Tag Archives: Collaboration

Why the Attitude? The Business Case for Being Nice

I recently received a call from a frustrated CEO who had concerns about his COO. The COO was brash, antagonistic, and exhibiting a pervasively aggressive disposition. The culture was plummeting and his staff was on the verge of a coup. The CEO and I sat down with the COO to salvage and hopefully remedy the situation.

After I heard the COO’s frustrations, many of which had merit, I dug into why he chose the attack mode. He had excuses and the CEO had retorts, but both seemed to be missing the point. So I went to the heart of issue by asking, “And you couldn’t accomplish this by being nice?” Like many leaders, he equated “nice” with being “weak.” Being a staunch fan of the movie Road House, I could not disagree more.

Road House is one of the greatest films of all time. Starring Patrick Swayze, it’s the story of Dalton, a philosopher hired to clean up bars. This Zen Bouncer ends up at the Double Deuce where we needs to get rid of the sketchy clientele, upgrade the staff, and change the mindset of how to operate a saloon. When retraining the bouncers, Dalton bestows his threes rules.

One, never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected. Two, take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary. And three, be nice.

Be nice? How can a bouncer enforce the rules with the lowlifes who reside in the Double Deuce and be nice? It’s actually a pretty easy, effective way to lead.

If somebody gets in your face and calls you a [bad name], I want you to be nice. Ask him to walk. Be nice. If he won’t walk, walk him. But be nice. If you can’t walk him, one of the other [bouncers] will help you, and you’ll both be nice. I want you to remember that it’s a job. It’s nothing personal.

Do you notice that Dalton does not instruct his bouncers to let patrons do whatever they want? Nor does he ease up on the high standards he sets for a safe, family-friendly tavern. No, being nice is about the manner in which things are done, not what you are actually trying to accomplish. This isn’t soft; this is supported by science.

A study by Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that the most altruistic members of the team gain the highest status, are more frequently preferred as cooperative interaction partners, and receive greater rewards as their virtuous efforts increase.

A Research in Organizational Behavior study concluded that leaders who project warmth are more effective than those leaders who rely on force or competence—“warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas.”

Research in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that when leaders display behaviors related to self-sacrificing, their employees feel more engaged, committed, and are more likely to go out of their way to support other members of the team.

comprehensive healthcare study found that a culture of kindness not only improves employee productivity but also improves client health outcomes and satisfaction.

All together, the research is clear that a leadership model of trust, warmth, and mutual cooperation can serve as a powerful basis for a company’s culture. Just be nice. Emulate the Zen Bouncer and say, “If somebody underperforms, I want you to be nice. Provide constructive feedback. Be nice. If he won’t take your feedback, be more stern. But be nice. If you can’t turn around his performance, one of the other leaders will help you, and you’ll both be nice.”

The Business Case for Team-Based Incentives with Atlanta Falcon’s Owner Arthur Blank

You getting Super Bowl fever? As a perpetual supporter of the underdog (unless my Steelers are playing), I’ve been reading about Atlanta Falcon’s owner Arthur Blank. Even if you aren’t into football, you will appreciate that before purchasing the Falcons in 2002, Blank was co-founder of The Home Depot.

It may seem commonplace today, but when it was first introduced The Home Depot revolutionized the home improvement business with its one-stop shopping, warehouse concept. Blank then spent 19 years as its president before becoming CEO and co-chairman.

In learning about Blank, an interview last week exhibits one particularly admirable aspect of his leadership philosophy that gives strong hints as to why he has been as successful as he is. After the Falcons won their spot in the Super Bowl, Blank announced that he is flying all 500 Falcon employees to Houston for the game. When asked, “How big is that bill?” he responded:

It’s not about money. It’s about these associates, who were the ones that support our players, our coaches and our franchise… We are a family of businesses that share a set of values and we want to be able to celebrate this with everybody. All the Falcons associates are going because they’re all a part of what it takes to produce a winning team on the field.

This is motivating to the staff on two fronts. Monetarily, they are each receiving a one-in-a-lifetime experience that is far beyond most people’s budgets—between the flight, a ticket to the game (pricing starts at $3,500 per seat), hotel, and food it could easily cost $8,000 per employee.

More impactful, however, is the message of shared success that Blank is conveying. If the team does well, we all do well. These team-based incentives reinforce a company culture of collaboration and cooperation. As a result, team members are more likely to prioritize the shared goals and values of the organization over their personal agendas.

Not convinced? A 2010 study found that employees receiving team-based incentives are more willing to put extra effort into their tasks because they don’t want to let their teammates down. Armstrong and Ryden’s research found that companies with long-term, team-based incentive pay resulted in significantly lower than average employee turnover. And another study found productivity increases of 9-17% relative to companies with individual incentives.

If team-based incentives sound costly (and you aren’t able to send your team to the Super Bowl), don’t worry. Research shows that team-incentive schemes are 26-29% more cost effective than individual incentives. I’m no economists, but spending less and getting more for your money sounds like a competitive advantage.

As leaders, we need to make shared success a part of our culture. Impart the attitude that “we’re all in this together.” Make it a regular part of your communication and back it up with tangible incentives and rewards. The quicker you start, the quicker you’ll be on your way to your national championship.

