Developing The Right Company Culture

I work in a start-up business. I’ve been blessed with a great team who lives and breathes the company culture everyday – people who continue to exude the passion to try new things and develop new ways of streamlining and becoming smart in how we grow and attract the right customers.

We are a small company and we listen to each other – I mean, we really listen and we respect the viewpoints that each has to contribute, no matter how harsh. I believe in transparency, no matter how much it hurts the ego. Especially mine.

Continuous Change Needs To Be Enabled And Nurtured

I always thought I’d get it right off the bat because I was developing this company from the beginning. Not many CEOs have the benefit of creating a vision and cultivating it from its very beginnings. I have. It comes with amazing outcomes but also detrimental effects.

People Are Everything!

It doesn’t usually take long for me to trust people. My nature is to give people the benefit of the doubt. I also pride myself in the ability to spot awesomeness. It’s easy for me to latch onto people who speak about the future, new ways of thinking and their personal philosophies about where things are going. These are the people I tend to work with because they have this intrinsic drive that allows them to continuously question existing processes and figure out better ways to get things done. And I love that.

It’s because of this that we’ve streamlined our communication processes, improved our filing system and created a more structured way of running meetings. This has provided immense improvement especially in a company whose principles operate remotely in different parts of the U.S. and Canada. I have Joe Cardillo to thank for that. We’ve also improved the quality of our content. Susan Silver and Amy Tobin continue to be vigilant about producing valued content that our customers will read. I continue to be blown away with how data is being used to gain us more credibility and earn us more traffic in the process.

Being a leader doesn’t mean you know everything. I don’t have all the answers and I don’t pretend I do. What I do know is that what we’ve built today is the work of a collective team that believes in the goals of the company.

Become Uncomfortable … Always

My partner in crime, Amy Tobin, knows this to be true. We often have uncomfortable conversations. Many times these discussions may criticize a decision that has been already made. It often times makes me question some of my personal views on a situation and my own process for coming to the conclusions I have.

As much as it may feel like it’s a personal slight, the criticism stems from the perspective about company direction and focus. I’ve been known to derail direction in response to some cool ideas that present themselves. My instinct has been to say, “Hey, who’s the boss here?” I’m glad, however, I’ve allowed myself the time to regroup and think about what exactly has been questioned and why. I’ve also nurtured one on one meetings to allow more transparency and honest opinion.

In a start-up people will come and go, even the amazing ones. I take comfort in knowing that I’ve done everything I could to allow each one to develop to the point where they’ve felt compelled to spread their wings and find their own way. Regardless of the circumstances, there has been considerable learning on both sides. This is a business that thrives because its players want what’s best for the company. That is truly rare in big business.

Make Mistakes… Then Move On

When I started this business I had absolutely no experience as an entrepreneur. I had some great experience as a marketer but not as a business person. This learning curve has been a steep one.

I won’t lie. We’ve repositioned the mission for this company several times. It’s been in response to market demand or lack thereof. Each time we’ve gone through the exercise of “Who we are and what do we want to be when we grow up?”, everyone provides their honest viewpoint. This challenges us but also forces us to rethink and refocus, with the intention of getting alignment into what the market needs.

I’ve also made wrong decisions: when it came to clients, our people and how things were done. But I’ve learned from them. I don’t doubt I’ll continue to make more mistakes and learn from those as well. It’s inevitable.

As this business grows up and changes, I would hope that I will continue to maintain the values that have been instilled from the beginning. I don’t doubt there will continue to be rough waters ahead but as long as everyone has a voice that is heard and listened to; and as long as they feel valued, will I feel like I’m headed in the right direction.

Three Principles Of Good Communication

Communication is the bedrock of all relationships, whether professional or personal. Getting it right can be particularly hard in the workplace, where people with wildly different ways of thinking and talking are all heavily invested in the topics under discussion. We risk causing offence or difficulties, and fear of that risk can be just as damaging, leading people to hold back key information.

So what can you do to ensure good communication?

Have Courage

We often hold back from communicating what we mean out of fear. Particularly with bad or awkward news, this can be because we fear facing the emotional consequences, because we don’t want to face the argument or disappointment our words will bring. But putting communication off for this reason only delays the inevitable, and can make the message harder to receive. If bad news has consequences then people are better off knowing it soon, so that they can plan for it.

Holding back can also come because we fear appearing stupid or being ignored. We doubt the value of our own opinions, and so keep them back. But this can be equally damaging. It can stop your best ideas from being acted on. It can lead to venting your frustration in other ways, unconsciously showing your discomfort and so creating bad feelings.

Have the courage of your convictions. You are in the position you are in because your ideas and opinions add to that role, so don’t be afraid to express them.

