Category Archives: organizational culture

Want high performance? Build a learning culture!

According to David Mallon of Bersin & Associates, if you want a high performance organization, it’s imperative that you build a learning culture. In his research of successful, high performing organizations, he’s found that “a culture of learning and a culture of high performance are significantly linked.”  Intuitively, it makes sense that the smarter your organization is the better it can perform.

So, what is a learning culture, you might ask?  Bersin & Associates define it as a  “collective set of organizational values, conventions, processes and practices that continuously impels organizations and individuals to build knowledge, competence and performance.” And while a learning culture supports training and leadership development, it isn’t limited to formal development programs.

In Bersin’s comprehensive report, Mallon identifies 40 best practices and seven strategies that organizations can use to create a learning culture. Here is a sample:

  1. Assign staff to do jobs that surpass their skills and knowledge – Ask people to stretch. Use difficult assignments to encourage employees to push themselves to develop new skills and improve their old ones.
  2. Let people participate in selecting their assignments – Employees work hardest when their jobs and tasks interest them. Google takes advantage of this by permitting its engineers to devote a fifth of their time to personal projects.
  3. Recognize workers who learn new information and abilities – Provide rewards that show you care about each person’s learning.
  4. Value mistakes and failures – Employees learn best from their mistakes. Capitalize on errors as learning opportunities. And give people time to reflect on them.
  5. Emphasize learning as an important activity – Demonstrate its value in tangible ways; for example, make managers responsible for their staff’s professional development, not just their output. Actions always speak louder than words.
  6. Take a personal interest in the organizational capabilities of teams and individuals – Mentor the people you supervise.

During the next month, we’ll be exploring these ideas and more as we dive deeply into our next leadership competency of Building Organizational Talent. What strategies have you used to build a learning culture?

Anita Rios

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Creating a service culture

Julie Selander is a former colleague from the U of M. I recently came across a presentation she made for the Innovative Educators group, Execptional Front-Line Customer Service in Higher Education.

Selander is the Director of One Stop Student Services, and she had some very useful advice for creating a service culture. As an example, her unit has a goal of being knowledgeable, efficient, empathetic, and friendly. Their basic principles include:

  • Understanding customers and their expectations
  • Providing accurate, timely, consistent information
  • Being professional and courteous
  • Delivering what was promised
  • Being a problem-solver

Here are some questions she proposed to help you think about service principles and standards in your area:

  • Who are our customers? What are their attributes and demographics?
  • What are their perceptions and expectations?
  • What are we offering them – products, services, and/or resources?
  • Do we have the capacity to meet and exceed their expectations? If not, how can we get where we need to be?

As Selander points out, exceptional customer service leads to increased retention, improved graduation rates, a positive reputation for the institution, and more fulfilling work for staff. How can you create and maintain a positive service culture in your team?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

Insights from a trusted leader

Last month, I had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Hara Charlier, President of Central Lakes College about her onboarding experience as a new president in Minnesota State. President Charlier has a natural ability to connect with people and even over the phone, had me enjoying our conversation. During our talk, she shared some very useful insights about building relationships and trust on her campus. Knowing that other leaders would benefit from her wisdom, I asked if we could feature her on our blog this month.

Here are some highlights from our conversation:

We talked about your onboarding experience as a new president at Central Lakes College in Minnesota State. During that conversation, you told me that your very first challenge was a cultural challenge around trust. Can you tell me more about that?

Sure. I think that trust can be challenged any time there is a leadership transition. People think about the new leader and ask: Can I trust him or her? Will he or she uphold the traditions of this college? Will he or she make decisions that are in the best interest of the college? Leadership transitions can shake the foundation of trust.

When I first came here, Central Lakes College was experiencing extensive turnover in leadership positions, from deans to directors and vice presidents. Issues of trust were evident from years of leadership transition. It was no reflection on the leaders themselves. It takes time to build trust and because of the continual turnover, there was no time to build trust with individual leaders.

What specifically did you do to build trust on your campus?

I believe that leaders should listen and learn first. So, as a part of my onboarding process, I conducted focus groups with all employees. I asked employees: What do we do well? What can we improve? What is our ideal culture? And how can we create our ideal culture?

That is when I realized there was a trust issue. People were fearful and did not feel heard. They were not trusting of administration.

The focus groups helped me to really hear employees’ voices and provided fabulous data to help us understand and begin to create the culture people wanted.

Based on the data, we formed a community-building team of volunteers to begin building the culture that people had identified…one where all employees are respected, feel heard, and care about each other. The team led an employee recognition day and created a calendar of social events with the goal of connecting people from different parts of the college so they could get know each other as people.

I also send out regular email newsletters to the campus community… helping them to see all of the terrific things happening on our campuses, thanking them, and letting them know that we value all that they do. This often takes the form of a top ten list. People report that they like hearing about the great work that is happening at CLC. It helps people feeling valued, contributes to the sense that we’re doing good work together, and helps to build trust.

Why do you feel building trust is essential to your effectiveness as a leader and to the success of your institution?

