Archives for posts with tag: culture

One of the many changes wrought by COVID-19 was not the move to working from home and the use of virtual meetings, but the discovery of the shortcomings of these modes of work and the “zoom burnout” which a significant majority of white-collar workers experienced.

Mr. Citrin and Ms. Derosa’s book, Leading at a Distance: Practical Lessons for Virtual Success, is written with these realizations in mind. Written from the perspective of mid-pandemic, the writing was finished in the fall of 2020, it was not aware, however, of how quickly people embraced returning to normal wherever possible. Remote work may be here to stay, as the book suggests, however, the tolerance for it both from employers and employees, is less than may have been expected at the time of the book’s writing.

What is interesting from the research that the authors have conducted is that there have been positive benefits to using virtual tools – particularly when it comes to expensive and complicated travel for meetings which are about getting to know people. What Leading at a Distance stresses is that it is easy to become too focused on the job of work, without allowing time, energy, and opportunity for the personal connections that make work fun and help to build trust. Checking in with teams can create an atmosphere of micromanaging, while managers who worry about micromanaging, can be seen as too distant because it is hard to causally “check-in” over Zoom. Building trust is often about personal relationships and so the authors stress the need to make time for these connections with remote teams and in particular with new remote employees.  

A problem with Leading at a Distance is that it is written with large corporate organizations in mind. This includes its research and its general outlook on company structure. While large corporate organizations are more likely to rely on virtual communication tools as a way for managers to communicate, smaller businesses have had to also embrace these tools and their challenges are often different from that of larger organizations.

What really works in Leading at a Distance, is it focus on results and culture with remote teams rather than whether they are busy at any particular moment. The book suggests that managers need to set goals and be happy that they are being met rather than on the how those goals are being met. What is surprising is the effectiveness of location when meeting with remote employees. There is always the temptation to multitask, or try to, when coaching, or being coached, over zoom while sitting at one’s desk. The authors suggest that having coaching conversations, particularly when it comes to difficult conversations, while on a walk or a calm setting such as a park or beach. This makes sense for anyone who appreciates the benefits of meeting out of the office, but it is rarely adopted virtually.

Having a hybrid team has its own challenges, say the authors. In particular, it is important to ensure that remote workers do not feel isolated or experience unconscious bias due to their remote role. This may require special attention from HR to ensure that there is a level playing field if we are to ensure that remote workers are a success.

Remote working is here to stay in some form. While the pandemic has shown what is possible, it has also shown how the tools are lacking for remote workers and that management will also need additional tools and training to allow remote teams to succeed. Leading at a distance is a good first step in a field that will continue to evolve and grow but is lacking in literature to help it do so.  

What allows us to feel like we belong somewhere?

How do we harness belonging to create buy-in for our teams and how do outside influences affect our own sense of belonging in the world? What can damage that sense of belonging? How do we avoid destroying what we seek to create?

In Daniel Coyle’s book , The Culture Code – which I reviewed here, he puts forth the idea that the things that create great culture in groups and teams do so by triggering a sense of belonging. These are things such as uniforms, special phrases or codes, and a shared vision of purpose. By triggering these ‘belonging cues’ we feel safe and part of a collective. We have shared values and a shared identity. This feeling of belonging is even more strongly triggered when there is an outside enemy or outside set of circumstances.

The fear of the outsider being used as a rallying cry for uniting a people has a dark reputation in history, but also has its more positive outcomes as well. The dramatic drop in crime in New York city in the weeks following the 9/11 terrorist attacks being an obvious example.

My own personal sense of belonging was also triggered in the shadow of tragedy.

When the 10/1/17 mass shooting happened at the Route 91 Festival in my adoptive hometown of Las Vegas, which killed 58 people (60 at the time of this writing), there was obviously shock and horror from not just people in Las Vegas, but also around the country. People who live in Las Vegas have an odd relationship with its tourist nature, in as much as there is great respect for the people who visit and for the things that draw them to our town, but that does not necessarily mean that we want much do with those people or those parts of the town. However, to attack those things, and those people is very much seen as an attack on the entire city. A city based on welcoming strangers to our town, and hoping that they have a good time during their visit.

