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Company Culture Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 101 – Opinions Vs Feedback & Pixar Pluses

Dear leaders, I want to be clear in my message this week, language and words matter more now than ever before.
We are going to dive into Opinions Vs Feedback. 

Hybrid Challenges: In the hybrid work world we are mostly operating in, landing that message, providing feedback and offering insights have to be clearer and more deliberate than ever. Many are missing the mark with hybrid communications. 

It’s time to review small tweaks to have bigger impacts. 

Sad Over Mad? 

In Product teams, you often have retros, it is “a safe place” to review the last sprint. Often the safe place or space (in hybrid working) can be hostile. 

Many frame it with Mad (things that made you mad), glad (things you are glad about and for), and sad (things that make you sad about the release/product). 

In almost all retros like this, mad and sad overtakes glad and kills the celebrations, kills micro-moments, and concentrate on what could have been. 

Even with great business results, you will see a negative impact on the product subculture and creates an internal cultural bleed.

When I temporarily took over a Product team a few years ago, I instantly removed mad, it was simply sad and glad, you would start with glad (always start with a positive) and end quick fire with sad. 

Removing ‘mad’, removed venting and negative opinions helped bring the teams closer and celebrate each other’s victories for longer and celebrate cross-functionally.  

Just by removing one element – you can have better framing and better conversations. In some good news, some teams are now reframing this into (a) what worked, (b) what could have been better. 

Why words and framing matters

I am a believer that opinions really cut up organisations, feedback helps to reshape products, people and progress.

You should not look to remove opinions, after all, we all have them, however, opinions are often just what you think or how you might be biased for or against something. Opinions rarely help guide you forward and can be your opinion versus someone else’s. 

Feedback is action-orientated, it is built to add value not take value. Feedback should be constructive and a spin on improvement(s). 

By being deliberate and adding a focus on feedback over an opinion you are setting the framing in a better light and encouraging improvement. 

Pluses Focused Feedback? Pixar have ‘pluses’ in their review process of movies, all the company attends and can add a plus which adds value, the famous example (from Dan Coyle’s book the culture code the company culture playbook) is in Up and someone from outside the creation studio suggested a tweak (a joke) and it landed so well this plus was added into the movie. 

Could you reframe feedback sessions to be pluses focused and frame feedback as a plus each time? 

In the coming weeks when H2/2H is firmly in sight and essential you review how the previous six months have gone and how you need to reshape or optimise Q3 and Q4 can you remove opinions and add feedback and could these be framed as pluses not just as “plain feedback?”. 

Thanks and have a great week ahead,

Danny Denhard

Essential Reading

  1. How to fix toxic company culture
  2. What really is company culture
  3. Why it is time to hire a culture community manager
  4. The ultimate hybrid work guide
Categories
Company Culture Leadership

11 Common But Unspoken Hiring Mistakes 

In recent months, we have seen an increase in hiring mistakes.

Rushing to hire, rushing to counter offer and in many cases hiring the wrong candidate because there is no clear understanding of what you want, what you need and why you are hiring this role for long term success. 

Truth is, very few people are good at hiring for the long term success of their department.

Hiring has been a challenge for many, however, the question should be asked:

Are you setting yourself and your company up to fail with bad processes and bad practices?  

Here are 11 common but unspoken hiring mistakes many are making and it is setting you and your company up to fail. 

Being led by recruiters, not by hiring managers
– are you allowing recruiters to filter CV’s and profiles based solely on one conversation with the hiring manager? It’s important to build that trust and relationship between hiring managers and recruiters before allowing this process to happen.

Asking bad questions leads to bad answers 
– are you and your teams asking bad questions that only promote and accept bad answers? Have you reviewed your interview questions recently and given interview training?

Hiring those that interview the best vs hiring those who will do the best job  
– this has been happening for years, however, it has not been addressed and this is down to lack of time, lack of training and lack of awareness of how people interview vs how people work. Create more working environments vs more interview questions.

Not having a clear understanding of what you need from the role not from the candidate 
– I recently asked ten hiring managers what they are hiring for and their process and 8 of the 10 suggested they just copied and pasted another company’s job description and did not materially change for their workplace, they didn’t have time to consider the goals to make this role successful. The role and the job spec sets you up to succeed or fail. Consider what you need from the role not specifically from that idealistic candidate you have in your mind, consider the goals and the 12-month plan ahead, not just the job spec highlighting what you might want.

