any kind of trigger, there are a few things that can help.  The first thing is to recognize that you are triggered, and to do some reality testing.  What is the “self talk” that you are engaging in?  Is it amplifying your stress?  Can you manage to insert some better “messages to self” that acknowledge the situation, but do not jump to hideous conclusions about what will happen next?  It can be helpful to actually stop and tell yourself a story about what is happening, but with trying out some different endings with more positive conclusions.  After all, you haven’t yet experienced the real ending yet, and some of your control will inevitably be restored in short order.

Here’s the part about your mother.  When you are triggered, and it is of the perceived insult variety, the best thing you can do is provide some mental distance before reacting to whomever you think triggered you.  It turns out that your mother was right.  Counting to ten now has scientific validation as maybe the only means to stabilize your system and prevent you from further escalating your emotions.  Or, simply walk away and buy yourself some time.

Both of these tactics can actually help you to recover your equilibrium, however trivial they seem.  They are better than feeding the beast and creating a vicious cycle that will hamper your ability to use your brain in more productive ways following the heat of the moment.  Try them the next time YOU are triggered!

What is Leadership Development, anyway?

By Glenn Kaufman on Jul. 6, 2015 in

What is Leadership Development, anyway?

Virtually all large organizations pay attention to “developing” their leaders.  But what does this really mean?  Is there really one best way to do this?

Ironically, in my experience, many companies purport to do leadership development without ever really defining what they mean by leadership to begin with.  How can you develop a leader without really knowing what it is that you are developing?  Yes, companies have competencies that they publish, use in 360 feedback, or even evaluate people with formal appraisals.  But that is not the same as defining leadership so that they can determine how to mold their people into solid leaders.

For me, leadership is the ability to use one’s self as a catalyst for getting (great) things done.  Period.  It is the common denominator in ALL leadership roles, regardless of position, and it is “trait-free” in that it doesn’t require any specific personality to “do” leadership.  With this definition, leadership is better seen as a collection of acts rather than a job one holds.  This also means that anyone in an organization can do leadership and be developed to “be” one.

Using this definition, development becomes the process by which people learn about themselves, how they interact with, and are perceived by others, and then learn how to get beyond themselves to serve an organization and accomplish things through others.  That is a mouthful…I know, and while not an easy task, it is one that can be developed.  The best way to mold leaders is through a combination of on the job experience, coupled with a process for getting them to learn about themselves and how they are using assignments and experience to be leaders.

A common myth in organizations is that leaders will develop simply by being rotated them through different assignments over several years.  Sure, they will learn about new functions, and possibly different cultures and markets- all important and valuable lessons.  However, without explicit attention to their leadership ability simultaneously, the chances are slim that they will emerge from these assignments as better leaders. More knowledgeable managers, certainly.  But getting better at using oneself as a catalyst, a skill that is then transferable to other future assignments is unlikely unless it is deliberately part of the process.

Great leadership development imparts a healthy dose of self-awareness, which is necessary to make deliberate and effective decisions about how to influence others.  We always learn more when we actively reflect on a situation.  But this won’t happen by chance.  It needs to be taught, coached, and infused into your leadership development process.

So, is your leadership development program just that- a program driven by events?  Or is it driven by a process that imparts both business skills, and the ability to use oneself as the prime catalyst for igniting the engine that gets things done in your company?

Leaders can be developed.  But in my opinion, it is better to deliberately work both tracks simultaneously and connect the dots for a robust leadership development process.

Revoking Your License to Lead

Glenn Kaufman

Reviewed by Glenn Kaufman on May. 5, 2015 in Leadership Bites

I am certain that many of you will not like this posting.  So, I’ll make my point right now, and you can quit reading if you feel the urge to get sick.  But do reply- I want to know why you quit reading.

Simply put, we should license leaders.  Think about it.  Doctors, lawyers, dentists, psychologists, accountants and host of other professionals all had to pass some kind of test to certify that they knew their fields before they were allowed to practice.  Yes, there are malpractice suits and some of them go astray, but we at least know that they absorbed a body of knowledge that is essential to their field before they could hang out a shingle.  Not so for leaders, and it beckons the question, “why not”?

No other professional group impacts as many lives on a daily basis as those who call themselves leaders.  Think about it.  Politicians, business organizations, military, and yes, the very people mentioned above who work in hospitals, clinics, or their own practices!  They impact the lives of employees, clients, customers, constituents, and patients.  In some cases, yes, we elect them.  But just because their names appear on a ballot or they perform well in a debate doesn’t guarantee good leadership.