The reaction of the city, with people lining up around the block to donate blood, the general feeling of outrage that this could happen, and that someone could abuse our hospitality in such a hideous manner, created a greater sense of ownership of this odd place in the desert where I live than at any other time in previous five years of my residency.

But something else happened at the same time in Las Vegas.

The city got its first professional sports team in the Vegas Golden Knights (VGK).

To the hockey world and the sports pundits, this was less than a joke. A city which had no history of support for major league sports, that has shown little interest in hockey, and where it was 115 degrees in the summer. It seemed like a terrible idea from just about every corner. However, at its darkest hour – or what certainly felt like its darkest hour at the time, the Vegas Golden Knights showed that they wanted to be part of the community, which let’s face it – they were not.

What happened next is the stuff of fairy tales. An unprecedented run for the Stanley Cup, and a city adopting a sport and a team as their own – making Las Vegas one of the best places to experience a hockey game in the country. For the whole story of that first year, I cannot recommend enough the documentary “Valiant” the trailer for which you will find below.

 I should explain at this point explain that I have no time for sports. Apart from the odd summer evening watching baseball, more for the company and enjoying the summer evening in a crowd, than for anything happening on the field, sports was something that other people did.  So, the question becomes, how did I become the owner of three hockey jerseys? What happened that first year of the Vegas Golden Knights, and in successive years, to make mee feel like they were my team, but also to become proud and emotional about my adoptive hometown? How did I come to believe that I belonged as a Vegas Golden Knights fan and that by extension that I felt ownership of a city that is, by definition, a place to be visited?

The Route 91 tragedy was obviously a horrible event for all concerned, but it was also a serious blow to the city and to its self-image. Las Vegas – America’s playground to quote the movie Ocean’s Eleven – a safe place for people to go a little wild. To shatter that image in the eyes of the wider world, also damaged that image in the eyes of the people who live and work here. The Vegas Golden Knights were also a team with an image problem. The players were all cast offs from other teams, and they were expected to be the worst team in the league that year – and possibly for years to come. That alignment of adversity created shared purpose.

And then against all odds the Golden Knights started, and kept, winning. A city which needed something to cheer and be happy about – got it in spades. The Vegas Golden Knights belonged to Las Vegas and Las Vegas belonged to the Vegas Golden Knights.

But there was more than fate at work in this bonding. The Vegas Golden Knights created their own medieval pantomime as a branding exercise; however, they also adopted the symbols and sounds that have come to epitomize Las Vegas. The sounds of coins, the roll of a dice, a mascot named “Chance,” “Viva Las Vegas”, and just the very golden coloring of anything and everything in sight made the Golden Knights feel like Las Vegas, but also to feel that it was okay to embrace the visitor tropes of Las Vegas.

People like to take pride in things, and it was easy to take pride in the Vegas Golden Knights. The fan experience was considered the best in the league, they continued to play well, cleanly, and get involved in the community. It also brought pride to the city because the Golden Knights did not exist for visitors – although all are welcome. They existed for the residents of Las Vegas.

The symbols of Golden Knights became synonymous with the city of Las Vegas, and with #VegasStrong. The uniforms, symbols, the shared experience of adversity, and the games created a whole new culture. A culture that the people of Las Vegas could belong to.

For that first Vegas Golden Knights season in 2017 / 2018 I was not a fan or even really bought into the culture. I was aware of it building all around me; but being aware of how the triggering of belonging cues can feel like manipulation I tried to stay aloof. It was not until the beginning of the 2018 / 2019 season, and going to my first game, that I finally succumbed, and ultimately embraced the sport and the team.

Fast forward to the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The first game of the second round. The Vegas Golden Knights vs. the Colorado Avalanche. Colorado were considered the favorites, of not just the series, but of the entire playoffs. Game one is a disaster for the Golden Knights. A 7-1 loss. Not only do they look out classed on the ice, but they show their frustration by getting into fights and giving up penalties. This culminates in Vegas enforcer Ryan Reeves kneeing on the head of Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves in apparent retaliation for an earlier hit by Graves on Vegas player Janmark. Reeves was tossed from the game and received a two-game suspension. The VGK receive an extraordinary nine-minute penalty, and arguably play their best hocky of the game for the first seven minutes of that penalty, until two Vegas players decide they would rather hit a Colorado player rather than defend, and Colorado scores yet again.

