Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

The Three Keys to Building a Great Company Culture

I’ve said it 10,000 times, but let me say it again: Culture = Cash.  I’ve learned from working with hundreds of companies around the world that the biggest area for dramatic improvement, or failure, is most often a company’s culture.  The number one factor in highly engaged, satisfied and loyal customers… is engaged, satisfied and loyal employees.

“The customer’s experience will never exceed the employee’s experience”

Recently, I read an article that outlined the three main things that millennials, the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, look for in the culture of an organization.  Those things are safety, dignity, and purpose.

Safety

What we are focused on here is psychological safety, which refers to an employee’s belief that it is safe to speak their mind without fear of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. In a culture with high psychological safety, employees feel confident that no one will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new iCuldea.

A study by Google identified psychological safety as the most important aspect of highly effective teams. The Google researchers found that individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave Google, they’re more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates, they bring in more revenue, and they’re rated as effective twice as often by executives.

To measure a team’s level of psychological safety, the researchers asked team members how strongly they agreed or disagreed with these statements:

  • If you make a mistake on this team, it is often held against you.
  • Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
  • People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.
  • It is safe to take a risk on this team.
  • It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
  • No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
  • Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.

It has been my experience that it is impossible for people to do great work in an company culture where they do not feel safe.

Dignity

Dignity is derived from showing trust, granting autonomy, and recognizing the value of individual contributions. In a culture that exhibits these three key traits, employees develop more self-worth and self-respect, and feel they are respected by others. Trust, autonomy, and recognition build a sense of ownership of their work and pride in performing it well.  I believe that the path to helping people feel dignity is to treat them with genuine respect.

Let me give you a personal example.  I travel a lot, 200+ days a year, so that means I eat about  600 meals a year in restaurants.  Most people basically ignore their server, often times not even making eye contact with them.  In contrast, I realize that these people are literally “serving” me, since they are carrying food to me when I am hungry.  I genuinely respect them for that and show it by calling them by name, complementing their professionalism, commenting on the quality of the food, and thanking them often for their assistance.  I don’t do this to get a free dessert, I do it because I am truly appreciative of their efforts to make me feel well cared for.  Do I get better service?  Absolutely.  But I also have a more enjoyable meal because I get to make a genuine human connection and I let someone know that I believe that they are important.  A culture where people treat each other with great respect will encourage people to do great work.

Purpose

When I started my career in 1989, the sole “purpose” of nearly every company was to make money.  Putting money to the bottom line is of course still critical, but today many companies are embracing the idea of the Triple Bottom Line (TLB). The TBL is an accounting framework that incorporates three dimensions of performance: social, environmental and financial. The TBL dimensions are also commonly called the three Ps: people, planet and profits, but now there is a 4th P, Purpose.

The consulting firm Ernst and Young define purpose as “an aspirational reason for being that is grounded in humanity and inspires a call to action.”

Does purpose really matter?  A global study found that 89% of consumers are more likely to buy from companies that support solutions to a particular social issue.  For more than half of consumers, purpose is the most important factor in their choice to do business with one company over another when the products are similar.  So the numbers show that not only having a strong purpose is important to your customers, but it is also an essential element in attracting top talent. For 77% of millennial employees, an organizational culture based on purpose and strong core values are just as important as base salary and benefits.

If building a great culture in your organization is important to you, keep in mind that psychological safety, dignity through respect, and an inspiring purpose is the foundation for creating a culture that motivates your people to deliver excellence.


 

Practice This Skill and Become a Much Better Leader

In this video, I’m going to challenge you to practice an extremely important leadership characteristic that many people struggle with. If you can master this skill it will create more trust, risk-taking, candor, and innovation within your organization.

I hope you follow through on my challenge, and as always, if you find this video helpful please pass it along to your network.

Thanks so much – John

The Courage to Speak Up

happy employees happy customersRecently, I took a few moments to talk about something I see far too often in the companies and groups I work with all over the world. It’s something that exists in every organization to some degree – in every industry – and it’s something I’m passionate about helping leaders identify and work on with their teams.