Hiring managers coming in too late in the process
–  many hiring processes remove the hiring manager from CV/resume reviews and LinkedIn profile reviews and then miss one to two rounds of interviews before interviewing the candidate directly, this means many hours of wastage and interviewing badly fitted candidates

Too many colleagues in the hiring process 
– hiring is an art form, hiring processes vary greatly, and many now opt to bring in colleagues and teams into rounds of interviews, very often there are too many colleagues involved in the hiring process and is extending the time scales. This is the hardest element to get right, however, ensuring the right colleagues are part of the process and provide good feedback is an essential balance.

Too many interview rounds, especially hybrid recruitment.
– are you hosting too many rounds of interviews? Can you hire in three rounds, not six or seven which is now a common number of rounds of interviews.
Have you learnt how to interview virtually effectively?  

Being too narrow on what a successful candidate looks like and in turn what will make them successful 
– unlike many businesses leads and department heads I believe being ultra-narrow and overly specific in what a successful candidate will look like actually hinders your hiring process and will impact your existing team and bias your hiring. Having an idea of what a successful candidate will look like is great however often when you interview someone and they lead the charge, you can feel empowered to change your view of what a successful candidate is.

Hiring for a team skill gap not for solving the existing and upcoming customer problems 
– there are many reasons why you are hiring; backfill, hiring to demand, hiring to grow your team or reshaping your department. What this is often missing is hiring for the future and most hiring is focused around the current skill gap in the team rather than the customer problems and helping to hire to fix these not just hiring for a digital specialist in your Marketing team as you don’t have an expert. Where some will have to and want headcount here is where freelancers, coaches and agencies can add a lot of value and you can then evolve your department based on customer problems for now and the future.

CV/resume hires, hiring based on brands people worked at. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple etc
–  the repeated mistake many make is hiring from some of the largest companies in the world. Typically, some in the hope of hiring up (“hiring higher calibre”), some to bring the experience, others in hoping these hires can bring the perceived successful operational frameworks with them or in hope to bring the same level of performance to their own business.
The truth is these companies operate in magnitudes of £$/x’s and 0’s bigger than you and often have numerous others who perform the same role, so in your org, you will have one senior-level Ops lead, in Google they will have a series of Ops leads.
These hires rarely scale well and expect large teams and hiring is rarely an issue in larger businesses, in smaller businesses and startups this just isn’t an option. Operationally too, larger companies have much more status-driven games and long hierarchical battles, these politics will also come into your business and will impact the culture and subculture of your business.

Hiring for cultural fit when you are unaware of what cultural fit is at your company 
– the unspoken hiring mistake is suggesting you are hiring for cultural fit when you do not have a culture defined or understand what culture is within your business. Cultural fit is often referred to by mistake as skills or “observed” ability. These misunderstandings will cause numerous headaches when looking for the right fit or explaining what cultural fit is within your department (subculture) and cultural fit within the business. If a candidate asks what cultural fit you are looking for and you cannot answer it in one to two sentences, you likely do not have your culture defined or cultural fit written down, agreed upon and shared throughout your business.

Not having a clear view (roadmap) and a potential 3-year plan for the role
– the topic I speak on most with hiring when asked to support hiring mid to senior-level roles. Thinking through and supplying a career roadmap for this role is essential for all roles, particularly those looking to join you and who need to map out their career. Most outstanding mid to exec level candidates have a plan and a long term roadmap they are building on top of.

Very often long term success of the role is considered at numbers levels and then potentially job titles are considered, however, what the next two to three steps are and what the two up two across matrix is for this specific person. Yes, often this has to be considered when probation is based and you have an understanding of their performance, however, to give you a competitive advantage when you interview you should be interviewing for the next three steps for this role and within the business and evolving with each catch-up and 1:2:1.

Categories
Company Culture Leadership

Why HubSpot Co-Founder Dharmesh Shah Is Right About Doubling Down On Your Strengths

Over the past six months, there seems to be a great increase in the quality of podcasts where founders and co-founders speak openly and honestly about their experiences and the reasons why there is a trend for many business leads to suggest they are not great managers and shouldn’t be a people manager.