This game caused a great crisis of faith for me. In the game and in the team I had come to love. Vegas is known as a team that plays “heavy, but clean.” Reeves actions, seemed dangerous, petty, and revengeful. In addition, the entire team seemed petulant at the resounding loss. To add to the disappointment, Reeves had been an outspoken advocate for police reform in the light of the George Floyd murder, and yet here he was kneeling on the head of another player. A professional, using excessive force because he could.

Chuck Klosterman in his book “But What If We Are Wrong?,” which I reviewed here, talks about the fall in popularity of boxing, and the potential for the fall of professional football, due to mainstream occasional fans, as opposed to dedicated “my team can do no wrong” kind of fans, being turned off by the serious life threatening injuries than can occur in those sports.

At the end of that game against Colorado, I was ashamed to be a Golden Knights fan. I believed that they had betrayed what they stood for. Other fans had a problem with them losing in such spectacular form – I didn’t. My problem was with them seeming to being petty and vengeful.

Game two of the series, while still a loss for Vegas, began to restore my faith in the team as they acquitted themselves as professionals.

However, just nine games later again my faith would be shaken. Testing my commitment to this sport and to being a fan. This time due to the behavior of the fans themselves.

Round Three, Game four, was not a good game for Vegas. Ultimately a 4-1 loss for the VGK at home. However, seeing your team booed off the ice at the end of the second period and at the end of a power play but their own fans was more than a little disquieting. As was the failure of the two people next to me and the eight people in front of me not returning to their seats for the 3rd period. I did not want to belong to a fan base that only supported a team when they were winning. Near the end of the game, Montreal scored an empty net gold making the score 4-1. There has always been fans who leave near the end of a game when it is obvious that their team is going to lose. This, however, was not a few fans.

This was an exodos.

I estimated 2/3s to 3/4s of the auditorium.         

It was heartbreaking for the players I’m sure. Yes, they did not play well, or it would seem with much heart, but they did not deserve to be treated that way. Vegas has always seemed to have a hospitable fan base. Welcoming opposing fan bases into T-Mobile Arena, making sure they felt welcome in our barn and in our city. It has also forgiven its team for its losses and supported them as they once supported us. Its one of the things that I love about supporting the team – everyone was generally ways positive, friendly to all, and just wanting to have a good time. It the light of this game some fans expressed that the team deserved it as they had not shown up to play, and that far worse happened at other areas with other teams.

But that misses the point. Vegas was supposed to be different.

Cultures are made up of shared beliefs, shared values, and a shared sense of identity. This is reenforced by the sharing of uniforms, language, and customs. Damage to the sense of belonging by upending any of these threatens that fragile culture.

I myself have found myself feeling like an outsider in a culture I helped create in an online community, due to the shifting priorities of those in charge, a lack of inclusiveness, and a feeling that my sense of wanting to contribute was devalued and unappreciated. The feeling that I’m getting far less out than I’m putting in is often why people leave companies.

We mess with shared values and culture at our peril. These are fragile things. Belonging allows us to feel safe. It flips a switch in our cave-person brain and tells us “it’s ok,” “you are among friends,” “the saber tooth tigers are not going to get you today.”

But belonging goes further. Belonging allows us to feel. To connect. To bond. To Think.

All we do as humans is think, feel, and run around.

Cultures have to be fought for, to champion for, but they are not a bottomless well. When that sense of belonging is gone, it is gone for good.

I am still a Golden Knights fan, but there were some ugly moments for our team and the fan base during these playoffs.

Our teams that we lead and belong to, if we are lucky, have the same sense of belonging that fans feel for sports teams. But we can damage them just as easily as sports teams can by our actions and inactions.

Belonging is what we all want. But it can never be taken for granted.

I love this book.

It’s easily the best thing I have read this year.