Do we have such low expectations for our leaders or believe that leadership is so “natural” or unimportant that essentially we are ok to let anybody do it?  Is it true that the cream rises and that unfit leaders are somehow winnowed out of larger jobs on the way up, and that we will be spared the agony of their “malpractice”?  I can’t imagine anyone who has ever worked in an organization believes that competence is commensurate with level and role.  I for one have had the pleasure of working for several leaders in my career that should never have been allowed to have a direct report.

As far as I remember, GRE’s, LSAT’s, MCAT’s, and GMAT’s do not test for leadership aptitude, nor do any other assessments on the path to getting degrees in the fields where many of these profession school graduates will ultimately go on into leadership roles.  Shouldn’t we have a process to grant us a modicum of confidence that they will practice good leadership when they arrive?

Imagine if becoming a leader required a process similar to that which we all went through to get our drivers license.  First, the written test to determine if we have mastered the body of knowledge necessary to operate a motor vehicle.  Then, the road test: can we actually show some examiner that we can get from point A to point B, and maneuver the vehicle safely along the way?  Then, there is the periodic expiration of the license.  True, you don’t have to prove anything anymore, but it does add a degree of formality (and earns money for the State…yes, I know).

What’s even more important is the “point” system for dealing with recalcitrant behavior of those in possession of a license!  Blow the stop sign and get caught, bingo.  Speed your way up the freeway, more points added to the license.  And of course, drive while impaired and risk losing the privilege altogether. 

I am not in favor of adding any more bureaucracy to our already regimented lives.  But think of how much different our organizational lives would be if every potential leader knew that we would not let them lead another human being unless they had some minimal proof that they understood the enormous responsibility that this entailed.  Imagine if we tested people’s aptitude for empathy, and understanding of how they impact others BEFORE we let them into roles where they have to do so on an hourly basis?

So, I suppose if you are still with me, the idea has intrigued you in some way.  I am not sure how practical, politically possible, or even remotely feasible such an idea is.  I only know that waste, grief, law suits, productivity drains, and many other side effects of modern organization behavior would be diminished or eradicated if we treated Leadership as a profession, not a job.

Taking Charge:  The Next 200 Days

Glenn Kaufman

Reviewed by Glenn Kaufman on Mar. 30, 2015 in

So you’ve settled in, formed your team, and tackled some issues during your first 100 days. You are feeling like you are starting to get a sense for how the organization works and you have begun to build key relationships.  You may also be thinking that your on boarding is complete, and that you have already earned the right to be a leader in this organization.  Well, you might want to think again.

While those first 100 days were critical, and the honeymoon may have ended nicely, you have now entered the next phase of your leadership journey.  What are some characteristics of this trip?  First you should keep your seatbelt fastened because you haven’t landed yet; you’ve merely taken off.  Proving yourself takes longer than 90 days and the criteria for doing so vary by organization.  One luxury goods company we know wouldn’t even allow you to make a “big” decision until at least six months have passed- and that went for a new CEO as well. The reason is obvious: they don’t consider leaders ready to influence major events until they have mastered a critical mass of information about their company, and they know that this is impossible to do in only a few months.

What you can do, however, is demonstrate a voracious thirst for understanding products, markets, operations, etc. by framing your findings as hypotheses and hunches that you want to test out with various stakeholders.  This has the added advantage of helping you learn how different people see the issues and how various perspectives frame them in this company.  By opening your comments with phrases like, “Here is what I am seeing/hearing/finding about xyz…” you will create dialog and get valuable feedback that can serve as pieces of the organizational puzzle.  Further, you will build credibility by demonstrating that you are wiling to learn and not someone who already knows it all- even if you really have “mastered” the organization rather quickly.

Even when you do need to weigh-in on an issue or make a key decision, using framing like, “Based on xyz information, I recommend that we…” will show how you arrived at your conclusion and doesn’t present it as closed off to additional dialog. 

Leaders are granted the right to lead by those who follow. Sure, you may have positional power to call the shots, but in the beginning, your followers (and the grapevine) will be watching and grading you by how you engage them by balancing telling, selling, and compelling. Give yourself a fighting chance by gracefully transitioning from new hire to leader, and earn your stripes one line at a time.

