Friday, March 31, 2006

Defining Your Company's Culture

How to Define An Organization's Culture

An Organization Development consultant wrote to ODNet that he has been tasked by his executive with facilitating a process designed to define "what we want our company's culture to be."

What a great aspiration. What an exciting challenge for an OD practitioner.

The consultant went on to ask: "...we're simply trying to select a model for defining a culture, and potential questions to pose to the executive team. By model I mean a list of categories of characteristics that define a culture."

This is what I recommended to him:

Don't let your executive off the hook. If he (or she) is the top person in the organization, the culture will be affected by him, one way or another. Keep him engaged with you in this project.

I worked for a telecom company back in the early to mid 1990's that had pursued this very same goal.

The CEO had founded the company in the 1980's following the break-up of Ma Bell. In the early years (roughly 1984 to 1993) of building the company, he and the other founders, senior leaders, and early employees put their personal stamp on it.

In particular, the CEO was smart: he could smell and seize opportunity, based on his years of experience in the telecom industry. He was hard-working, customer-focused, innovative, competitive, fast-moving, team-oriented, and entreprenuerial.

As the 1990's unfolded, the company grew significantly, expanding both its product offerings and its footprint, going nation-wide through new branch offices as well as acquisitions of other local telcos.

With this growth, he recognized that the company's success had been based on his people and their performance. They had a "secret weapon" in their way of operating, a culture, that he wanted to capture and teach to new employees. With the help of a consultant, he did just that.

The culture statement reflected the history of the company, the values of the founders, and the mark of the CEO, highlighting such elements as
- learning
- initiative
- teamwork
- being close to the customer
- providing solutions
- speed
- quality
- continuous improvement

The culture statement was integrated with the Mission and Vision and strategic plan, becoming legendary within the company. When I joined in 1993, I attended a six-part culture training course (which I later took over and managed).

The consultant had asked in his ODNet posing if any of us have a model or set of questions that could be utilized in working with his senior leadership team.

I wrote back that I would use Appreciative Inquiry and ask one question:

Describe those aspects of our "way of operating" that have contributed to our success as an organization.

With this opening, the consultant could facilitate a conversation designed to bring out and capture the strengths in their way of operating, their culture.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/31/2006

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Making the Horse Drink

An Organization Development consultant asked a question the other day: What can you do if the General Manager is the biggest problem facing an organization?

There's an old saying: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. (I guess I was lucky in the "old sayings department" having had a farmer's daughter for a mother.)

In other words, if the GM is impervious to influence, he is not likely to change, unless he is hit-upside-the-head by the proverbial two-by-four, e.g.

- a significant life-altering event (e.g. a heart attack) that comes along to stop him in his tracks and take stock of his life

- an "act of God" (e.g. hurricane Katrina wiping out a business) that causes the GM to re-build and hopefully re-think

- a higher authority (e.g. the CEO or the Board) stepping in and demanding that the GM account for himself

- a disruptive market force (e.g. a new competitor) eating his lunch

- an employee relations complaint (e.g. sexual harassment) lodged with the HR department or with Legal

None of the above can be orchestrated by an OD consultant, no matter how talented.

However, I think there are some creative intervention strategies that an OD consultant can devise, for instance . . .

1. The Ebenezer Scrooge strategy - Like the "Scared Straight" program of years ago, this approach is intended to put fear into the GM and humble him enough to create some level of receptivity to influence.

This can be used opportunistically when one of the above two-by-fours occurs.

2. The Mutiny on the Bounty strategy - Like the film "Norma Rae," this approach involves enlisting the entire team/office/organization that works for the GM to shut off their machines, stand up, come out of their cubicles and say, "We are not going to take this anymore."

This is particularly high risk. Insubordination always is.

Even when it's the right thing to do.

Just because the emperor has no clothes on does not mean we have to enjoy gazing at his nakedness.

Your thoughts?

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/28/2006

Monday, March 27, 2006

"And Other Duties As Assigned"

A classic tag line in many job descriptions is: "And other duties
as assigned."

Yesterday in a job ad, I saw the following final paragraph:

"This is not necessarily an exhaustive list of all responsibilities,
skills, duties, requirements, effort or working conditions
associated with the job. While this is intended to be an accurate
reflection of the current job, management reserves the right to
revise the job or to require that other or different tasks be
performed when circumstances change (e.g., emergencies, changes in
personnel, workload, rush jobs, or technical developments)."

I had not seen that type of language in a job ad before.

Why is it there? Is it some sort of new legal tagline? How do you
feel about it?

To me, it makes sense. An organization needs enough flexibility to adapt to changing conditions and to seize opportunities.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/27/2006

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Can an Organization Gain Sustainable Competitive Advantage through Leadership Development?

