shifting your culture

Shifting your culture with one message

If you were to simplify your company’s reason for existence to one word or one short sentence, what would it be? You may be finding this difficult, as it isn’t always easy to pin things down to one word thing. But when doing so, try to distill all the key messages coming from your CEO, the most senior leaders, your mission, vision, strategy and values down to one word. What do you come up with?

If you had trouble distilling your company’s key message are you are not alone. A key message or elevator pitch if you like, is core to what your company is about. Unfortunately these key messages are often lost in the complex layers and volume of messages that are active in your company at any one time.

If you managed to distill your key message, try this experiment to determine the effect.  Next time you are in a meeting repeat your key message like a mantra over and over in your head, as if it was on the radio in the background, playing the tune of your company.  Let it permeate your thoughts, feelings and actions.  Let it help you guide the decisions and the actions you take. Then post your meeting consider what effect (positive or otherwise) it is having on what you are doing for your company.

Finding and knowing your company’s core message is paramount for you and the people, as it provides the true north for the actions you take. Often we find ourselves and our leaders waxing and waning from your companies stated purpose, saying things like ‘it is all about the customer’ but then focus on other actions (e.g. cost cutting) that are likely to be sending your people the message ‘it is all about shareholder’.  So what is the impact of this?

Well, see for yourself. Try the mantra exercise in two more meetings, but in one think about ‘customer’ (i.e. delivering a great customer experience) and in another think about ‘shareholder’ (i.e. more revenues and lower costs).  Two important forces in shaping decisions, but see what a difference it can make in your actions and decisions.  You may argue that ‘I am thinking about shareholders, but using the customer to get there’ – for the sake of this challenge keep your focus exclusively on each one and experience the difference.

A strong corporate culture is all about having your key message ringing in your peoples’ ears as they make decisions and take actions.  Those actions will quickly become the evidence points that enable your customers to understand what your brand is about and what you really stand for.

Let me know how you go finding your key message in the comments.


AFL Logo

Creating a coaching culture

As a keen Australian rules football (AFL) supporter, I loved this article mapping out coaching dynasty’s that exist in AFL football. The basic premise of the article suggests great coaches aren’t born, they are bred.

After reading this I thought about the challenge of building good coaching and leadership in organizations today. For the most part there is not the same public scrutiny and very visible performance data available on our companies leaders as there is with any major league sport, but there are definitely similar challenges. How do you reinforce the same themes and key messages week on week, and still keep your team engaged? How do you provide feedback, build confidence and the capability of your team? How do you make the right choices at the selection table?

Clearly there are some common themes and challenges for organization and sport. So what are the common attributes that separate a dynasty successful coach from a regular coach? Here’s three themes I believe are key:

Positive role models

Of all the key attributes behind a good coach, providing a positive role model is a prime factor in establishing a coaching dynasty. Approximately 90% of what we learn is through our experience and observation. It is then no coincidence that the writer of the AFL coaches article observed many of the top coaches in AFL had all been exposed to at least one of the great coaches that came before them. Through observation and indoctrination of successful coaching practices, they were able to learn their coaching craft and also become very successful coaches.

A winning culture

Successful coaches set up their teams for success by creating a winning culture, by reinforcing some very clear standards of behavior, which become part of the fabric of how a team behave. It is then by no means a coincidence that coaches whom are a part of and have experienced a successful coach learn the power of establishing a winning culture that builds accountability, trust and loyalty amongst a team.

Story tellers

AFL football can be a very complex and intricate game, yet teams play it best when the do the routine, basic things required by the game in a consistant and repetitive fashion. Coaches therefore need to rely on simple messages, retold and reinforced many different ways, reinforcing what needs to be done on a week in, week out basis. Like any job, football can be monatonous, so the challenge as a leader is to be able to help their team members understand and be inspired to change or maintain their behavour in order for them to become a more successful team. Consistency and quality require a fair degree of repetition no matter what the profession. Being able to learn new perspectives and new insights from great story tellers, supports not only successful teams, but role models to a future generation of coaches.

What other themes do you believe should be here? I look forward to your comments.

Introduction - Slide1

How to attract and retain good staff for small business

Thank you for taking time out of your day to come to this session today. I’m really pleased to be here today, to discuss a topic that has been a passion of mine for sometime. I’m also keen to hear about your stories. Just so I understand who is here today. Who here is a small business owner? Who works for a small business? Who works for a medium business? Anyone work for a corporate? Thanks.

First up I want to say, that I really admire people who have started their own business. You have started something. You are initiators.

I hope from this session today, you take a few things away with you:

  1. You think about what got you started in small business and use that motivation to help attract others, and
  2. That you think about how you lead your business and the people you are trying to retain in your business.

I’m not here today to tell you how to try and run your business, or reveal any ‘sure fire ways’ to attract and retain people to your business. I’m merely someone that hopes to challenge your mindset and inspire you to think about things in a different way. I want you to think about what your unique employee value proposition is for attracting and retaining staff in your business. An employee value proposition simply describes the different discrete elements that make your business attractive for others to come and work with your business.

Why are you in small business?

So, for those in the audience that are owners of a small business, I want you to discuss with someone near to you, your story. I want you to try and remember, if it was a long time ago, what made you decide it was a good idea to mortgage your house, or invest some money you had worked hard to save, in order to pursue your dream.

What was that dream? What is it today? Is it still the same?