Conditioning

We are taught from early on in our careers we should become managers and this is the path to promotion and the natural evolution of your career.

Throughout my career, I have seen founders and c-suite execs who are terrible people managers and actively shouldn’t have any of their business reporting into them.

The impact this has the company culture and success of the business is hugely negative and leaves many with a bad taste in their mouth and many bad glassdoor reviews.

There are so many startups that rely on founders and cofounders to take themselves out of people management for the sake of their business growth, unfortunately, due to the conditioning and ego, this rarely happens.

Dharmesh Shah commented on the MLM podcast (which is part of Hubspot via an acquisition) that he is not a good people manager and has no direct reports.

This is uncommon, not just to admit this but also to not actually have a big line of direct reports.

Many more should speak out on this. Especially those who know it is their weakness.

Play To Your Strenghts Or Speciality?

If your strengths are Product and Product development like many founders, then why would you not double down on this? If you are a specialist and do not have the time or energy to invest in becoming a good people leader, why wouldn’t you bring in someone with better people skills and more time and skills for this?

Good Managers Are Hard To Find

Some of the best managers I have ever worked with are specialists and with the coaching and management team development and executive training, I have incorporated this and many years of experience to build these learnings into organisational design and exec development.

The Question To Answer For Leaders

This should be a question many people ask themselves now, and each quarter, should I be a people manager and if not, how do I go about organisation design to replace myself and bring in the right manager for this department or bring in a specialist manager.

Watch the 2-minute video (below) perfectly explaining why senior execs do not need to be people managers and why they shouldn’t be.

One note to take onboard:
Bad managers who think they are good managers rarely will remove themselves, look to review your teams feedback and ask for peer feedback on your management skills.

So ask yourself: Am I a good people manager and should I look to remove myself and work to my specialities.

Categories
Company Culture

Front’s 4 Day Work Week Approach – Flexible Fridays

Why flexible Friday’s may just be the next natural step for forward thinking brands with 4 day work weeks.

There are currently three big work themes:

  1. The Great Resignation
  2. Hybrid Work (vs remote work vs forced return back to the office)
  3. The potential move to 4 day work weeks

None of these has easy answers or is easily addressed without intentional and deliberate planning and critically smart testing.

The great resignation is an important moving theme, the US is experiencing huge shifts of employees leaving their roles. In the UK and EU there are bigger challenges to actually fill open roles. Many candidates are experiencing recruiter ghosting at a record rate.

Move to Hybrid? With the ‘forced working from home experiment we have all experienced over the last 18 months, hybrid work is one of the easier themes to test and roll out.

The 4 day work week is picking up momentum, many companies believe with smart planning and fewer meetings there will be opportunities to reduce work from five to four day work weeks.

With all of these themes, trust and proximity bias are driving forces for companies defaulting to the old ways of working.

Front is doing it differently, smartly addressing pain points. Front is a communication platform that enables teams and customers to feel more connected through shared inboxes. 

Recently Front tested and reviewed their approach on four day work week. They dubbed it Flexible Friday’s.

What Is Flexible Friday’s?

Rather than enforcing four day work weeks, they enabled Friday’s to be flexible, offering the employees a choice between:
(a) if you would like to work – designed for deepwork
(b) if you would like to spend time with your family
or
(c) a blend of both.

The results (listed below) are not surprising, if anything they show why six months tests are smart testing periods and highlight why working through and optimisation is so important in workplace management and organisational design.

Front’s full blog post is a genuine must-read for business leaders and HR heads, here are my highlights:

  1. Patience – it’s going to be tough going and a big shift for all employees, for the most junior and to the most senior.
  2. Coverage – help teams to be successful and enable communciation and sharing of the most important information. Internal communication is something that requires delibarate design and guiding principles.
  3. For The Long Term – this move was for long term retention not just to address the short term issues. Flexible hours and 4 day work weeks have to designed and have an agreed understanding it could cause issues earlier in the test.
  4. 4 vs 5 – 4 day work stress is the same or worse as 5 days if you do not help teams adapt and know they can be flexible and successful. Something that many businesses are failing with is cramming the same number of meetings into fewer days and it is causing no time for deepwork.
  5. Positive Impact Surveys – By leveraging feedback and surveys there were two positive feedback loops that enabled Front to offer Flexible Friday’s and want to continue the experiement.

