A Mouse Tale of Corporate Culture

Corporate Culture CodeOnce upon a time in Mouseville, there were two cheese companies:  Big Cheese Company and Little Cheese Company.

Corporate giant Big Cheese had been around for generations. Upstart Little Cheese was new in town.

Both companies were ramping up seasonal hiring, getting ready for the holiday influx of orders for cheese balls, cheese logs and cheese platters.  Big Cheese had higher starting salaries, slightly better benefits and served wine and cheese at job fairs.  But much to Big Cheese’s consternation, Little Cheese, which humbly offered prospective employees macaroni and cheese, was hiring all the top applicants. Even more troubling for Big Cheese was when some of its best employees decided to switch to Little Cheese.

Big Cheese then spent big bucks hiring a consultant to tell them what to do.  The consultant designed, analyzed, and suggested programs and best practices based on an employee engagement survey and industry data.  This took months to do.  But nothing much changed.   Big Cheese’s lackluster fourth quarter earnings created panic among the top mice in the company.  Big Cheese’s CEO rallied the ranks, “Smile.  Say ‘cheese!’” Managers squeaked to their groups:  “Must. Work. Harder.”

Meanwhile, Little Cheese’s profits grew so much that the seasonal workers were kept on.

All of Mouseville marveled at the minor miracle of Little Cheese’s success.

Why was Big Cheese floundering and Little Cheese flourishing?

In desperation, Big Cheese’s CEO, Gorgy Zola, invited Little Cheese’s CEO, Monty Jack, to the Hole-in-the-Wall Bar.

“Monty, there’s enough mice here to support 10 cheese factories,” said Gorgy.  “I don’t want to steal your business, but I’m hoping you can share some ‘best practices’ for how you have had such success in hiring and keeping your employees.”

“Best practices . . .” mused Monty.  “We haven’t been in business that long!  Our business has grown too fast to always be looking to the past for best practices.”

Gorgy’s whiskers drooped.   “So, you don’t have any advice for me?”

“Well, Gorgy, I do, but you might not like it,” said Monty.

“It’s OK.  If I keep on doing things the same, it won’t matter in a few months,” said Gorgy.  “I won’t have a job.”

“It’s good that you realize you have to change,” said Monty.  “Probably the biggest challenge with looking to the past to decide on the future is that you are never really present in the moment, looking at what is and what could be.  Maybe you need a brand new corporate culture code. Mice, especially the younger mice, want different things now from work:  purpose, meaning, flexibility, great coworkers.”

“Entitlement.  That’s their attitude!” squeaked Gorgy. “In this economy, they should be grateful for a well-paying, steady job with good benefits.”

“Well, you maybe can attract some workers with those things, but you might not keep them.” Monty paused, looked Gorgy in the eye.  He slowly smiled.  “Plus, if money and benefits are the only reasons they’re there, they probably won’t work at their highest level.”

“What else do they want?  Recognition? More training? Free lunch on Friday?” Gorgy asked. “We are pushing employee engagement, but it’s not having the results we had hoped.”

“Maybe that’s the problem, you’re pushing too much and not pulling enough,” said Monty.  “You’ve been so focused on the goal of retaining and hiring workers that perhaps you have forgotten to inspire them, to energize them with your vision, and then empower them to accomplish it.”

“You know that sounds good, but I don’t know what I should do differently,” said Gorgy.

“I can hazard a guess that one of the big differences between your company and my company in terms of employee engagement is simply a matter of size,” said Monty.  “You have more levels of management and bigger teams—that adds layers of communication and process that can be frustrating.  Maybe Big Cheese needs to think more like a small company and have smaller teams.  That’s one possibility.  Why don’t you ask your people? And, why not try asking from the bottom up?  Ask the maintenance mouse what he likes and doesn’t like about his job, and if he were the top mouse what he’d like done differently? You might be surprised at what you find out.”

Gorgy squinted at Monty, “Me, the CEO, chat with the maintenance mouse? What could he possibly know about running the business?”