I believe everything we do is about “relationship,” which is the foundation of trust. It’s a personal value of mine, and it aligns with the values of the college. We are really in the relationship business.

It sounds so simple. As a public proponent of relationships, I talk about the value of people and relationships at every opportunity. We have been very vocal about how relationships are a top priority at CLC, and we work to share that message consistently across the college.

A college can’t do its work without relationships with students, each other, and with our community. CLC employees do that every day. They go above and beyond. I watch them. It is the cornerstone of what we do. We can’t get momentum without valuing and trusting one another.

How have you helped your team focus on relationships at Central Lakes?

Our leadership team actively works on strategies to build relationships – how to ensure that employees feel supported, valued, and heard, how to have meaningful conversations, and how to nurture a culture of respect. This work happens through professional development and ongoing conversations about relationships and trust, so that it is instilled in the employees of Central Lakes College.

One of our key initiatives has been knowing people’s names. If we believe that we should know employees as whole people, we need to know their names. We ask people to wear name tags at college events to help people learn and remember each other’s names. We ask them to please know each other’s names and smile at each other. We are whole, complicated beings, with lives outside of work. Knowing each other’s names is the beginning to know people.

In your role as president, people are paying attention to you. How does that influence your actions every day as a leader?

I believe that it is important for leaders to be authentic. I think it is important to just BE me. I work hard to be authentic, vulnerable and let people get to know me. It is only when we know who people are and what values guide them that we can trust.

We also spend lot of time working to gather input about decisions and ultimately conveying the WHY we make decisions. Explaining “the why” is important so that we are all going in the same direction. That contributes to trust.

The most important time I spend is walking around our campuses, stopping by offices, labs, and having hallway conversations. It’s my opportunity to talk with and listen to students and employees. Through these casual, unplanned conversations, we get to know each other as whole people – and build trust. Of course, it’s challenging to find time to do this, but if we recognize it as critical, it becomes a priority. I schedule “walk abouts” on my calendar.

What advice would you give to other leaders to enhance their ability to build trust with others?

  • You can’t build trust unless you are authentic, vulnerable, and approachable.
  • It’s hard to find time to walk around and talk to people, but it is worth every minute.
  • Be yourself and let people see who you are (even your flaws).
  • Get to know employees as people. They will appreciate you taking the time, and you will gain so much from learning about the wonderful people that make things happen in our colleges.

Anita Rios

Of course I’m trustworthy, right?

I have to admit, as a leader it is natural to look outward and try to help other people succeed, or change, or improve, or tackle a sensitive issue. Yet, looking inward is the first step to take when building trust.

I was reminded of that when I took an “Am I Trustworthy”online quiz. I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the quiz but I wanted to share some trust-building ideas I had discovered in this article.  The last tip was to “be courageous,” acknowledge you have blind spots, and uncover them. So I had to! But first, I will share all 7 tips from Michelle Reina, co-founder of Reina, A Trust Building Consultancy, on how to earn trust.

Ask what you can give. Authentically support your people and ask them how you can help them succeed.

Facilitate breakthrough conversations. Pay attention and help identify miscommunication, misunderstandings and missing information. Help people stay on track and make a difference with their time and energy.

Let people know what they can count on. As we have talked about previously it is important to share information and context. Help people understand decisions and build clarity.

Provide whole person feedback. Let people know how they have made a contribution–and let people know what is getting in their way to further success. Everyone needs both.

Draw the line against gossip. Establish, reinforce and role-model a “no gossip” policy. Ensure that your work culture is a safe one where people don’t have to worry what is being said behind their backs or when they are not in the room.

Admit your own mistakes. Acknowledging and sharing your own fallibility demonstrates your authenticity and helps others feel safe and willing to share.

Know thyself. Good intentions don’t earn trust, actual behavior does. We have to examine our own behavior and assess how trustworthy we are. It is important to know what you do well–and keep doing it. Honestly recognize where you need to make changes to be more trustworthy. Here is a link to the short assessment in the article – How trustworthy am I?

I learned I need to do a better job in giving people authentic feedback. I didn’t like seeing my lower score but now I know what I need to do differently.

Todd Thorsgaard

Are you building or losing trust?

“There are no trust neutral interactions… you either build trust or lose trust.” I can’t remember the name of the person who said this at a conference I attended almost 20 years ago, but I can tell you the saying has stuck with me.

I’ve found that I can walk away from each meeting or conversation I have with others and use the simple measuring stick: Did I build trust? Or did I lose trust?

Still, building trust is not always simple. For example, it can be challenging to focus on building trust when confronting an individual or group about a difficult issue. Add to that an emotionally charged discussion and your amygdala can be hijacked, sending out warning signals to protect yourself and shutting down the ability of your pre-frontal cortex to think constructively.

In those situations, it begs the questions: how do you have healthy conversations when you feel pushed to the edge? And more importantly, how do we deal with others to build relationships rather than erode them?

In her book, Conversational Intelligence, Judith Glaser shares how she has coached leaders to build trust by moving from an I-centric to WE-centric focus in her TRUST model below. Her approach integrates how each step impacts our brains in creating safety and allowing the pre-frontal cortex to engage in greater candor, cooperation, and collaboration.