If you are working in small business, share what get’s you out of bed in the morning. Why do you turn up to work? Obviously we need money to live, so talk about what other than ‘making a living’ gets you motivated to get up in the morning. Spend 2 minutes then sharing with someone near to you your story

Poke the Box

Chances are, given many of you work in small business today, that you are initiators . You are tinkerers. You like to try new things and see how they work. So how do we become good at the things we do?

In Seth Godin’s recent book, ‘Poke the Box’, Seth talks about the value of initiators and the ownership they can gain by ‘poking’ and initiating.

“How do Computer Programmers learn their art? Is there a step by step process that guarentees you’ll get good?

All great programmers learn the same way. They poke the box. They code something and see what the computer does. They repeat the process again and again until they figure out how the box works.

The box might be a computer or it might be a market or it might be a customer or it might be your boss. It’s a puzzle, one that can be solved in only one way – by poking.

When you do this, what happens? When you do that, happens? The box reveals itself through your poking, and as you get better at it, you not only get smarter but also gain ownership. Ownership doesn’t have to be equity or even control. Ownership comes from understanding and from having the power to make things happen…

It has been observed how willing we are to surrender control to the objects and organizations in our life….

As soon as we willingly ad blindly accept what’s given, we lose all power. Only by poking, testing, modifying and understanding can we truly own anything, truly exert our influence.

No one has influence, control, or confidence in his work until he understands how to initiate change and predict how the box will respond.”

Like you have experimented with your businesses to get where you have got to today, I encourage you to think about how you will be able to experiment with some of the key insights from today, in order to be more effective in attracting and retaining talented individuals to work with your business.

The search for help today

Who here would like to tell me a story about their struggle to find help today? What are your struggles? Finding good people? Keeping good people or both? What age group are you targeting? Where do they leave to go to?

Who struggles with just the thought of finding someone new? Not just finding someone, but finding someone that fits into your business well. Connects with the people they need to work with, including ourselves and our customers?

In many ways, we subconsciously look for reflections of ourselves. Someone with similar values and similar work ethic. If we are know our personal flaws well, sometimes we will also look for people that have strengths to cover our weaknesses.

Knowing who you are, your own strengths and weaknesses and what sort of attributes you need of a person, in order to achieve what you want to achieve with your business is a great starting point for attracting the right sort of people to your business. It is fundamental stuff, but important never the less.

Good people are great for business.

You have probably heard about the ‘war on terror’, but have you ever heard about the “War for Talent”?

Back in 1997 McKinsey & Co, a top tier consulting firm did a study that determined how hard it was to attract and retain talented people in organizations. In 2001 they updated the study and found some interesting facts about the difference between high performers, than average performers.

This data tells us that high performers can achieve significantly better results than average performers. For sales roles this was 67%. The potential for small business to get the equivalent of up to an extra 67% of productivity from one person is immense.

Good People are Great for Business

Now this report was developed for corporate America, but if you think about the implications, for small business they are quite interesting. In the report it states:

“Demographic and social changes have played a growing role in this trend. In the United States and most other developed nations, the supply of 35-to 44-year-olds is shrinking. And many of the best-trained people entering the workforce are not bound for large traditional companies: last year, a full 30 percent of MBAs in the United States preferred to work for a start-up or a small business.” (The War for Talent – Part 2, McKinsey 2001)

These statistics are also a telling trend about where our talented people are going. Whilst you may be losing your people to large organisations, large organizations are losing their people to go and start small businesses. Sort of ironic I think. Don’t you?

But not surprising really. Think about it. In the last 10 years, companies have been born, offering new products that previously didn’t exist. People are ‘poking the box’. Starting something new. Some good examples are obviously in the technology sector, like LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. You may not have heard about a site called started out as an online shoe retailer in the US and now sells a bunch of different shoe and clothing related items. is unique for its’ offering to consumers, but because of what they offer their employee’s.

How much is a good employee worth?

Call centre’s are notoriously tough places to try and attract and retain good people to. Quite often there is a survival of the fittest type of approach going on in a call centre, resulting in turnover rates that I have seen, anywhere from 25-48%! With around 35% being the average. The figures I quote you here are Australian companies, not call centre’s based overseas.

In the US, they also have a high turnover rate for call centre’s., decided to do something about the turnover in the company. Zappos core values is a key part of how they differentiate themselves and try to compete with attracting people to their organization. Their values are:

“1. Deliver Wow Through Service
2. Embrace and Drive Change
3. Create Fun and a Little Weirdness
4. Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded
5. Pursue Growth and Learning
6. Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication
7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
8. Do More with Less
9. Be Passionate and Determined
10. Be Humble”

Daniel Pink, in his 2010 best seller, Drive, tells the story of Zappos and what they did to concentrate on getting the right sort of people.

“Tony Hsieh, founder of (which is now part of, thought there was a better way to recruit., prepare and challenge such employees. So new hires at Zappos, go through a week of training. Then, at the end of those seven days, Hsieh makes them an offer. If they feel Zappos isn’t for them and want to leave, he’ll pay them $2000 – no hard feelings. He’s using an “if-then” reward not to motivate people to perform better, but to weed out those who aren’t fit for the sort of workplace he is creating.”

Think about it…

Would you pay for someone to leave your business if you thought they were not giving your customers the sort of experience that fit your dream you outlined in the first activity we did today? Is your dream that important to you?

