Monday, May 29, 2006

The Corporate Culture Conundrum

John Hamm, a former CEO and current general partner at VSP Capital, reminds us that successful corporate cultures nurture employees' natural drive and enthusiasm toward creating a winning company. In May 2006 issue of Harvard Business Review, Hamm advises that a healthy corporate culture is "created and maintained by focusing on the right goals and creating the experience of winning in the marketplace."

Hamm contrasts this with a "feel good" culture focused on employee morale, attitude and teamwork. With the attention on make-them-happy without any ties to business metrics, employees ultimately will not produce to a level necessary to meet business goals and achieve lasting success.
In companies with healthy cultures, employees aren't kept in the dark; rather, they are supported in the belief that they are part of an exciting future. They come to work with a fire inside them, a result of clearly stated leadership and business practices that everyone explicitly understands. Every person in the company know how to individually contribute to its future.

In Hamm's view, successful companies have workplace cultures where employees want to make a difference – not be coddled.

I agree with Mr. Hamm for the most part. Clearly fostering an environment where employees are tuned in and turned on by a company's success is a winning strategy. And in a perfect world, all employees would be as ambitious, success oriented and driven as Hamm believes you can create with your company culture.

The reality, though, is that most employees don't get off on the company's success. It's difficult for motivated people like Mr. Hamm to come to grips with the fact that a large number of employees – many who for better or worse make up a core group of most mid to large size companies - are not success driven. They might be conscientious workers who will put in a good days work but they will never give a hoot about meeting a price/earnings ratio or market share goal. Most people are just not that ambitious. And that's okay.

I learned this the hard way myself by banging my head against the wall for many years working on ways to motivate the masses. Why didn't they get excited about the things that seemed so obviously exciting to me? How could you not get enthused about 40% year-over-year growth?

You can try and tie in compensation and rewards to your metrics but this yields minimal effects and is limited to the few metrics on which you can focus. When you are able to create attention to corporate goals via your reward system, that attention is generally limited to "What’s In It For Me" thinking and not a more sustaining, success for success' sake attitude. It rarely creates the genuine fire in the belly that Hamm (and I!) seek.

The truth is, there just are no burning embers to stoke in many employees. The sooner highly motivated CEOs accept this the better. The key is to learn how to get good, solid and even exceptional performance from these employees. Because they don't have the fire in the belly, doesn't mean they don't want to produce a good days work for a company that treats them right. There are things a company can do and irritations a company can eliminate to create a successful environment. I'll save that for another post.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Apprentice Update - Where are they now?

Forbes has a slide show of previous Apprentice candidates and what they are doing now.

Remember, Tana and her quest for a Bedazzler? She is now their corporate spokesperson.

The much loved Troy from season one still runs the same mortgage company but has landed a deal with a financial firm that has helped him grow exponentially.

Young Andy from season two was actually hired by Trump a few months after his "firing."

See them all here.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Cheers for Towel Service in the Locker Room

When is towel service in the locker room an employee retention tool? When employee feedback tells you it's something that employees want.

Kudos to Lisa Brummel, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Microsoft for spending the last year gathering feedback from employees. In an email to employees she said, "Maintaining and strengthening the employee experience is one of the highest priorities for [Chief Executive] Steve [Ballmer], the leadership team and me."

As reported in the Seattle Times, after listening to employees, Microsoft today unveiled a series of changes designed to address employees' concerns and improve their work experience.

Along with restoring towel service in the locker rooms (which evoked loud applause when announced), substantive changes were also included such as:
- 15 percent budgetary increase for employee stock awards

- major expansion of space to relieve overcrowding

- restructuring of the numerical performance rating system

- career development planning

- enhanced tuition and child care benefits

- a variety of services including dry cleaning, grocery delivery and to-go meals from Wolfgang Puck

Obviously these changes are going to require a substantial financial investment on Microsoft's behalf. It would be interesting to see their ROI calculations. Clearly HR executive Brummel and Chief Executive Ballmer recognize the great return that Microsoft will receive in the form of reduced turnover, greater employee productivity and ability to recruit the best employees. Listening to your employees does pay off.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Rank and Yank, Chickens and Enron

I've never been a big fan of GE Jack Welch inspired "rank and yank" forced ranking and termination of the bottom x percent.

This article emailed to me today (thanks HRDan!) looks at why, from an evolutionary standpoint, managed survival of the fittest HR policies that focus on the individual are doomed to failure.

It uses for examples a chicken experiment that ended up unwittingly selecting for mean chickens and Enron.
So Enron was applying selection at the individual level according to metrics like individual trading performance to a group system whose performance was, like the henhouses, an emergent property of group dynamics as well as a result of individual fitness. The result was more or less the same. Instead of increasing overall productivity, they got mean chickens and actual productivity declined. They were selecting for traits like aggressiveness, sociopathic tendencies, and dishonesty.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Time Bomb Fathers Create Good HR Managers

According to psychologist and author Stephan Poulter, success or failure in the workplace is closely related to the kind of father you had while growing up.

In his new book, Dr. Poulter tells us that time-bomb or explosive fathers raise children who are very intuitive and good at reading people. He suggests that these children may grow up to become excellent personnel managers or negotiatiors.


Other father types outlined include the Super Achiever Father, Passive Father, Absent Father and Compassionate / Mentor Father

In the recent news story on this subject, William Pollack, a psychology professor and director of the Centers for Men and Young Men at McLean Hospital, part of Harvard Medical School agrees. "There's been a good deal of research to show not only that our family-life experience and our experience with our parents affects our personality, but it affects our corporate personality, both as leaders and followers."

Pollack continued, "There's also good research to show that for men and women, the way they identify with their father and their father's role may well affect how they interact as a manager or leader in the workplace."

Most of the intuitive HR people that I know did not develop their intuitiveness because of an explosive father but it is interesting to look at how positive personality traits may develop out of negative experiences.

Those interested in the psychology of personality and how it affects the workplace might be interested in two previous blog posts:
Why People Follow the Leader
Does Birth Order Influence Acceptance of New Ideas