Are you “waking up dead people” or “killing a culture?”

One of the great byproducts of Web 2.0 is that I often hear from friends and colleagues I have lost touch with.  I am sure you too receive the “I found you on the internet, Facebook, Linked In, …” email from time to time, hopefully from people you actual want to talk to.

Last week I caught up with two friends – one who was on the Alliance Data Systems (ADS) deal team when they bought The Loyalty Group and later joined the team at US Loyalty/Jaz Rewards, the 2001 start up that attempted to develop a coalition loyalty program in the US.  The other was a dear friend from my freshman year at college whom I had not seen for almost 30 years.

Jim Sullivan, my former ADS colleague told me about his new business, Built to Lead, which as best as I can understand it, provides executive and organizational coaching to help  “build sustainable, high performance individuals, teams, and leaders in work and life.”  While I haven’t studied their web site, materials, exercizes and – most importantly – customer testimonials and case studies in sufficient detail to be able to recommend their services, I can tell you that Jim is very enthusiastic about Built to Lead.  I can also tell you that his elevator pitch/mission statement was one of the most break-through I have heard:

“we wake up dead people”

That one got my attention.  But it also got me thinking as Jim went on to talk about how many people are going through the motions at work, without anywhere near the passion they could have for their work and therefore likely under-performing on a daily basis.

A few nights later I had a wonderful dinner with my college friend.   She was working at a company that shall remain nameless, but it’s a fast growing retailer with over 800 outlets, a cool brand identity and  a name you would recognize.  She had read some of our writings about the importance of customer service and engaging “the employee sphere” in the creation of business value.  She went on to tell me about how her company’s culture was changing. Like most high growth businesses, the company found they needed larger space to accommodate their growing HQ staff and recently moved to a newer building.  A few things bothered her and most likely many other employees:

  • No one asked the employees what they liked most about their current space or what they wanted in the new offices. (They may have had a cross functional team with representatives form various departments,  but there clearly was no attempt to use a blog, wiki, an online survey tool like Survey Monkey or even a good old fashioned email survey to get the broader employee community’s input.)
  • The one thing that my friend thought everyone wanted was showers in the rest rooms, as the company is located in a part of the country where most people are highly active and fit and many either bike to work or go running or riding at lunch.  But no one asked what they wanted most and the employees arrived at the new office to find “huge new restrooms that could easily have accommodated a couple of showers”, but did not have even one.
  • One of the things she liked best about the old office was they almost everyone in her group rode their mountain bikes to work and parked them besides their cubes.  Anyone with a new bike received notice from others and “user reviews” were requested. Within a few minutes, test drives were taken around the office.  It was a fun way for people to take a break and do a little bonding. It sounded like mountain bikes had become the new water cooler or – probably more accurate – the mostly pre-kid employees version of sharing baby pictures.  All this changed at the new office when they arrived on the first day and were told “no bikes allowed on the elevators or in the office floors.”  Big surprise and at least a small bummer for the bike loving employees.

So what’s happening here?  At Underwood Partners, we have been working to develop a graphic that illustrates our belief that:

…asking employees, business partners and customers to contribute in the enterprise value creation process sets in motion a virtuous cycle of engagement, collaboration and contributions. (see The Philosophy & Approach of Web 2.0.)

Here’s our latest version:

We would appreciate any comments, suggestions or references/links to a better graphic than this one.  To us the formula engagement + collaboration = contributions/results/impact is consistent with our core beliefs and representative of our experiences from leading companies.  Recognizing the the contribution and its impact on the business can turbo-charge the cycle by taking everything to a higher level.  The only thing we don’t like about this graphic is that the boxes should be getting bigger with each revolution, but our power point skills need some expert assistance to do so.

We also believe that a corresponding “downward cycle” can be created by not engaging employees in the business outside of their functional/departmental roles.  Part of the cost of non-engagement is the lost opportunity of the creative ideas that come from cross-functional engagement.  But as this small example illustrates, the failure to listen to employees desires and ideas can  be de-energizing to committed members of your team and turn the water cooler (or mountain biking) conversations away from “isn’t this a cool place to work” to “our culture is changing, and not in a good way.”

Given the ubiquity of low cost, easy to implement social media technology tools designed to engage your stakeholders in your business, there is no excuse for not doing so.

What actions or non-actions are you taking today that will either “wake up dead people” or begin to kill your culture?

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