Book Review:  The Political Brain by Drew Westen

The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, by Drew Westen

Reviewed by Glenn Kaufman on Feb. 9, 2015 in Biz Lit

If we define leadership in terms of influencing others, then one form of influence is the use of persuasion to get people to do something or believe in something, or both.  One field that has made great use of persuasion (or some might say misuse) is politics.  We don’t think of corporate leaders as politicians as a matter of course, but their jobs often depend on how well they use the “politics of persuasion” to achieve organization goals.  As leaders, we can learn a lot about messages, beliefs, and how to package and use them effectively from the realm of politics.

In The Political Brain, Drew Westen takes us on a journey through some of the most significant political campaigns of recent decades, and with an abundance of stories and facts, helps dissect why some have worked, and led to election, while others have failed and taken a party years to overcome.  While polls and focus groups and all of the other tools of modern marketing are useful windows into the demographics of issues, preferences, and beliefs- whether “red” or “blue”, it all boils down to the messaging used by the candidates themselves and reinforced by their political machines that determines who actually wins elections.

For some, this may not sound like a revelation. However, Westen uses the latest in brain research to shed light on how we are wired and how our culture influences our beliefs, and how to “play” to this or even change them. If we pay attention to the way our minds process information and how our more primitive nature interacts with our logical “thinking brains”, we can all learn how to be more effective at getting results as leaders.

Westen’s book is a great read, and even if you have a distaste for politicians or politics as a field, you’ll be able to set that all aside and marvel at how even these very beliefs about politics are formed by the same basic mechanisms as the “red” or “blue” messages themselves.

We recommend this book as an important one for leaders to read.

Ask Not What I Can Do For You…

By Gary Rich on Feb. 9, 2015 in

That Sinking Feeling

I’m certain that all parents, particularly of teenagers, will be familiar with the scenario I’m about to describe. It’s the moment one of my daughters appears looking guileless and hesitantly ventures:  “Um Dad? Can I ask you a question?”

And instantly, here’s that familiar sensation, a Pavlovian lurch in the pit of my stomach that says I’m not going to like what I’m about to hear, and that it’s definitely going to cost me money. In fact, so well conditioned am I that, lately, even the simple inquisitive, ‘Dad?’ can make me reach for an antacid.

I was reminded of this today when I got a message from an old acquaintance, Ralph. Every quarter like clockwork, I get a call from Ralph. Ralph will be calling to say hello, shoot the breeze, to check on my kids and bring me up to speed on his. Of course he’s never met mine and I don’t know the names of his. Toward the end of the chat, Ralph will manage to work in that he’s looking for another job. It’s a fishing expedition of course, for a phone call, a reference, an introduction. By spending five or so minutes fumbling through the social niceties, Ralph believes he can now get down to brass tacks—what can I do for him?

And in just the same way my daughters believe that their forays into my office are subtle, Ralph actually genuinely believes he’s networking. Unfortunately for him, what he’s accomplishing is far more poisonous and self-sabotaging, he’s systematically spreading distaste and ill feeling through an ever-expanding network of victims. He’s creating a trigger in the minds of everyone he calls once a quarter—that sinking feeling of dread we all experience when we know we’re about to be hit up for something, again.

So in this world teeming with networking tools designed to assist in the making of my buddy Ralph’s mistakes, I’ll offer a few pointers on job networking.

First, it’s important to know that only a small fraction of senior level positions are filled via electronic postings. The lion’s share come through referral, whether through search firms or individuals referring in.

However, even if you are gainfully employed at the moment, there is no better insurance policy and hedge against the future than networking well. Artful networking is a way to always keep your options open and your perspective fresh. Most successful high level executives understand this intuitively. Networking in the hands of a master is deft and strategic, a fast moving game of connectivity. Favors extended, new connections made, and the ultimate benefactor—the long-term thinker who facilitated it.

Here’s the bottom line: The more people who know you, have a positive opinion of you and feel predisposed to doing something for you the better. It’s critical to cultivate these people and create hybrids between them.

1) Connecting. As you think about all the people who know you, consider them with one objective in mind (hint: it’s not you!) Now, thinking of connecting them two at a time in a way that’s helpful to both. To do this, you must have enough knowledge of each individual in your network to determine who might be helpful to whom. Each time you make a connection, you have been helpful to both, and, here’s the important part: you have reminded people that you exist.

Bottom line: Effective networking is never obvious, it is never self-serving; it is never, ever immediately quid pro quo.

2) Helping. Now think about simply providing something helpful to an individual in your network. Offer someone information they’ll find useful, whether it’s a conference they may want to attend, an article that pertains to their interests or the name of a new restaurant that prepares some exotic food they mentioned they like.

