Company Morale: Whose Job Is It Anyway?

One of the biggest, seemingly amorphous, challenges that business owners and executives face is how to create "high company morale." The problem is, very few know exactly what that is ('we'll know it when we see it' really doesn't work) and even fewer know how to create and maintain it.

Penni Wells, the Leadership Quantified Expert in Customer Service, not only weighs in on this issue but gives you a very clear, behavioral path to high morale...from an unexpected source.
Given my line of work I'm particularly interested in the subject of company morale. That's because a company’s morale is a barometer of its dedication to its primary Internal Customers: its employees – ALL employees –  from the most senior, senior executive to the most recent new-hire.

So, I want to start with a two-part working definition of morale - a definition that applies to and involves everyone. Morale is the:
  1. Emotional manifestation of the overall culture of a company set by those at the top which, at any given moment...
  2. Can be and is a part of everyone’s responsibilities.
Here's an example of how I know - and how you can change what the morale looks and feels like in your organization right now:

Many years ago I was making the rounds during a company holiday party. As I approached one table to greet a friend I noticed that at her table were, among others, a new department manager and another staff personal nemesis.   

The table was large enough that I could greet my friend and even introduce myself to the new manager without addressing anyone else, which would have been fine with me! My nemesis and I had known one another for over a decade. Although we saw one another rarely and only worked together on the odd committee, 95 percent of the time we just rubbed each other the wrong way. We would invariably end up in an argument over something trivial making everyone in our presence roll their eyes. The only vindication I had was that there were many in the organization on whom he had the same effect. 

So what was he doing at this table? And how was I going to avoid being gracious to him?

As I chatted with my friend, making small talk with the new manager, I caught a glimpse of my Moriarty...sitting across the table alone and scowling. Just sitting there, scowling.

And suddenly I realized I had the opportunity, at that moment, to do the right thing. 

Finishing up my conversations, I walked to the other side of the table, tapped him on the shoulder and spent a few moments chatting with him. Seeing his face when I spoke to him, I knew I had done the right thing. His scowl turned to a genuine smile as we recalled other holiday parties.

And not only did he smile, but the feeling around the table ramped up as well.

The fact is, I could have left the table without speaking to him and it wouldn’t have seemed rude to anyone else. Even he wouldn’t have found it unusual. But by seeing the opportunity and following through, it made for a bright moment for both of us - and, by extension, for the others, too. It was good for his morale, for mine and for the organization’s.

We still never agreed on much and he remained my organizational nemesis. But it brought home the impact we all have on one another.

And that's how you begin - now - to change the morale in your organization to what you want it to be.

Morale is the embodiment of tolerance and civility.

It's demonstrated and maintained by expecting, recognizing and rewarding professional thoughtfulness despite differences, competition and the natural impact of downturns and upswings. 

This doesn’t mean treating everyone the same, particularly in an organization reliant on hierarchy. It does mean respecting every position in the organization – even if the person in it doesn’t match your style. 

And as challenging as it first may seem, the benefit is an organization that functions more smoothly and maintains a steadiness that is difficult to acquire any other way.

Goldman Sachs' Culture: When Making Money Isn't Enough

You know you've hit a nerve when not only are the Twitter stream and blogosphere overrun with comments and links - but the originating publication has to close its comments on your article because the volume has become too much...and run a live blog on the commentary that has ensued.

Normally, you'd think that this is a Lady Gaga announcement about her new Foundation getting her Little Monsters going. Or Justin Bieber doing something Justin Bierber-ish. Or something.

But no. This is Greg Smith's doing.

Who's Greg Smith? You might well ask - because, until today, unless you knew who he was there was no way you'd know his name. Or need to. Or care.

Mr. Smith is - until tomorrow - an executive director of Goldman Sachs and head of their US equity derivatives business in Europe, Middle East and Asia.

Now, because he's written an Op-Ed piece for the NY Times taking the lid off of Goldman so that we can all see what he's been seeing - and what has led him to decide to resign - there's no stopping the commentary. For the business and finance types - and everybody who's still angry at all the banks and investment houses that caused the 2008 crash - he's the ultimate celebrity.

