Category Archives: culture

5 Ways to Create a Sense of Belonging at Work

5 Ways to Create a Sense of Belonging at Work

GUEST POST from David Burkus

A sense of belonging on a team is crucial for its success and productivity. Belonging is that sense of acceptance and inclusion when people feel they can bring their authentic self to work. When team members feel included and valued, they are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and contribute their best work. And on a diverse team, belonging determines how much the team taps into diverse perspectives, opinions, and ideas. As a leader, you encourage that sense of belonging through the habits, norms, and behaviors that you model and that get mimicked by the rest of the team.

In this article, we’ll outline how to create a sense of belonging at work through five actions leaders take that get emulated on the team and make everyone feel included.

1. Share Information Openly

The first way to create a sense of belonging at work is to share information openly. Open and transparent communication is the foundation of a cohesive and inclusive team. When team members have access to all relevant information, including financials and decisions, they feel trusted and respected. That transparency fosters a sense of belonging, as everyone is on the same page and can contribute effectively.

Sharing information that is not typically shared can also increase the sense of belonging. By going beyond the basics and providing insights into the organization’s goals, challenges, and strategies, team members feel more connected to the bigger picture. This understanding helps them see how their individual contributions fit into the overall team’s success.

2. Share Credit Widely

The second way to create a sense of belonging is to share credit widely. In a collaborative work environment, it’s essential to recognize and appreciate the contributions of every team member. Sharing credit widely means acknowledging and celebrating success as a collective effort, rather than attributing it solely to individual achievements. Avoid taking credit for yourself—even if senior leaders attribute the win to you—and instead attribute success to the team. By doing so, you create a culture of collaboration and unity, where everyone feels valued and recognized for their contributions.

Teach team members to share credit for their wins and acknowledge the contributions of others. Encourage a culture of gratitude and recognition, where team members actively appreciate and celebrate each other’s achievements. This not only strengthens the sense of belonging but also promotes a positive and supportive work environment.

3. Create Rituals

The third way to create a sense of belonging is to create rituals. Rituals play a significant role in creating a sense of belonging within a team. They provide a shared experience and a sense of identity, fostering a feeling of unity and camaraderie. Rituals can take various forms, from formal traditions to informal inside jokes, and they contribute to the team’s culture and cohesion.

Whether it’s a team chant, a recurring icebreaker game, or a team-specific acronym, rituals create a sense of meaning and belonging. They establish a sense of familiarity and shared history, making team members feel like they are part of something special. However, it’s crucial to ensure that rituals include everyone and do not create an “us versus them” dynamic. Exclusionary rituals can have the opposite effect, alienating certain team members and undermining the sense of belonging.

4. Ask for Advice

The fourth way to create a sense of belonging is to ask for advice. Asking for advice is a powerful way to show team members that their knowledge and perspective are valued. It demonstrates trust and respect for their expertise, fostering a sense of belonging and empowerment. When team members see that their input is genuinely sought and considered, they feel more invested in the decision-making process and the overall success of the team.

Regularly ask for advice before making decisions, especially those that directly impact the team. This not only allows you to gather diverse perspectives but also reinforces the sense of belonging by involving team members in the decision-making process. When decisions are made, make sure to show how their advice contributed to the final outcome, further reinforcing their value and impact.

5. Model Active Listening

The final way to create a sense of belonging is to model active listening. Active listening is a fundamental skill that leaders and team members should cultivate to create a sense of belonging. It involves giving your full attention when team members are speaking, showing genuine interest and respect for their ideas and opinions. Non-verbal cues, such as nodding or smiling, can also signal active listening and encourage team members to share more openly. Additionally, asking follow-up questions and seeking clarification demonstrates a genuine desire to understand and engage with the speaker’s thoughts.

Leaders who model active listening train the team to respond similarly when interacting with each other. And that creates a culture where everyone is engaged because everyone feels respected. That not only increases a sense of belonging but increases how much information is being shared between teammates—and how many different ideas are being generated when problem solving.

Creating a sense of belonging within a team is essential for its success and productivity. By taking the actions discussed in this article, such as sharing information openly, sharing credit widely, creating rituals, asking for advice, and modeling active listening, you can foster a positive work environment where team members feel included, valued, and motivated. Remember, creating a sense of belonging takes time and effort, but the benefits are worth it. When team members feel a strong sense of belonging, they are more likely to be engaged, committed, and willing to go the extra mile. In other words, they’ll be better able to do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published on on July 17, 2023

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Next Generation Leadership Traits and Characteristics

Next Generation Leadership Traits and Characteristics

GUEST POST from Stefan Lindegaard

What are the traits and characteristics for a new generation of leaders, those who will shape the future in this sea of uncertainty?

To me, this is more about mindset than age. However, the mindset which I hint at below and that I believe we need more of reside well within the younger generation.

Thus, we could see a higher number of younger executives in the coming years even though they lack the leadership experience and skills that have been normal for leaders in their roles. They need to learn fast and hopefully do this while being surrounded with experiences in different ways.