Bottom Line: In doing either of these things, don’t mention yourself at all. Not once. Let what you’re doing speak for itself. You are creating a bank of goodwill, but remember: the penalties for early withdrawal are high.

3) Withdrawing. Before you even consider this you need to have already done a whole bunch of ‘helping’ and ‘connecting’. In fact, withdraw as infrequently as possible—if you can, avoid it like the plague. Because if you overdraw you will become the Ralph of your network. Withdrawals are asking someone to do something for you when there is no obvious benefit to them. Remember, a withdrawal doesn’t just have to be asking for something, it can simply be the call from Ralph, taking up a person’s most valuable resources—time and patience. And once you’ve lost that goodwill, that willingness to take your call, it’s likely gone for good.

So your network is a group of people you constantly expand but only as fast as you can keep up with what’s important to them in their work and personal lives. That’s why it’s ludicrous to see people working night and day on online networking sites, thinking that when the time comes to make a move it will be helpful. It may have benefits on paper, and it may make you feel warm and fuzzy to have seven hundred virtual ‘friends’ or ‘associates’, but do you really know these people? Do they know you? Is there any accumulated goodwill between you?

Bottom line: The measure of success of your network is the number of people whom you have introduced for their mutual benefit, plus the number of people for whom you have provided a service or favor. And if you find yourself making requests even ten percent of the time—cease and desist. Seriously.

Effective networking is no different in the digital age than it was in the Bronze Age—relationships are personal, and need to be cultivated, managed and ultimately beneficial to both parties. The farsighted networker realizes that the time to nurture relationships is not five minutes before you need something. In networking, the long-term payoff is always the goal.

Take five minutes a day to think about your network and what you can do for someone in it, then do it. The benefits may astonish you—when you least expect it and most need it.

And above all, don’t be Ralph—ask not what your network can do for you but what you can do for your network. 

Does Anybody Out There Care?

By Gary Rich on May. 20, 2013 in Leadership Bites

You might be surprised to learn how enthusiastic executives are about their own professional development. I always am. And I’m not referring to people at the outset of their careers; from them, I expect enormous passion. I’m talking about seasoned professionals well into their careers. In the past, I wrongly assumed that with time we come to believe we are who we are, that we largely know what we need to know and from a developmental standpoint we’re just Kool and the Gang—but really, nothing could be further from the truth.

I co-teach a leadership development program called The Leadership Room. In that program I continually see seasoned executives who are hungry to learn about their strengths and weaknesses, men and women who are dedicated to becoming better managers, coworkers and leaders.

The best moments for me are when I hear executives speak proudly about the discoveries they’ve made—they are genuinely excited to recognize their own areas for improvement, proud of the guts and determination they are able to marshal in the process and always amazed by the payoff.

But it’s not all good. The worst moments are when I ask participants to tell me if they discussed their progress with their managers and then watch the light go out as they tell me no. Kind of like the kid who sings a solo in the school musical but her parents don’t turn up for the show. Heartbreaking.

But I know why participants don’t commonly request their manager’s involvement. And I know because I’ve asked them. The answer is because they don’t think their managers care. Wow, what a buzz kill, huh? But, here’s the rub—I actually do think most managers care.  So why don’t they check in? They follow up religiously on things that are critical to the bottom line, right? But not on the subtler and softer aspects of executive development.

So if managers do care and they do value development, why don’t they get more involved?

Perhaps it’s that managers don’t believe their executives really care if they care. Read that once more please. If there’s one thing I’ve learned and can relay with absolute certainty, it’s that people need approval—especially from their bosses. All they want is a simple morsel of interest in what they’re doing. Not coaching or counsel or follow up, not that any of that would hurt, but simply an interest in what they are working on and how it’s going. With that interest people are able to develop far more than without it—and that’s just good business.

When it comes to recognition, affirmation and attentiveness we never get too old. So I guess this is a pretty simple message. It only takes a minute to show interest in what your people are doing to improve themselves and it’s incredibly impactful if you do. Not a single one of us is too senior to desire interest and approval and we never stop hoping that someone we admire shows up for our solo.

“How Will You Measure Your Life”

by Clayton Christensen

Reviewed by Gary Rich on Jun. 4, 2012 in Biz Lit

Clayton Christensen is the Kim B. Clark professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. He has authored several books, the first of which was “The Innovators Dilemma”. “How Will You Measure Your Life” is his most recent work. In this book Christensen draws on the theories taught in business school and attempts, with mixed success, to apply them to the issues we all face in our personal lives.