This humongous question has been asked by executive education guru Peter Topping at the Emory leadership blog.

I think it's possible if . . .

- the organization makes a real commitment (of time, attention, and resources) to leadership development

- commits to it long term

- thinks through and identifies the leadership competencies required by the vision and strategic plan of the organization

- takes a whole systems view of leadership by looking for leaders, and developing leaders, at all levels of the organization

- adopts the concept of Talent Management and manages the entire life cycle of talent

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/23/2006

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

On the Importance of Selling

In today's Star Ledger, there is a piece by Beth Fitzgerald called "How to Sell Absolutely Anything." There are some great quotes from NJ-area sales people that she interviewed, including:

"The thing to remember in selling is that you have to sell yourself."

"If you believe in what you do...Conviction is 90 percent of sales."

This article reminded me of a sales maxim I learned many years ago: If you are sold, you can sell.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/22/2006

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Tapping Hidden Talent

The same day that I posted the hidden talent entry, there was a piece by writer Amy Joyce in the Washington Post on the same topic! Called "Untapped Potential," Joyce examines the reality that many employees have more to offer if they are just asked. Here are some excerpts:

The vast land of workers is full of them: people who do their jobs but have much more to offer. These people could possess great hidden leadership talent or smart ideas about how to run things better.

The only problem is how to identify these so-called high-potential employees.

Just about any workplace could be teeming with them. Now if only a management team could recognize who has such potential.

Finding talent that is already within an organization is a smart business move. For one thing, cultivating existing talent can save money on hiring additional labor.
Discovering the potential within your organization is also important because it can boost morale. Those workers whose ideas and interests aren't tapped by management will retreat into their cubicle shadows and become ambivalent about their jobs.

Too many executives and managers look around casually and pick people they then turn into the office stars. That's not always the best way to assure the chosen ones will thrive, however. For instance, some people are simply better at selling themselves but might not have the right attributes, while an employee who truly has high potential remains camouflaged.

High-potential employees have these attributes in common:

• They are ready and willing: These workers are always up for new tasks. They create opportunities for personal and professional growth. They also have a willingness to take career and business risks to accomplish these goals.

• They are willing to admit what they don't know: High-potential workers have the guts to look at their own performance objectively. They can admit weakness, which shows that they are self-confident and want to continue to do better.

• They are quick learners: They are able to take on new information quickly and can get beneath the surface of issues by "learning about others' perspectives, motives and prejudices."


Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/21/2006
Integration and Differentiation

As an undergraduate at Rutgers in the early Seventies, one of my first texts in the field of Organization Development was The Handbook of Organization Development in Schools by Richard A. Schmuck and Philip J. Runkel, published in 1972. It has served me well ever since as I have pursued my career.

In their book, Schmuck and Runkel start off by looking at organizations as living systems. Each system, such as a school, is comprised of many interacting subsystems. The organization operates within an environment that sets the context, as well as the conditions that the organization must adapt to if it is to succeed and survive.

They then go on to further explore the notion of adaptability. Adaptability in organizations consists of several aspects such as receptiveness to the environment, responsiveness among subsystems, and effective use of its own resources. But Schmuck and Runkel drill even deeper to the inter-related concepts of Differentiation and Integration:

Differentiation is the ability of an organization to have differing responses to differing environmental demands. Subsystems within an organzation will often have differing goals.

Integration is the ability of an organization to collaboratively bring differing subsystems together to defeat a common enemy, achieve higher goals, and find unified solutions.

As a student, this resonated with me and still does to this day. It strikes me as the yin and yang of OD.

When the need is to come together, to align, to merge, OD should help the client with converging.

When the need is to move apart, to hold separate, to find a new and different way, OD should help the client with diverging.

Differentiation is the diverging aspect. Integration is the converging aspect. Together they add up to adaptability.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/21/2006

Monday, March 20, 2006

Hidden Talent

This is a true story. My son Dave told it yesterday.

Each year, the Drama teacher at his high school asks parents if they can volunteer some time to help build the sets for the Fall and Spring shows. Last year, hearing that a lighting effect was needed for one scene, a parent stepped forward --let's call him "Joe"-- and said that he is a licensed electrician. Indeed, he rigged up the needed lighting effect in no time.

Later, when the sets were under construction, Joe said that he is a builder and volunteered again. In no time, he had joined the other volunteer carpenters and was hammering away.

During one rehearsal, when Joe noticed that the choreographer was getting frazzled, he said that he had studied dance for many years and would be glad to help her out. Which he did, dancing like a pro!

Then, at a later rehearsal, Joe showed up with a tray of cakes that he had baked as a treat for the cast. He said, "I'm taking a course in baking and I made these for everybody." I asked my son if the cake was any good and he said it was.