I think this will be most prominent in Asia and even parts of Africa and South America where there is a stronger belief in the future compared to Europe and even the USA with its stronger sentiment of complacency as well as many overwhelming challenges.

Many current executives will of course also develop in good ways so I suggest we look for traits and characteristics in both groups such as:

  1. Holistic point of view (intrapreneurial skills)
  2. Understanding of psychological safety and the growth mindset (and ability to lead with and through this)
  3. Ability to constructively handle conflict
  4. Optimism, passion and drive
  5. Curiosity and belief in change
  6. Tolerance for / ability to deal with uncertainty
  7. Adaptive fast learner with sense of urgency
  8. Talent for networking / strategic influencing

The desired end-game? Leaders who are capable of the almost super-human task of both managing day-to-day activities and shaping the future.

Get the Right People on the Bus

By shaping the future, I mean the ability to thrive with transformation/change, apply new ways of working and improve collaboration capabilities while pursing new business opportunities and innovation.

Just a discussion starter. What do you think?

Image Credit: Pexels, Stefan Lindegaard

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Implementing Successful Transformation Initiatives for 2024

Implementing Successful Transformation Initiatives for 2024

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

Transformation and change initiatives are usually designed as strategic interventions, intending to advance an organization’s growth, deliver increased shareholder value, build competitive advantage, or improve speed and agility to respond to fast-changing industries.  These initiatives typically focus on improving efficiency, and productivity, resolving IT legacy and technological issues, encouraging innovation, or developing high-performance organizational cultures. Yet, according to research conducted over fifteen years by McKinsey & Co., shared in a recent article “Losing from day one: Why even successful transformations fall short” – Organizations have realized only 67 percent of the maximum financial benefits that their transformations could have achieved. By contrast, respondents at all other companies say they captured an average of only 37 percent of the potential benefit, and it’s all due to a lack of human skills, and their inability to adapt, innovate, and thrive in a decade of disruption.

Differences between success and failure

The survey results confirm that “there are no short­cuts to successful transformation and change initiatives. The main differentiator between success and failure was not whether an organization followed a specific subset of actions but rather how many actions it took throughout an organizational transformation’s life cycle” and actions taken by the people involved.

Capacity, confidence, and competence – human skills

What stands out is that thirty-five percent of the value lost occurs in the implementation phase, which involves the unproductive actions taken by the people involved.

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) supports this in a recent article “How to Create a Transformation That Lasts” – “Transformations are inherently difficult, filled with compressed deadlines and limited resources. Executing them typically requires big changes in processes, product offerings, governance, structure, the operating model itself, and human behavior.

Reinforcing the need for organizations to invest in developing the deep human skills that embed transformation disciplines into business-as-usual structures, processes, and systems, and help shift the culture. Which depends on enhancing people’s capacity, confidence, and competence to implement the “annual business-planning processes and review cycles, from executive-level weekly briefings and monthly or quarterly reviews to individual performance dialogue” that delivers and embeds the desired changes, especially the cultural enablers.

Complex and difficult to navigate – key challenges

As a result of the impact of our VUCA/BANI world, coupled with the global pandemic, current global instability, and geopolitics, many people have had their focus stolen, and are still experiencing dissonance cognitively, emotionally, and viscerally.

This impacts their ability to take intelligent actions and the range of symptoms includes emotional overwhelm, cognitive overload, and change fatigue.

It seems that many people lack the capacity, confidence, and competence, to underpin their balance, well-being, and resilience, which resources their ability and GRIT to engage fully in transformation and change initiatives.

The new normal – restoring our humanity

At ImagineNation™ for the past four years, in our coaching and mentoring practice, we have spent more than 1000 hours partnering with leaders and managers around the world to support them in recovering and re-emerging from a range of uncomfortable, disabling, and disempowering feelings.

Some of these unresourceful states include loneliness, disconnection, a lack of belonging, and varying degrees of burnout, and have caused them to withdraw and, in some cases, even resist returning to the office, or to work generally.

It appears that this is the new normal we all have to deal with, knowing there is no playbook, to take us there because it involves restoring the essence of our humanity and deepening our human skills.

Taking a whole-person approach – develop human skills

By embracing a whole-person approach, in all transformation and change initiatives, that focuses on building people’s capacity, confidence, and competence, and that cultivates their well-being and resilience to:

  • Engage, empower, and enable them to collaborate in setting the targets, business plans, implementation, and follow-up necessary to ensure a successful transformation and change initiative.
  • Safely partner with them through their discomfort, anxiety, fear, and reactive responses.
  • Learn resourceful emotional states, traits, mindsets, behaviors, and human skills to embody, enact and execute the desired changes strategically and systemically.

By then slowing down, to pause, retreat and reflect, and choose to operate systemically and holistically, and cultivate the “deliberate calm” required to operate at the three different human levels outlined in the illustration below:

The Neurological Level – which most transformation and change initiatives fail to comprehend, connect to, and work with. Because people lack the focus, intention, and skills to help people collapse any unconscious RIGIDITY existing in their emotional, cognitive, and visceral states, which means they may be frozen, distracted, withdrawn, or aggressive as a result of their fears and anxiety.

