Published on: May 16, 2017
Article Text.by Kevin Coupe
Content Guy's Note: This week in Dallas, at the Executive Leadership Forum held by the Produce Marketing Association's Center for Growing Talent, retail and supplier executives are gathering to focus on Strategy, Culture and Talent - the goal is to equip them with insights and perspectives about the workplace that can help them lead their companies to new levels of success.
One of the speakers charged with helping them transition to a greater understanding of how to navigate a changing workplace is Seth Mattison, founder and Chief Movement Officer of FutureSight Labs ... and I had a chance to engage him in a dialogue about these issues before he went off to Dallas ... allowing those of us not lucky enough to be at the Center for Growing Talent's Executive Leadership Forum to get a taste of what the conference has to offer.
KC: It seems to me that one of the core challenges of leading an organization these days is dealing with the generational chasm that often exists, and that can be reflected in how people of varying ages view culture, politics, technology and work-life balance. Sometimes this can be reflected in how people dress (a subject you address on your website) and sometimes in the extent to which they use technology tools. So my first question is, what responsibility do leaders have to “manage down,” and try to understand the proclivities of the next generation of employees, and do what extent should they simply say, I’m the boss and you have to meet me on my terms?
Seth Mattison: As owners, operators and leaders of organizations, you carry no responsibility to learn about, understand, and meet the next generation of talent where they are. However, I don't know how well that will serve you as we move toward a world where 50% of the workforce will be comprised of Millennials by 2020. Not to mention the fact that your customers are evolving at the same rate. Understanding Millennials and Gen Z, is essentially a practice in understanding the future of our business.
I also think we like to make a bigger deal out of the "demands" the younger generations are making. Most of the things they're looking for, work-life balance, work that matters and impacts the company and community at large in positive ways, transparency and clarity on decisions happening in the business, flexibility and openness to new ideas and ways of doing business, and a chance to impact the organization in a meaningful way... who doesn't want those things?!
With that said, as leaders we have a responsibility and the opportunity to set any expectation around attitudes, values, and behaviors that we believe are important to the culture that we want. Our job is to make absolutely certain that our employees have 100% clarity around our rules of engagement. Including where we draw the line on debating and questioning leadership’s decisions and requests.
Get clear on your expectations right out of the gate and then hold people accountable to them.
KC: Younger people, especially millennials, often are criticized for wanting more out of the workplace - they expect to be engaged and rewarded and recognized with greater frequency than people of their parents’ generation. I have to admit that as I think about this, I understand that this can be a challenge … but I’m not sure they’re wrong. To me, this is a less a matter of “everybody gets a trophy” than it is a case of “if you’re not going to allow me to contribute, I’m going to go someplace where I can … and yes, I expect to be recognized/rewarded for my efforts.” Again, I’m not sure this is somehow a worse attitude than being willing to work for years, for small annual wage increases, and to be patient about career growth. What do you think?
SM: I couldn't agree more with you, and, as I mentioned, I've never met anyone that didn't want those things; the challenge for prior generations is that they simply didn't have the influence and the numbers to demand better. They dealt with a "get with the program or hit the bricks" type environment and in turn responded as such.
KC: “Innovation” and “disruption” are two words thrown around a lot in these sorts of events, but I think most companies are molded into rigid forms that are designed to resist both - and sometimes genetically engineered to destroy disruptive antibodies before they can threaten the status quo. Can you give me an example or two of companies that have managed to transcend such a situation?
SM: Example 1: Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Ambassador Real Estate.
BHHS-Ambassador Real Estate earned an impressive ranking on Entrepreneur’s Top Company Cultures list, a comprehensive list of U.S.-based businesses exhibiting high-performance cultures. They placed 12th in the large company category. The Omaha, Neb. brokerage was also the only real estate firm in the large company category to crack the top 30 on the list.
While these awards are for culture, I think it speaks directly to the fact that BHHSARE CEO Vince Leasey has created an environment where change and transformation is not only embraced but also encouraged. Not only have they embraced Millennials and the digital transformation that has left many real estate firms scratching their heads, Vince has re-imaged the real estate brokerage business by tapping the disruptive power of teams and team selling. Teams and team selling is a concept that, while talked about a lot in the real estate game, is very rarely embraced and virtually never executed well.
Teams typically don’t work in the Real Estate game because it’s traditionally been a dog-eat-dog / loan-wolf type profession. Everyone is competition, even your colleagues carrying the same company banner. Not in the world that Vince has created.
Example 2: Sparks+Honey.
