Building company culture The Three Wise Monkeys approach
Thursday December 15, 2016
Building an amazing company culture isn't easy but its worth it. Here’s the three wise monkeys approach to the basic building blocks of developing a high performing culture of engaged and happy employees.
See no evil
The foundation of any great company with a great culture is the attitude of the leader. If you want to create a team or a company that is an amazing place to work you need to evaluate how you see other people.
If your primary reason for wanting to create a great culture is because you want to make more money then your approach is already flawed. A great culture will make you more money as a byproduct in that it will reduce staff churn, it will increase engagement and motivation, it will win you awards and give you interesting stories to tell clients. But all of these things are a by product of what it is you really need to be trying to achieve, which is to create a genuinely great place to work for your most important stakeholders - your employees.
To create a great place to work you need to make sure that your attitude, how you see your employees, is in line with creating a genuinely great environment. So how do you know if your attitude is right for this task? Heres a test. Answer the following question:
a. are able to do most things well and if given the right resources can figure things out for themselves, or
b. work better under my close supervision and require me to finish things, check things or step in when its really critical.
If your answer is b. then your attitude is misaligned with creating a great working environment for your employees. I’m going to tell you two home truths about how you see the world:
1. you aren’t anywhere near as good at stuff as you think you are
2. your employees are a lot better at doing stuff than you think they are
There, I said it. If your employees aren’t doing their job well then its probably your fault.
a. you have the wrong people in the job - change them and review your recruitment process
b. you have the right people in the job being managed incorrectly - change how you manage them, the resources you give them, the freedom you allow them and the confidence you instil in them
This is a short blog so isn't a complete ‘how to’ guide to changing your management style, there are plenty of other blogs on the subject and plenty of books. But fundamentally you must accept that one of the above is true. If you see everyone else as less competent than you, if you see everyone else needing you to step in and help (no matter how genuine your intentions) then you are doing them a disservice.
People are smart. Give them guidance, boundaries, outcomes and resources then freedom, support and feedback. Mix it in with a healthy dose of willingness to let them fail and you have the start of a great place to work. Things may slip a bit, maybe they wont be as good as you to start with but in the end you’ll end up with an employee who is engaged, motivated and probably better at the job than you ever could be.
So take your hands away from your eyes, people are smarter than you give them credit for, if only you’d let yourself see it.
Hear no evil
Lets be blunt here. Negative people who aren’t on the bus and who undermine your efforts are cancer within your organisation. You need to cut them out. You know this of course, but you don't do it. We’ve all been there. There are a million reasons why we don’t.
“but they make good money” - cut them
“but they’ve been with me since the beginning” - cut them
“but they are popular with the team” - cut them
“I think I can make them change” - cut them
Be fair, treat them with respect, pay them out whatever you need to, but cut them finally and cut them soon.
It goes without saying here that you need to get some decent legal advice on how to do this, but it needs to be done.
The negativity you hear is the tip of the iceberg. Do not underestimate the amount of damage their negativity can cause. Their cynicism can spread, their questioning of your motivations can plant seeds that grow into dangerous ideas and their general unwillingness to embrace what you are trying to do will make anyone that wants to embrace it, feel silly.
The more reasons you give for not getting rid of them the more you need to get rid of them. If they are someone who other people look up to then their actions will influence others even more. Big billers, high achievers, popular socialites, long term employees create your company culture. If their actions are misaligned with the culture you want, you have no choice.
Don’t stand by and hear their negativity gradually eat away at your company culture. Take your hands from your ears and listen to your team, identify the negativity and cut it now.
Speak no evil
This is going to be revolutionary, mind blowing, ground breaking: Tell the truth. If you speak in double speak, tell mis truths and half truths, hide facts, put positive spin on negative stuff, your team will never trust you.
Creating an amazing working environment is not about providing people with benefits and prizes and googleplex offices, its about creating an environment of trust. An environment of trust allows people to be brave, it gives them the confidence to fail and learn and develop, it means they are committed to you. It means they achieve more because they want to.
But trust isn't a commodity you can buy, it is something you earn very very slowly. But it is also lost very, very quickly. So how do you earn trust? You tell the truth thats how. You give information that the team aren’t expecting to get. You are open and you don’t talk in double speak.
Saying something is “a positive thing” doesn't make it a positive thing. People are bombarded with information all day every day. Our doublespeak radars are in overdrive, we can pick up words and phrases that instantly make us smell a rat. Your people are smarter than you think. If something is bad, tell them its bad. But tell them why it isn't the end of the world, how you’ll fix it, where you need their help. Be honest.
Why hide information? Some information you cant give out for legal reasons, some for privacy reasons but some you don’t give out because you think you cant give it out. Question why. Why cant your team know about last months loss or last years profit? Why cant the team know about potential cash flow issues or greater than expected profit margins. Do you really think everyone will jump ship if they know you made a loss last month? Will they immediately tell your competitors and customers (and who cares if they do?). Will they all demand pay rises if you tell them you made a decent profit? Communicate honestly with them “we made record profit which we’re investing back into the business to give us some breathing space in the quiet period etc etc” and you’ll be surprised at how mature they are.
If your team are unable to trust you to give them truthful and unphotoshopped information then you have no trust. If you have no trust you will never create a genuinely great place to work. Don't treat your people like idiots, don't talk like a second rate politician, don't use words straight out of a business speak manual. Use clear language to tell the truth.
Take your hands from your mouth and start telling the truth.
So to conclude, building an amazing working environment is about a lot of things but there are three areas at the core of any great company culture:
See no evil – evaluate your attitude towards your team, this is where it all starts
Hear no evil - cut the nay sayers
Speak no evil - tell the whole truth
You'll be surprised at how your team react and at the company you can all create together.