Zappo’s embraces their purpose and what they are about to really connect to the sort of people that are going to make their business successful. On their website, they even target the sort of people you may be losing to big business today. They say:

“I’m free from boring work environments, go-nowhere jobs, and typical corporate America!

Why join men? A fun, collaborative environment that’s all about innovation. An extensive benefits package including free lunch, 40% employee discount and no dress code!

A work-hard play-hard start-up with solid management and resources; what more could I ask for?…”

The key take away for me from this case study is that if you are really deliberate about the sort of culture and company you want to build, you will be rewarded in return by very loyal, hard working, bright and dedicated employee’s. knows what it takes to be a valued member of their team and would prefer to pay you to leave rather than have you as a destabilizing force in their business.

So why is your small business dream important?

I mentioned Daniel Pink’s book Drive before and I am going to use the framework within his book, to think about some of the fundamental things we need to consider in order to better hire and retain the sort of people that are going to not only work for us, but lift the bar and challenge us to take our businesses to the next level.

Pink explores a new concept for how we motivate people. Pink contends, through a number of proven scientific experiments, that the current way we operate our businesses today, relying on external carrot and stick motivators, doesn’t actually work for most people and is likely to do more harm than good. Pink outlines a new way to think about motivation, which he refers to as Motivation 3.0. (In case you’re wondering, Motivation 1.0 refers to cave man times when we were driven by our physical needs, thirst, hunger, temperature etc, Motivation 2.0 is about rewarding or punishing people for what they do and don’t do, which has been a function of how we have tried to motivate people since the the industrial era.)

Pink’s view on how we motivate people has three essential elements:

  • “Purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.
  • Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives
  • Mastery – the urge to get better and better at something that matters”

I will now go through each of these in a more detail and ask you to relate these concepts back to your own situation to start thinking about what your unique value proposition is to attracting and retaining your employee’s.


Pink defines purpose as the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Chances are your small business dream had a goal that was greater than just making a living. It doesn’t have to be saving the planet or making world peace. It might be as simple as putting a smile on all of my customers face because I serve them coffee and show them I care, but ensuring they get to enjoy something they really look forward to having every day.

Bendigo and Adelaide Bank

At Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, we “aim to be Australia’s leading customer connected bank.” Part of the origins of the Bendigo and Adelaide bank, included the establishment of the Community Banking model.

A Community Bank® branch is a locally owned and operated company, which functions as a franchise of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank. Bendigo and Adelaide Bank provides the coverage of its banking licence, a full range of banking products, training of staff and ongoing support.

Depositors are protected by Bendigo and Adelaide Bank’s track record when it comes to the security of depositors’ funds. We are one of Australia’s oldest financial institutions, we have operated since 1858 and have declared a profit in every year and we have without fail honoured our depositors. Deposits are also currently protected by the government guarantee.

The Community Bank® model is based on the sharing of effort, risk and reward. Bendigo and Adelaide Bank and the community company share the revenue on core banking products 50/50. The local company is responsible for paying branch running costs such as staff wages, property rental and equipment leasing. Bendigo is responsible for the supply of all banking products and services, all computer systems and provides guidance and advice on matters of compliance and legislation.

When the local company begins to make a regular operating surplus, after the payment of branch running costs, the remaining funds are available to be reinvested back into the community through dividends to shareholders and grants to community groups and projects. To date, in excess of $50 million in Community Bank® branch profits has been returned to community projects and more than $15 million has been paid in dividends to more than 63,000 local shareholders.

The Community Bank model was originally developed to return banking services to communities who had lost them and has now spread to more than 270 communities across rural, regional and suburban Australia.. The model is unique in Australia (and internationally). Community banking is about building a win / win relationship with your customers. Investing in what is important to them, in return for their business with their community bank.

Why is purpose important?

Community banking, not only provides a unique sales proposition for our customers, it also provides a unique opportunity for attracting our staff. To be a part of an organisation that is working at the grass roots level with other community focussed organisations, which gives back something to our communities in a very connected way, is an attractive proposition to potential staff. It is one of the reasons I was excited about joining the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank.

If your business doesn’t have a purpose you strongly believe in:

  • What are you selling your customers that makes you any different from your competitors?
  • How are you planning to attract people that are going to work with you to add value to your business, because they believe in your purpose?

Purpose is about know what you want and then understanding what others want. Then looking for people who also believe in your purpose and at the same time helping them to achieve what they want to achieve.

Activity – confirm your puropse

Take 30 seconds now and write 5 things down that are either were key drivers to choose why you did what you did in business, or things that you now think differentiate you from other businesses. These things will be likely be a part of your unique purpose.


Autonomy is about the desire to direct our own lives. There are many upsides to offering your employee’s autonomy, in that they are making decisions every day that affect the way your business is perceived by your customers. You can’t direct their every interaction, so they need to feel empowered enough to be able to take their own actions in a way that will provide a positive outcome for your business.

Are you currently offering people in your business the opportunity to work autonomously? Or is your business is it about taking orders?

Think about why you started a small business. Chances are you didn’t want to be taking orders from others. So how can we still employee people and not be seen to be telling them what to do?

Autonomy – it even happens in the military.

In 1997 I consulted to the US Air Force to help them implement a new aircraft maintenance system for their equipment. A few things struck me about working for their Air Force. They had their purpose really clear and people knew it. ‘To Fly, Fight and Win”. If you weren’t helping them somehow get their aircraft in the air and being successful in battle, you had no purpose and hence no job in the Air Force. The US Airforce really gets purpose.