I’m writing this review to try and condense some of my thoughts about what it is saying and how it applies to my work and to my life. The connection to work may be tenuous, but the need to download and conceptualize what has in occupying my mind for the last week is real.

The subtitle to this book is “Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past.” How will the historians, and the general public, of the future view us; our history, and more particularly our culture, and society in the future – decades or even centuries hence? This is a serious book, that makes serious points about life and the remembrance of cultures and culture. It is also extremely funny and irreverent.

Whether it be books, music, film or television, it is impossible for us to be able to predict what will be considered a classic and why. What the book makes clear is that it will not be the things that we hold in high esteem today, mostly due to their value being on how relevant they interpret our world today from today’s perspective, even when that is not immediately obvious. What seems certain from past history is that major political and cultural events will have a direct effect on how we see and interpret cultural artifacts. For example, given on how we view cultural materials from the 1940s through a prism of the Second World War, we can assume that most of the early years of the 21st century’s culture will be viewed through the prism of the 9/11 attacks. What that cultural touchstone will be, of course, is unknowable.

However, cultural touchstones from our recent history can now be hinted at that would never have been dreamed of at the time of their initial impact. The Matrix, when it came out in the late nighties, was seen as a great action movie, with a clever script and innovative visuals. However, in the past 20+ years there has been dramatic changes in the visibility of, and how society views and accepts, transgender individuals. This includes the directors of The Matrix movie, the Wachowski Brothers, both of who transitioned during this time period. Lana in 2008 and Lily in 2016. It is hard to watch the Matrix today without seeing it as a metaphor for transitioning. A metaphor that was never even considered, or hinted at, when the movie was released.      

How future generations will view our world, which of course will be through our culture which is what we leave behind, will depend partly on what that future culture itself will look like. This is of course is impossible to predict, but there are fascinating clues. The rise of video games and what that means for teams and team sports; changes, or lack of them in the world of science; democracy and how we view written constitutions, the very nature of reality or possible realties.

Whole musical genres are summed up by single proponents when we look back over long periods of time. Marching band music, for example, is represented in the minds of most of us today by John Philip Sousa. However, he was just one on many composers of marching band music. How would our view of Rock Music change when viewed through the prism of Elvis Presley versus Bob Dylan?    

“But What if We’re Wrong?” tackles all of these and a lot more with insight and wit. This is book to think about and ponder. A book to return to and revaluate, much as it suggests we do with the culture of the past and we are bound to do with our own present.   

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Routine.

We have routine.

“Good morning “while waiting for the thermometer all clear.

The snatched moments of laughter – less than before, but not gone altogether.

Some days are busy, some days less so.

But the days have less form than before, less shape. Less to keep them in memory. Less to measure them by.

We can measure time in policies and protocols that have come and gone. Some that we never used at all. And some that may still need to be dusted off.

Lets hope not.

Businesses that have a healthy culture see this culture bear fruit, and weather the storms, disagreement, and fear.

Businesses that have culture problems are finding that now it is too late to try and fix it.

Crises act like a magnifier. Just what you had before only more so.

Like all situations there are rarely heroes and villains, the world is more complicated than that. There are heroic acts and acts worthy of villains.

The fractures in teams, departments, and relationships are tested. How resilient we are, depends on the history we have; good or bad.

Managers and leaders, have a new appreciation of the J.K. Rowling’s Snape; doing wrong things for the right reasons; being perceived as the bad guy, and shouldering that burden silently, when so much is about survival and the greater good.

But all of this is fine. We are okay.

In that awful phrase, over used and misunderstood; this is the new normal.

This is us digging in for the long term.

Reassuring clients over misleading headlines.

Addressing customer service issues like the old days.

Accepting praise where we can get it.

Ignoring Yelp reviews – because.. really?

Creating a social life by computer.

Valuing connections like never before.

These are people I choose to go through a pandemic with.

These are the people I will get through a pandemic with.

 

*Apologies to Dr. Michael “The Harry Potter Vet” Miller for appropriating his Snape analogy. You can check out Michael’s work on Instagram: @harrypottervet

 

As a manager, you are never going to please everyone.

