Tag Archives: organizational culture

Let’s get creative.

Paint brushes by Futurilla

I think a lot about creativity – where it comes from, how to use it – because I’ve found that it’s all too easy to get stuck in a mental rut, particularly when it comes to our jobs.

Doing things the same way you’ve always done them isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  But it is limiting.  And kinda boring.

So here are a few prompts to get you thinking creatively about management challenges.  I urge you to spend some time letting your mind play with these ideas.

Change your perspective.  Use your imagination.  See what happens.


Size matters.

What if…your organization doubled its current square footage? (office space, manufacturing floor, whatever)  What do you do with the space?

Now cut your current space in half.  How do you adapt?


Find your superheroes.

What if…one person in your organization has a new product idea that will revolutionize your industry?  But you don’t know who they are.  And they don’t know what they have.

How do you find this person and capitalize on their idea?


“And the Oscar goes to…”

What if…your organization receives a prestigious industry award for excellence and you’re asked to represent your organization at the award ceremony.

Who do you thank in your acceptance speech?  Why?


Observe and report.

What if…you were a consultant (secret agent, space alien) visiting your organization for the first time.  It’s an average workday and you’re free to observe and interact with the staff.

What do you see?  How do you explain your findings to the people who sent you?


 

Need a creative jump start?  I love these books from Keri Smith:

          

 

(Photo by Futurilla via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

(This post contains affiliate links to Powell’s Books.)

 

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A few thoughts on organizational culture.

Culture

Culture is the way we create solutions to shared problems.

Consider how human groups have evolved over the millennia.  Bands of individuals find themselves repeatedly faced with common problems – how to communicate, how to divide labor, how to show respect for one another.  Each group chooses to solve these problems in its own way.  And these unique combinations of beliefs and behaviors become the defining elements of human cultures.

At the organizational level, we can view culture in a similar way.  Organizational culture evolves as its members find solutions to everyday problems.  How do we interact with one another?  How do we best serve our customers?   How do we prioritize our time?

Your organization has a culture, whether you’re conscious of it or not.

Your people have been asking and answering these kinds of questions since day one, and in doing so, have established what is expected and accepted within your organization.

The big question, then, is how is this culture driving behavior that serves your mission?

Is it making your organization more effective or is it dragging you down?

 

Revised from original post – June 22, 2013

 

Combating a culture of scarcity.

Water drop in glass by Nick Kean

Growing up poor, I understand the scarcity mentality.  Never having enough money makes you view the world in a particular way.  There’s the sense of impermanence – what you have today likely won’t be there tomorrow.  The constant fear of upheaval.  Learning not to expect much.  Decision-fatigue.  You hear stories of hardship making you stronger, and maybe that’s true, but mostly it makes you anxious and unsettled, even when things are good.

The same is true in an organization.  An atmosphere of scarcity leads to an underdeveloped infrastructure and undervalued employees.  It also creates limiting behaviors across your team.  Scarcity makes people risk-averse.  It teaches them to protect what they have.  To fear failure.  And these are not characteristics you want in your team.  You want your team focused on what they CAN do, not on what they don’t have.  Your team needs the confidence to try new things, to risk failure, to shoot for crazy goals.  Without that, you’re not going to get the results you need as a manager.

So how do you combat a culture of scarcity?  You probably don’t have control over resource allocation decisions at an organizational level.  But you can have an impact on how your team responds to their situation.

Start with yourself and recognize when you use scarcity language.  Stop talking only about what you lack and focus on articulating what is possible.  The “Yes, and…” technique is amazing for reframing your language and opening up creative possibilities.  Share your grand vision and set bold goals.

We often respond to a sense of scarcity by assuming we need more help.  Have you ever been on a team that didn’t feel overworked?  I haven’t.  We always assume that if we could just hire one more person – maybe an admin to pick up all the little tasks that bog us down – we could get on top of it.  But work expands to fit the number of people there are to do it.  So look for efficiencies within your current head count.  Perhaps it’s training on time management.  Or a workflow analysis to highlight non-value-added activities.  Find the person on your team with the most effective approach to a process and then share that out.  Encourage your team to learn from each other to foster a sense of camaraderie and accomplishment.