But how about autonomy? Isn’t the military all about command and control? Isn’t the military the reason we have hierarchy in organizations today?
Well it is, but I think there are always exceptions.

Orders in the military and people following those orders can save lives in a number of ways. For example, aircraft maintenance is a pretty finicky business. There are lots of parts on a plane that have a used by date, which means they have to be serviced or replaced at certain intervals. The only way to keep a track of this with any degree of precision, is to ensure every part and every change on a plane is entered into a computer system. There is a policy or ‘order’ that this data is to be entered and for a good reason.

Jet planes work are basically controlled around a series of controlled explosions. Whilst I was consulting to the Air Force, there was an incident where an F-15 like the one in this picture caught fire on the runway. The pilot escaped unharmed, but there was some sort of mechanical fault or human error that caused this issue. Knowing what parts were on the plane and in what working order they were before this happened is pretty important, as if you don’t know, you may end up with lots of aircraft falling out of the sky and not knowing the cause.

But even the military, bastions of the command and control mentality, can see why autonomy rocks. A good recent example was the mission to capture or kill Bin Laden. One of the helicopters used on the mission went down with a mechanical fault, yet again proving the importance of the people following the orders around maintaining the aircraft. Although, noted in this case the helicopter was most likely from the US Marines and not the airforce.

But how about the Seal team that went in? They had orders and a plan, but that plan just went into a tailspin when that aircraft went down. Navy seals include decisiveness as one of their top five characteristics. They ‘must have the ability to take quick decisions’. Through the Navy Seals own autonomy, they made a number of key decisions on the spot, including as to whether to abort the mission or find a new entry point into the compound, as the planned full roof based entry had just been ruled out. They were well trained and well drilled, they knew the layout with their eyes closed, but they had to make a decision then and there as to how to finish that mission.

So even if the organizations that are built around the concept of command and control can learn the value and power of autonomy, I think everyone can.

Why is autonomy important?

Spend a minute trying the following exercise. Write on a piece of paper the following table. Now do a quick comparison. Think of all the pros and cons for each sort of leadership style and make notes. Or simply put a tick or a cross for the winner or loser of each of the considerations.

Don’t be afraid to change or add your own criteria.

This exercise is about you and your leadership style. Seeing the benefits of different approaches to leadership in your own business, will help you to think about how your style is going to ultimately enhance or potentially detract, from your overall employee value proposition.


“Mastery is the urge to get better and better at something that matters.”

In ‘Drive’ Pink talks about Mastery as one of the key factors for internal motivation. He talks in depth about the concept of ‘flow’, which we sometimes call ‘being in the zone’. Being a Geelong supporter in the AFL, over the last few years, I’ve seen the team have periods of flow in a game where things just link together and the team seems to perfor

m at the most unbelievable level. But working at that level is not easily repeatable and requires many hours of hard work, dedication and practice in order to be anywhere near that level.

If you think of flow as being the state when you are achieving your best, then how can we help our people to reach that flow state, when they may be completing the most routine tasks, that have to be done on a regular basis? One way is by turning work into play.

Pink gives a good example in drive, where two business school professors studying the phenomenon of turning work into play among hospital cleaners, nurses and hairdressers.

“They found, for instance, that some members of the cleaning staff at hospitals, instead of doing the minimum the job required, took on new tasks – from chatting with patients to helping make nurses’ jobs go more smoothly. Adding these more absorbing challenges increased these cleaners’ satisfaction and boosted their own views of their skills. By reframing aspects of their duties, they helped make work more playful and more fully their own. Even in low-autonomy jobs… employees can create new domains for mastery.”

Another way to help contribute to employee’s mastery is to employee some Kaizen principles. Kaizen, very briefly, is the Japanese word that describes the methodology behind continuous improvement, made famous by Toyota. One Kaizen concept that is popular in large organizations, is the idea of thoughts into actions. Thoughts into action, empowers the workers with some tools and templates for employee’s to think about how they do their work and provide suggestions on way’s to improve it. Then the leaders work with the employee’s to make those changes a reality. Having the employee’s fully engaged in the continuous improvement process, not only helps build their own mastery, it helps build your business and encourages incremental innovation that may help even further differentiate your business from your competition.

So why is mastery important in context of a small business, attracting and retaining the right people? Mastery is important for a number of key reasons I think. For one, it is a key part of intrinsic motivation and will be crucial for retaining your best and brightest employee’s. If people don’t have the ability to continue to learn and innovate, they will become stale and less engaged. Mastery is also important for keeping your business innovative. As a small business, you know you only have limited resources, so getting the most out of your resources, including the people you employee is essential.

Ensuring you provide an ongoing challenge will be beneficial to both your business and your people.

Your Employee Value Proposition

Hopefully today has given you some things to think about in relation to your business.

I want to leave you with the following exercise to think about, and complete after this session today. Write up the following matrix and think about the different questions I have posed to you today and the information. Determine some key actions you can take to improve how you help demonstrate to your people or potential people your purpose, autonomy and mastery. Also document what you think the benefit is for your employee’s or any potential employee’s. Turn these points into a short story about your business and a greeting pitch you can use to sell the benefit of working with you to any potential employee prospect you meet in the future. Or make your 140 character greeting pitch a job add to attract the people you want to make your business successful.

