Welcome to the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast. In a world where knowledge has become a commodity, this podcast is designed to give you something more; access to the experience of a successful CEO who has already walked the path. So join your host Martin Moore, who will unlock and bring to life your own leadership experiences, and accelerate your journey to leadership excellence.
Hey there, and welcome to episode 35 of the No Bullshit Leadership Podcast. This week's episode: Driving Value From Your People: Establishing a winning culture. As leaders, we spend an inordinate amount of time, energy, and resources trying to squeeze every drop of juice out of the lemon, when it comes to the concrete and tangible elements of business.
We look for cost efficiencies, value accretive merges in acquisitions, growth projects, product innovation, and greater capital productivity. However, we often ignore one of the greatest sources of untapped value: the people who work for the organisation day in and day out. They have an incredible impact on company performance, and the only we can realise their full potential, is through providing the strong leadership that creates a high performance culture.
Interestingly, this is the one area that most leaders tend to avoid. Now my main goal in this episode, is to try and shift your perspective a little. If the truth be told, I'm going to do that in the first couple of minutes of this podcast episode. I'm going to go on to talk about how leadership drives culture and culture drives performance. We're going to examine what a high performance culture looks like and then what type of leader does it take to build this high performance culture?
So let's get into it.
In order to shift your thinking on people in culture, I want to start by giving you three common work place scenarios.
Many of you will have experienced at least one of these three.
Scenario one: I'm reporting to you and you've given me accountability for negotiating a deal on behalf of the organisation for the sale of a non core part of the business. And we valued this at around 10 million dollars. How would you react if I came to you one day and said, "Hey Christine, you know that deal we're negotiating that we think is around 10 million? Well look, I think it could be pretty hard work and very time consuming to extract that price through the negotiation process. So I think we should just do the deal now and settle out for five million dollar and move on."
Let's have a look at scenario two:. I'm reporting to you and I have accountability as the head of marketing for releasing a new consumer product into the market. All our marketing competitor research tells us that the product should be priced at $495. So how would you react if I walked into your office and said, "Jeff, all our analytical research tells us that the market will pay $495 for this product. But look, I think we should sell it for $295, because if we do our customers will really like us and we'll appear to be really nice people."
Third scenario: I'm a procurement category manager running a large tender process to select supplier on a multi-year services contract. It's time for me on behalf of the evaluation team to make a recommendation for which supplier to choose. And in my final presentation to the Chief Procurement Officer, I say, "The tender process has been extremely thorough. In all aspects of the process, the Company X has shown through. They've clearly delivered the best combination of price, value, service, and risk management. However, we really like the sales woman from Company Y, Jeanine. So we're recommending that we award the contract to Company Y instead."
Completely unthinkable, isn't it?
These three scenarios are ridiculous, crazy, and unthinkable. Yet more often than not, this is exactly how leaders treat the people issues and challenges that confront them.
What's the human equivalent of these three scenarios?
The first one: I know I should be getting more out of Dave, but it's really hard and I'm too busy to spend that amount of time on it to help him to lift his performance.
Scenario two: I know I could be getting a lot more value out of the team if I pushed them a bit harder, but if I just keep them happy they'll really like me, and everything will be good. Besides, I don't want to demotivate them.
Scenario three: While Sue is clearly the top performer, she's a bit serious for my liking and nowhere near as popular as Kevin. So I think I might promote Kevin instead.
In what world is that approach acceptable if the business scenarios we started with aren't?
Emma: Hi guys, Em here. I hope you love listening to the podcast just as much as Marty and I love producing it. That's why we're here, to deliver real, practical value to as many leaders across the planet as we possibly can. Now while taking the lessons from the podcast is fantastic, it's no substitute for having an experienced and successful CEO working with your directly.
Imagine how powerful it would be to have someone of Marty's calibre there to advise on your specific context and to show you how to drive better performance through leadership. Marty has a very limited number of opportunities in Australia in the coming months for high performance leadership development work with either individuals or teams, before he heads to the U.S. later this year.
He combines a unique and potent mix of mentoring, coaching, and management consulting to deliver an accelerated development experience that very few providers have the expertise and capability to deliver. If you'd like to chat about having Marty either work with you one on one or to create change within your organisation by working with your leadership team, shoot me an email at email@example.com. This opportunity is limited, so if you know you need this, contact us and we'll find out if it's good fit.
All right, back to the episode.
These things that can go largely unnoticed in the people in culture space have a massive impact on your team. They establish the cultural norms for behaviour and performance. They set the expectations and standards that your people learn are required of them. They signal to your people what's important to you. Now I don't know exactly when this happened, but increasingly the conversation on leadership has become super fluffy.
All the talk now seems to be about what makes a great leader, and is largely driven by desirable leadership attributes, and I've spoken about this in episodes before. Now don't get me wrong, who you are as a leader is incredibly important. However, we seem to have forgotten the object of the exercise. As leaders, we are here to create value in a range of different ways and for all sorts of different stakeholders.
But we need to understand the maxim that leadership drives culture and culture drives performance. That's why we're here. The point is you can be a well liked leader without being a highly effective leader. Great leaders are both high respected and highly effective. Some of them are even well liked, because let's face it ... it's not mutually exclusive. But remember the mantra always has to be respect before popularity.
Now before we get deep into the culture discussion, just a reminder about making sure you have the right team. Building the right team is a prerequisite, and I speak about this quite a bit. Now I’m going to get up your ribs about this from time to time because a lot of your leaders would take the same approach that you used to before you became a no bullshit leader. And that approach is: everyone is wonderful, there's a place for everyone regardless of their choices around their own behaviour and performance, we support all the people no matter what they do, and we ignore in the elephant in the room.