It's better than who the contestants are for this round of "Dancing with the Stars" a long shot.

In fact, as interesting as what Mr. Smith has to say - and he doesn't pull his punches - the reaction from within and outside Goldman is just as compelling.

First, let's start with what Mr. Smith wrote about his soon-to-be former employer. Then we'll take on what his well-written rant has wrought.

Integrity and Disillusionment

When Mr. Smith joined Goldman twelve years ago, it was an organization that respected its clients.  Now, not so much.  In fact, from what he describes, not at all.

How could they be respected when it's acceptable for staff to refer to them as "muppets" and the best way to move up Goldman's corporate ladder is by:
  1. Persuading clients to invest in stocks or other products Goldman is trying to "get rid of" because they don't have a lot of potential profits
  2. Getting your clients to trade "whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman" and
  3. Trading any "illiquid, opaque product with a three letter acronym."
What he describes - and is the basis of his decision - is that any integrity attached to selling clients a product that is in their best interests is gone.  That's because the culture has shifted so that the only focus is on making money for the organization, itself.  Not its clients.  For Goldman.

Which makes its clients roadkill.  Institutionalized roadkill.

He puts the blame for this directly on the current CEO, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and President, Gary D. Cohn.  As far as Smith is concerned, the two titans leading the organization lost sight of what had been the culture long ago - and this is the outcome.

For Mr. Smith, who had real pride in having gotten a job at Goldman, moving up the ranks and, most particularly, pitching the company as the go-to answer for best-of-the best graduating students, his own integrity was on the line.  His disillusionment with this company he loved - and which had treated him so well - was complete.

Which leads us to what the rest of the world has to say.

From Within and Without

Not unexpectedly, Goldman is doing its best to counter the arguments that Smith put forward.  Citing everything from employee surveys to their own personal commitment to clients, Blankfein, Cohn, et al are doing their best to make it seem as if:
  • what Mr. Smith describes is a surprise to them
  • there's no basis for his comments and,
  • he never said anything about it to them anyway - so  there was no way they could have known of his perception or his disillusion...
...which, of course, is wrong.  So they say.

As for the rest of the writing/blogging/Tweeting/commenting world, the reaction depends, in part, on which side your bread is buttered.

For those who want to stay in good with Goldman (which, after all, is still one of the largest, most successful investment banks in the world), the tendency is to demean Smith.  That's typical and to be expected.

Among the financial types, there's a lot of skepticism with not a lot of support for Mr. Smith or his position.  Of those, though, the most surprising to me came from Joshua Brown on his blog, The Reformed Broker.

Brown is a Vice President at Fusion Analytics and the author of Backstage Wall Street - an expose of how Wall Street really works.  So, while he states, quite correctly, that there's nothing new in financial service companies like Goldman being out for themselves - to the point that he cites Goldman's complicity in moving the 1929 Crash forward after they had protected their assets - given his intolerance for the behaviors of his Wall Street brethren, his impatience with Mr. Smith's Op-Ed was unexpected.  At least to me.

Which leads us to the leadership lessons learned from this very big and public debacle for Goldman.  If you're the leader of your organization:
  1. Make sure you're clear about what you want your organizational culture to be, and
  2. Make sure your employees know - and are rewarded - for perpetuating that culture.
Most important, if the culture of your organization is not something you'd want discussed by everyone and their cousin on the front page of every newspaper, blog and Google News search, either do something about it or find a way to rewrite your employee handbook's section on proprietary information, non-disclosure and confidentiality.

Because, if you don't, one day you may find yourself with a Greg Smith on your hands.  And it's not pretty.

Just ask the boys at Goldman.

[An earlier version of this article appeared on Technorati.]

Women, Business and "Girl Games"

There’s a wonderful scene in the TomHanks film “A League of Their Own” where the baseball team manager (Hanks)berates the performance of one of the members of this all-women team and shestarts to cry.  He looks at her indisbelief and says, “You’re crying? There’s no crying in baseball!”

Welcome to the world of women,business and the reality and perception of “girl games.”