Remember, it is your dream you are asking people to work on with you. You need to help them understand what that dream is and also understand what their ambitions are and help them to reach their goals as well.

For more information and a full transcript of my session today, go to my blog, I will also have the books I mentioned listed today on the site and you will be able to print out the templates and slides.

I would be really interested in your feedback, so please write your comments about the session on my blog today.

Thanks again for your time today. I hope you have got something out of it and can work on attracting and retaining the best possible people for your business.









What Homer Simpson taught me about implementing Kaizen

Brainstorming and creative thinking is always aided when you add a new perspective, or ‘lense’, to the problem at hand. A common tool is Debono’s Six Thinking Hats that encourages lateral thinking, requiring people to put on a different ‘hat’ or take a different perspective on a given topic. Today I attended a workshop, focussed on how we can implement a common set of Kaizen tools across the organisation, utilising some creative thinking perspectives. The three perspectives on offer for this exercise were; Apple, Generation Y and Homer Simpson. Apple and Gen Y, may seem pretty straight forward, but how could you get anything serious out of a Homer Simpson perspective? Well here is the list we come up with and I will let you be the judge:

“Borrow” tools from Flanders

Why would Homer bother to make or buy his own tools, when he could ‘borrow’ someone elses, like Ned Flanders?

In organisations we often look to make, hone and refine our own toolkits – be that any sort of tools, including change management, project management, or Kaizen tools as in this case – yet in large organisations there is bound to be someone, somewhere with a tool kit that has proven to do the job just fine. So why not use theirs? Are your people that different? Really?

Support the path of least resistance

Homer has never been one for going out of his way to do anything, so why not just integrate the tools we want him to use into what ever he does?

If using the toolkit becomes so easy to adopt and part of the natural way of doing things, then you can not help but use it. Why would you resist using something that is just part of the natural flow and the way things get done?

Remove competing interests

Homer isn’t subtle and isn’t afraid to break things that frustrate him, if he is confused or annoyed by it, well chances are, it could get broken!

Why in organisations do we constantly confuse our people, by having multiple and competing tool sets for similar challenges? Focussing our people on the most practical and appropriate methodology (or toolset) to achieve what we want to in a consistent way, just seems like good old ‘Homer’ sense really.

Get others involved in doing the work

Homer is pretty lazy, why would he do something if he could get someone (Bart collecting grease) or something else (the drinking bird pressing the ‘Y’ key on the computer) to help him do the work?

Kaizen, like most things involving organisational change, really only works when people are empowered to make the changes themselves. Enlisting the people closest to the change to help make the change just seems logical really.

Leverage people with passion

Be assured if there is a cause in Springfield, Homer Simpson will be leading the charge, with blind passion and enthusiasm. Especially if there is beer involved (aka Homer the Beer Barron)!

Finding the people who have the passion for what we are trying to achieve in organisations is a great way to provide the energy required to implement change. Tools such as social network analysis, can help us to find people whom are the natural connectors, that have the skills and the enthusiasm required to generate peer acceptance of a change.

Failure is OK

“Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is….” I’m going to take some license here and cut off Homers tag line (never try) and offer the alternate view that ‘if we fail and learn, that is OK’.

When utilising Kaizen, or trying to implement any sort of good sustainable change, failure and refinement are two important ways to improve. It is amazing how much can be learnt from a good failure. Nobody sets out to fail, but the reality is not everything we do works. We just need to learn from it. Creating an organisation culture that embraces failures and learns from them, is key to creating more innovative and adaptive organisations.

We all knew Homer was a man of many talents, who knew he could offer such insight on organisational change?

Please feel free to comment below with some of your organisational change lessons from Homer Simpson.

*With thanks also to my table buddies, Micheal Fromberg and Peter Willoughby.

NB: The tools in the workshop were from a toolkit called: ‘What would X do?’ from Inventium.

Image: Via Leo! – Flickr

3 Tips to Improve Employee Engagement

If you work in a large corporate, you may be familiar with the following pattern. The annual employee engagement survey is announced, which you are encouraged to complete and sometime later you are debriefed about the results. You hear about areas that your business unit is doing well on and some areas leaders want to focus on. Plans are made to address area’s of concern for employee engagement, which are often in addition to what everyone is doing in their day job and then some of those changes are implemented. Leaders at some point in the future will remind everyone what was done since the last survey, a new survey comes along and typically there is still a to do list to work on, which may look pretty similar to the last employee engagement to do list.

So why didn’t things change? Chances are as an employee you may not of been part of the workgroup designated to work on the employee engagement issue, so not much personally changed for you. You may of been on the working group, but too busy doing your day job to do much, so you effectively said ‘*insert other department* is doing that, we will just let them do it’. Or you just may have had too many other things to worry about other than all that employee engagement stuff.  Sound at all familiar?

So how do we improve employee engagement? The key is a mindset shift when thinking about employee engagement. To increase employee engagement the following mantra’s are a good starting point:

  • Employee engagement is a part of everything we do – not an additional ‘to do’ list.
  • Employee engagement is everyone’s responsibility – not just leaders, senior leaders or the working group ‘fixing the issues’.

Following are some tips to improve employee engagement that embrace these mantras:

1. Regular conversations about what people are working on, discussing inputs and lessons learnt.

In an era of quarterly reporting, half yearly financials and metrics to measure anything that supports better financials, it is really easy for people in a large corporate to get fixated on the outputs.  But when you are constantly focussed on the output measures, you often neglect the most important thing -the inputs required to get the outcomes you are chasing.  Inputs, consist of the activities and the behaviours required of the people in order to achieve the results.

