Culture Matters To Long Term Success; How Amazon Gets it Wrong

A recent article in the New York Times “Inside Amazon Wrestling Big Ideas In A Bruising Workplace” has everyone talking including me—in case you missed it, I wrote an Op Ed for the Puget Sound Business Journal, “Opinion-Amazons Churn and Burn Culture Isn’t Sustainable”

My points in summary;
The NYT article describes employees who are suffering and in pain in their workplace. Basic human needs (health, life balance, relationships outside of work) have been neglected. People report its not uncommon for people to “cry at their desks” and put in 85 plus hour work weeks with little or no regard/support from managers for family crisis or health emergencies. The comments provided by workers include, “people practically combust” are sad and disheartening.

Bezo’s laundry list of 14 leadership principles that guide the company is comprehensive when it comes to best practice “driving the business” components, but misses the fundamental human emotional capacities that ultimately supports relationships that are the heart of the business. The “heart” appears to be missing in the culture at Amazon.

Surprisingly, the Amazon culture doesn’t reflect the needs of the Millennial generation (well researched by the way) –while other big tech companies are proactively building workplace cultures that support their needs (paternity/maternity benefits, onsite gyms and areas to support socializing with teammates etc), Amazon seems to favor a high tech sweat shop.

Amazon leaders encourage staff to provide “secret feedback” to one another’s bosses which then gets used against them in their forced performance review “rank and yank” method. This fosters a shark tank environment and promotes rival internal politics of the worst kind.

In my view, a churn and burn culture isn’t sustainable in the long haul. White collar turnover is very expensive and has big negative impact to morale, team, workplace performance, burnout and worker health. High tech white collar professionals often exit with the “keys to the kingdom” either in company specific intel, relationships or unique ability to make what needs to work in the business.

What does all this mean to you as a leader? Culture should be at the top of any senior leaders priority list. Pay close attention to what kind of workplace culture you are creating and supporting. Conduct surveys to illuminate any potential blind spots. Notice if employees are typically engaged, energized and happy to come to work to contribute? Is there “heart” in your leadership? How are you focused on helping talent get better and then retaining them?  How do you use feedback to help you and those who report to you learn, grow and develop as leaders.  These are not simple challenges.  If often helps to get an objective outside expert involved.

I can help through my Executive Coaching, facilitating leadership retreats and conducting leadership development training/workshops/activities for your staff development. In my view, this should be a critical priority for all senior leaders. Hopefully this expose written by the NYTimes serves as a wake up call for leaders everywhere.
Maureen Moriarty
425 736 5691
pathtochange.com

If you have worked with me, you know my level of commitment to helping/serving my clients. Please pass my contact information on to others. Referrals are deeply appreciated.

Are Jerks Winners?

A headline from The Atlantic recently caught my eye, “Why It Pays to be a Jerk”. I have counseled “jerks” in my Executive Coaching practice from time to time — I am highly skeptical about the “payoff” for being a jerk. In a nutshell, the article focused on new “success” research suggesting to get ahead “put your feet up on the table, take the last doughnut, speak first and interrupt” offering “assholes” (his words not mine) like Steve Jobs and General Patton as success models.

What kind of message is this sending to the workplace? Ugh.

In one research experiment, individuals violating long-standing norms (invading personal space, claiming undo credit or taking the last cookie) were seen by viewers as someone they would see as a boss or worthy of being “put in charge” over those acting “normal.” Academics name this “prestige” factor – from cavemen days to today, we are more apt to follow leaders who think can provide what we need —build a better fire, kill game or fight off threats. In workplaces, we want a leader to get us what we need to succeed–resources and providing protection from threats (think competitive advantage or other senior leaders roadblocking your important project).

Back to the experiment– someone who helps the team gain resources is viewed positively even if (sadly) they behave like a jerk to get it. I must admit this resonates with some of my client experience–leaders often send messages to staff that its OK to be a jerk if doing so improves the bottom line. For example, take performance reviews–I see many that are contradictory around “jerk” behavior. An individual is reprimanded about behavior that upsets peers but applauded for their ability to drive projects forward.

