Leadership, Management, Internal Culture and Stuffed Animals

I saw this story via my LinkedIn profile today and was totally amazed by what I read.

These were the parts that really got to me, emphases mine:

At the mention of Whoops, a handful of team members would stand up and one-by-one retell the story of a mistake, big or small. It might have been a mishandled customer case, a forgotten internal data analysis or causing a car accident on the way to work. Often, the team’s managers and directors contributed anecdotes. Once or twice, an employee’s Whoops mistake cost Google millions of dollars. After hearing all the yarns, the team voted on the worst mistake and Whoops would be thrown from one side of the room to the other, finding the “winner” of the competition who would put the monkey in his or her cubicle for the week.

Then Duke the dog was summoned. In contrast to Whoops’ self-reported monkeywrench mistakes, Duke stories are retold by someone else and the dog is a reward for service to the team that went above and beyond the call of duty. Several Googlers would stand and tell a story of a teammate’s dedication: how a colleague alerted them of a problem in a customer’s account, or stayed late that week to process unusually high customer spoort volumes, or released an internal tool that might have increased our productivity dramatically. Again, the team would vote on the stories and Duke would be bestowed on the winner. Then, the all hands meeting adjourned.

Despite their childlike simplicity, Duke and Whoops, were incredibly effective management tools. Whoops created a culture of honesty and transparency, where mistakes were shared in an environment of openness, trust and support. With Whoops, Kim created a culture that valued learning and camraderie over pride.

Duke celebrated our internal successes. Each week, we wanted to win Duke because we knew whatever effort we contributed at the very least would be celebrated before our teammates and Duke, prominently displayed on in our cubicle would remind our teammates and start conversations. That knowledge made us all work harder.

To the individual, it mattered who won Duke and Whoops. But sharing all of the stories, building a community based on shared experience and trust, was far more important and beneficial to the team. The dog and the monkey were tools to weave a fabric of shared experience and create a culture of strong values.

Can you imagine your company creating a culture that truly values honesty and transparency? Where mistakes are shared with openness, trust and support; where learning and camaraderie is valued over pride?

I am a firm believer that one of the most overlooked and undervalued things in an organization is its internal culture. Leaders and managers are too often focused on immediate gains and easy-to-report KPIs, leaving internal culture to the HR department, or worse, a part-time special interest group. Leaders must realize that their main job is leading people to achieve success and greatness – which then translates to results.

Maybe this is why Google continues its momentum as the world’s #2 brand, with its stock price hitting the $1,000 mark.


5 Dimensions to Meta-Leadership

(Disclaimer: I work for Microsoft. However, the parts of the HBR article I enjoyed and want to file for my own future reference is only the leadership lessons. I have not worked for Mr. Sinofsky before nor do I know him in any capacity other than his position as an executive in Microsoft)

I really enjoyed this article by Eric McNulty via the Harvard Business Review, especially on the insights to what makes great leadership.

The article kicks off with a great definition of leadership they use at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative. I love this, it’s the simplest and most true way to describe a leader: people follow you. It’s a great definition that “intentionally omits any reference to rank or role” and defines leadership as behavior-based. “Leader” is not a title you are handed just because you sit in a certain spot in a hierarchy; you have to earn it from those you aspire to have follow you.

McNulty then goes on to describe 5 dimensions of a framework he calls Meta-leadership.

  1. The first dimension of meta-leadership is the person of the leader. It comprises their competence and experience and, more important, their self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
  2. The second dimension is the situation, the context in which someone leads.
  3. The third dimension of meta-leadership is leading down to one’s organizational base.
  4. The fourth dimension is leading up to one’s boss. A leader must understand and deliver on his boss’ priorities while also helping the boss better understand opportunities and threats. In a complex, global corporation the CEO must have an effective senior team that knows when — and how — to surface conflict as well as how to come together to execute a strategy.
  5. The fifth dimension of meta-leadership is leading across to people over whom you have no authority but who are critical to your success. This is the ability to create unity of effort among one’s peers, suppliers, distributors, and others in the value chain. Success is rarely achieved alone. Leaders know that they need others. Sometimes you require their active support; other times it is simply their enthusiasm that benefits you.

And a great kicker of an ending too: “Executives come and go. Leaders make a lasting, positive impact on people. It is time to stop calling those who manage or who have climbed to the upper reaches of the corporate world “leaders” — until they have demonstrated actual leadership. By articulating clear standards and expectations for the many dimensions of leadership, we can begin to cultivate the true leaders we need and desire.”

Read the full article here.

In A Complex Situation

I’ve been in a series of meetings over the past few weeks where I’ve come face-to-face with truly how complex a situation can be – whether it is an organization or the issue at hand. Here’s what I’ve learned: In a complex situation, people tend to simplify.

The brain thinks in terms of {constructs} – struggling to find some sort of method to the madness, or order out of chaos.

So, they adapt accordingly by:

  1. Compartmentalizing things – or working out of silos
  2. Resolutely focusing – which means they also ignore everything else
  3. Telling a story – to link all the complex moving parts to make some coherent sense of things.

If your brand, situation, organization is far too complex – you can bet that your audience will tend to rely on one of these coping strategies. The questions to ask, then, are: 1) Which strategy would be to your advantage? and 2) How can you ensure you guide them to that and make the most out of it?

3 Ways to Effectively Communicate Your Vision (Harvard Business Review)

Never underestimate the importance of Vision… and, even more so, how to effectively communicate it. The greatest, most dynamic companies that I have seen tend to be those who have a clear vision that is easily articulated and shared by everyone – akin to a mantra or mythos for the organisation. Heck, I’ll go as far as to say that even the Bible considers having a Vision vital to the survival of a team: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).

So, the Harvard Business Review highlights 3 ways to more effectively communicate your vision:

  1. Repeat yourself. To rally people around your vision, you need to remind them of your message and reinforce what you are trying to achieve. Don’t worry about sounding like a broken record. In fact, I will go on as far as to say that – even though it sounds like “old news” to you – someone, somewhere may need to hear it yet again to spur them on.
  2. Make it two-way. Don’t pick up a megaphone. Be sure to create dialogue around your message so that people hear it and understand it. Not only that, as I mentioned earlier, an easily articulated vision that people are engaged with eventually becomes a mantra or mythos that everyone participates in and owns collectively.
  3. Put out calls to action. Don’t just tell people what you imagine for the future, ask for their help in making it a reality. Be specific about what you want people to do and why. This is, to me, one of the most important steps that leaders often forget. Many people listen to a vision-casting speech and end up enamoured by the charisma of the leader – but often walk away wondering just what in the world are they supposed to do to pitch in.

The Purpose Of Leadership (McKinsey)

I’m a huge fan of the work that McKinsey & Company does – but I think I’ve never been more impressed than when I read this definition of leadership from the McKinsey Quarterly article, “Revealing your moment of truth” by Stan Slap:

The purpose of leadership isn’t to increase shareholder value or the productivity of work teams, though effective leadership does these things. Rather, the purpose of leadership is to change the world around you in the name of your values, so you can live those values more fully and use them to make life better for others.

The rest of the article also gave me some great insights (and reminders) on leadership:

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