Some might even argue that if you do, you are not doing your job correctly. You will be called upon to discipline and even terminate employees, some of whom you might consider friends if you no longer had to manage them, and who may already consider you a friend. That is until you fire them – no friendship survives that.  Moreover, a portion of your job is to stick your head above the parapet wall and take the pot shots that people send your way: customers and employees alike. You may well take the wrap for decisions that other stakeholders, and even the courts, have made and the people you work with will almost certainly never know about the arguments that you have won to protect their interests.

If you are someone who values internal culture, like I am, then you have the added concern of trying to make any piece of feedback positive. Gone are the days, for the most part, of managers losing their tempers and yelling at the people the work with. I won’t say that I have never lost my temper at a member of staff but I have made sure to apologize afterwards and I have always felt that loosing one’s temper is counterproductive: If it actually hurts what I’ve trying to achieve then what is the point? Management is hard, we are all over worked, underappreciated, our hands are often tied, and the goal posts are always shifting. However, the rewards make it worth it: financial, recognition of your peers, and the sense of achievement when you see both people and businesses grow.

And then there are things like this:

“I loved the actual job here. Worked here for almost a year. If you could rise above petty back-stabbing and the fact people would be super nice to your face, and cut you down in a heartbeat behind your back, then it was a great job. Hospital chief administrator suffered from Little Big Man syndrome and needed to be avoided at all costs – unless you wanted your day ruined, as he was always incapable of saying anything nice, and preferred to berate – even if praise was his intention! Some of the doctors were difficult, but most were really great to work with. Overall, if you have thick skin, this was a good place to work – but no benefits other than an employee discount for vet services.

Ouch.

Other than the obvious of “what else would you expect a terminated employee to say?” What else can be learned from this from a management perspective? What can I learn from this since I feature so prominently?

Well yes, I am short – well spotted. Not much I can do about that. I guess you could argue that as someone of limited stature I have to be additionally careful to not appear angry so as to not play into the stereotype. As noted above, this is actually in my own interests anyway but a helpful reminder that I need to live up to my own standards.

If I am to be avoided, then that is actually pretty difficult. I try very hard to check in with every employee on both shifts every day and I am obviously sorry they felt this way. I think the comment of being “incapable of saying anything nice, and preferred to berate” is a little harsh. We, as an employer and I personally, have put a number of programs in place to improve and celebrate employee recognition. However, I will admit, that I do need to praise more in person than I currently do. Most managers do suffer from this and it is probably one of the more difficult aspects of the job. It is particularly hard when you have an employee who is not doing anything particularly wrong, but also not doing anything particularly exceptional. Since the above quote is from an anonymous post it is difficult to know for sure anything about this former employee, but as a general takeaway I think this rings true.

A “reading between the lines” insight, and backed up by some feedback from former employees who are now friends (see I’m not all bad) is that there is perhaps a lack of trust at times. A feeling that I did not have the employee’s “back.” This is probably a feature of trying to make customer service central to what we do. If a customer complains about an employee or the service they delivered, unless the claim is outrageous, I will probably try to make to client happy. This can certainly be interpreted as taking the side of the customer instead of the employee. It shouldn’t – I’m trying to protect the business and therefore indirectly the employee. If I feel there is an issue to be addressed with the employee, I will address it separately; however, it is easy to see how this issue arises and perhaps I need to do a better job of dealing with this unintended tension.    

As a final note, it is interesting that this former employee felt that discounted vet services was all the benefits that were on offer. I would take away from this that I needed to do a better job of explaining the other things that formed our benefits package.   

I don’t want a lot of reviews like this – nobody does. But the same rules apply to bad reviews about yourself as to bad reviews about your business. They are an opportunity to get feedback that you would not otherwise be able to receive. And while anonymous former employee reviews are even more unfair than anonymous customer reviews, due to the legal issues involved, a little self-examination is not a bad thing. If nothing else, it hopefully made for an interesting blog post.

I have been reviewing books for a number of years now; however, movies have always been my passion and on occasion I have used movies in staff meetings for the accessibility of the message. I decided that it was time to share some of these.