Check out the text below or, if you prefer, watch the video on my YouTube channel.

 

This is one of those videos you’re gonna wanna gather everyone around the computer or send it out to everyone in your organization, because I’m gonna discuss an issue that drives me crazy that I see over and over again in organizations when I’m coaching people or working with different groups or teams. It’s the unhappy employee who doesn’t bother to tell management they’re upset.

They sit at their desk, they brood, they build up more and more anger and frustration and resentment. Oh, and they’ll go tell other people in the organization, or they’ll go home and tell their family, but they won’t go to their manager, leader, boss, whatever it might be and say, “Hey, I’m not happy about this,” or “I think this isn’t going well.” Many of you that are watching this now that you think yourself, “Well I got some things I really don’t like about how they do things around here, but I’m not gonna go tell my boss, because I’ll get” – and I love this term one person told me – “I’ll get vaporized.” And you’re gone.

If you live in an environment where bringing criticism, let’s say negative feedback, pointing out something that doesn’t seem to be going right to you, if you work in an environment where doing that would cost you your job, you probably need to work someplace else because you work for a poor leader and things will likely not ever get better.

State or Trait?

There’s another thing to check: Maybe it’s your attitude. What I always say when I teach this sort of stuff in companies is, is it a state or trait?

A state, “I’m just having a bad day, I’m just upset about this one project, I’m just … Things aren’t going well in other parts of my life and I feel like taking it out on the company.” It’s just a temporary state of being dissatisfied, frustrated, whatever it might be… stress.

If it’s a trait – that you see this happening over and over again in your life and you’re constantly frustrated and upset, then you might wanna look at the mirror and say, “Maybe it isn’t the people around me, maybe it’s me.”

This is also, – now I’m gonna shift to the leader – this is also something to look at when someone brings you a critical feedback or they’re frustrated or upset or angry or stressed. Is it a state or a trait? Are they just having a bad day or is this an employee who just has a bad attitude?

Leaders: Listen Up

Let me now speak to the leaders. The only people that can tell you how to improve your company are your customers and your employees. I am flabbergasted at how often leaders and companies don’t wanna hear from either group. “Let’s send out a customer survey? Oh no, they’d tell us all the things they want us to change and expect us to change them.” or “I don’t wanna get the negative feedback.”

I see this a ton internally, where I’ll go to a leader, a CEO and say, “When did they do an audit of your internal organization?” They’ll say, “No, no way, I don’t wanna hear what they’re complaining about, I’d have to do something.”

Now the reverse is I work with a lot of organizations and great leaders who want to get that feedback. Often times it frustrates them that they don’t get enough of that feedback, because they know everything’s not perfect. They think to themselves, “Wow, if people would just bring the information, I could fix it.”

It’s kind of like if you’re really sick but you don’t wanna tell the doctor about it, I’m not thinking you’re gonna feel a lot better soon. But this is the really important point for leaders, managers, leaders, bosses, CEOs, and presidents: You have to make it safe for people to bring you bad news. You can’t kill the messenger.

If someone goes way out on a limb to share some not-so-great information with you, don’t saw the limb off, run out there and give them a hug. Say, “Thank you. I didn’t like hearing this, I’m upset to hear this is going on in the company,” or “I’m distraught to know that you feel this way.” But you can’t have retribution, finger pointing, getting back at them, telling them they’re wrong. You’ve gotta make it safe – you’ve got to make it really safe for people to bring you even bad news because you can’t fix it unless you know about it.

Ignoring the Problem Solves Nothing

If it’s down there festering and people are afraid to talk to you about it, it will likely hurt or kill your organization. We’ve got two things here: If you’re an employee, you have to have enough courage to go and talk to the people above you about issues or problems or concerns or criticisms you have if they’re bad enough to really impact your productivity. If you’re a little upset, a little frustrated, let it go, this too shall pass. But if it’s really something that’s got you worked up, you owe it to yourself and to the company to let people know. Now the other side of that, I‘m saying again, Leaders, is you have to make it safe. You have to thank them, thank them, thank them for bringing you the bad news, the criticism, the negative feedback and encourage other people to do it, too. Hold them up as someone that brought you information you didn’t want to hear, but information that, now you know it, you can work on it, improve it, fix it and make the company better for everybody.