You can build your capacity, confidence, and competence to operate at this level by accepting “what is”:

  • Paying attention and being present with whatever people are experiencing neurologically by attending, allowing, accepting, naming, and acknowledging whatever is going on for them, and by supporting and enabling them to rest, revitalize and recover in their unique way.
  • Operating from an open mind and an open heart and by being empathic and compassionate, in line with their fragility and vulnerability, being kind, appreciative, and considerate of their individual needs.
  • Being intentional in enabling them to become grounded, mindful conscious, and truly connected to what is really going on for them, and rebuild their positivity, optimism, and hope for the future.
  • Creating a collective holding space or container that gives them permission, safety, and trust to pull them towards the benefits and rewards of not knowing, unlearning, and being open to relearning new mental models.
  • Evoking new and multiple perspectives that will help them navigate uncertainty and complexity.

The Emotional Cognition Levels – which most transformation and change initiatives fail to take into account because people need to develop their PLASTICITY and flexibility in regulating and focusing their thoughts, feelings, and actions to adapt and be agile in a world of unknowns, and deliver the outcomes and results they want to have.

You can build your capacity, confidence, and competence to operate at this level by supporting them to open their hearts and minds:

  • Igniting their curiosity, imagination, and playfulness, introducing novel ideas, and allowing play and improvisation into their thinking processes, to allow time out to mind wander and wonder into new and unexplored territories.
  • Exposing, disrupting, and re-framing negative beliefs, ruminations, overthinking and catastrophizing patterns, imposter syndromes, fears of failure, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
  • Evoking mindset shifts, embracing positivity and an optimistic focus on what might be a future possibility and opportunity.
  • Being empathic, compassionate, and appreciative, and engaging in self-care activities and well-being practices.

The Generative Level – which most transformation and change initiatives ignore, because they fail to develop the critical and creative thinking, and problem sensing and solving skills that are required to GENERATE the crucial elastic thinking and human skills that result in change, and innovation.

You can build your capacity, confidence, and competence to operate at this level by:

  • Creating a safe space to help people reason and make sense of the things occurring within, around, and outside of them.
  • Cultivating their emotional and cognitive agility, creative, critical, and associative thinking skills to challenge the status quo and think differently.
  • Developing behavioral flexibility to collaborate, being inclusive to maximize differences and diversity, and safe experimentation to close their knowing-doing gaps.
  • Taking small bets, giving people permission and safety to fail fast to learn quickly, be courageous, be both strategic and systemic in taking smart risks and intelligent actions.

Reigniting our humanity – unlocking human potential  

At the end of the day, we all know that we can’t solve the problem with the same thinking that created it. Yet, so many of us keep on trying to do that, by unconsciously defaulting into a business-as-usual linear thinking process when involved in setting up and implementing a transformation or change initiative.

Ai can only take us so far, because the defining trait of our species, is our human creativity, which is at the heart of all creative problem-solving endeavors, where innovation can be the engine of change, transformation, and growth, no matter what the context. According to Fei-Fei Li, Sequoia Professor of Computer Science at Stanford, and co-director of AI4All, a non-profit organization promoting diversity and inclusion in the field of AI.

“There’s nothing artificial about AI. It’s inspired by people, created by people, and most importantly it has an impact on people”.

  • Develop the human skills

When we have the capacity, confidence, and competence to reignite our humanity, we will unlock human potential, and stop producing results no one wants. By developing human skills that enable people to adapt, be resilient, agile, creative, and innovate, they will grow through disruption in ways that add value to the quality of people’s lives, that are appreciated and cherished, we can truly serve people, deliver profits and perhaps save the planet.

Find out more about our work at ImagineNation™

Find out about our collective, learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators, Leaders, and Teams Certified Program, presented by Janet Sernack, is a collaborative, intimate, and deeply personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, and can be customized as a bespoke corporate learning and coaching program for leadership and team development and change and culture transformation initiatives.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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How to Use Your Nervous System to Feel Psychologically Safe

or “Why Mandating a Return to the Office Destroys Safety”

How to Use Your Nervous System to Feel Psychologically Safe

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

In last week’s episode, we learned that psychological safety is more neuroscience than psychology and the huge role our nervous system plays in our experience of safety. 

This week, we’re going deeper into our nervous system and how we can use our understanding of it to influence our psychology.

I’m sensing I can’t think my way to safety.  So, can I fix my nervous system to feel safe and smart?

This is where I go beyond Dr. Amy Edmondson’s definition of psychological safety to incorporate neuroscience and how our nervous system works.

Our nervous system has three states:

  1. Immobilization or the freeze response, as you felt, is often accompanied by a sense of overwhelm
  2. Fight-and-flight when you try to either end the conversation or become more aggressive, resistant, and push back on exploring other alternatives.
  3. Rest-and-Digest when you feel safe, social, and connected to the people around you

This third state sets humans and mammals apart from other living things.  Communicating and connecting serve as a survival mechanism and represent a safe state for our nervous system.  When we communicate and connect, our tribe looks out for us and keeps us safe from threats like lions or unfriendly tribes.