“How Will You Measure Your Life” moves through a series of questions: How can I be sure I’ll find satisfaction in my career? How can I be sure that my personal relationships become enduring sources of happiness? How can I avoid compromising my integrity and stay out of jail? Each question is analyzed using lessons and insights gleaned from some of the most well known businesses in the world.

While almost all of the lessons provided are on target, some do not really provide the direction many readers might be looking for to best avoid the hazards he describes. At the same time, the business theories are rich and even if simply a reminder of things the reader has seen in the past they are well worth revisiting.

Not a book I would recommend to a contemporary, however, definitely a book I would give to anyone starting out in business in hopes they would take the time to read it carefully and consider the wisdom it contains.

35 Million Years At Work

By Glenn Kaufman on May. 29, 2012 in Leadership Bites

Biologists will tell you that evolution is a work in progress, and for all species, it only ends at extinction.  While evolution seems to have been kind to our species, it did leave us with at least one peculiarity:  our rational, thinking cortex did not replace our more primitive “reptilian” brain stem, but rather, sits on top of it with blazing interconnected circuitry.  What does this have to do with leadership?

Well, that older more primitive brain exerts a lot of influence on our behavior despite its lack of real estate.  And to make matters worse, it does so without much conscious awareness on our part.  Take, for example, your annual performance review.  When your boss told you that you that you didn’t do a good job on one of your objectives despite your having thought you did, was there at least a moment where you wanted to either reach across the desk to shake him, or run out of the room and get to your desk to print out your resume?  Rationally, you wanted to stay calm and hear him out.  But that old brain wouldn’t have it.  It was shouting “Warning!  Threat!  Prepare for action!” without your control.  Next, you faced a web of decisions:  stay and listen, stay and defend, flee and face the consequences later, etc.  And so it happens, in similar ways, every day, in every organization.  We wear nice suits to work, but they only partially cover up the “ancient” within us.

As leaders, are we merely innocent victims of our biology, or can we harness the primitive in ourselves, to be more effective in our jobs?  How can we put this “sixth sense” to work?  When you factor your “gut instincts” into decisions, you are already listening to the primitive brain.  It’s your unbiased radar that beckons you to “think twice” or “dig deeper” into things before you render a decision.  Research shows that we use our instincts more than we recognize because the rational brain is very clever at coming up with sound, logical reasons for our decisions a fraction of a second after our gut actually makes the decision for us.  This means that our less rational brain, even when we can’t articulate why we feel a certain way, is actually processing information in a potentially useful way.

I am not going to suggest that we throw out analytics or that gut trumps logic in all situations.  But here’s an experiment that you might want to try the next time you are deliberating to make a decision with your team.  Rather than starting with the PowerPoint data and picking it apart to render a verdict, try starting with your gut instinct and the collective instincts of those in the room regarding the decision itself.  Imagine the dialog when you open with, “what are your guts telling you on this?” followed by, “here is what my gut is saying…isn’t it interesting how we are each responding.”  It’s a great way of playing devils advocate and opening up discussion that would normally favor “my deck” over “your deck” and pages of so-called “facts”.  You have nothing to lose: in the end, many of your decisions are not made “rationally” to begin with.

So consider what your gut is telling you and see whether thirty five million years of ancestors have anything interesting to say.

Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders

by Rajeev Peshawaria

Reviewed by Glenn Kaufman on May. 7, 2012 in Biz Lit

If anyone can speak with conviction about leadership as a corporate-insider, it is Rajeev.  During his career, Rajeev has worked for such global giants as American Express, Goldman Sachs, and Coca Cola, and has witnessed all manner of leadership types in action.  Just what did he find?  Well, the title of his book says it all.

“Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders” is divided into two parts.  While the second part, “Enterprise Leadership” is chock full of advice on how to “galvanize large numbers” of employees in a company, it is the first part of the book, “Self and Team Leadership” that sets this book apart from the pack.

Rajeev’s basic premise is that many people who find themselves in leadership positions do so for the wrong reasons, and it shows in their inability to lead.  His solution: do some soul-searching to really understand what motivates you, and if it is limited to self-interest instead of a bigger purpose and clear values, your leadership may cause problems for you and others down the road.