A scarcity mentality is fed by a lack of information.  Human nature tends toward worst-case scenario thinking.  When we don’t have all the details about a given situation, we fill in the blanks from our imagination.  Or from past experience – Last time we fell short of quarterly numbers, there was a layoff.  So this time, the same thing will happen.  Avoid this by creating a culture of transparency and share as much information as you can with your staff.  You may not control all the decisions that affect your team but you can earn their trust and respect by being a resource and an ally.

 

How about you?  How have you experienced a culture of scarcity?

 

(Photo by Nick Kean via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

My Best Possible Workplace

green grasses

I am surrounded by organic textures and natural light.  The space is modern, open, and well-maintained.  The design reflects our organization’s core values and there are visible reminders of our shared mission.

My personal workspace is comfortable, and the tools I need are readily accessible and in good repair.  I am able to interact with those around me, while still having a private space for deep work and thoughtful downtime.  I am surrounded by things that inspire me.

Community areas are flexible, offering distinct spaces for private conversation, casual interaction and team engagement.  The atmosphere is professional but relaxed.  I am proud to welcome visitors.

This is my vision of my best possible workplace.

What is yours?

 

You might also like: My Best Possible Team

 

(Photo by jinterwas via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

To Hire, or Not To Hire: Evaluating Cultural Fit

culture models This is the second in a three-part series on identifying great candidates through the interview process.  Last week, I proposed that all candidates be evaluated on their sales skills, even for non-sales roles.  This week, I explore how to determine if a candidate fits within your organizational culture.

We all know organizational culture is important.  It gives our organizations their character and sets them apart from other organizations.  At the behavioral level, culture defines what is expected and accepted, and guides our action when there isn’t a policy, procedure or manager to tell us what to do.

Each new employee represents an opportunity to reinforce the organizational behaviors you’ve identified as driving extraordinary results.  So it’s critical to find a candidate who shares the organization’s core values and who can readily adapt to your standards of performance.

Entrepreneur and charter school leader Cameron Curry describes culture as “the actions, attitudes and achievement standards a leader desires for a team to strive for in obtaining excellence.”  These tangible elements of culture can be found in how we answer the questions of process and procedure that arise on a daily basis:

  • How do we approach new people and new ideas?
  • How do we prioritize our work?
  • How do we delegate authority?

Your key cultural drivers will be unique to your organization, but these are questions I’ve found valuable in the past:

Describe three key things you try to accomplish in your first week at a new organization. This question highlights the candidate’s approach to new situations and indicates their high-level priorities.  Is the candidate task focused?  Looking to understand work flows and organizational structure?  Eager to meet new people?

Imagine a situation in which you have multiple tasks due by the end of the day but it is unlikely that you will be able to complete them all. What do you do?  This question allows you to evaluate whether a candidate’s priorities and work style complement your culture.  Do they emphasize meeting customer requirements first?  Or is pleasing their boss top priority?  Do they focus on delegation and utilizing cross-functional teams?  Or do they power through on their own?

How does an employee demonstrate they are ready to take on more authority?  This question offers insight into how the candidate measures achievement, whether they emphasize seniority or merit, and what other factors they consider significant to leadership development (peer and cross-functional feedback, challenging assignments, etc.)

Of course, addressing culture directly is also valuable:

Describe the culture of your last organization. What did you like best about it?  What did you like least?
  There are many elements of culture a candidate can talk about.  Noting which they choose to highlight gives you insight into their own values.

And remember to consider what the individual can add to your culture:

What makes you unique?  Cultural fit doesn’t mean we are looking for cookie-cutter candidates.  Dynamic organizations always require fresh insight and new approaches.  Ideal candidates will share your core values while still bringing their own style and personality to the table.

 

Next week: The single most important thing to look for in a candidate

 

(Photo credit: Microsoft)