So, the answer is to foster more profound connections among human beings, which requires going well beyond our work roles and activities.

Does it require hugging?  I knew it would require hugging.

Don’t worry, hugging isn’t mandatory.

We, as individuals, have a strong desire to connect and communicate, but it doesn’t necessarily require physical proximity. Being physically together doesn’t guarantee anything.

But what about the push to return to the office? There’s even research to support executives’ claims that physical proximity is essential to culture, innovation, and connection.

Not only does physical proximity not guarantee anything, but being forced to return to the office causes more harm than good. 

From a safety perspective, our nervous system doesn’t want to feel trapped. Being forced back to the office activates our flight-or-fight response and erodes safety. Because of how our nervous system perceives choices, the more choices people have, the safer they feel.

Even though I’m tempted to ask questions about building psychological safety at the team or company level, I want to stay on the individual level for a moment. We talked about how I wasn’t consciously unsafe during a phone call. How can I tell when I feel unsafe if I’m not conscious of it?

There’s physical science behind what happens when you feel unsafe. Your heart rate increases, you might hold your breath, and your body may tense up.  Your thoughts might blank out, and your peripheral vision may narrow as your body prepares for fight or flight.  Your body doesn’t differentiate; it treats any threat as a threatening event.

On the other hand, feeling safe doesn’t mean you lack emotions or feel calm. Feeling calm and internally relaxed signifies safety, but it’s more than that.  When your nervous system is regulated, your emotions align with the situation. They’re not an extreme overreaction or underreaction. There’s congruence. If your emotional response matches the situation, your nervous system and brain feel safe.

That makes sense, but it’s not easy.  We’re trained to hide our emotions and always appear calm.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard and said, “Be a duck.  Calm on the surface and paddling like hell below it.”

And that is not congruent.  But congruence doesn’t mean you act out like a toddler, either.

Step one in creating safety is calming your nervous system by verbalizing your feelings. If you say, “This conversation is overwhelming for me. I need a break. Let me get some water,” you’re safe and regulated at that moment. There’s nothing wrong.

But when you can’t verbalize what you’re experiencing and freeze, that’s a sign you’re no longer in a safe state. Your body starts pumping cortisol and adrenaline, preparing for whatever it perceives as a threat.

Even if you feel overwhelmed, if you’re aware of that feeling and can take some breaths or a short break and return to the conversation, you’re in a safe, regulated state.

I can’t imagine admitting to feeling overwhelmed or asking for a break! Plus, I work with so many people who say, “I feel overwhelmed, but I can’t take a moment for myself.  I need to plow through and get this done.”

It takes a tremendous amount of self-awareness. If you want to create safety and emotional intelligence, you must know what you’re feeling and be able to name it. You also need to sense what others are feeling and understand your emotional impact on them.

For example, if you say, “I’m feeling overwhelmed right now,” and I respond calmly and slow my cadence of speech, your nervous system receives the message that everything is okay.  However, if I’m in “fight or flight” mode and you’re overwhelmed, we’ll end up in a chaotic and unproductive cycle.

Self-awareness and understanding are essential to safety. Unfortunately, many organizations I speak with need help with this.

Amen, sister,

Stay tuned for next week’s exciting conclusion, 3 Steps to Building a Psychologically Safe Environment or The No-Cost, No-Hug Secret to Smarter Teams

Image Credit: Pexels

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Building Teams with a Culture Of Trust

Building Teams with a Culture Of Trust

GUEST POST from David Burkus

Trust is the foundation of any successful team. Without trust, team members will not feel comfortable sharing their ideas, taking risks, or admitting their mistakes. Building a culture of trust on a team is crucial for achieving better results, higher levels of engagement, and less stress.

But first, we need to confront a brutal truth up front: trust alone is not enough. What teams need is a culture of psychological safety. When team members feel safe to express their opinions and ideas without fear of judgment or retribution, they are more likely to take risks and share their failures.

And the process of building psychological safety on a team has three stages: trust, risk, and respect. In this article, we will explore the three stages of and offer some advice on how leaders can guide their team through each one.

Stage 1: Trust

The first stage of building a culture of psychological safety on a team is trust. Team members need to trust each other before anyone takes any interpersonal risk like speaking up or disagreeing. And while many leaders go to elaborate lengths like trust falls, team-building activities, and personality tests, for most teams, trust is built by building relationships. People trust people they know and like. And for teams, that means finding uncommon commonalities between members of the team. When team members share their interests, hobbies, and personal stories, they can find common ground and build rapport. This can lead to more open and honest communication, which is essential for building trust.

The most common way leaders can help team members find uncommon commonalities is by creating unstructured moments for conversation. This could be through shared meals, shared activities, or even just small moments before or after meetings when the conversation drifts away from work. When team members have the opportunity to connect on a personal level, they can build relationships beyond their work roles and that builds trust in their work roles.