Leaders often ask ‘how do I motivate my people’, or ‘how do I get the best out of them?’. A good place to start is by listening to how people are going about their job, understanding what gets them excited and reinforcing efforts that are directed in the right place.  If people leader conversations are focussed on what’s working and exploring where things haven’t worked (& options to improve this),  then the dialogue will become more much more about personal learning. Allowing people to experiment, try, fail and then try something else, will ultimately provide a more powerful and engaging experience, instead of applying pressure to team members whose outcome measures are not stacking up.

2. Provide constant feedback to others reinforcing what has been done well. Be specific and targeted on areas of improvement.

I once had a team leader who constantly focussed on what was wrong with my work and rarely mentioned anything that was right. It was de-motivating and depressing. I managed to shift this around with a simple conversation that went something like this.

‘If you want to get the best out of me, tell me what I am doing right and I will keep doing that.’

Things improved a lot after that.

Whether you are a people leader or a team member, an environment when feedback is freely given and embraced, will be an environment that is far more engaging to work in. The key to fostering such an environment is to give a disproportionate amount of positive feedback. As a leader, you should be aiming for at least three positive points of reinforcement, for every developmental area you identify. The development area identified should also be unrelated to what is going well. The effect of a more constant and positive feedback environment is that it encourages people to behave in the way that is most supportive of achieving the groups goals. Positive reinforcement promotes positive energy, which leads to more positive engagement.

3. Shared problem solving, rather than relying on leaders to solve everyone’s problems.

An easy trap for leaders to fall into is the one that finds them the chief problem solver for the team. Everyone who has a question, issue or crisis comes to the team leader to have it fixed. The issue with this approach, is that it reinforces to the leader that they are the centre of their employee’s universe and thus employee’s can not act with out the guidance of the leader. For employee’s they may think that the leaders role is to set the direction and ‘solve any problems I have’ in order to achieve the goals set out by the leader. But here’s the rub. As a team member I begin to lose any sense of empowerment, enablement and eventually engagement, if I just believe I’m there to do ‘what the boss tells me’. As a leader, I find I end up blaming and resenting my employees for their lack of ability to successfully execute what I need them to do.

A better approach is for leaders to facilitate mutual problem solving. This could be on an individual basis, for example encouraging employees to solve their own problems through carefully selected coaching questions. Or it could be on a team level, through conducting meetings where barriers to progress are identified and actions are put in place to address the issues that will promote improved team performance. In the later exercise, the key is obviously to focus on the issues the team has control over and can be empowered to do something about. Anything that requires the team to modify their own behaviours is usually a good place to start.

Please respond to this post with any suggestions or approaches you have found valuable in increasing employee engagement.

Image: jscreationzs /

5 Key Insights to Improving Your Sales Training Results

If profitability is not where we want it to be and cost cutting is the order of the day, then often employee training is an easy target. This is usually due to a poor track record of demonstrating a proven return on investment from past capability development attempts. In contrast, sales training is often seen as that gold jackpot at the end of a rainbow – the allure of ‘increased sales productivity’, is often the only incentive needed to encourage some further investment in sales training. The business case is pretty simple really:  Customer satisfaction not where you want it? Sales per sales full time equivalent down? Total sales returns not meeting expectations?  More often than not, new and improved sales training is the trusty tool that is called on to fix these sorts of problems.

What’s the reality though?

“87% of training content is forgotten within 30 days or people attending training course.”

(Sales Executive Council – ‘Boosting Sales Training Stickiness’ – 2011, see upcoming conference details at end of post).

Note, that says ‘forgotten’. Let us not assume ‘remembered’ equals ‘successfully applied’ either. A lot of attention is focussed on delivering better and more engaging sales training (which is great) but the most powerful catalysts of making the training stick, are factors occurring outside of the sales training room.

Within the last seven years I’ve been involved in six sales training related interventions, at two companies, including both complete new processes and refreshers to current processes, in a large scale retail and wholesale banking environments.  Following are five of my key learning’s from this journey, with some ideas on what I see to be crucial elements to achieving returns from sales training interventions.

What is the problem you are really trying to solve?

Drawing conclusions from facts about your revenue and customer satisfaction being not where you want them to be, then linking those facts to the conclusion ‘we need our people to connect better to our customers’, often result in one of the next two statements; ‘we need a better sales process’ and or ‘we need new/improved sales training’.

Often the response to this is to start shopping externally for sales training vendors, looking for solutions to solve your problems.  Of course, every vendor has a unique sales proposition and can wheel out a long list of successful clients, but the one commonality with most vendors is that they will not be there when the you require long term application of your new sales processes.

Some questions that may help you to better understand what you actually need, include the following:

  • Are my sales leaders role modelling and coaching the sales practices we have asked them to?
  • What systems / processes do we have in place today to reinforce good sales conversations / practices?
  • Do our people have role clarity in what is expected of them?
  • Do they have capacity to execute on what we require them to do?
  • Do our reward structures reinforce the sales behaviours we are trying to achieve?