Sparks and Honey is a marketing and advertising agency with offices in NYC and LA. While there are many exceptionally creative agencies operating on Madison Ave., no one approaches the game with such open collaboration as S+H.
And by open I mean literally open. Every single day S+H opens their doors to creators and makers, thinkers and influencers, experts, leaders in industry, the eclectic, diverse, and culturally curious.
As it states on their website and as I learned firsthand while visiting their offices in April, “We reach out to the vast community of fascinating minds exploring our constantly changing world as we consider the cultural context shaping what people think, feel and do. Together we build and iterate, imagining, innovating, designing and executing as one.”
Every single day S+H opens their doors over the lunch hour to “outsiders” where the Sparks and Honey team, along side thought leaders and the intellectually curious join together for one of their famed “Daily Culture Briefings,” a rapid-fire session covering 40+ cultural signals from the previous 24 hours, sparking new thinking about the now, next, and future.
What impresses me most about these sessions is the radical level of openness that took place as they talk about client projects, new ideas, and transformational trends playing out in every vertical they were serving. But what if somehow someone from the competition snuck in? So what? There are more then enough good ideas to go around.
The two biggest drivers for both of these companies and cultures speak to the next question you’ve asked, both companies, from Madison Ave in NYC to prairies of Omaha, operate from positions of humility and abundance. They believe there is always more to learn and there is more than enough to go around.
KC: What do you think - and I concede this calls for a massive generalization - is the greatest weakness that most business leaders bring to their companies? What do you think is the greatest strength?
SM: Very simple... they struggle with operating from a position of humility and abundance.
Humility allows them to be open to new ideas and ways of doing business and gives them the freedom and permission to say "I don't know," which is required to innovate and grow today. If you can't say I don't know, you can't grow!
Abundance manifests in a culture when leaders create an environment where people believe there is more than enough to go around. In turn people share. People pour into one another. They look for ways to help and support. They know that when they help each other succeed, they all succeed. In cultures where this does not exist, the opposite occurs: hoarding.
This absolutely has to start with leadership and if these two values are in place, they create the highest probability of the greatest transformation for the business, but it starts with leadership.
KC: I think I have an understanding of how leaders can create a culture when they are starting a business from scratch … but when you speak at PMA, your audience will be largely made up of organizations that have existed for a number of years. So, I’m curious: How does one recognize that one’s company has a culture problem? And how do you remake a culture when things have gone bad or even have gotten toxic?
SM: Recognizing you have a cultural problem, in my experience, is never hard, you can feel it in the air, it’s changing an existing culture that requires serious serious commitment.
First and foremost, we all have to own the fact that culture is a reflection of leadership. If we don’t like what we’re seeing, we need to take a long look in the mirror. Its starts with us.
Once you’ve acknowledged that, you can move on to the second step, which is getting clear on what culture means to you and the organization. I find in my work, most leaders have a difficult time clearly articulating what culture means to their organization and it’s impossible to change a culture if you’re not clear on what it even is.
To be clear, here is my definition of culture: The formal or informal, agreed upon, attitudes and behaviors that are either rewarded or corrected inside an organization.
Key words in that statement: agreed upon.
Do your people know, and have you clearly communicated to them exactly the attitudes and behaviors that are most important to you, and are you holding each other accountable to them? We make it complicated but it’s actually some pretty simple steps taken consistently every single day.
I have leaders write down one or two attitudes and behaviors they want to see in their culture that would make a positive impact on turning the energy of the place around.
Leaders have to start embodying these attitudes and behaviors. They have to start talking about them consistently every single day so that they become known. Recruit influencers that are committed to them as well. Hold each other and the team accountable to them. If someone isn’t living these new values, they get one chance to course correct, if they can’t get on board the decision to part ways is pretty easy.
The most important point to remember: culture is a reflection of leadership.
KC: So finally, when people leave your session at the Executive leadership Forum today, what actionable steps do you expect them to be able to implement to be better leaders when they return to their companies?
SM: We can’t lead others without first being able to effectively lead ourselves. Most people operate from a position of reaction. From the moment the alarm goes off we’re reacting to a digitally charged world that’s moving toward us at a blistering pace. This pace of change and transformation puts us on our heels and into a state of survival and protection of the status quo.
In this session we’ll unpack new perspectives on what’s causing some of these fundamental shifts in the world of work and give leaders specific strategies to respond to change, overcome fear, embrace new ideas, leverage new communication channels, articulate vision, and harness the power of present moment awareness.
KC: Sound like Eye-Openers to me...
You can learn more about PMA's Center for Growing Talent here.