If you are looking to trial Flexible Friday’s, or remove meetings to help with burnout and workload’s it is essential you:

  • List all existing issues, pain points and concerns
  • Have a plan with guidelines and how to be successful
  • Agree on behaviours that are accepted and allows the business to understand how you are doing right and a good job
  • Communicate the work flow and cadence – colleagues should know if you are working or not. Simple accountability and easy tracking of who is working and who is not is essential
  • If employees need to be in a location or an office

Below is the full LinkedIn Update from their CEO Mathilde Collin (link to the LinkedIn post)

We’re rethinking the work week at Front.

For now 2 quarters we’ve been experimenting with Flexible Fridays, a dedicated day where there is no expectation to respond to messages and no scheduled meetings. 

How is this different from a 4 day work week? Flexible Fridays gives everyone the option of a day of deep, uninterrupted focus or a day they could take for themselves. It’s our happy medium between ensuring our business and service to customers was not disrupted while promoting a healthier work/life balance for Fronteers.

Here are some of the results from our experiment so far:

  • In our survey, 89% of Fronteers say they work happier because of Flexible Fridays. 
  • 95% of Fronteers say Flexible Fridays have had no impact on collaboration with their colleagues.
  • And the stat I’m most proud of: 87% of Fronteers say Flexible Fridays have positively impacted their desire to work at Front for the next two years. 

Despite the overwhelmingly positive response, success with our experiment wasn’t instant. It took some patience and adjustments to get this model to work. But I’m loving the feedback we’re seeing and count this as a success for our team now. I wanted to share these results for others to see the benefit increased flexibility can have for teams. If you decide to try this for your team, let me know how it goes. I’m excited to continue experimenting with what ‘work happier’ truly means for our team and beyond.

Read About The Other Companies Attempting To Design Work Differently

Categories
Company Culture

11 Simple Tips To Improve Company Culture 

When defining the key ingredients for company culture, there are four pillars that will always guide you towards building a good foundation.

The 4c’s of company culture are:
1/ Campfire
2/ Competition
3/ Community
4/ Collaboration  

Here are eleven of Focus’ top tips to improve your company culture

  1. Agreed Principles & Approved Behaviours – the best companies understand the boundaries of each team and understand the principles that drive them forward and the agreed and approved behaviours are universally agreed are driving the people and company forward. Knowing that humans are designed to understand guidance (remember many believe rules are made to be broken) and boundary lines will help all employees from the least to most experienced.
    Key for success: review and update agreed principles and behaviours every six months
  2. Eat Together: Have a food you all can eat and eat together, whether in person or virtually. The connection that is made around eating at a campfire setting is priceless.
    Key for success: create this as a ritual
  3. Drink Together: Enable rotating “coffee chats” across the business, this should be randomised and connect colleagues from all areas of the business, including the “most senior and most junior”.
    Key for success: create this as a ritual
  4. Show & Tell: Create a company show and tell – enable departments to demo what they are working on, encourage departments to create games and interactive elements to explain what the department does and how they feed into the business
    Key for success: create this as a ritual
  5. Forums: Regular Forums focusing on show and tells – take it a step further than standups and recurring meetings, enable teams (not just departments) to show their work and demonstrate the value.
    Have this open to the whole company, these forums could be optional to attend for companies with over 350 employees; if you can record these, share and have a record on your wiki these drive companies to create connections, coach, collaborate and curate collectively.
    Keep for success: ensure feedback is provided (not opinion) and there is applause. Applause creates herding  
  6. Games: Create a company-wide game that teams are mixed up for, so they can compete against each other and build bonds with colleagues they rarely work with.
    Key for success: Small disposable games not touraments work best
  7. Captain: Use a captain system in meetings, rotate the owners of regular meetings and intros a captain who steers the meeting. This helps to remove HIPPO’s owning the meeting, it can remove status games, it helps to evolve individuals and places respect at the heart of the meeting. I have gone so far in buying a captain armbands and ensuring the captain wears the armband in each meeting. Visuals help, thats why flags exists, thats why unforms work, thats why adding ranks to uniforms exist, thats why captains wear armbands in sports.
    Key for success: Ensure everyone supports and respects the captain in every meeting
  8. Caring & Causes: Create a cause the company supports and creates squads to dedicated days to supporting the agreed cause. Awaydays supporting charity and non profit days are popular, curating how many of the team go together are important and varying how they can support is important. Connecting smaller groups of people to support these together is important, creating mini herds of teams drives movement within your business.
    Key for success: Report back with videos and images of the cause each herd supports  
  9. Storytell Failure: Create failure of the month storytelling – when failure is discussed and openly understood, companies can move forward and help a learning culture to develop and remove stigmas against failure. Companies who celebrate together in the good and the bad have the best company culture.
    Key for success: Thank the storyteller and engage with their failure  
  10. Unsung Heroes: Something that is rarely celebrated but should be are the unsung heroes in your business, the ones who go over and above the roles to ensure success happens, not just on projects but with developing and mentoring others.
    Key for success: Call out unsung heroes formally and informally
  11. Agreed Anthem: Have an anthem (a song, a sound or even a poem or film clip) that whenever played recreates a connection.
    Key for success: Refer to the athem and play regaulrly  