So what is the moral of this story? I think that most organizations have such multi-talented and generous people in their midst. The question is: Are they known?

Do our talent management systems recognize such people?

Are they recognized?

Are they utilized?

Are they prized?

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/20/2006

Friday, March 17, 2006

On Waking Up and Letting Go

Last night, I caught a portion of an excellent Wayne Dyer PBS special about inspiration. Though I have been aware of Dyer for eons, I've never sat down to watch him. I'm glad I finally did.

One of his points is based on a poem by the Persian poet Jalalud'din Rumi:

"The morning breeze
has secrets to tell you.
Do not go back to sleep"

Here is a blogger with more detail.

This morning I read a great essay by OD legend Roger Harrison called "A Time For Letting Go"

An excerpt:

"Most of my work since (entering the field of OD) has been animated by three aims:

1.To empower individuals at all levels to contribute their highest talents, to learn, and to make decisions,

2.To assist in the development of common purpose, shared vision, and unity of effort in organizations,

3.To create a climate in organizations for open, cooperative and supportive working relationships."

Also inspiring.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/17/2006
What is Blogging?

When people find out that I blog, I am often asked, "what is blogging anyhow?"

KM Blogger Nimmy just wrote something that strikes me as a good and interesting definition of some forms of blogging:

"Have been more or less randomly putting up raw stuff that grabbed my attention...with little pieces of my mind added to it... :)"

I like that.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/17/2006 (St. Patty's Day!)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Granola Crowd

The other day, a friend of mine (a management consultant and executive coach), used the phrase "the granola crowd" to describe people in the field of Organization Development.

The Granola Crowd? To me, the phrase conjures up an image of a bunch of pony-tailed, blue-jeans and sandals wearing, tree-hugging, save-the-world vegetarian types.

As an OD Guy myself, I have encountered some fellow ODer's that fit this portrait, but I wouldn't paint all OD practitioners with so broad a brush.

What does the expression "the Granola Crowd" mean to you?

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/15/2006

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

What Are the Best Practices in Organization Development?

Jim Murphy, at the Massachusetts Bay OD Learning Group blog asks, What are the best OD practices?

Seems like a useful question. Any thoughts?

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/14/2006

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Mass Bottom Up Innovation

Sounds explosive, doesn't it?

Came across this interesting article in Business Week that looks at how millions of people will soon be learning, creating new content, and innovating globally, via technology that is already deployed e.g. blogs.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/12/2006

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Why We Should NOT Hate Keith Hammonds

Last year, Fast Company writer Keith Hammonds set the HR world abuzz with his controversial article "Why We Hate HR."

Now that the dust has settled a bit, Peter Clayton has interviewed Hammonds for his thoughts on the controversy. You can listen to it here.

Hammonds offers examples (such as what ex-Southwest Airlines HR VP Libby Sartain did at Yahoo) and makes several points that are worth further thought and discussion, including:

1. HR needs to communicate more clearly to employees.

2. HR should be honest with employees about the business.

3. HR should make fewer rules, but make more exceptions.

4. HR has to understand business and use business-focused metrics.

5. HR must be a strategic partner and a steward (my term) of talent.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/09/2006

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Blogging and KM

Gautam Ghosh has been invited to speak about using internal blogging to support knowledge management.

This is exciting. I believe that blogging, along with wikis, may be the way to get traction for knowledge management.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/07/2006

Monday, March 06, 2006

Where is Mother?

A very learned Catholic theologian is visiting my parish this week for a Lenten mission. At last night's talk, she explored the meaning of the Trinity, three persons in one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I sat there wondering: Where is God the Mother?

The speaker told us that this triune God is all about love, exploding with love in fact. So love-giving that God gave his Son as a sign of that love.

What happened to the Mother? When will we get a Trinity where the Father and the Son are joined by the Mother? As the speaker pointed out, Jesus arrived as a human baby and such arrivals require a mother, don't they?

Just wondering. It would make the Trinity more complete, I'd think. More whole. More perfect in love.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/06/2006

Friday, March 03, 2006

Blogging Opens Possibilities

Blogger Gautam Ghosh, at Gautam Ghosh on Management, recently wrote: "Blogging really opens up possibilities to interact with people one could never have hoped to meet or interact during the normal course of life." I wholeheartedly agree.

Further, blogging opens up new ways of creating content, communicating, connecting, and collaborating.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/03/2006

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Does Performance Management Work?

Blogger DoubleDubs, at SystematicHR, has an interesting series going on right now about Talent Management. DD's Part 2, on Performance Management, has been quite lively, with participation by Regina Miller and Gautam Ghosh (as well as yours truly).

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/01/2006