Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Culture Of Success

"You will not attract and retain the world's best builders in a command-and-control environment," says Hulu CEO, Jason Kilar in a recent article in Fast Company.

I can't help but laugh, not because I do not agree with the idea, but rather because I remember that when I started work for an apparel company back in 1989 the owner and CEO shared with me his philosophy; which basically was that one should never keep an employee longer than a year because then they will believe they know more than you do and you can never let an employee know more than you do....

I just looked at him and said, "I want employees that can do their jobs better than I can and I want to surround myself with people who know more than I do!"

For the next 18 years our corporate structure grew from a 150 employees with $15 million dollars a year in sales to 900 employees and over $100 million dollars a year in annual sales and there was always the tension between 'his' way and 'my' way.

Never once did I hire anyone in an administrative position as "salaried" but brought everyone in as hourly employees; that included human resources, accounting, payroll, customer service, and IT.  I also have to acknowledge that we never started anyone in any position much higher than a dollar over minimum wage.

With that said, I created an environment for opportunity!  I did hire part time college students as interns and gave them exposure to their future careers;  right now I know that three of these students went on to become CFO's at much larger companies, one has become CIO, two are vice presidents of human resources, and one went on to be a doctor!  I also know that 7 of the individuals that I hired and trained in human resources went on to become human resource managers with companies in our local community and with our daycare we have witnessed five of the employees that started with us go on to become daycare directors in our local community and one has gone on to be head of Head Start in our state!

You have to take what you are given and make something out of it!  I did put organizational charts together from time to time and a complete explanation of and justification for becoming more "traditional" in our administration staffing and production support but the two owners of the company never really saw any need because we were doing just fine with what we had.

Did I hire great people and put them in the wrong jobs?  Sure did, and I would have to sit down and tell them, that due to no fault of their own, we needed to find them a job that better fit their skills and another company!  I have also had to sit employees down and let them know that they had advanced to such a level that it was time we found them employment with another company that could best allow them to continue their development.  I lost some very qualified individuals who I relied on tremendously; but if you are committed to the idea of success then you cannot stand in the way of the success of your employees either.

Now, I did quickly give pay raises when the performance justified a pay raise;  sometimes that meant more than one raise a year.  I also did annual performance reviews where we focused not on what the employee had accomplished but what they needed to develop, learn, and or achieve to attain their next pay raise.

To create a culture of success you have to build an organization of builders.  I realize that while we did achieve tremendous success operating with the constant tension between my philosophy and that of the company CEO I also will acknowledge that we reach a point and could go no further; if an organization does not grow then it dies.

I did not focus that much on "skill sets" but rather on an individual aptitude and attitude;  why would one focus on what an applicant had done when what you really  wanted to know was what they could achieve?

A culture of success within an organization requires leadership and the fundamental belief that " policies built on frankness, trust, and occasionally awkward closeness engender a culture of success..."

We spend so much time crafting rules and regulations to ensure workplace efficiency and to protect the organization from lawsuits; we basically assume that all people, given the chance, will be bad and are irresponsible of the interests of the company.  Its as if senior management is deeply distrustful of human nature. 

As I used to tell prospective employees, "If you applied for this job thinking you were going to get rich, well, you may want to walk up and leave now!  But, if you are looking for a job that you enjoy doing and being successful then you have found the right place!"

A culture of success is not about employee empowerment but rather about employee encouragement!  Its letting an employee know they can take risks, they can go out on a limb, and that you will be there with a safety net.  Like I used to tell people, who were attempting new tasks for the first time and had said that they feared making mistakes, "...if you're not making mistakes then you are not achieving...."

I remember once on a flight to the west coast I was reading an executive magazine which had interviewed the 100 most successful businessmen in the country.  One of the things the article pointed out was that these successful business leaders admitted to failing at 70% of what they set out to accomplish!
Hmmm... the 100 most successful businessmen in the United States were bragging about a .300 batting average?  We idolize people who only succeeded at 30% of what they set out to accomplish?

A culture of success realizes that we will fail more times than we succeed but that success comes from continously trying; that is the environment that organizations have to create for their employees. Or:
"Familiarity breads innovation," says John Foster, Head of Talent and Organization. "You have to be able to share half-baked, provocative, sometimes completely wrong ideas in order to get to a breakthrough."
 A culture of success requires an environment where employees feel as if they are part of a 'family' or a 'tribe' and they have to believe that they can share ideas, issues, and offer solutions that just might be wrong but they also have to realize that success is a process....

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