Even all these years after womenhave taken their place in the business firmament – building businesses of theirown, moving to the upper echelons of organizations around the world – there isstill a concern among many men that women’s behavior in organizations is aproblem.  It just doesn’t fit.  It makes them uncomfortable.

So, let’s take a look at this largerpicture to see where the concerns come from.  Then, in forthcoming posts, we’ll take a look at thebehaviors and what you need to know.

To be fair to the men – and at therisk of sounding terribly sexist to the women reading this – from a Westernsocialization perspective, organizations are male animals.

Men are focused and linear.  They tend to go in one direction and –unless forced to look at other ways of doing things – they keep going exactlythat way.  While there may be a‘team’ orientation, within that team is an individual level of competition andcredit-taking that supersedes any focus on a ‘greater good.’

Having said that, it’s not thatwomen bring “softer” skills to the organization (although some do).  It’s that we simply look at thingsdifferently.

We can be just as focused, but oursocialization is to be simultaneously looking at the context within which weare focusing.

We can be linear, but because we’resocialized to be inclusive, there is more give and take as well as ideageneration and sharing – not least because we tend not to take individualcredit for what is achieved.

As a result, women are more orientedtoward internal and external win-win outcomes than men – because, unlike in allthe sports metaphors where, underlying everything, there’s always a clearwinner and loser – women work to ensure that everyone feels part of the win.

In part, that’s why there’s evenresearch that shows that the profit margins of female-owned and run organizations are not as high as those run by men.

It’s not that the organizationsaren’t performing as well.  It’sthat they perform differently – because the women running them have a differentset of goals and a very different definition of “success” than their malecounterparts.

Yet, those “girl games” do stillexist.  In most cases not becauseof some malicious intent – but, again, because of the difference insocialization.

It’s not just about crying inbaseball.  Or anywhere else forthat matter.  (In fact, the worstperpetrator of crying with intent that I’ve ever known was a male seniorexecutive.)

It’s that women do behave differently thanmen (which we know) but when we do so inside an organization, a completelydifferent interpretation of those behaviors arise – which hurts the women nowin place as well as their successors.

Take a look at your organization tosee how “male” versus “female” its orientation.  Then, take a look at your own behaviors and assess theextent they are being used to define you and your prospects.

It may not be a pretty picture, butit certainly opens the door for a lot of new options for you to consider –whether in your current position or starting an organization of your own.

(This article was originally published on Technorati.)

Corporate Etiquette and Public Maulings, Part Two

A number of months ago, I wrote a piece describing how one of my clients, the most senior executive in a family owned firm, decimated his son publicly for his “bad” ideas.  At that time, I promised a Part Two.

The problem was, I needed some things to happen in the organization about which I was writing to happen first.  They have and now - while the organization will remain anonymous - the story gets to be told.
It’s about me and their CEO and how we both got publicly mauled - at different times and for different reasons - and how that systemically happens, is (hopefully unknowingly) supported, and what the consequences and losses are.