“Just give it a try, Gorgy,” said Monty. “As you said, you have nothing to lose!  Go back today, give it a shot and call me next week to let me know how it went.”

A week later, Gorgy called Monty.

“Monty,” said Gorgy, “Thanks for your advice!  I actually did start with the lowest position at our company—the new intern in maintenance.  She had an idea involving our factory lighting that will save us thousands of dollars in the next year and it should improve productivity to boot.  And, you know what? I could tell that she felt valued that I sincerely wanted her input.  I told the VP’s about the experience and they’re doing the same thing—talking with people in their departments.  I can feel the increased energy throughout the company.  I know it’s just a start, but it’s a good start!”

“Glad things are going better for you,” said Monty, “I guess my old-school advice on simply talking to people wasn’t cheesy!”

Gorgy laughed, “that’s a gouda one!”

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Create Moments of Connection at Work in 2 Minutes

2 minutes to engagement Engagement is such a buzzword these days. Employee engagement. Customer engagement. Brand engagement. Social media engagement.

Study after study shows that greater engagement leads to greater retention, better satisfaction, better health and higher profits.

If engagement is so good, what are you doing personally, every day, to increase engagement at work or in your business?

Engagement can be not only part of an overall organizational engagement strategy, but it also can be part of your personal engagement strategy. Your engaging personally, connecting with people one-on-one, creating moments of connection, builds up an emotional bank account, which can grow your business or your career. It also can create a cushion of loyalty when times get tough.

Isn’t that worth 2 minutes a day?

Here are some simple, 2-minute actions you can take every day to build up that emotional bank account with others:

1. Chit Chat. Really. You can start talking about the weather, even. Start with something you both have in common.

Things in common = similarity –>increased connection.

Try this simple, yet effective small talk technique:

a. Observe. Make a comment on something that you and the other person can both observe or that you have in common (event, situation, something you see). It doesn’t need to be witty.
b. Transition. (optional) Make a transition comment that relates #a (your observation) to #c (the question) by revealing a tidbit of information about yourself. You can often skip the transition, but by revealing a tidbit of information about yourself, you foster a sense of connection.
c. Ask. Ask a question.
d. Comment. Follow up with a comment relevant to their response.
e. Ask another question and continue a little back and forth chit chat.

For example, let’s say you are walking by someone’s desk and you notice a family picture.

Observe: What a good-looking family!
Transition: That reminds me of when my kids were little.
Ask: How old are your kids? (response: 1, 3 and 7)
Comment: I bet they keep you busy!
Ask another question: Are you doing anything fun with them this summer?

To extend the moment of connection, take note of some details of the conversation to bring up at a later time. I know I feel more connected with people who remember some details about me or what we talked about. For my business clients, I record details of conversations on a CRM (Customer Relationship Management)  tool and add scheduled tasks to remind me to touch base.

For example, I was working with a client on a presentation and I knew that the presentation was going to be in a week, on Friday. I put a task in my CRM tool to send her an email on Thursday wishing her well on her presentation. She told me twice, once in email and once in person how much she appreciated my brief words of encouragement.

2. Invite them to something you are already going to.

  • Meals. You have to eat. Why not use that time to build relationships?
  • Events/Activities. Do you share an interest? Why not invite them to join you?
  • Volunteer effort for a charitable cause that both you and they care about.
  • Meetings, if appropriate.

3. Show sincere appreciation.

Don’t just say thank you. Make your thanks be sincere, timely and show significance.

Sincere = from the heart, not just a perfunctory “thank you.”
Timely = as soon as reasonably possible
Show significance = to illuminate the significant impact their action had

When possible, make your appreciation public. Public appreciation, at a meeting for example, not only lets you express your gratitude, but you also elevate the person in the eyes of others.

 4. Use multiple modes of communication.

In-person is great, but not always practical. What other ways does the person communicate? Phone. Text. Email. Skype. Google Hangouts. Chat. Direct messages on Twitter. Facebook or LinkedIn messages. A quick video. Or, go old-school and send something snail mail. Just make sure that you aren’t forcing the other person to communicate in ways they don’t want to.