Stage 2: Risk

The second stage of building a culture of psychological safety on a team is risk. Once team members trust each other, they’re more willing to take risks. Risk-taking involves being vulnerable and sharing failures. It also involves airing disagreements. And can even mean sharing a “crazy” idea that’s outside the norm. All of those moments are forms of interpersonal risk—and teams need those risks. When team members take risks, they are more likely to come up with innovative ideas and solutions. However, taking risks can be scary, especially if team members do not feel safe to share their failures.

The most common way leaders can help team members take more risks is by modeling the way as a leader and being vulnerable first. When leaders share their own failures, or at a minimum admit when their weakness or doubts, they demonstrate that they are trusting the team. And when people feel trusted, they’re more likely to respond with trustworthy behavior and to trust the person being vulnerable more—which makes it more likely they’ll take interpersonal risks in the future too.

Stage 3: Respect

The final stage of building a culture of psychological safety on a team is respect. Respect happens after the risk—and is all about how people respond to one another’s risk-taking. It’s great to build small amounts of trust on a team, and great when people start to take interpersonal risks. But when someone speaks up, airs a disagreement, or admits a failure and they don’t feel heard, respected, and cared for—their trust is immediately diminished. And the trust levels of anyone watching the exchange go down as well. That’s the reason trust on a team is not enough. Trust needs to lead to risk taking which leads to respectful responses—otherwise the level of trust stays low.

The most common way leaders can help team members respond respectful is by practicing active listening. When vulnerable moments occur, leaders need to be focused on the person sharing, offer non-verbals that encourage more sharing, and ask clarifying questions to draw out even more. If leaders are focused elsewhere or snapping back with quick responses or criticisms, then not only does the person sharing feel slighted, but the team also begins to believe that is how to respond to divergent ideas. In contrast, active listening signals respect, which increases trust and encourages more sharing in the future, which offers more opportunities to signal respect.

In that way, the cycle of trust, risk, and respect operates like a flywheel and needs to be consistently maintained to keep the culture of trust high. By finding uncommon commonalities that build trust, encouraging interpersonal risk-taking, and responding to risk-taking with respect, teams can continue to increase their level of psychological safety—and provide a climate where everyone can do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published at on June 12, 2023

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CEO Secrets of a Successful Turnaround

CEO Secrets of a Successful Turnaround

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

While most outside of the tech industry won’t know the Avaya brand, most will have experienced its technology if you’ve contacted customer support or communicated directly with a brand for any reason. It is a multinational technology company based in the U.S. that provides communications and collaboration technologies for contact centers in 172 countries, including 90% of the Fortune 100 companies in the U.S. Its product helps give a better customer service experience for its customer’s customers.

I had the opportunity to interview Alan Masarek about the Avaya story. Specifically, we discussed what happened since he joined the company less than one year ago. The short version of the story is that he and his leadership team successfully guided the company through Chapter 11 bankruptcy, restructuring its finances and streamlining its operations. And they did this while maintaining what Masarek calls Avaya’s North Star.

In referring to that “North Star,” Masarek says, “Customer service and experience is core to who we are and for every role in the company. Our customers count on us for the communications and collaboration technology that make customer interactions not only work, but work better.” He went on to explain the four core components they focus on:

1. Culture: Everything starts with culture. Masarek wants to make Avaya a “destination place to work,” which means attracting and keeping the best talent. Once you get good people, you must keep them there. His strategy for creating a “destination place to work” includes three components. The first is a rewards and recognition program that validates an employee’s efforts and creates a sense of accomplishment. The second is to create a culture employees want to be a part of. And third is to provide an opportunity for growth. Masarek says a company’s positive reviews and ratings on, where employee rate their employers, is a success criteria he looks at.

2. Product: Avaya is a technology company and must continuously innovate and improve. They created a “product roadmap” where customers can see what products are being phased out, retained and, most importantly, being developed for the future. “We must deliver innovation—the right innovation—and we have to deliver it on time and with quality,” said Masarek. “We will be successful when we are both transparent (which is why Avaya published the roadmap) and reliable. When we deliver on that commitment over time, that reliability becomes trust.”

3. Customer Delight: If your customers don’t like the experience or the product doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, they will find another company and product that meets their needs. Masarek recognizes the importance of customer delight and has invested heavily in hearing and understanding the “Voice of the Customer,” paying attention to customer satisfaction scores and NPS (Net Promoter Scores). Masarek is emphatic about customer delight, stating, “We are in service to the customer. CX is everyone’s responsibility.” And this isn’t just lip service. Those satisfaction and NPS numbers are tied to some of the employees’ compensation plans.

4. Accountability: “We must be accountable,” Masarek says, “to one another, to the customers, and to the results. When you take care of the first three (culture, product and customer delight), this fourth one becomes much easier to achieve.”

While sharing the entire story in a short article is impossible, you can see the overarching strategies and thinking behind Masarek’s leadership and Avaya’s success. And here’s my observation: It’s not complicated!