T – Transparency – create transparency which signals “safety” to the amygdala

  • I-centric: secrecy, threats, lack of clarity, lack of alignment
  • WE-centric: openness, sharing of threats, intentions, aspirations, and objectives; movement toward establishing common, aligned objectives

R- Relationships – focus on connecting with others first, which signals “friend” not “foe”

  • I-centric: rejection, resistance, retribution, adversarial relationships, suspicion
  • WE-centric: respect, rapport, caring, candor, nonjudgmental listening to deeply connect and build partnership

U – Understanding – see the world from another’s eyes, enhancing bonding and a feeling that “we’re all in this together”

  • I-centric: uncertainty, focus on tasks, unrealistic expectations, disappointment, judgment
  • WE-centric: understanding, ability to stand in each other’s shoes, empathy for others’ context, seeing another perspective of reality, partnership; support

S – Shared Success – create a shared view of mutual success. Put words and pictures to what success looks like and signaling to the pre-frontal cortex that it’s safe to open up

  • I-centric: promotion of self-interest; focus on “I” and “me”; seeking of personal recognition and reward
  • WE-centric: bonding with others to create a vision of shared success; building a shared vision that holds space for mutual success; pursuit of shared interests and celebration of shared successes

T- Truth telling and testing assumptions – use candor and caring to build and expand trust

  • I-centric: reactions of anger, anxiety, withdrawal, resignation
  • WE-centric: regular, open, and nonjudgmental discussion of assumptions and disappointments as part of collaborative problem solving; identification of “reality gaps” and effort to close the gaps for mutual success; willingness to start over again if distrust emerges

Here’s my leadership challenge to you for today: Think about an upcoming difficult meeting or conversation that you are anticipating. How can you apply some of the WE-centric ideas above to your approach?

Anita Rios

 

 

 

 

 

Conversation-powered leadership

I thought it would be apropos to wrap up our month of exploring the fundamental leadership competence of effective communication by recommending the book Talk, Inc.  In it, authors Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind draw on the experience of leaders in organizations around the world, who are using the power of conversation to increase employee engagement and strategic alignment.

While top-down, one-way communication has been typically used in hierarchical organizations as a way to distribute news to internal and external audiences, it is a relic of a command-and-control model which no longer works.  Groysberg and Slind assert that  “…. people–and the energies and capabilities that lie inside them–are the ultimate source of optimal performance and sustainable competitive advantage.”  Given that, they have found thriving organizations that are using organizational conversation to engage the best in their people to drive performance.

Organizational conversation, in their words,  replicates the elements of good person-to-person conversation where the scale of the conversation is small and intimate; the structure of the conversation is dynamic and interactive; participation is equal and inclusive and the approach is focused and intentional.

Where they have seen organizational conversation flourishing, it has the following four elements:

Intimacy – leaders reduce the distance, institutional as well as spatial–that separate them from their employees. They do this by cultivating the art of listening to people at all levels of the organization and by learning to talk with those people in ways that are personal, honest, and authentic.

Interactivity – leaders talk with employees not just to them. Cultural norms are now favoring dialogue over monologue and changes in the technology of communication especially with social media, support this shift.

Inclusion – leaders invite all employees to add their ideas into the conversational mix. And they call upon employees to participate in the work of representing their organization as unofficial bloggers or trained brand ambassadors.

Intentionality – leaders promote conversation that develops and follows an agenda that aligns with the strategic objectives of their organization.

I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of the book in your local library or bookstore to learn more. Their insights about how to make organizational cultures more intimate, interactive, inclusive, and intentional through purposeful organizational conversation make it a good read.

Anita Rios

 

Radical transparency?

Last week when I was preparing to meet with one of our university leaders, I noticed that her email to me had an interesting tagline. At the end of her email signature and institution’s mission, she had added a postscript. It read:

PS: “Please forward this email to those I may have inadvertently missed. Anyone who needs this information is welcome to being in the loop. Let me know who I missed so I can add them to future correspondence. Radical transparency is a fundamental practice I choose to follow.”

Wow! After reading it, I began to think about how her message not only communicated that she was committed to transparency, but was a declaration of her values AND a demonstration of integrity. Many leaders say they practice transparency in their communications, but few go to lengths of demonstrating it in this way.

At the end of our meeting, I asked her about the postscript in her email and remarked on its uniqueness. She affirmed that this practice has built trust among her teams. (I have to add that it is just one of the many things she does to create a productive work environment on her campus.)

As we were talking, she remarked that anyone who doesn’t think that their emails are completely public is fooling themselves. Everything we communicate online is open to sharing and can circle the globe quickly.

The phrase radical transparency makes me smile, in that it communicates transparency to the extreme. Simply defined, radical transparency includes actions and approaches that radically increase the openness of organizational process and information.

In that one postscript, this leader clearly demonstrates her integrity with every email message.  What practices do you employ that demonstrate integrity?

Anita Rios