You never know where attempting moments of connection will lead you! A few years ago, I did an assignment for a class which required doing an exercise on someone’s website. I was so impressed with the exercise that I blogged about it and then sent a link to that blog post to the creator of the exercise. She was pleased that I saw value in the exercise and that I promoted its use. From there, we connected on social media sites, email, phone and Skype. We eventually co-authored a book together. Several months after the book was published, we met in person for the first time.

What can you communicate to increase connection?

  • Provide information or resources you think they would appreciate (but don’t sell)
  • Offer congratulations
  • Offer appreciation (see #3)
  • Provide an introduction to someone they would like to meet
  • Respond timely to their communications with you

That last one, responding timely, is a deal-breaker for me. When someone doesn’t respond to my emails, it makes me feel like I’m not very important to them. Of course, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, realizing that my email might have gotten trapped in their spam filter or that their response time is just slower (personally, I try to get back to people within 24 hours in most cases). Even if your complete response will take a while, at least get back with people to let them know you received the email and will get back with them by a certain date.

Do you have quick ways to create moments of connection with employees, co-workers, or clients?

This post is 3rd in the series 7 Principles of Making Relationships Work at Work.

This content is also featured in, The Respect Virus:  How to Create a Contagious Culture of Respect

The Respect Virus

Tell Me More! Engagement through Self-Disclosure

Do you want more engaged customers? Clients? Employees? Team members?

One effective method is to get them talking about themselves!

Recent research has confirmed what all great conversationalists already know: people like to talk about themselves.

Talking about oneself, which is 30-40% of what most people talk about (and a whopping 80% of posts to social media sites), activates areas of the brain associated with pleasure and is so intrinsically rewarding that people are willing to forgo monetary rewards for talking about others or talking about facts so that they can talk about themselves. People like to self-disclose and “get naked,” conversationally.

If you can get people talking about themselves, they will be more engaged.  People are always engaged when they do something that brings them pleasure.

Here are basic steps to encouraging self-disclosure and increasing engagement:

1. Provide a safe, non-threatening environment.  This might mean getting away from the office or away from certain people.  This also means talking without time-pressure.  If someone has a deadline approaching, they go into survival mode and are less willing to self-disclose.

2. Commit to listening more than talking, generally.  

3. Climb the self-disclosure ladder by self-disclosing a little bit about yourself.  Sharing a little bit about yourself can encourage the other person to share about themselves.

For example, in talking with people lower on the org chart, open up about some of your failures to show that you aren’t perfect and don’t expect others to be perfect.  The more your self-disclosure can make you seem similar to the person you are talking with, the more likely is it that they will in turn self-disclose.

3. Use open body language.  Smile warmly and then keep a pleasant, interested expression when the other person talks.  Lean in a little. Nod to let them see you “get” what they are saying.

4. Entice with conversation that encourages people to talk:

  • Ask open-ended questions (questions that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no.”)
  • Use phrases that prompt people to self-disclose (Tell me about . . .)
  • Keep it simple!  Don’t be too complicated in your word choices or sentence structure.  Complexity leads to confusion.  Confusion can lead to reduced willingness to take risks.  And, as much as we all like it, self-disclosure can be risky
  • Be a reflective listener.  Don’t just listen, but respond to let others know that you heard them by repeating, summarizing and asking clarifying questions.  “So, what I think you mean is . . .”  Also, listen for keywords that you can repeat to move the conversation forward.

Example:

John:  I’m not sure I’m qualified to lead this project

Tim:  You don’t think you’re qualified?

John:  Well, I don’t think I have the technical background that is needed.

Tim:  Tell me what kind of technical background you think is needed.

While, you don’t want to get uncomfortably personal, if you climb the ladder to increasing self-disclosure, not only will it actually be pleasurable, but it will engage.

Have you found other ways to encourage self-disclosure?