Best of luck rolling these out for your business, remember you can roll out some at a time to help start the ball rolling.

Categories
Company Culture

Ten Common Misunderstandings About Good Company Culture

It has been brilliant to see company culture become such an important part of business, the business world is on the way to finally align company culture with company strategy

With that being said, there are important and common misunderstandings and misalignments that are important to call out and for people across your business to understand and then collaborate on to ensure these are addressed within your company. 

Staff turnover is not always a bad thing

Happy performing people will look to progress, whether this is in your business or with another business. Like most successful people, they will not want to miss another opportunity.

Mass staff turnover and original staff leaving are core signs there are deeper issues.

Keep an eye across the floor, especially keep an eye out for internal influencers leaving.

Company culture is built every day and is typically behaviour based.

It’s not just leaders and managers who create culture. Employee behaviours and actions when not being watched are as important as the guidance shown from senior titles.

Company culture has a heartbeat and will often beat faster or slower, if it beats in a specific direction for over a fortnight it is time to review.  Nothing should be left for more than two weeks. 

Categories
Company Culture Leadership

Political Intelligence – The Third Intelligence In Business

The 3 “Intelligence” States Within Businesses – Introducing Political Intelligence

There are two intelligence states we openly discuss across the business world currently, IQ (Intelligence quotient) and EQ (Emotional intelligence). 

The Simple Difference Between IQ And EQ? 

IQ is how smart you are, how you can learn from situations and develop yourself. IQ is typically about you rather than those around you. 

EQ is how good you are with people, in people first situations and how you enable and develop the people around you, professionally and how empathic you are towards their development. EQ is as much about you as much about others. 

These intelligence states are explained at great lengths, the issue with this is although both help you within the business world, the third state that goes unreferenced is political intelligence. 

Introducing PQ – Political Intelligence

Being political and playing the game can be dismissed by many people writing best practice guides, however: 

Political Intelligence is arguably the savviest intelligence to have and develop. 

PQ is about understanding which skills you have to use when you need large scale change, when you need to apply pressure, when to navigate difficult colleagues and combative behaviours of fellow managers and executives. 

Some of the best advice you will receive in your career and on your development track is to learn how to play the game and know how to influence those around you. 

An essential skill to master: 

When to use IQ, when to leverage EQ and when to apply PQ. 

PQ is an unfortunate byproduct of the business world, however, PQ is critical: 

  • If you are a high performer, 
  • If you are on the ‘fast track’
    or 
  • if you are an experienced senior manager and making progress within your business or looking to move onto your next challenge. 

Experienced executives are hardened to political intelligence, they have experienced first-hand or very often learn from being on the receiving end of PQ. 

When PQ is used, it is critical to understand the difference between personal PQ and professional PQ, this comes from experience and applying EQ blended with IQ. 

Hybrid PQ

In the near future, when asked what makes a great hybrid leader, we will have to be frank as a leadership team, being politically intelligent is going to be a core skills pillar to have and then develop their team around them to become politically smarter. 

Many execs do not (necessarily) love the political games and being victims of their colleagues’ political intelligence but the more experienced you become the more you have to develop your PQ.  