Here’s a big, big idea: Happy employees lead to happy customers, which leads to more profit. Unhappy employees lead to unhappy customers, a bad workforce, and talent leaving, which isn’t typically the way you run a successful business.

I really hope you take this to heart, pass it around your organization, send it to other folks because this is an issue I see over and over again. I see how bad it hurts the individual and the company not to be able to discuss things that aren’t easily discussed, that might be a little bit uncomfortable, but if fixed or attended to, it could have a huge positive impact on everyone involved.

I hope you found this helpful.

 

Five Things To Focus On For 2018

At the beginning of every year I put together a video with what I feel are the most important things to focus on for business success in the coming year. For 2018 I have five major things that I believe will be extremely important for you and your business. I have also added the video from 2017 for you to view. There are some very powerful ideas in these two videos, things that I know will help you as a professional and your business.

Also, please share this blog with your network, I’ve dedicated my life to helping businesses and people be more successful, so I want to get these ideas in front of as many people as possible.

Thank you very much and I hope that 2018 is an absolutely wonderful year for you and your organization.

 

Four Fabulous Business Books

I shot this video around Thanksgiving, before I had left for London and Kraków, and forgot to post it! However, better late than never. Here are four book recommendations that would be excellent holiday gifts. Bear in mind that the book by Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick on great teams will not be available until February, but you can preorder it now (and you should). I really loved all four of these books and I hope you will too.

And if you have not read it, this is a pretty good business book too;-)

Four Great Questions About Leadership

A few weeks ago, a student named Joey Brodsky, who is studying business at the University of Florida and is taking a class from a close friend of mine, Dr. Alex Sevilla, sent me some questions about some of the things he was learning about management and leadership.  I thought the questions were excellent and that you might find my answers of some value.  Here is the conversation between myself and Joey.

 

Mr. Spence,

Currently I am taking a senior leadership course taught by Dr. Alex Sevilla here at the Heavener School of Business. We are working on both theoretical and application based leadership strategies, learning how to combine them with our skills to become better managers.

Some questions I have for you below are about how you implement specific leadership theories in your work (or don’t), experiences you have had being an influential leader from such a young age, and certain challenges you have faced overseeing and motivating individuals. My goal is to relate some of the topics I’ve learned in my course to real world experiences. I’ll keep them brief as I know your time is valuable, but any information you feel would be influential I would love to learn from!

Questions:

  1. One of the first topics we discussed in class was the differences between trait leadership and process leadership ideologies. Trait leadership having to do with personality traits that influence one’s skill of leadership and process leadership being more interaction based. Do you find leadership to be a more inherent quality to individuals, or would you say it has more to do with the way someone interacts with their ‘followers’?

If I’m reading this correctly, it seems that you are asking the age-old question, “Are leaders born or made?”  I believe that if someone has good values – they are honest, they act with integrity, they show respect, they have empathy and concern for others – I can send them to a class to learn most of the process skills they need to be a good leader. However, if someone lies, cheats, steals, manipulates and doesn’t care about others – there is no way they will ever become a truly effective leader.  

Also, there are many people that talk about extroverts versus introverts as leaders.  I have seen many leaders that are highly motivational and inspiring, that can get up in front of a group and move them to action – I’ve also seen many leaders that are quiet, humble and introspective. But they have a burning passion for what they are doing and that passion creates highly loyal followers.  

In my opinion, a leader must be superb at two skill sets: they must be absolutely excellent at what they do, their actual job description, and they have to have strong leadership skills.  

Lastly, remember that leadership is not only the purview of the people at the top of the organization, every person in an organization leads at some level.

  1. Another interesting concept we have learned is the difference between an assigned leader (a leader because of a formal position) and an emergent leader (a leader because of the way others respond to them). Being such a young CEO at 26 when working with the Rockefeller Foundation I would expect you were very influential among your peers and showcased your leadership earlier on. Can you tell me a little about how you leveraged your leadership skills as an emergent leader into a more formal leadership role so early in your career? What are some of the characteristics you displayed that you think helped you to stand out?