Are Your Culture Building Initiatives Optional? A Case for Mandatory Participation

Like most companies, you probably have a number of engagement initiatives that are offered to anyone interested in taking part. Participation is spotty, but those who join really seem to get a lot out of it… although these individuals were typically engaged before you planned the activity. So we close our eyes and click our heels three times hoping that the good feelings will rub off on those too disengaged to attend. However, if you don’t have time for this positivity to slowly trickle into the culture cracks, consider what many countries already do—make participation mandatory.

When I heard about forced involvement, my initial reaction was that is sounded dictatorial. If you share the same concern, consider two things. First, your organization is not a democracy. Employees have only as much authority as leadership allows them. Second, and our focus today, are the democratic nations that have seen positive results after implementing compulsory voting laws.

It would be completely transformative if everybody voted.—Barack Obama

Australia, Switzerland, and 24 other democratic countries make national voting mandatory (see the chart below). The intent is more than simply increasing the number of people who turn out at the ballot box. According to Jill Sheppard, a political scientist and survey researcher at the Australian National University, nations that enforce mandatory voting have a more politically informed populace.

country with complusory voting

Utilizing data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES), Sheppard found that in countries where compulsory voting is strongly enforced, heightened political knowledge was more evenly dispersed amongst educational backgrounds. This is not the case in countries with less stringent or no voter participation laws where the well-educated citizens tend to be significantly more informed. These positive effects were also found when comparing genders and socio-economic groups.

If mandatory voting results in greater political knowledge throughout a country, what could mandatory participation do for your culture building programs? You would have an opportunity to bring people together who don’t generally congregate. And the people who actually need to participate in these types of programs would be in attendance. Hopefully, they could experience a burst of engagement by interacting with the engaged, or at least benefit through osmosis. There would be grumblings at first, but isn’t this the case with any new initiative?

So do we go the way of Australia and force civic involvement in company activities OR do we continue with optional participation in the hope that engagement is linked to choice? Let the discussion begin.

Suicide Squad’s Three Steps to Turning Enemies Into Allies

Suicide Squad bannerHave you ever experienced a workplace rivalry? Moving beyond healthy competition, I’m referring to opposition that is counterproductive to both you and your organization’s success. It can be as obvious as jockeying against an adversary for a promotion, or as subtle as a colleague undermining your authority, abilities, or accomplishments. In some extreme cases, it can feel like we are being forced to work on a team with psychopathic criminals. No wait, that’s the plot for the new movie Suicide Squad.

In DC Comic’s movie Suicide Squad, a secret government agency recruits imprisoned supervillains to perform dangerous missions in exchange for clemency. Imagine the opposite of the Avengers or the Justice League, where instead of working together for a common good, each member of the team is self-serving, manipulative, and basically evil.

Your worst-case experience (hopefully) is not as bad as the Suicide Squad, but there may be similarities— infighting, a lack of mutual trust, bickering, backstabbing. When faced with these situations, you have two options, run away or deal with it. The first is self-explanatory and, being the leader you are, is not a likely choice. To deal with it, we need to learn how to turn our enemies into collaborators.

In Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap’s Harvard Business Review article, they introduce a method that, if executed correctly, turns adversaries into allies. Unlike previous techniques that rely on reasoning and logic, Uzzi and Dunlap focus on the emotional aspects of forming trusting relationships. Their process called the 3Rs is as follows:

Step 1: Redirection

To begin your rivalry-conversion program, you need to re-establish the relationship. This involves channeling your adversary’s negative emotions away from you. In a comfortable setting, demonstrate that you understand their value. A sincere compliment, public recognition, and flattery can go a long way to redirecting the relationship towards more positive rapport.

Then, if possible, clear the air. Take responsibility for your actions and admit fault. Don’t push them to concede their part in stoking the rivalry, nor should you seek an apology. This is about you displaying a willingness to improve the relationship. Once redirection has taken place, which may take more than one instance depending on the relationship’s toxicity, you’ve set the groundwork for the next step.

Step 2: Reciprocity

After exhibiting energy to repair the broken relationship, it is time to loosen their negative feelings by giving up something of value. The idea it to consider how you can fulfill one of their more immediate needs or reduce a pain point. Carrying out this assignment will further establish trust and demonstrate the benefits of your partnership.

Once you’ve satisfied your promise(s), ask for something in return. Choose a task that requires little effort for them to reciprocate. If you get greedy, they will question your motives, which will only intensify the rivalry. Also, don’t give and then instantaneously ask for something in return. Let the good feelings simmer before trying to collect.

Step 3: Rationality

The final step establishes your expectations of the new relationship. You can get lost in redirection and reciprocity, but that won’t necessarily patch up a conflict. By expressing your expectations, you are mitigating your challenger’s ability to second-guess your intentions. This pushes your adversary to consider a reasoned perspective, comprehend the benefits, and recognize that they are being offered a valuable opportunity.

Rationality is like offering medicine after a spoonful of sugar: It ensures that you’re getting the benefit of the shifted negative emotions, and any growing positive ones, which would otherwise diffuse over time. And it avoids the ambiguity that clouds expectations and feedback when flattery and favors come one day, and demands the next.—Brian Uzzi & Shannon Dunlap

Workplace enemies are harmful to all involved. It distracts us from reaching our goals, absorbs our energy, and is a certain culture killer. As leaders, we cannot ignore or attempt to contain these caustic relationships. We must first model positive behavior by mending our rivalries and then assist our team to do the same. The other option is to form a team of self-interested supervillains, but with their proclivity towards destruction, that’s probably not a long-term solution.