Have Substance

Recent experience of marketers has shown that sponsored content works better than adverts in drawing customers’ attention. This isn’t just useful for marketing departments – it contains a deeper lesson for all of us.

People prefer to have something to get their teeth into. A short, shallow message, while having advantages in punchiness, risks losing all meaning. Real people don’t like to be communicated to through soundbites, no matter what the politicians think. So make sure that you understand your core message, that it is something that matters to your audience, and that your words get that message across.

This isn’t a recommendation that you run on at extra length, but that, if you’re being brief, you still make sure that you’re meaningful.

Have Quiet

Good communication isn’t all about the parts where you’re speaking or writing – it’s about the bits in between as well.

Taking the time to pause and to think, not rushing from one task to another, is valuable in getting anything right. Good communication isn’t about putting out a huge barrage of words, battering your audience into submission. It’s about the right words, in the right place, at the right time.

So take some quiet time to plan your words, to dream about how to make them better, to analyze your past attempts and improve on them.

Include some quiet time in your communications too. Pause after key points so that the message has time to sink in. Space between the stages in a communications plan allows for your audience to reflect on what you’ve said, internalize it, act on it.

Sometimes it feels like we have so much to say that we need to keep up a constant barrage of words, especially when we’re nervous or uncertain of the outcome. But think about how it sounds to you when someone just babbles on – does that make their message any clearer, or does it undermine their intent?

Have courage in the value of your message. Have substance that will give people a reason to care. And have enough quiet for a clear message. Have the heart for truly great communication.

Image credit: Snapwire Snap zak suhar // // free under CC0 1.0

Be Fearless About Feedback

Over 70% of employees think their performance would improve with more feedback and the vast majority say that recognition is more rewarding than cash. This presents a tremendous opportunity for both managers and team members. While feedback on what we do well is gratifying, feedback on what we can do better helps us improve — it’s an essential ingredient in career growth. As Ken Blanchard so aptly said, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions!”

Unfortunately most employees say they don’t get enough feedback. This is in part because giving and getting feedback can be emotionally charged, which inhibits giving it and may reduce our ability to put feedback we receive into practice. By viewing feedback as learning and leading opportunities and being fearless about it, we maximize career and team velocity.

Try these three practices for fearless feedback:

1. Managers: Get Over It

If you lead a team, regular feedback is a part of the job; giving no feedback is far worse than critical feedback. Unfortunately, 50% of managers fail to drive accountability and don’t give constructive feedback for fear of being the “bad guy.” Instead, put your team members’ success in front of the need to be liked — 57% of employees prefer corrective feedback. They want to know how they can improve and where they’re not meeting your expectations or their potential. It’s a disservice to withhold that information, particularly when it informs your view of their performance.

2. Team Members: Make the Most of It

Getting good feedback is easy, but getting constructive feedback is golden! It’s a growth opportunity, not an indictment, so focus on applying it rather than dissecting history. At a minimum, you’ve just learned what your manager (or customer) thinks — that’s invaluable! Distinguish the real message from the messenger or the messenger’s style; getting bogged down on how the message was delivered robs us of its benefit. And rather than refute the feedback, listen and look at it clinically for what can be learned. While it may not be completely accurate, harvest the wheat from the chaff to advance your skills and effectiveness.

3. Make Feedback Effective

We don’t all need or want the same feedback — career stage, personality, skill levels, circumstances and age all affect the types of feedback we want and need. To make feedback most effective for the whole team, take these steps:

  • Have a conversation on how to make feedback most effective for each person on the team. While 70% of young employees’ learning happens on the job, they benefit most from strengths-based feedback; tell them what they’re doing right as they experiment without experience. Older employees tend to want 50% more feedback than their younger counterparts and prefer more candid, constructive feedback on their growth opportunities.
  • Forget the “feedback sandwich.” Wrapping negative feedback in positive feedback undermines trust and the value of the positive feedback. Focus on the business outcomes and changes needed and tailor delivery to the individual.
  • Do make time for positive feedback. We’re all human; we operate at our best when we feel valued and our talents welcomed on the team. A five-to-one mix of positive feedback to negative is most effective.
  • During feedback conversations, create space for both manager and team member to listen. The manager may not have all the facts and the team member may have insight on where the manager can help.
  • Gather feedback on how you give or get feedback. Feedback on feedback provides great data on how you can maximize your learning and leading opportunities, and the practice strips away emotions that inhibit performance candor.

When feedback is an ongoing conversation rather than a rare or dramatic episode, team performance and culture improve. We like “Feedback Fridays” as a way of institutionalizing peer feedback, putting a positive wrap on the week and making feedback our norm.

photo credit: Kyle Taylor, Dream It. Do It. via photopin cc