These thought starters may provide you some guidance as to whether you have an execution issue (i.e. lack of guidance, coaching and reinforcement) or there is legitimately a behavioural issue (i.e. lack of ability to effectively execute on what is required).  You may find you have both. An important point to remember here, is that introducing a new sales process may temporarily give you some uplift in sales performance from the flow on energy generated by the new sales training, but if you are not also addressing the systemic reinforcers of effective sales behaviours (leadership, coaching, role clarity, rewards etc), then you are likely to get back to your original starting position pretty soon after you have implemented your new process.

Key Insight 1 – Focus efforts on ways to support consistent execution

Recently, I was involved in a capability systems mapping exercise to understand the systemic issues surrounding what it was about the ‘way we develop our people that hinders us in meeting our business goals’. This sort of systems thinking diagnosis was a good way in understanding what other reinforcers need to be considered in order to deliver more consistent execution of the capabilities we are trying to instil in our people.  Key levers identified in the capability systems map we built included:

  • Clarity of strategy and purpose – of both the organisational strategy and the capability strategy to support that
  • Coaching and embedding – of leaders supporting their people ensuring they have the chance to practice and reflect on what they learn
  • Right people participating – in the training, to ensure that it is best placed for their needs
  • Range and quality of training – of available training to address identified gaps
  • Workforce planning – to ensure people have capacity to attend training and follow up learning
  • Collaboration within the organisation to support effective learning (both for those facilitating learning and for leaners)

Tweaking a sales process or implementing new sales leadership routines will not stick if you don’t have the systemic reinforcement to make them happen consistently. If you are going to go down the path of a new sales process, you need to consider some of the broader system issues at play and ensure the levers available are set to reinforce what you are trying to achieve.

Is your sales force ready for the change?

What is initiating your sales training intervention? An incumbent vendor’s contract expiring? A new leadership perspective? A revised strategy? Some poor customer satisfaction or sales results?

Any of these factors, or a combination of often leads to a fresh look at how as an organisation we connect and sell to customers. What is often over looked though, is ‘our our people ready for a new or revised approach?’  A key element of any behavioural change is understanding what the mindset of your target audience is. If you are changing your sales process, your customer value proposition or your sales leadership approach every other year, chances are your workforce may just be a little tired of the constant change and wait for the next best thing to come along and not bother with the current change you are trying to implement. Key questions to consider include:

  • Do our people think the sales  processes do not work or are too complicated?
  • Have our people been subjected to a lot of other change? (change fatigued?)
  • Are they ready to embrace a new sales approach? (time for change is now)

If you are going to invest the time and resources required to update a sales process, you need to ensure there is a legitimate desire of the target audience to actually accept or even embrace the change.

Key Insight 2 – Know your audience, understand their emotional triggers

Engaging your sales force to understand where they feel the gaps are and for the developers of the sales training to observe how they the sales force are currently executing on their sales conversations, is paramount to helping you improve your sales uplift. This will not only build buy in and credibility for the change, but it will provide a chance to tap into ‘the energy’ of the sales force and understand what emotional triggers could work in having them adopt a future change.

Understanding the current mindset of your sales force about their existing sales processes and tools, will also assist you determine the ‘what’s in it for me?’ benefits to sell as a part of the change process.  In 2008, I submitted two of the sales training programs I played a role in creating into a study run by the CLC Learning and Development, “Refocusing L&D on Business Results: Bridging the Gap Between Learning and Performance” (2008).  One of the key findings in this study reinforced the need for learners to have a strong understanding of the payoff for applying what they have learnt back in the workplace. Ensuring what you are changing is somehow making the life of your sales people better and they are at a point they are more likely to embrace the change will ultimately enhance the application of the learning into behaviour that increases business performance.

What is the context within which the change is occurring?

It is very easy to get focussed on the key tasks that need to be performed by sales people / leaders, and forget about all the other things that may be distracting your sales force from having engaging customer conversations.  Depending on what your sales force are trying to sell, they are likely to be engaged in a raft of other activities that may be related or unrelated as a part of that sales process; including order processing, customer servicing, problem resolution, administration, process improvement, order fulfilment, etc.  Your sales leaders often are also similarly may be distracted from their sales leadership responsibilities with their own sales, operations and servicing tasks they are trying to perform concurrently to their sales leadership tasks. Key questions  about your current context include:

  • What barriers currently exist to your sales force consistently executing on having effective sales conversations?
  • If you are asking your people to do something new or different, what are you going to ask them to stop doing that they are currently doing?
  • How will you deal with the contextual challenges your sales people have when implementing new sales training?

Being able to apply a new skill in the context of the current working environment is key for achieving ongoing behavioural change. If the new way of working is not possible due to a significant amount of current world obstacles providing barriers, then ultimately the target behavioural change will be difficult to achieve.

Key Insight 3 – Help your people understand how they will apply the new within their existing context

One of the most satisfying projects I was involved in during 2010, was building a refresher sales leadership program. It was a simulation based workshop, simulating a day in the life of a Branch Manager for a retail bank, which required them to perform key sales leadership activities, but make critical decisions about other operational tasks that were often the reason that the sales leadership tasks were not performed.  The simulation was structured within a competitive game context, which had pay-off’s and penalties for different choices made. By simulating decisions in a real world context, managers were able to gain an understanding of what the impact of their decision not to prepare for a key sales leadership task (eg. sales meeting) were and weigh up the ‘real life’ costs of not properly executing on sales leadership tasks.

By combining your target training within the contextual challenges, it provides a practice ground for helping learners to overcome the issues that will become the barriers for sustaining the change once people have completed the course and are back in their workplace.