If you look at the four core components Avaya focuses on, you might say, “There’s nothing new here,” but don’t let simplicity, or that these seem like common sense, get in the way of incorporating them into your strategy. In good times and bad, focusing on culture, product, customer delight and accountability/results are the undeniable strategies that drive success.

This article originally appeared on

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Culture Secrets for Attracting and Keeping the Best Employees

Culture Secrets for Attracting and Keeping the Best Employees

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

What’s happening on the inside of an organization is felt on the outside by the customer. It is more important than ever to create a culture that attracts and retains the best employees. Good or bad, the culture and employees operating within it will influence the customer experience. That’s why today we’re going to dive into creating a workplace culture that gets and keeps your best people.

“Toxic workplace” is a common buzzword in today’s society. An article in Business Insider says nearly 30 million U.S. workers think their workplace is toxic. However, toxic workplaces don’t usually start out that way, and if they do, they find it difficult to survive in today’s hyper-competitive landscape. So, assuming the path is paved with good intentions, what goes wrong along the way?

While many companies are founded upon core values, rarely are those values consistently seen throughout the organization’s leadership. The two keywords in this statement are consistent and leadership. If your organization’s leadership and management aren’t representing its stated values, how can you expect their supporting employees to do so? Moreover, if the leadership isn’t consistently representing the company values, their actions can be even more polarizing.

Like it or not, humans remember bad memories longer than good memories; it’s a scientific fact that leads back to evolutionary behaviors. That means if your leaders are not consistently, meaning always, acting with the organization’s core values in mind, they aren’t representing the values at all. This will be noticed and remembered by employees. And, you can’t expect your people to act any differently than the leaders they are supposed to follow and admire.

So why implement a corporate culture in the first place? Jonathan Keyser, the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of You Don’t Have to Be Ruthless to Win, states, “A good culture equates to so much more than just an enjoyable workplace or a happy team. A strong culture acts as a safeguard to protect your business’s most valuable resources. When companies do not focus on their culture, they are prone to significant setbacks, including a loss of brain trust, costly recruiting fees, training and development time, and stunted interpersonal collaboration, which all equate to a financial loss.”

When Keyser is not out speaking to organizations about how to create the culture of selfless service that gets employees to stay, he’s running a successful commercial real estate company. USA Today calls Keyser “The Commercial Real Estate Industry Disrupter.” I had a chance to meet with Keyser to discuss his book and he shared five steps to creating a healthy workplace culture:

1. Reflect – Keyser asks, “What type of employee do you want to attract?” You start by creating a mental persona for that individual. You want to define the behaviors and attitudes you are seeking. You also want to know what would attract that person to your organization. That will be reflected in your organization’s behavior. Keyser adds, “Once you define what’s important to your employees, follow the same process for your clients.”

2. Specify – Keyser says, “The problem with most corporate values is they are ambiguous. Companies will write words and phrases like integrity, teamwork and hard work on their office walls and don’t give context as to what those words truly mean within the workplace.” Go beyond the writing of the words and add simple and clear definitions or descriptions of how they are to be used at work. Start with your core value key phrases—what do they mean in relation to how your team interacts with each other and the outside world?

3. Differentiate – Is the culture you are implementing different enough from your competitors to win the attention of recruits? If not, you’re just like any other employer. You want to find your difference. For example, one of Keyser’s core principles is to be bold. Plenty of companies claim to be bold. However, Keyser takes it one step further and clearly defines what this means in his company. He says that they do not punish mistakes, because fear of mistakes keeps a person from being bold and willing to take massive action, which is where value is created.

4. Implement – This goes back to the second step, specify. One toxic person can destroy a culture, so it’s crucial to be specific when you outline what type of behavior is expected of your team and what corrective action should be taken if you find misalignment. The words you “write on your walls” must come to life.

5. Realign – The question isn’t if you’ll go out of alignment with the culture you’ve created (or want to create), it’s when. Keyser suggests constantly monitoring and evaluating the culture. Speak to members at the top and bottom of your organization, have your HR team conduct exit interviews, and check online sources like Glassdoor regularly. Keyser says, “A toxic workplace can spread like wildfire, so it’s your job to investigate proactively and realign when necessary.” I refer to this as defending the culture, which may be one of the most important jobs of a leader.

A toxic workplace will challenge the company to keep not only employees, but also customers. The leaders’ ability to define core values, as well as live and demonstrate them to employees is the key to creating an enduring, positive culture. These five steps to creating a healthy workplace culture will also help you prevent a toxic culture so you retain your best employees—and your best customers.

This article originally appeared on

Image Credits: Shep Hyken

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The Comforter Cold War of 2006

(or How Assumptions Stifle Innovation)

The Comforter Cold War of 2006

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

In the room were two single beds, each with a fluffy white comforter folded neatly on top.

“Yeah, this is not gonna work.”

I had just entered my one-bedroom corporate apartment in Copenhagen, and while everything else was pleasantly light and spacious, there was no way I would spend the next six months sleeping in a single bed.

