We all know that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” (thank you, Peter Drucker), but how exactly are you supposed to build the right environment? I received the following culture-related email from a channel executive and wanted to share my answer to him with you.
Can you recommend a really good book about turning around a culture at a place? A manager of ours has a department where they’re just not as committed to our mission as they should be. It’s a good ol’ boys club who says, “This is way different than we’ve always done it.” They have a why-are-you-trying-to-change-us mentality. Any resources you can point us to would be appreciated.
Here are six books I’d recommend for the situation you detailed. I’ve included a few key quotes from each of these books to provide you with a preview before you choose the right one(s). I can send you more detailed book notes on each if you’d like.
Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
- Here’s a surprise about change: what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. If you want people to change, you must provide crystal-clear direction.
- Big problems are rarely solved with commensurately big solutions. Instead, they are most often solved by a sequence of small solutions, sometimes over weeks, sometimes over decades.
- In highly successful change efforts, people find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thought. If someone is unsure about whether to marry her significant other, you’re not going to tip her by talking up tax advantages and rent savings.
How The Mighty Fall by Jim Collins
- Organizational decline is largely self-inflicted, and recovery largely within our own control.
- Beethoven didn’t “reinvent” himself by abandoning music for poetry or painting. But neither did he just write the Third Symphony nine times.
- There’s nothing inherently wrong with adhering to specific practices and strategies but only if you comprehend the underlying why behind those practices, and thereby see when to keep them and when to change them.
- Reengineering is like starting a fire on your head and putting it out with a hammer.
- Whatever hard or painful things you have to do, do them quickly and make sure everyone knows what you are doing and why. Dithering and delay almost always compound a negative situation.
- I announced Operation Bear Hug: Each of the 50 members of the senior management team was to visit a minimum of five of our biggest customers during the next three months. I also made it clear that there was no reason to stop at five customers.
- To earn the trust of the people, the leaders of an organization must first treat them like people. To earn trust, he must extend trust. Ask employees not simply for their hands to do labor, but to inspire their cooperation, their trust and their loyalty so that they will commit to our cause.
- To see money as subordinate to people and not the other way around is fundamental to creating a culture in which the people naturally pull together to advance the business.
- Instead of trying to command-and-control everything, the leaders devote all their energy to training, building, and protecting their people so that the people can command-and-control any situation themselves.
Ownership Thinking by Brad Hams
- Ownership Thinking is about moving employees away from only the “me” way of thinking and toward the concerns of the business and its financial performance.
- Create a culture where: (1) Everyone is challenged and must take responsibility for their company’s destiny and their role within it; (2) Workers know what the heck is going on and how they contribute; (3) Everyone is a “part of”; and (4) People have fun.
- Everyone can contribute to the financial performance of the company, and everyone can sabotage it.
- An incentive opportunity of 8-12% of wages will really get employees’ attention.
The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack
- The best, most efficient, most profitable way to operate a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run and a stake in the financial outcome, good or bad.
- We try to take ignorance out of the workplace and force people to get involved, not with threats or intimidation but with education. We strive to close the gap between workers and managers.
- You have to get people to dream. You have to show them that there really are pots at the end of the rainbow, and you can get your pot if you want it and are willing to work for it. Business is a tool for achieving your highest dreams.
[END OF LETTER]
You might be thinking, I don’t have time to read. Heck, I rushed through this article because I got things to do. I used to feel the same way, so much so that I didn’t read a single business book for close to a decade. But I realized that reading books (and sharing their insights with my team) is actually a huge time-saver. Close to 100% of culture-building best practices have already been figured out and written down, and they can be delivered to your doorstep for about $20 per book. It’s like you’re Lewis & Clark and right before your expedition Sacagawea says, I have this thing called a GPS device that tells where the mountains, rivers, paths, and everything else is located. Want me to bring it?
What you need to do is have the initiative and discipline to spend 15-20 minutes each day engaged with a book, and its lessons will be revealed to you in about a month. Your alternative is taking years to figure out what works, throwing mud at the wall to see what sticks, and creating gigantic organizational messes as you make mistakes and then attempt to clean them up.
The first business culture book I read was The Great Game of Business in 2006. I had recently been named President of our company, and I knew if all the answers had to come from my brain we were doomed. So, following Stack’s teachings, I took some steps to change our organization to a more collegial, cooperative culture where everyone was enabled to innovate:
- I focused my role on learning our business and our industry and then teaching others what I learned (as opposed to telling people what to do). That created a natural two-way exchange of information and ideas.
- Each month, I met with any team member who was interested to review our company’s sales forecasts and financial reports. No question was off limits. We continued this meeting until everyone had the ability to read and interpret the reports independently.
- Our monthly company lunch had been focused on sharing only sales successes. We added a dimension where we discussed our finances, pressing challenges, and the “why” behind steering committee votes.
- I met with my direct reports at least once a month to cover topics they felt were important, answer any questions they might have about the company, and to share details about how they impact the organization beyond what they see.
- We started a professional development leadership program for the employees who showed the most potential to grow. We’d meet every two weeks for a 90-minute breakfast at a nearby Perkins to pig out on pancakes, teach best practices, and engage in frank conversations. I recall one employee telling a story about his micromanaging boss and concluding with, “Well, I guess that’s how they want things to run around here.” I looked at our Sr. Director of Sales (who oversaw the leadership program with me), and we said in unison, “No, that’s not what we want.”
Our culture didn’t change instantly, but over time it strengthened. When the Great Recession hit in 2009, our employees understood our painful decisions and some volunteered to sacrifice more. Later when we transitioned to new products and services and chose to deemphasize others, there was little surprise by the team. In fact, many of them were the ones suggesting sweeping changes.
A Vantiv, now Worldpay, partner I talked with recently described a situation as “more like a crock pot, not a microwave.” That’s especially true with company culture – it’s a long-term investment strategy. But you have to start with a first step: crack open one of the books I mentioned above and start applying the lessons you learn to your organization.
I’ll close by making the same offer to all Worldpay reseller and ISV partners as I did to the channel executive who emailed me his culture question. If you would like detailed book notes on any of the titles mentioned above or want to discuss your company’s culture, please reach out to me anytime.