Category Archives: People

Develop and lead high performing teams.

Of Culture and Stories…

Surprisingly, no one on my noon conference call yesterday said “War Eagle” or “Roll Tide” or made any reference to THE EVENT OF THE CENTURY that occurred Saturday afternoon when #4-ranked Auburn University upset the #1 University of Alabama in the Iron Bowl by scoring on a 100-yard return of a missed field goal attempt with no time remaining in regulation…

…or not, given that everyone else was in Washington DC, Pittsburgh, London, etc., and could probably care less about SEC football – shocking though that may seem to some!

Rest assured that in Alabama yesterday, water cooler, cubicle, and hallway conversations reliving each and every moment of the game consumed many, many hours…oh, the stories to be told! The heroes and villains, good coaching decisions and bad, the great plays and the oh-so-close…all discussed, dissected, and made part of our heritage and culture here in the South.

Which begs the question: If people in your company or organization aren’t talking about SEC football, what are they talking about? What cubicle conversations are taking place right now that define or reinforce your corporate culture? What stories are being told that help people understand where it’s important for them to spend their time?

Want to change the culture? Change the story.

A friend told me about a company struggling to reduce customer-identified product defects through a process improvement initiative. A senior executive mandated that a chart be added to the quarterly program review slide deck to review process improvement activities on each project…1 slide, out of dozens discussing technical and programmatic status and issues. In the first review cycle, the program managers never even reached that slide (placed at the end of the deck) before running out of time. In the next review cycle the executive stopped the first program manager almost immediately and asked him to go the last slide in the deck…the process improvement slide! After they spent a few minutes discussing improvement efforts on that project, the executive thanked the presenter, turned the meeting over to her deputy, and left. What a way to send a message! She changed the story about what was important to the company and where people should spend their time.

Time is valuable; probably our most precious commodity. My Franklin Planner always has the Benjamin Franklin quote on the front: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.”

How are you spending your time? What stories are you telling to promote the culture you want to nurture in your organization?

Oh, and lest I forget: War Eagle!


Returning from a recent business trip, like most folks, when my plane landed and rolled off the active runway I dug into my pocket and fired up the cell phone. The text message awaiting me from my wife was interesting: “Careful coming in. Watch for burfs” followed immediately by “birds.” Ah, the joys of autocorrect.

Puzzled, I called to find out what was going on. Turns out that a couple of young birds had flown the nest while I was gone…only one of them didn’t get very far. It was in the back yard, bouncing around and trying to learn what to do. Its parents were staying close by, observing and trying to ward off predators. We have quite a few stray cats in the neighborhood; at least one was close by, but so was Junebug, our youngest pit bull.

Junebug fascinates me. She wakes up every morning with one mission in life: she has a lot of love to give and a short time to give it! (Except to cats.) She’d love to be friends with the chipmunk that lives under our air conditioner (so says the wife), but this morning she was standing guard over a little bird on the ground, still learning to fly.

Who’s learning to fly in your organization, and who watches out for them? In the US military, all the officer rank insignia are silver except for second lieutenant and major, which are gold. As a 2LT you’re new to the officer corp, and as a Major you’re new to management: I was told long ago that there’s nothing you can do in those two grades that someone else can’t fix, so go have fun and explore! Learn what your limits are, then push…hard.

Growth requires challenge; challenge risks failure.

Who’s growing in your organization? Who’s watching out for them? How are they treated when they fail?


NPR aired this story on the way home today, and I had to find out more about it…I’d heard of the scandal, but didn’t realize so many people would be indicted on criminal charges.

The last statement in the article quotes a couple of folks bemoaning “…the unintended consequences of our test-crazed policies.”

While I don’t want to delve into the world of educational evaluation systems, it does bring up an excellent point: you get what you measure, whether you want it, or not.

Scott Adams had a Dilbert cartoon years ago, where the pointy-haired boss announced a bounty on defects: every problem found in the software would be turned into cash! Sounds great, right? Well, right up to the last frame, where Wally walks out of the meeting saying, “Woohoo! I’m gonna code me a minivan!”

Does your organization have any dysfunctional behavior driven by measures mandated by management?

Does your organization have any measures that are collected, but absolutely no one knows why, other than, “We’ve always reported that”?

People are smart and know how they’re graded…it’s incumbent upon leadership to understand how the questions they ask and the information they request will drive behaviors in the organization…good and bad.