So, I set down my suitcases and immediately pushed the two beds together, using the two nightstands to secure them. The two comforters would work since there was just one of me, and I made a mental note to request a king-sized comforter from the desk when I left for work in the morning.

Thus began the great Comforter Cold War of 2006/2007.

Every few days, I would request a king-sized comforter for my jerry-rigged king-sized bed.  I would return to find one queen-sized comforter.  The luxury of a larger comforter would diminish the disappointment of not getting an appropriately sized one, and I would bask in the warmth of fully covered sleep.  For one night. The next day, I would return to my room only to find that the two single comforters had returned.

This went on for nine months.

I shared this story of passive-aggressive housekeeping at my going away party with my colleagues. Midway through the story, I noticed the absolutely baffled looks on their faces.


“Why did you want one comforter?”

“Because I have one bed.  A comforter should cover the bed.”

“Why?  A bed doesn’t need a comforter.  A person does.  You just need a comforter to cover you.”

[extended silence while we try to process each other’s points]

“So, does that mean that in Denmark, if a couple sleeps together, they each have their own comforter?”

“Yes, of course!  Why would we share?  Each person has their own temperature preferences, and there’s no worry about someone stealing your covers.”

My mind.  Was.  Blown.

This made so much sense. A comforter covers a person, so the 1:1 ratio of comforter to people is far more logical than a 1:1 ratio of comforter to bed (and often a 1:2 ratio of comforter to people).  Seriously, how many relationships would be saved by simply having separate comforters?

Yet, for nine months, it made more sense to me to battle for a comforter size that apparently doesn’t exist in the country without ever asking why I couldn’t get what I was so clearly and reasonably (in my mind) requesting.

I assumed the apartment building didn’t have king-sized comforters or only enough for the actual king-sized beds.  I assumed housekeeping was on automatic pilot, not realizing they were replacing a queen-sized comforter with two single ones.  I assumed that communication amongst the staff was poor, so my request wasn’t being shared.  I assumed a lot.

But I never assumed that I was wrong and that the root of the problem was a cultural difference so deeply ingrained and subtle that it never occurred to anyone to question it.

Question your assumptions.

Assumptions are a shortcut to understanding our world.  Based on culture, experiences, and even stereotypes, we make assumptions about what came before, who we’re interacting with, what’s happening now, and what will happen next.

Most of the time, we’re right (or at least more right than wrong), so we keep making assumptions. It’s also why, when our assumptions are wrong, we tend to question everything but our assumptions.

And that kills innovation because it limits our curiosity and imagination, our perception of what’s possible, and our willingness to engage with and learn from others.

We all cling to assumptions that lead to Cold Wars. 

What’s yours?

Image Credit: Pixabay

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How A Networked Culture Drives Experian’s Innovation

How A Networked Culture Drives Experian's Innovation

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

In Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance, the bestselling memoir of the his historic turnaround at IBM, Lou Gerstner wrote, “I came to see, in my time at IBM, culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—It is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.”

There has been endless discussion about whether change should be driven from the top-down or the bottom-up, but that is, for the most part, a red herring. True transformation tends to move side-to-side, driven through horizontal connections among peers. The best way to create change in an organization is to empower it.

That’s why the data giant Experian invested years networking its organization and found that it paid off when it mattered most. While traditional hierarchies waste valuable time and effort pushing orders down the chain of command, networked organizations can adapt to changing market conditions with far more agility. Transformation begins with a networked culture.

An Innovation Culture Is A Collaborative Culture

One of the most common questions I get asked by senior managers is “How can we find more innovative people?” I know the type they have in mind. Someone energetic and dynamic, full of ideas and able to present them powerfully. It seems like everybody these days is looking for an early version of Steve Jobs. Yet the truth is that an innovative culture is a collaborative culture.

When Justin Hastings arrived at Experian North America as Chief Human Resources Officer, he saw it as his job to support and empower the culture. “Essentially, we run a talent business,” he told me. “My job is to not only supply, maintain and retain that talent, but to make sure those people are are motivated and see real meaning and value in their work.”

“Culture is front and center, just incredibly important to us,” he continued. “It’s the enabler of business performance. Our company is all about driving the innovation that drives value for customers. A big part of what makes that possible is that we work hard to make everybody here feel included, that the company’s success is their success.”

However, Hastings warns that building a culture takes a lot more than just some pleasant platitudes in an employee handbook, nice speeches by the CEO and company events. “You can’t just build a culture from the top down. To be authentic, you have to build your culture organically, through informal networks,” he explains.

The Strength of Weak Ties and Boundary Spanners

In the early 1970s, sociologist Mark Granovetter began researching how professional, technical and managerial workers found jobs in the Boston area. He was somewhat surprised to find that they often found work someone they knew, but not a close contact, like a friend or family member, but someone more removed, like a friend of a friend or a distant cousin. He called this principle the ‘Strength of Weak Ties’.