What role are your leaders playing in the change?

I attended a great workshop in 2010, where Charles Jennings presented about “Workforce development: Moving from activity focus to tangible outputs” and one of the key facts that really resonated, was the reinforcement of the importance of the people leader in capability development. Charles referred to research (M L Broad & J W Newstrom (1992 & 1998)) highlighting the top three impacts on a learners experience are:

  • The managers discussion with a learner prior to the workshop (establishing the learning need)
  • Instructional designers and facilitators contextualising the learning within the role of the learner
  • A managers discussion with the learner after the workshop (reinforcing what has been learnt through coaching and providing an opportunity to apply what is learnt)

A key challenge for any new sales process change is getting leaders on board with role modelling and coaching the new behaviours. A key stumbling point can be ensuring that your most senior leadership believe the change is important to the point that they adopt the  tools or processes being implemented themselves and role model consistency to middle and front line management.

Key Insight 4 – Have your leaders actively involved role modelling the change and part of the learning process

If your leaders think they are above the change and not going to be hands on in coaching the new sales routines, your ’30 days’ of rememberance for a new sales routine, is looking optimistic at best.

In the sales leadership simulation training refresher aforementioned, senior sales leaders and sales coaches were a part of the training simulation, playing a key role in providing observation coaching feedback or simulating staff interactions. Senior sales leaders were also involved in a pre-workshop capability assessment against the Branch Manager success profile and part of a post workshop follow up ‘pledge’ conversation whereby development commitments were made based on the workshop and capability survey outputs. This ‘pledge’ (learning contract), combined with follow up scheduled observation coaching of key sales leadership tasks, reinforced the key skills and sales leadership routines the Branch Managers were required to perform.

What is the current culture of your sales force?

Im a fan of the view put forward in the HBR article “How right should the customer be?” (July-August 2008) that describes:

“The culture and effectiveness of any sales force are products of its management system: the rules that govern the way a company trains, monitors, supervises, motivates, and evaluates salespeople.”

The article goes on to explain there are two extremes of how sales forces are typically managed.  Outcome control systems, which typically sees sales people having a high percentage of their salary derived from key metrics shaped by customer results.  Versus a behavioural control system, where the sales managers are typically directing, developing and evaluating their sales force on a number of different factors.  The contrast being between a self directed more autonomous salesforce (outcome control), versus a directed ‘command and control’ type of sales force.

Key Insight 5 – Understand what your current state culture and determine the impact on new/updated sales processes

In 2007, I was working on a project to implement a new sales leadership program into a retail bank. At the time the culture was heavily a compliance / risk driven culture (pretty typical of banking), however the business strategy at the time was promoting a one of empowerment for the people. The reality at the time though was that people were still very much living in a compliance culture, to keep them from getting penalised for non-compliance. The vendor partnering with us at the time made a strong recommendation to make the new sales leadership routines mandatory, as they had seen good results from this type of approach in other banks. But the team felt, a view I supported at the time, that if our people were to be empowered, we needed to implement the new sales leadership routines in a way embrace the change .  Therefore we attempted to compel our people into action by showing the benefits, hope they would adopt was our rationale and take the risk of moving from what was a very reactive to a very proactive sales leadership approach. Hindsight shows us, the sales leaders were still too busy doing all the other things that stopped them from getting penalised, hence the uptake of the new sales leadership routines were not what we had hoped, but clearly beneficial where they were adopted.

On reflection and with my learning’s since this project, I think the easier road would of been to make the sales leadership routines mandatory (given that culture) and just apply the appropriate compliance levers to ensure they were executed upon. However easy to implement, doesn’t necessarily mean there will be any longevity or quality in the execution of the sales leadership activities (including coaching, team meetings etc).

The key here is to really be deliberate about what your culture is currently and whether you want to use it to reinforce the new sales process you are implementing. Or whether the change you are implementing, will be partly a catalyst towards shaping a new culture. The former is relatively straightforward and has a lot less risk than the later. If taking the second approach, you will need to take a much broader view on the organisational system that is influencing how your sales force behave and look to leverage more cultural levers other than a new capability program, in order to reinforce the behaviours you will require to achieve the new culture.

The way forward

I see these learning’s as a step change from a training mindset to a more wholistic change mindset, but there is still a way to go. As I continue to explore newer concepts on motivation (Daniel Pink’s – Drive) and implement further experiments around how to move from a ‘push training’ world to a ‘pull learning’ world, I will continue to post these insights here.

Please leave your comments / insights here so I can expand my learning and please follow my blog to see what happens next in my journey.

Written by Geoff Rose, January 2011.

Images: renjith krishnan /

(Sales Executive Council – ‘Boosting Sales Training Stickiness’ – 2011)

What is the Culture of Us?

The ‘Culture of Us’ is a look inside corporate culture today, exploring the issues and the challenges, with the aim of ‘making the world a better place to work’.

I have been working in organisation change, learning and development for over 17 years, consulting to major corporations, public institutions and entities throughout Australia and the rest of the world.  With almost 10 years experience gained in top tier consultancies (Accenture and PwC Consulting) and the last 8 years spent internal consulting in two tier one Australian banks (ANZ and currently NAB), I have a raft of experiences I’m keen to share.

This blog is a reflection on my experiences, both present and past.  It provides me an avenue to structure my thinking and share with others my insights.

I hope you enjoy my posts and encourage you to respond so that I can learn from your experience also.