Leaders need to be seen as capable of driving change and taking a position but never in a toxic way. There is a big difference. In my coaching practice, professionals seen as critical contributors are often “sent” to me for coaching and counseling about how to drive action without offending people. I am brought in to help them tone down their dysfunctional or problematic behaviors and learn skills in persuasion, conflict resolution and negotiating to get results but without offending everyone in the room.

C suite wannabes also need to monitor overdone people pleasing ways. Amy Schumer’s viral video of women constantly saying, “I’m sorry” is a wake up call for professional women.

How we behave in workplaces adds up to how we are perceived by others. Constantly accommodating, acquiescing and deferring can negatively impact whether or not people will want you as their leader just like acting like a jerk can.

My take on the “Be a jerk” headline-context matters greatly. There are times when taking a difficult stand, interrupting a droning peer (you may get applause for this act) or making a tough decision like laying off the office problem person (even if they are a star performer) is the right answer.   But how you do it is critical–these leadership challenges are the crux of many of my coaching conversations.

Watch how your behaviors impact peers–seek feedback and get a 360 review if you haven’t had one done. The one I use with clients is 100% confidential and is designed for leadership development. My clients regularly walk away from my 360 review sessions with vital new feedback that helps them become more successful leaders. If you are a leader or manager seeking to improve or move upward–you simply can’t afford not to know how co-workers, reports and superiors perceive you.

One final thought –jerk behaviors viewed as offensive, abusive or toxic will lead you only one place—out the door.

From the Coach’s Corner: Information Hoarders vs. Radical Transparency

Building trust on teams is critical. Egos, turf guarding, dysfunction and game playing are too often the norm in organizations. Some professionals are absolute information hoarders failing to keep their peers informed or updated by information that could help them succeed.

In his new book “Team of Teams” retired four star General Stan McChrystal (he led army forces against Al Qaeda in Iraq) promotes “radical transparency” for teams. McChrystal said to meet the challenges in Iraq he needed his disciplined military network to adapt and pass information quickly.  This is also required of most organizations to thrive in a complex ever changing business environment.

Another McChrystal concept I applaud is his “shared consciousness” for teams with decentralized management where people are empowered to execute with their own “good judgment.” I’m reminded of my favorite example of an employee handbook: Nordstrom’s sums theirs up in one sentence, “Use your best judgment in all situations.”  But getting teams to the point where they think and act like a team isn’t easy.  Many are bogged down with dysfunctional behavior–sometimes unconsciously emanating from the leader.

I firmly believe that if you have hired the right person and they are committed to do a good job–arm them with the resources, support they need to be successful and let them do their jobs. Part of that support from leaders is arming them with the information and the contextual understanding they need to succeed.  Another is taking the “dysfunction” out of their teams which is often the most difficult perplexing and frustrating part of any leaders role.

I am here to help leaders with their people issues – I take the “dysfunction” out of teams!

This is the season for retreats – I can help facilitate your sessions for increased engagements and less game playing!

Maureen Moriarty
www.pathtochange.com
425 736 5691

Lessons From Pete Carroll After Loss

It’s far easier to lead when everything is coming up roses and exceptionally hard, even painful when the chips are down.

For fans of the Seahawks, their loss was a bitter pill to swallow. But those of us in leadership can learn a lot from how Pete Carroll handled his crisis.

Most of you already know I am a big Pete Carroll fan. He continues to model great lessons for workplace leaders –the most important of all is how he practices what he preaches.

I admire the way he took responsibility for the loss and continues to hold his head up in the spotlight. Many of his players have followed suit and what you don’t see is a lot of finger pointing and blame among the team.  They protect each other.

Here are a few team workplace lessons from our loss.

• Pete Carroll always talks in “we.” He remains consistently focused on a “team” mentality. In business I often see teams break apart in bad times due to pointing fingers, placing blame and politicking for personal agendas. Keep the we in team, not the I.

• Respond thoughtfully vs. react during bad times. Workplace teams like football teams can fumble. What happens after is critical. Do we fall apart? Blame? Resent? Leave? Or do we get stronger and grow from what we learn? Workplace teams should build post postmortems or debriefs following product or project wins and losses. Ask, how can we get better going forward?

• Don’t pass the buck. Take responsibility for mistakes and be accountable for your actions. This is critical to earn (and keep) trust and respect.