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help my movie and book buying habit.

 

Burnt is a great movie. Staring Bradley Cooper, it’s the story of a chef seeking redemption by opening a new restaurant in London and winning a 3rd Michelin star after imploding and ruining his mentor’s restaurant in Paris.

It’s use as a management tool comes from the relationships of running a team and of how not to treat employees. It does contain swearing, so if that is incompatible with your company culture this movie is not for you.

I feel there two ways to use this particular movie. In whole; individually, to help illuminate how abusive management is contagious and ultimately counterproductive and in a general staff meeting. As a tool in a meeting I found the best way was to isolate certain scenes.

Chapter 5: @ 26:30 through to Chapter 6: @ 36:20 – The preparation for the opening of the restaurant. The attention to detail. Staff working at the top of their game, working as a team, and watching that disintegrate due the the behavior of one employee and then the abuse that is untenable.

Chapter 7: @ 40:44 through Chapter 7: @ 43:45 – Again, the preparation and attention to detail and that things have recovered after the events of Chapter 5 and 6. Does this mean the behavior that was seen in chapter 5 and 6 was ok and worked?

Chapter 9: @ 50:58 through Chapter 9: @ 52:23 – Contagion. Demonstrated behavior turns into learned behavior.

Chapter 10 through Chapter 10: @ 56:03 – More contagion, and now it is difficult to control.

Chapter 12: @ 1:11:52 through Chapter 12: @ 1:16:00 – Appalling behavior has a price to pay – even years afterwards.

Chapter 15: working as a team, and working together, is more important than anything else.

It is unusual to see actual work environments, even though this is quite a dysfunctional one, with the real kind of relationships that employees have between each other in a mainstream movie. A thoughtful viewing of “Burnt” should give any leader pause for thought or something to aspire to. And even with taking scenes in isolation it should allow staff to see how bad behavior from anyone can spread and create a workplace where no one wants to work. It is also nice to see a movie where unacceptable behavior is shown for what it is: unacceptable, rather than celebrated.

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help fund my book buying habit.)

“We have always had some influence over the justice system but for the first time in 180 years, since the stocks and the pillory were outlawed we have the power to determine the severity of some punishments and so we have to think about what level of mercilessness we feel comfortable with.”

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson shines a, sometimes unwelcome, light on the unforgiving nature of Internet shaming. Ronson convincingly argues that almost 200 years ago we abandoned shaming as a form of punishment, not due a lack of effectiveness with rise of the larger towns and cities, but because it was seen as overly cruel.

Ronson has extraordinary access to those who lives have been ruined because of a bad out of context joke, calling out someone for perceived sexist comments, for making perceived sexist comments, and for being too irreverent in a selfie at a national memorial. The author also cleverly focuses on those less worthy of pity; the successful author who gets found out for making up quotes, and exposes our own attitudes to shaming. And then there are those who seem to have beaten the shame cycle; the UK publicist who went to war with the tabloid press, and the small town where almost a hundred of its citizenry where reveled to be visiting a local prostitute.

As well as telling the story of the various victims of the modern age of public shaming, Ronson also tells us of his own journey and grappling with his own role in the shaming of others and of being of control of his internet persona. This does not hang together quite as well as the rest of the book. I have a hard time, for instance, that such a talented researcher cannot look back through their own Twitter history to see who they have previously shamed. However, this is minor quibble and a brave personal exploration and opening up about personal shame.

The book does end on a relatively positive note due to the miracles of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), however the real point of the book is for the reader to examine how they feel about this return of public shaming. Even for those whom it is hard to defend; the hunters seeking big game trophies, the Vet taking pleasure in shooting a cat with a bow and arrow, and the plagiarizing author, to name but a few – do they really deserve this level of life altering destruction?

For those who answer yes, this book is for you. “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” is, if nothing else, a testament to how much of a double edged sword internet shame can be, how cruel and destructive it is, and how uncomfortable we should all be with it. The Internet shows us at our best and worst as a culture – it is we who have to change.

Note: I have refrained from using the names of any of the subjects, or related people, in this post so as not to add to add to the problem.

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