From Over Here: You Are What You Preach

May 31, 2017 Robin Whalen

You are what you preach.

Clearly, I’m a big believer in culture in the workplace. Particularly in creative environments. A positive culture leads to bigger ideas, happier people and Mondays that don’t suck.

In my pursuit of continuous learning on the topic, I came across this article by World Positive touting the Performance-Values matrix and philosophies on how culture can come to life, or not, in the workplace. I’m sold.

Let’s dig in a little and understand how important it is to A) have values B) express values and C) live by those values.

WARNING: profanity alert in the reference article and Performance-Values matrix. Beware!

“Do as I do, not as I Say”

When speaking of culture, you really need to understand the values behind a company to get a sense for how they will play out on a day to day basis.

And while values are just words on paper, whether they come to life or not is really the crux of the situation. This is the difference between aspirational values and practiced values. It’s not enough to just say it. You have to live it. Every single day. Think of Enron with a stated value on integrity. Volkswagen talks about valuing responsibility (hard to line that one up with their recent emissions scandal). Even American Apparel used to talk about being ethical and touted employee culture as something that defines who they are, but one quick Google search of this brand will show an entirely different side of ‘ethics’.

We all know the old adage that “people are a product of their environment” or that leaders shape company culture through their behaviour. It’s all true. If values are written on the public white board in an office but company leaders don’t demonstrate behaviour that are synonymous with those values, a set of new ones emerge.

No behaviour will persist longterm unless it is being perpetuated by either a positive reinforcer (providing a reward such as a promotion or praise) or a negative reinforcer (taking away a punishment such as a probationary period or undesirable work).

Hire slow, fire fast

Understanding what a prospective employee can really offer over the course of a 1-hour interview is difficult. World Positive suggests that instead of just probing for experience, more time should be taken to assess not the learned skills but inherent behaviour and beliefs. And the process is quite simple:

Identify your corporate values. Then structure your entire interview around those values. For example, if “grit” is a value your company admires, ask the candidate for an example of a time when they wanted something so badly, they stopped at nothing to achieve it. Or if sense of humour matters to your brand, ask them to share a time when they used humour to diffuse a tense situation.

The answers to these questions will quickly identify whether someone is playing to the values published on a website or actually living them on the daily.

Another key interviewing tactic is to simply apply the “no assholes rule”. At The Tite Group, we like to refer to it as the “No D!@kheads Policy”. Tech company Weebly has implemented a policy that is a sure-fire way to weed out those who just won’t fit. As World Positive explains, Weebly extends an offer to candidates they are interested in to work on a one-week trial, paid in full. Here’s their rationale. And it’s brilliant.

“Assholes can hide it in interviews, but for whatever reason, they cannot hide it for a whole week. I don’t know why, but it all comes out within a week.”

Define Success Carefully

The typical performance review process goes something like this:

  • Gather 360 feedback once a year

  • Measure performance against set objectives which are typically skill-based

  • Give feedback and have employees sign, file and revisit again in one year

There are many flaws with this model but let’s start with the fact that performance reviews are measurements of, well, performance. But if you have stated company values, then shouldn’t that matter as well?

According to Dr. Cameron Sepah, featured in World Positive’s article, there’s an easy fix for this. A new way of assessing performance. To demonstrate proof of concept, I’ve developed fictional personas for each quadrant he’s identified. We’ve all worked with these people. And it goes something like this….

Competent Assholes

High performers who exhibit less than desirable behaviour. The advice is to remediate or separate. If remediation doesn’t work, then you separate.

Let’s call this person “Georgina”. Georgina gets the job done. Georgina wins client business. People that don’t work for Georgina think she’s very friendly. However, those who work directly under her will tell another story. Lack of empathy, cover-ups, insults…it all adds up. Sure, she delivers on the corporate bottom line, but there isn’t an employee in the shop who can thrive under her or beside her. REMEDIATE OR SEPARATE.

Incompetent Assholes

The worst kind in my opinion. Not only do they under-deliver, they undermine the culture and threaten the business every step of the way. The advice? Simple. Fire fast. They don’t do their job and they don’t make people feel good while not doing their job.

Let’s call this person “Trevor”. Trevor claims success for work he didn’t do. Trevor belittles people in public. Trevor doesn’t listen to ideas that aren’t his own. Trevor looks for scapegoats when things don’t go his way. Trevor is Trouble. FIRE FAST.

Outstanding & Competent Nice Guys

Ahh, this section feels better doesn’t it? What’s the difference between the two you ask? There’s an old business rule when it comes to your labour force that can be easily explained by the following: 70 / 20 / 10

20% of your workforce are “A” players. They overachieve, they problem-solve. They are indispensable. They are outstanding nice guys.

70% of your workforce are “B” players. They get the job done and they hold up the fort. You can count on them. They are competent nice guys.

These are the folks that you should praise and raise. Find them, treat them well, build them up. They are a magical bunch of unicorns.

Side note: 10% of your workforce should be managed out. Let’s call them “incompetent assholes” or “incompetent nice guys”.

Let’s call the outstanding and competent nice guys “Karen”. Karen is a serious talent. She has ideas on the daily. She knows how to implement them. She shares success and failure. People both like and respect Karen and more importantly, want to learn from her. Let’s PRAISE AND RAISE Karen. She’s a hard one to find.

Incompetent Nice Guys

Typically, over-achievers in the culture arena but under-performers otherwise. A difficult group because you want them to succeed, but they don’t.

The plan with these folks is simple. Manage or move. Sometimes people who under-perform on one hand but live up to values on the other can succeed and show a different side when given a new challenge. So, move them to a new role. Manage performance with additional training. Try anything, because they may be worth it.

Let’s call this guy “David”. David is everyone’s favourite around the office. He’s jovial. He’s easy to talk to. He cares about the work. But the work just isn’t what it should be. So, you implement training. You look for other opportunities for success. MOVE AND MANAGE.

So, what does this all mean? Preaching culture is easy. Living culture is hard. Companies need to think about their entire ecosystem and ensure they can and do authentically deliver on what they believe in. After all, the rewards are endless.

"Contrary to popular belief, I'm not always right. But in all seriousness, I've walked the walk in many different aspects and this is just how I see things from over here." 

With a dash of wit and a full serving of insight, Robin Whalen, president of The Tite Group, shares her insights on the things, topics, conversations and general goings-on that have earned her minutes. 

This is an inside look at how her thoughts power her actions. 

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