Almost immediately after joining the foundation I became the “right-hand man” to the CEO (not Mister Rockefeller, a professional manager who was running the company on his behalf).   I spent a lot of time watching him, learning what to do, and learning what NOT to do.  At this point in my career I was reading every single business book I could get my hands on and listening to 4-5 business books a week.   In a meeting with our Board of Directors, one of the key directors asked a question that the CEO could not answer – and then the director (a multibillionaire) turned to me and asked me if I knew the answer – which I did.   Then, the board started asking me for my opinion more often, and when the current CEO began to stumble, they put me in as an interim CEO – which eventually led to me becoming the permanent CEO.  

Very frankly, I was in no way ready to lead an organization at that age, I was woefully unprepared.  I realized that I could not be successful if my team was not successful.  For my part, I studied, read, worked and did everything I could to learn as much as I could about leadership and business success.  I tried to model the behavior of lifelong learning and always striving to do your best.  I also went to my team and asked for help and focused a great deal on empowerment.  In the early days, I was very immature as a leader, but as I faced more situations I slowly learned how to run the business and be a better leader to my team.

  1. One quote from Professor Sevilla that really resonated with me was “It’s not about you [the leader] . . . it’s about them [the followers].” He said if there were to be only one thing we take away from this class, let it be this statement. In your professional experience, how important has it been to focus more directly on the group and achieving common goals, rather than just using subordinates to achieve more personal objectives?

Dr. Sevilla is 1,000% right.  This is a concept known as servant leadership, where the leader understands that they are actually there to serve their employees.  As to your question about common goals or personal objectives – it’s not an Either/Or – it is a Both/And.  Everyone in the organization must be focused on the vision, strategy, and a set of common goals they are all aligned to as the do their work.  It is the job of the leader to ensure that they execute the strategy with discipline and continuously deliver superb business results.  ALSO, the leader needs to help each person grow as an individual and show them how their work directly ties into the success of the overall organization.  

  1. Over the last few decades you have become one of and got to work with many of the greatest business leaders in the world. I don’t expect there to be a catchall answer on how to become a powerful and respected leader in the business world, but what are some of the strongest traits or strategies you see these leaders (and yourself) using to motivate others? Are there some particular things you think are more important for a young leader, like myself, to help showcase my skills to companies?

Rather than give you just my opinion, here is a list of traits that have emerged from the thousands of leadership classes I’ve taught and the great leaders I have had the honor to spend time with.

Honesty – tell the truth all the time – period.  Another word here would be integrity.

Excellent communicator – asks great questions and is an intense listener.

The courage to be vulnerable, to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Another word here would be authentic.

Competence – you must be exceedingly good at what you do.  My favorite phrase in this area is, “be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Great team player – treats their employees as partners and peers.  Shows them respect and gives them trust.

Compassionate – shows a genuine concern for their people and their personal and professional growth.

Visionary – has a vivid, compelling vision and strategy for growth that is well communicated across the entire organization.

Passionate – another word would be inspiring.

Innovative – a lifelong learner who is a good creative and strategic thinker.

 

Joey, I hope you found these answers helpful, let me know if you need any more information.

I wish you every possible happiness and success – John

Two Powerful Interviewing Questions

Here is a link to the book I recommended in the video: Who – by Geoff Smart

How to Get the Best Talent for Your Company

The last video I posted was on the importance of having top talent in your organization (here is a link). I got a great follow-up question from my friend Brandon West the owner of PHOS Creative (the company that does our digital marketing) asking: “Do you have any resources that would be helpful to us in starting a stronger recruitment initiative? Sites, books, tools, contacts, etc.” Instead of writing him a long email, I decided to just shoot this video with my best ideas on how to find, hire and retain top talent.

Please send me any business or leadership questions you have and I’ll be happy to shoot a video with my best ideas and suggestions.

I hope you will share this video with your network. Thanks so much – John

 

Here is the book I talked about from Geoff Smart and Randy Street – I very highly recommend it.

A very important question…