The Why, the Strategy and the Culture

Hardly an article is written, or a conversation is started, without a mention of the terrible trials we have endured during 2020. Motivation and engagement seems to be at an all-time low and leaders and business owners are concerned about how to approach planning for 2021. They appear to be stuck between the proverbial rock and the hard place. 2020 was challenging enough but 2021 seems be shrouded in mystery as the way forward feels more and more uncertain as we prepare to enter 2021 with COVID in tandem. How does one create forward momentum during such uncertainty? How do you motivate team members, or even yourself, when the goal-post keeps moving?

At the end of last year, I read the book The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. In the novel, the Tattooist Lale Solokov is a Slovakian Jew who is judged by his peers for being prepared to tattoo the symbols of the Nazi oppression on his fellow Jews – specifically on young girls, women and children. In Lale’s mind though he was doing this so that he could make sure that the tattoos hurt as little as possible. In his own way, the character of Lale teaches us the lesson that Viktor Frankl vividly portrayed in Man’s Search for Meaning. When we understand our purpose, when we know where we make meaning of life, then we can doggedly follow that path. Even under the harshest conditions.

The way to start preparing for 2021 is to understand the Why, or purpose of the organization, teams and individual employees. Asking the following questions can help you get there.

For the organization:
What is the Why of the business?
Why is that significant?
What value does it add to society?
What value does it add for its employees?
Given the rapid changes that have taken place, is this why still relevant?

For a team (or business unit):
What is the Why for the team?
How does the team fulfill the Why of the business?
How have changes over the last year changed the Why for the team?
Has there been a shift in process, procedure, and systems to support the Why of the team?
Can the team still deliver on its Why?

For the individual employee?
What is the Why for each individual employee?
Are there employees that share a Why?
Are these connections being used to create engagement?
Does the Why of the employee dovetail with the Why of the business?
Has there been a disruption to the employees Why this year? How has this been dealt with?

By answering these questions managers, and team members alike, will get a better understanding of what is driving each level of the business and whether there is sufficient overlap to create a cohesive network of motivation. These overlaps will be the super power of the organization and should align to the strategy and culture of the organization.

Where there are gaps, however, these are areas in which work is needed. Once the gaps have been identified it is best to see how the gaps relate to the strategy and culture of the organization. If the gaps negatively impact either, or both, of these they need to be eliminated. If the gaps do not related to the above, then performance will not be impacted. It is therefore best to prioritize closing the gaps that can have an impact on the strategy and the culture.

Creating a shared purpose will help in setting up more sustainable motivation that can drive one employee, one team or one business.

The clever thing about clever people

I love getting older! I am fascinated by all the people I have connected with over the years, the guidance and mentorship I received, and how that has impacted my life. I am going through an incredible journey of reconnecting with ex-colleagues and clients at the moment and it is lovely to reflect on what I have learned from them.

In this week’s Performance Cafe I am joined by Caryn Schalit, she was my HR lead when I was a training and development manager. We had a blast working together as she has an openness to new ideas, while at the same time never dropping her standards and keeping an eye in the bigger picture.

Caryn taught me many things, but three things stand out for me:

  1. There is always time to innovate and do things even better. I remember us hashing out a Performance Management System that was so innovative at the time. And my ultimate reward was when, after the implementation was completed, an employee thanked me for the clarity and purpose the system created. That would not have happened had we rushed the process.
  1. Caryn also always said that if two people always agree, one of them is redundant. I believe this is a Ben Bernanke quote. To me it will always be a “Carynism”. On the back of that belief, she always took the time to listen to ideas, to provide feedback and to help evolve ideas to next level of thinking. Essentially, she did this by challenging me, but not once do I remember us arguing. To this day I wonder how she managed that.
  1. My last lesson, for the purposes of this post, was that Caryn always claimed that she only brought people into her team who are cleverer than she is. While I strongly doubt the statement, as she has clever to spare, it made me feel that my ideas where always appreciated and she never expected anyone to kowtow to her. The interesting part about this is that it was invaluable when I started my own business. I have been able to collaborate with some very clever people who do amazing work and outshine me by far. Without Caryn’s view on this I would have felt insecure and my ego would have spun about like the Tazmanian Devil. Now, I use my energy building more connections with exceptional individuals in order to provide my clients with the best solutions possible.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to be invited to present a webinar on Employee Engagement to the Enshrine Placements team’s community. The majority of the focus was on Employee Engagement and how to create that in a business context. The message was clear (i) win over hearts and minds and ensure people feel they belong, (ii) allow employees to have some autonomy in their role and (iii) allow employees to feel appreciated and respected in their role which will motivate them to higher levels of mastery. This creates engagement which will see employees rise to achieve and do more than is asked in most cases… Oh wait! Caryn taught me that too!

And so, that is the clever thing about clever people like Caryn. They allow you to shine, while challenging you and making you feel valuable. What an amazing journey.

Caryn grew up in HR & Talent Acquisition and more recently, managed the global People function of a growing mid-size enterprise for 7 years. She embraces non-traditional HR thinking and believes passionately in helping shape people practices, talent acquisition and talent management to ensure they are relevant and designed with the future of work in mind.

The exotic vs building bridges

Many people realize the value of travel as a self-development tool. I couldn’t agree more. Visiting a different country, especially one where the norms, culture, food and language are very different can really open one’s eyes and that encourages a respect for diversity. Visiting America, India, Tanzania, Lesotho and Namibia certainly left me with new perspectives.

With COVID and lockdown reducing our ability to travel many individuals have been eagerly awaiting news of a return of international travel. Their need for their travel-fix has been building for the last few months and the call of the exotic is becoming stronger by the day.

George A. Moore is credited as having said “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” As humans it in our natures to explore and push boundaries, especially as teenagers who are wanting to roam outside the influence of family ties. I believe that this leads to the need to move away from home in order to test the waters of freedom and independence.

However, I believe that we have overlooked an important learning opportunity during this difficult time. I wonder if we could encourage a trend to explore local cultures, norms and attitudes in order to grow our respect and tolerance of diversity. I live in a country where we have the ideal opportunity to do so because of the sheer diversity in the country. We have 11 official languages and more than one ethnic group related to each language, in fact Africa is credited as have close to 3000 ethnic groups.

That level of diversity is a key influencer of how people relate to each other, and yet everyday in the media, and in the manager’s office we hear about how one or another person or team is being “difficult”. What if they are not being “difficult“ but “different”. How much time, energy, money and stress can be saved by being open to the differences and finding a way to help those views and perspectives find purpose in our businesses?

How do we do this? I prefer using the wheel-of-life, which is a coaching tool that focusses on challenges from a wholistic approach.

From this image we can see the fundamental aspects that affect each of our lives, irrespective of the culture we hail from. So when feeling challenged in an interaction I try and remember that people are “different” in each of these areas, not “difficult” in each of them. In fact, to the other person in the conversation, you are being “different”.

The way to get around this? Genuine non-judgemental curiosity. Ask questions and learn about how the individual thinks and feels and work from there. This reminds me of the concept of non-violent communication that was taught to me by Sylvia Lohr, an ex-colleague and friend.

Yes, it most certainly is a longer route to take, but building bridges are worth the effort. And when those bridges are in your neighbourhood (so to speak) they serve both you and your community, whether at home or at work.

My guest this week in the Performance Café Coffee Companions series is Sylvia Lohr. Sylvia is Principal Marketing Manager at Nuance Communications (DACH & CEE) who has worked in a multitude of global team. She has a  passion for holistic and integrated B2B Marketing Strategy. Agile and lean methodologies, along with a healthy dose of teamwork are her cornerstones.