To make this point when I'm giving a keynote speech, I use one simple image of a high precision aerobatic display team. Seven jet aircraft performing choreographed manoeuvres with the aircraft in extraordinary close proximity of each other. And when I put that slide up, I just ask a bunch of questions of the audience.
Of the seven pilots, what do you think their capability is individually? Do you think they are merely average pilots? What do you think their individual commitment to excellence might be? How much tolerance do you think there is in the group for under performance or choosing on a given day to not be your best? How much tolerance would your fellow pilots have for poor behaviour or poor attitude? How much do they rely on the leader to motivate and drive them, and how much are they driven by their intrinsic motivation and quest for excellence?
We just need to bear in mind it is so much easier to reign in a stallion than it is to flog a donkey. Now if you look at your team in that light, you'll be able to draw your own conclusions. As I said, you can easily choose to ignore it. No one above you is probably going to give you grief about it. And you can continue on regardless with what you've got, but at least be self aware enough to recognise your conscious choice on this.
It may well be the case that your organisational culture might not support the concept of diligently building a high performing team. But for goodness sake, if that's the case, then don't believe your own bullshit and talk about a high performance culture. Particularly if you have an Uncle Albert, as we spoke about last week. That just makes you look out of touch at best or hypocritical at worst.
So what does a high performance culture look like? Great cultures that deliver results are characterised by a bunch of things, but I'm going to pick out six that I think are really important. The first of these is strong individual accountability and ownership of issues. People know what they are tasked to deliver and they accept their accountabilities confidently and willingly. There's no fear or blame, it's just what they do. They love that they're trusted to do their job and they can in turn trust the people around them to do theirs, because there's a no tourist policy and they can rely on their team.
The second thing about a high performance culture is empowerment. And this is the other side of the accountability coin. This is what enables people to feel as though they can make a difference. They have the support and the autonomy to do the job that they've been given, and they have decision rights and control over their domain. Without that, the accountability is hollow.
The third thing is an excellence over perfection mindset. The sense of urgency about forward progress is palpable and it drives great results based on smart decisions from leaders with seasoned judgement . We don't get stuck in either admiring the precision of our work or being paralysed when we can't analyse our problems to the Nth degree. We get on with it, we move smart, and we move fast.
The fourth thing is an expectation of robust challenge and debate, within clear boundaries of course. Now this is underpinned by respect for each other, but constructively harnessing the natural tensions in your organisation is critical to getting good decisions made and great results. So for example, there will be natural tensions between legal and sales. They'll be natural tensions between risk management and manufacturing.
But robust challenge has to be something that's not just accepted but expected, and demanded from every single person in your team. You may have heard me say before in regards to my direct reports. I'll say, "I had to get something different out of them." I'd say to them, "You've got to bring something unique to the table, because if you think the same as me then at least one of us is redundant. And guess what? Probably not me."
Number five is achievement orientation. A value over activity mindset. What are we actually achieving? How is this improving the organisation? And is what we do today making a tangible difference to the performance of the organisation?
Having that focus on the outcomes and the outputs are not simply cranking the handle. It is a really important indicator of a high performance culture.
And finally, there's working across boundaries. And we've got to be a little bit careful with this one because collaboration is all the rage. Some organisations now have a tendency to over-collaborate. Everyone has to get say, everyone has to have their point of view across, and some people can operate with power of veto. But working across boundaries is all about drawing on the best the team has to offer without actually diluting the accountability of the decision maker or becoming a consensus driven decision making culture.
What type of leader does it take to drive this high performance culture? Well, in any organisational team nothing different happens unless a leader makes it happen. So that's you, right? You've got to take this on for yourself. And changing a culture is not for the faint of heart. It takes discipline, perseverance, time, energy, some pain, a bunch of momentum, some tough decisions, courage, influence, collaboration - it takes a bunch of things to change a culture.
But to borrow an analogy from a colleague of mine, Megan Howton, she said, "Culture change is like teenage sex. Everyone says they're doing it. In reality, very few people are actually doing it. And those that are doing it, are sort of fumbling around in the dark wondering what the hell is going on."
So with all this talk about culture change, what does it really take? There are millions of combinations of skills, capabilities, and structures that can drive a high performance culture. And when we spoke a few weeks ago about your leadership fingerprint, I hope you understand that you can be uniquely you, and do this.
I just want to highlight two things, just two, without that you are unlikely to be able to change any culture. The first one of these is you have to be a leader who pays attention. And when I say pay attention, you've got to pay attention to the people stuff just as much as the more tangible pursuit of business that we heard earlier in this episode.
If you're not paying attention to the people and the culture, it'll get away from you and you have no chance of understanding it, of measuring it, and certainly not of changing it.
The second thing is you have to be a leader who burns the boats. You've probably heard this expression before, but it originates back to the 16th century when the explorer Cortes landed in Mexico and burned the boats. His basic premise was, "We prevail here or we die. That's it." And it takes that level of commitment to changing a culture that says, "We will not go back no matter what. And everything I do, every symbol I set up, every move I make, every message I send confirms the fact that we are not going back. And we won't go back. Not as long as I'm standing."
And so if you want to be a leader who drives change into a high performance culture, then you better pay attention and you better burn the boats. If you can manage to do this with your unique style and approach, you'll take your team to heights they could have never have reached without you.
Alright, so that brings us to the end of episode 35.
Thanks so much for joining us, and remember at Your CEO Mentor, our purpose is to improve the quality of leaders globally. So if you like this episode, please share it around your leadership networks so that we can reach even more leaders. I look forward to next weeks episode: If Money Doesn't Motivate, Then What Does?
Until then I know you'll take every opportunity you can to be a No Bullsh!t leader.