Then, it’s about you, your organization and the culture you may be unknowingly and inadvertently supporting.
A bit of background
I was a volunteer in a charitable organization.  I had been asked to sit on a senior level committee to look at both internal and global issues for how the organization operates.  The committee was made up of volunteers from around the world - but with a definite bias toward the home country.  My input was on the global side.
A meeting was scheduled to get the committee members together in the same room with senior staff.  It was supposed to be an opportunity to get quick updates on the work previously done, discuss next steps - including expansion building on those activities - and, most importantly, to do some visioning-to-execution work as we looked at the future of the organization and its services to the global society.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, the staff lost the plot.
From disconnects to downfall
The meeting did not go well - neither from my perspective nor from that of the local volunteer participants.  The problem was that the staff had a wholly different agenda than that of the people who were there to provide input.
The agenda they built - knowingly or not - was not designed to get our guidance and further commitment.  Whatever they thought (or said) they were doing, what they actually did was to justify themselves and their actions since the last meeting.
Evidently they thought that was necessary.  (It wasn’t.)
As a result, however, we were treated to one of the most intense dog-and-pony shows I’ve ever experienced (four hours!) and were as good as kept from providing any information or thoughts - let alone recommendations.  And when, finally, we were given a topic to discuss, the time was cut, the topic was too large and the information provided was clearly not of any great interest to the staff members anyway.
It gets worse
Then the CEO arrived.  This was for a special session to do with a governance issue which had arisen and a mistake he had made in handling it which needed correction.  Only some of us were allowed to stay.
Of note was that we all knew the issue and the mistake.  Frankly, I didn’t consider either of particularly great importance and, what’s more, because it was being dealt with proactively, it wouldn’t have any negative impact on the organization anyway.
It was, ultimately, just something to be addressed.  Nothing more.
Unfortunately, because of the sense of disempowerment and disengagement that had been previously created, what happened next was predictable - but horrible.
The CEO began this portion of the meeting by apologizing for the mistake he had made.  He went on to explain what his thinking had been and how, as a result, his mistake occurred.
He then told us about the emails, letters and phone calls he had been receiving since the mistaken decision was made that questioned (and attacked) everything from his capabilities to lead the organization to his sexual preferences.  The attacks had been bitter and ongoing.
He ended by apologizing again and assuring us that what he had learned about the process and the organization would ensure that he would not make that mistake again.
The meeting then opened up for discussion.
It was a bloodbath.  I’ve never seen anything like it - nor do I ever want to again.
The vast majority of these very smart, talented, capable and accomplished people sitting in that room turned on the CEO with a level of vitriol I would never have imagined.  And, while they didn’t attack his sexual preferences, I expect that they reiterated everything else that had been previously presented to him.
Those of us who were looking for rational discussion couldn’t get a word in so we stopped trying early on.  As for the rest, eventually they wound down and an acceptable solution was agreed.  Not everyone was happy, but at least the most vocal advocates on both sides of the argument were appeased.
As for me, I couldn’t wait to get out of the room. 
No good deed goes unpunished
Fast forward a couple of weeks and now it’s me on the phone with one of the senior staff members.  Also on the phone was one of the employees in her department.
The agenda of the call was, in part about that meeting and, in part about other issues which I wanted to bring to her attention.  In both cases, the purpose of the call was to give her information to assist her part of the charity in better serving its constituencies.
This time I was the one mauled.  In the presence of her subordinate.
To her way of thinking, the fact that I would take issue with anything that they did - anything at all - was not only unacceptable, it was a mark of a clear lack of intellect.  She was demeaning, belittling, patronizing and condescending.  She was rude and not only her comments but her language were uncalled for.
Two weeks later, I quit the committee.  I could, you see, because I was a volunteer.  They were the losers in the deal - most particularly because of my prior commitment to this organization’s good works and all of my outreach activities on their behalf.  They’ve lost that now.
The CEO is still there and, I hope, not experiencing anything like the kind of treatment he experienced before.  If he is, my recommendation is to find another job.  Unless he’s the one who created that culture.
Which gets us to you.
A culture of maulings
What kind of culture do you have - and promote - within your enterprise?
There’s a lot of talk about creating a culture of competition - where employees are actively working to do more and better than their colleagues.  Most particularly, employees are pitted against each other - rather than against the external competition.
Or, if you follow the GE way, each year those employees who rate lowest in their annual performance appraisals become part of the 5-10% employee churn rate.  After all, why would we want to keep our ‘worst’ performers?
Or, more deeply embedded, do you have managers or executives who are consistently disrespectful of their employees?  Who malign and abuse them verbally - whether through direct confrontation or the always popular inappropriate use of humor?  (The latter comes with the always famous, “Can’t they take a joke?  I was only kidding!”)
Respect invariably rates either one or two in employee surveys when they’re asked what’s most important to them in their jobs.  It’s not money.  It’s how they’re treated.
That’s on you - because what you allow, you tacitly support - even if it’s something you would never actually want.
Maulings - whether public or private - are a corporate culture issue.  That makes them a behavioral issue.  And that makes them part of the training and reward systems of your organization.
Now for the good news
The good news is, the behaviors not only makes the issue manageable, but it’s easy to identify and address.  Here’s the three step process:
  1. Take a step back and think about what you see and hear in meetings.  Is it collegial?  Positive?  Participatory?  Do people give their opinions - openly and honestly?  If there is “cut and thrust” is it personal or toward a greater good?  This is a good indication of what it looks, sounds and feels like in each executive’s and manager’s individual areas.
  2. Next, have a discussion with your HR Director to find out what the trends are in employee complaints, sick days and stress leaves.  You’ll very likely find a direct correlation between those managers who are treating their people with the value they deserve and those who are not.  And, if yours is a volunteer-based organization, look at the dropout rate.  As you saw from my example, this is how those losses occur.
  3. And, finally, be very, very clear about what you want and what you will accept.  For those managers and executives whose behavior is undermining employee participation and positive performance, stop rewarding them.  Ensure that they know - and are trained, if necessary - the behaviors that are accepted and acceptable in your organization.
Most important, always remember that your organization is a direct reflection of you.  Whatever your subordinates believe is okay with you is what they will do.  The moment they know that that behavior doesn’t have your support, they’ll change - or they’ll find an organization that does support those behaviors in which they can remain comfortable.
In either case, the win is all on your side.  Yours and your organization.  In profits, innovation, global opportunities and realized potential.
And, if you need any further motivation just think to yourself:  How would I feel if the one being mauled was me?