Play The Game

As answered in our anonymous career advice column, is playing the game necessary? playing the ‘game’ and being politically savvy are important skills you have to understand and develop. 

When applying PQ into your workflow and developing in your team, something that is essential to keep in mind is how to understand when this creates a negative subculture within your business. For all those who apply a negative PQ (this is common), you will need to know how to address and fix a toxic work culture.  


In the coming weeks an activity to undertake is to score yourself in a professional SWOT, apply the three intelligence states IQ, EQ and PQ and rate yourself out of ten and then develop the three intelligence pillars.

Categories
Company Culture Leadership

Why Sports Clubs Are Using DNA Documents and Team Trademarks As Guiding Principles

Over the past few months, we have seen large companies request staff to return to the office, to a hybrid work environment and suggest culture is impacted by proximity (proximity bias), mere exposure effect and the Allen curve

Whereas professional sports at large has been working throughout lockdowns. 

For front line workers, teams have had to work in brand new and unique conditions, pushing them to record levels of anxiety, fatigue and unfortunately in many cases burnout. 

Every different work environment and industry have had various stress and anxieties to deal with throughout the pandemic, for many it has been a forcing function.  

Enter Agreed Principles

Here at Focus one of the core recommendations, we provide to any business of any size is to have leadership principles. Guiding and agreed on principles that everyone across the business follows to know they are making the right choices and to empower them to make the right decision. 

Recently Rugby league club Leeds Rhino’s stripped their captain for “behaviours not aligned to team trademarks”. 

For many this would seem unusual, trademarks is not a phrase commonly used and sports is typically a winner takes all business and typically captains and stars of the team tend to be given special dispensation vs the rest of the team. 

This is great leadership from the club, poor “leadership” from the ex-club captain. 

Leadership principles are a brilliant way to align management teams and hold yourselves accountable. 

What Leeds Rhinos did here was suggest their club and their beliefs are bigger than any player and their behaviours have to be aligned to their agreed principles. 

New Zealand Rugby has some brilliant rules for their players including:

  • No d*ckhead rules – The All Blacks New Zealand rugby team motto 
  • Sweeping the sheds – leaders clean and tidy the locker room
  • The principle of ‘Whanau’ which translates to ‘our family, our friends, our tribe.’

DNA Documents

We have also seen football clubs like Hibs reference their DNA document, what they want their DNA to be so their staff and their players can understand what it means to at Hibs. 

This also acts as a guiding document and informs some of their most important decisions, especially when to comes to buying players and negotiating transfer fees. 

Company culture is most often the behaviours when no one is watching and the glue helping to make the right decisions for the company. This is where DNA documents and team trademarks really help keep accountability and actionable. 

Guide Behaviours

Businesses big and small need to go over how to be successful, what behaviours are rewarded and those which are not. Creating an agreed guide is essential in the way we working particularly with the move towards the hybrid office and guiding the next generation of leaders within your business. 

Actions You Apply Within Your Own Business

  1. Create your own guiding principles for your business – requires business leads and HR
  2. Create a DNA document of who you are, what you have been and where you are headed – requires the leadership team 
  3. Create leadership principles where you show what leadership is and how you are accountable – requires the leadership team 

Five Related Resources 

Categories
Company Culture hybrid office Leadership

July 19th – Time For Leaders To Lead

Important Leadership Tips For Returning To The Office 

Your teams will be nervous about July 19th, there will be many who look forward to the old normal, there are many who are used to this normal and enjoy working remotely, and there are many who expect a hybrid office approach.

Here are the leadership tips to follow to ensure smooth sailing for July 19th – back to the office day.

Categories
Company Culture hybrid office

The Future Of Work Keynote Presentation

I recently was a keynote speaker for the online Future Of Work Conference.

The future of work presentation was created to help businesses consider the future of work and the future of their business.

This presentation should act as a guide and inspiration on how to rethink your current approach and lead your company and lean into the future.

As a huge advocate for hybrid work and the hybrid office (aka an arena), many businesses are requesting their staff to return to the office at least 3 days a week (including Apple & Google), with this in mind, the presentation enables any version of hybrid to work.

The key message of the future of business

Business is going to be culture first.

The Full Future Of Work Presentation