This is a great read in the NY. Times (see link below) about Apple and culture. What role does culture play in maintaining a sustainable competitive advantage? Building and sustaining a performance culture is critical for speed, flexibility and a true competitive advantage. There are several tools that must be leveraged to build and sustain a high performing culture. Communications, rituals, short-term wins, education, structure, vision and values, polices and procedures all must be aligned and leveraged. All play a critical role. Enjoy the read.
One of the most important things one can learn as a leader is to listen and let people “be heard.” That should be a guiding principle for all leaders. However, a principle is only as good as a practice that will help make it real. A wonderful practice is conducting Skip-Level Meetings.
Skip-Level Meetings are those that take place with a leader and the people who report directly to his or her staff. You “skip” one level and go directly to the next.
The agenda –whatever is on the minds of the people who attend the meeting!
Several years ago, I was leading a global training function for the Gillette Company. One of my trusted staff members suggested I implement this practice.
The staff agreed (and granted me a lot of trust), and it became an ongoing ritual …often held at lunch time. I believe we ultimately became a better function because of the communication and insights we shared across all levels. It also built even stronger trust between me and my staff.
These meetings never became more important than during the period when
Gillette merged with P&G. During the transition, there were a lot of “unknowns.” Having this structure in place helped during a real time of uncertainty and change. I was able to hear what people were concerned about, what they hoped for, and how they were personally and collective dealing with the change.
I knew this practice had made a difference. As the merger finalized, a decision was made to combine the two training organizations. Several people were losing their jobs. At our final meeting, one of the attendees said, “This is hard, but I feel like we have been kept up to date, listened to, and treated with respect and dignity.”
What else could a leader ask for?
A while back we were working with a leadership team – facilitating a strategy session. Since several of the participants were remote, there was a conference call taking place during one of the conversations. On the conference call was a plant manager from a facility in the southeast part of the country. The topic was company culture and values. There was a lot of conversation about employee engagement …really finding out what was going on and making a difference for people in the lower levels of the organization. Executives in the HQ conference room were asking what was needed to make it better so “all” employees opinions and ideas were heard. What were not aware of that could help make a difference n the future of the company. Were employees being honest about what it was like to work there? feeling like they were an important part of the future direction of the company.
The call began to run against the lunch time hour. The president and his staff needed to get off of the call as they were “celebrating” a company anniversary. They were sponsoring an elaborate lunch for the employees in the building. The menu was quite extensive – “surf and turf”
On the other end of the line was dead silence as the plant manger was about to bring about 1/3 of his workforce into a general meeting to announce plant lay-offs.
How do you think the rest of the meeting went?
Do leaders look at the organization through the eyes of the people who work there … The people on the front lines? What allows leaders to become disconnected from the lower levels of the organizations? A great gift to leaders is lost if they do not stay connected to those who are closet to the “work”.
In a culture of disconnected leaders, there is more to protect and less freedom to hear anything new. Leaders have a better chance of getting at the truth if they stay connected.
This is values and culture exists to in the many conversations that take place across an organization –no matter what the size – not in the offices of the top leaders.