Krugman, Politics and the US Economy: A Slow, Downward Spiral

There are a lot of reasons why executives call me in to help them with their enterprises.  From changes in strategy to disasters, they want my eyes to take a look and help them guide their organization toward the success they envision.

That's great.

But, sometimes, by the time I'm called in, it's too late.  There's nothing that can be done.  The slow, downward spiral has gone too far.

It starts with a decision.  The decision is executed.  Then, even though there are many who know that decision isn't the right way to go, no one is willing to step up and say what needs to be said.

The slow, downward spiral has begun.

Not only does everyone keep executing on the same decision, but the bad decision is expanded.  Nothing happens in a vacuum.  Everything - and every decision - touches everything else in the organization.

The downward spiral has gained velocity.

That means that the decision - which now even more people know is the wrong thing to do, but still aren't talking or taking action - is being manifest in even more corners of the organization.

The spiral is gaining depth.

For those who see that things aren't going right - many of them the decision makers and their supporters - the focus shifts from the original decision to how it's being incorrectly executed.  That's the problem, they're convinced.  In fact, they think, if the organization would just do more and a better job of executing on the decision, everything would be fine.  Just fine.

It's everyone else's fault.  Not the decision that was made.

And so the spiral continues.  Faster and quicker - until there comes a point that the spiral is irreversible.  The organization has gone too far along a path that is designed to fail to be able to turn back.  At least not in the form that the organization had previously existed.

Too often - and most unfairly - the manager or executive who made the decision, leaves the enterprise before the full scale of destruction left in his or her wake takes hold.

"Hey!" they say.  "It wasn't my fault.  I wasn't there when the company went down.  In fact, that's part of the reason I left!"

Yet, for those staying behind - trying desperately to do the fix - all that's left is the hope that they can either find another job or that the company that is left will still have a place for them.

This scenario isn't one that is limited to down economic cycles.  In fact, it is just as prevalent when it's a good economy.  Because bad decision making is bad decision making - but the refusal to take action against it is death.

Interestingly, Paul Krugman in his NY Times Op-Ed piece applies the same thinking to the US economy, its politicians and the Fed.  If he's right, then the US is in for more long-term problems than it has experienced, possibly in its history.

I don't know if that's going to be the case for the US.  What I do know is that, in your own organization, it's time for you to stop and take a look at what decisions are and have been made and how they're working for you.

Are you getting the results you wanted?  Do you get the challenge and discussion and debate that's required to ensure that your decisions are well founded and that there aren't any hidden potholes you didn't consider?

Are you getting the best information - all the time - that you and the organization need?

If you've got the right brains and the right culture, you've got it nailed.  You'll have the information you need.  If you've got the courage to listen and act, you've got a company that will succeed.

And then, you'll never see any downward spirals - slow or otherwise.