At first, this sounds kind of heretical coming from a leadership development expert.  Wouldn’t these types of “leaders” be the ideal candidates for development and fuel the $50 billion executive development industry?  Rajeev would prefer that people define their purpose and values and in a sense, if they are not really motivated by genuine leadership, they should spare the rest of us the inevitable angst that they will inflict upon us when we get stuck working for them.  It sounds easier said then done but Rajeev cites examples where he has taken people in leadership roles through a process of self-discovery, and many have opted out in favor of pursuing a path that genuinely energizes them and the people around them.

While a book cannot be a substitute for professionally guided introspection, Rajeev poses all the right questions to the reader.  I found myself trying to answer them, and sometimes, it was downright uncomfortable to be honest with myself.  I suppose that this is exactly what Rajeev would want, and why he starts his notion of leadership development at the beginning of the journey, by fundamentally asking whether you will be a leader or merely a boss.

Regardless of where in your leadership journey your happen to be when you read this book, there will be something in it for you.  While the first part is more provocative, the second is a good summary of the leverage points that are available to you as a leader to effect results along with the people who happen to work for you.  It makes for a great check-up tool and diagnostic without all the theory and verbosity that many management books contain.

This book was featured during The Conference Board Human Capital Exchange’s February book discussion. A webcast video is available upon signing in or creating an account here.


Leadership, Culture And Prostitution

By Gary Rich on Apr. 24, 2012 in Leadership Bites

We conduct a program called The Leadership Room for small groups of executives. During last week’s session we sent the ten participants to retail establishments to study the experience they had with the sales staff. We were interested in the relationship between the intentions of each organizations leadership and the actual behavior on the part of employees. 

As our students were entering the front doors of these retailers, twelve prostitutes were allegedly entering the Columbian hotel rooms of some of the best government operatives in the world. So what’s one got to do with the other?  One word…culture.

The concept of culture is really quite simple.  In business culture describes the patterns of behavior observed as people perform their jobs. Or put more simply the collective performance behaviors of a group. If everyone in your organization is rude to clients then an aspect of your culture is be rude to clients. Now people like organizational and industrial psychologists, social psychologists, anthropologists, business theorists etc. will say “stop the press” its way more complicated than that; but in fact it’s not. What these experts are focused on is what drives the behaviors that comprise culture. That’s really complicated, I agree.

We care about the drivers of culture so that management can create actual culture that is in line with their stated or desired culture. That’s where our definitions of culture begin to involve things like values, norms, beliefs etc. In business theory most of the models that attempt to explain what influences performance related behavior are broken into simple categories like; Information Systems, Human Resource Management Processes, Structure, Decision Making Process, Work Process and Leadership.

Whatever manner our employees are behaving in IS the culture, even if there is no pattern to it and even if we don’t like it. When leaders say “the behavior of our employees is inconsistent with our culture they mean that behavior is inconsistent with our stated or desired culture. For better or worse, the behavior IS the culture.

In cases where employees operate outside a company’s desired cultural system we consider the systems (listed above) that drive and define culture and determine which of those systems to modify to reinforce the desired behavior and extinguish the undesirable.

If an organization has articulated a cultural position of providing extraordinary levels of customer satisfaction and an employee breaks the rules in order to satisfy a customer the violator is often applauded because the behavior is in service of the higher order goal. In these cases many organizations look at the process the employee had to circumvent to accomplish the goal and figure out how the system can be better designed to support its objective.

Conversely when an employee breaks a code in a way that is not in line with the organizations stated cultural position the organization must look at the factors that support the systems that govern their culture to determine whether this is an isolated incident or a systemic issue.

When the stated and actual culture are one in the same you receive customer service like you’re at the Apple Retail store. When the stated and actual cultures are different you have a group of the most elite, intelligent well trained government employees in the world, hiring prostitutes while on assignment to protect the President.

Lets take a look at what happened in Columbia. In determining if this is a cultural issue at the Secret Service I would consider.

• Hiring prostitutes is in violation of policy and these are all smart men who understood that.
• One person can behave impulsively, harder to have that happen to eleven.
• One person can be new and still in the learning mode, these were veterans
• One person can be considered an exception—-eleven approaches a norm.
• And finally, as my Dad told me, at 17, as he took my car privileges away, “this may be the first time you were caught speeding but I doubt it was the first time you sped”

Culturally they got the message that this was not really a problem. If they did in fact engage local courtesans it’s their “bad” however leadership is responsible for creating a culture, consciously or not, that would allow this behavior.
I suspect as many others do that the Secret Service has rigorous management systems in place to reinforce their desired culture and that all but one is working and that one is Leadership.


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