• Be authentic and candid with your team –they are adults, they can handle it. Pete Carroll’s practice after a loss is to gather his team together and “tell the truth.” Teams can grow from truth–they don’t grow from avoidance. Wise leaders don’t attempt to deny reality when it comes to the emotions of their staff. No one checks their feelings at the door when entering into work. Its when feelings go underground that they cause damage to us and to teams. Acknowledging and allowing people to appropriately voice their emotions is important.

• Its OK to be vulnerable. Pete Carroll admitted in an interview he “feels responsible for a lot of people right now.” This makes him human. We can feel grace for his situation by his authenticity.

• Look forward positively. Pete Carroll assures fans the Superbowl last play call isn’t going to define his championship team going forward. I hope you won’t let mistakes define your team either. Failures are part of business life. Teams that value teamwork and protection for each other will stand the test of time and keep getting stronger.

The Seahawks are a championship team with an extraordinary leader that I appreciate for modeling these lessons.

I am here to help with your growth. I continue to offer one on one executive/leadership coaching and training/workshops and facilitation for your teams and staff.  All referrals are greatly appreciated!
Maureen Moriarty
425 736 5691 (cell)

maureen@pathtochange.com

Leadership Gaps are Critical to Address NOW!

Ostrich-head-in-sand3It is time to get your head out of the sand and address leadership gaps. Most companies are way behind with pent up need from years of recession driven penny pinching for training/leadership development needs. Coupled with the mass exodus of baby-boomer leaders, the need to invest in the development of leaders in your organization has never been more important.

Many senior leaders, eager to exit and turn over the reins, are frustrated and troubled when they realize there are no “ready” internal candidates. 86% of executives surveyed identified their leadership shortage as “urgent” and/or “vitally important”. Most professionals are initially hired and brought into organizations as technical experts or individual contributors and, if they perform well, get promoted into management positions. However, high performers don’t magically transform into effective leaders. The capacities list required for effective leadership is long and complex. Emotional intelligence, credibility, the ability to positively influence, coach, lead change/teams, facilitate effectively in conflict and earn trust are challenging skills to master. Great leaders are not born, they are molded – by experience, mentoring/coaching and skill development training.

In my coaching experience, it’s a rare professional that can’t benefit from leadership, coaching and team development skills. Times have changed, and so have the demands, expectations and skills required for leadership success.

Senior executive involvement (aka sponsorship) is necessary for any leadership development program to succeed. Expecting managers to execute organization change without adequate resources and change management skills is magical thinking. And, few companies today have internal HR or on-staff training professionals with experience, credentials and the required skill set to lead an effective leadership development program. This is a time to bring in outside expertise.

Here’s the kicker; the millennial generation (those being asked to take the place of retiring baby boomers) are projected to make up 75% of the workforce in 2015. Yet 2 out of 3 company leaders surveyed see themselves and their organizations as “weak” in their ability to develop millennial leaders. Millennials are strongly influenced by innovation, purposeful work, future growth opportunities and having balance between work and their social needs. In contrast, traditional old school managerial thinking dictates learning by the school of hard knocks and “be grateful you have a job.” In today’s workplace, the old paradigm simply doesn’t work. Millennials respond best to a boss that supports their career development with training, targeted feedback/coaching and new opportunities. And they are not afraid to change companies to find it.

My strategy suggestions:

o Think big picture. Develop a business plan with HR for learning, training and leadership development. Allocate a reasonable budget per leader for this support—typical allocations run between $2 to 10K per leader. Have internal HR professionals work directly with managers to specifically identify cross training, mentoring and alternative development opportunities and expectations.

o Re-vamp the performance review process to include top down alignment of coaching/mentoring and leadership development plans. The expectation of leaders at all levels (emerging, mid and senior) should be a priority goal of developing those under them.

o Invest in experts; those with real experience, value and credentials excited to share their experience. An expert can customize an in house training program to address company specific leadership expectations, core values, team/culture challenges and collaborate to identify coaching, mentoring or training options most appropriate for your organization and budget.

o Walk the talk – and stay in touch with the staff throughout the development process. How you behave, recognize and reward-including who gets promoted and mentored (or not) really does matter.

Maureen Moriarty (aka Workplace Coach), Path to Change, offers Executive Coaching, consulting and training for leadership and team development.
Contact info: 425 736 5691 or Maureen@pathtochange.com