Further analysis shows why it works. Those who are closest to us know pretty much the same things we do, because they frequent similar places and do similar things. So if we want to gain access to new information, we need to broaden our scope and connect with people further out on the social spectrum.

Hastings noticed this principle at work in Experian’s volunteer efforts. For example, many employees participate in its “Le Tour de Experian” bike rides to benefit charity. They do it to do some good and have some fun, but Hastings saw that the bike riders were also building strong bonds across organizational boundaries and these bonds were resulting in professional collaborations that created value for Experian and its customers.

Network scientists call people like the collaborating bike riders boundary spanners, because although they form strong bonds with each other, they essentially play the role of “weak ties” in Granovetter’s research. They perform a crucial function by linking disparate parts of the organization and helping knowledge and information to circulate.

Hastings figured that he could accelerate the formation of boundary spanners throughout Experian by giving employees the opportunity to organize around things they care about. Experian clubs, like the biking group, are focused on interests, while Employee Resource Groups focus on identity, like Latino heritage, gay pride or military service.

Using Networks To Empower Transformation

When Barry Libenson first arrived at Experian as Global CIO in 2015, he devoted the first few months to getting a sense what its customers wanted. It quickly became clear that what they coveted most was real-time access to data. If he could provide that by shifting Experian’s technology infrastructure to the cloud, it could be an enormous opportunity.

Yet it could also be an enormous problem. “There was a lot of concern that we were going to disrupt our own business and that we would lose control of our data,” Libenson told me. “For years, Experian’s business model had been based on a traditional architecture. There were also security concerns.” To make matters worse, research by McKinsey indicates that roughly 75% of transformational initiatives fail.

So instead of trying to force change through, Libenson sought to empower it. Much like Hastings did with Clubs and Employees Resource Groups, he identified people within the organization that were already enthusiastic about the shift to cloud technology and made sure they were trained to implement it. Those early apostles could then help convert others.

Libenson also saw how Experian’s networked culture helped smooth the way. “Digital transformation is somewhat of a misnomer. You’re not really transforming the technology, but more importantly, the people who use it. Having a networked culture means that you can spread enthusiasm about transformation—as well as the expertise to implement it—much faster and with far less resistance than you could otherwise,” he says.

The Journey Continues

As I explain in Cascades, all too often an initial success gives way to inertia, backsliding and eventually, failure. The truth is, it’s not enough to just drive change, you also need to learn how to survive victory. You do that by focusing on culture and values, rather than on any one particular objective, so that you are constantly preparing for the next challenge.

These days, Experian is highly focused on leveraging artificial intelligence which, much like the shift to the cloud, is both a great opportunity and a potential problem. AI has the potential to vastly improve things like credit scores, but the algorithms can’t be a “black box.” To be effective, they must be auditable and explainable.

Experian’s Datalabs unit is hard at work creating more transparent AI algorithms, and making progress, but the technology will only be valuable if Datalabs scientists can work effectively with professionals from other divisions of the company. So Eric Haller, who leads Datalabs, set up a series of seminars to connect with the rest of the company.

“To implement this technology requires a certain amount of sophistication that is relatively rare,” he told me. “So not only were we putting information out there, through the connections we made we were also able to identify expertise throughout our company we were not aware of. Those new relationships have already opened up new possibilities for collaboration.”

What’s interesting and salient about how the network culture was built at Experian is how it all seems so mundane. Many firms have clubs, employee groups and volunteer efforts. Seminars aren’t particularly unusual, either. Yet it’s not any one program or platform, but how those initiatives are optimized to widen and deepen informal bonds across the organization, that makes the difference.

The truth is that, today, competitiveness is no longer determined by the sum of all efficiencies within a business, but the sum of all connections.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog and previously appeared on
— Image credit: Unsplash

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What Einstein Got Wrong

Defining Design

What Einstein Got Wrong - Defining Design

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”Albert Einstein (supposedly)

This is one of my favorite quotes because it’s an absolute gut punch.  You think you know something, probably because you’ve been saying and doing it for years.  Then someone comes along and asks you to explain it, and suddenly, you’re just standing there, mouth agape, gesturing, hoping that this wacky game of charades produces an answer.

This happened to me last Monday.

While preparing to teach a course titled “Design Innovation Lab,” I thought it would be a good idea to define “design” and “innovation.”  I already had a slide with the definition of “innovation” – something new that creates value – but when I had to make one for “design,” my stomach sank.

My first definition was “pretty pictures,” which is both wrong and slightly demeaning because designers do that and so much more.  My second definition, I know it when I see it, was worse.

So, I Googled the definition.

Then I asked ChatGPT.

Then I asked some designer friends.

No one had a simple definition of Design.

As the clock ticked closer to 6:00 pm, I defaulted to a definition from the International Council of Design:

“Design is a discipline of study and practice focused on the interaction between a person – a “user” – and the man-made environment, taking into account aesthetic, functional, contextual, cultural, and societal considerations.  As a formalized discipline, design is a modern construct.”

Before unveiling this definition to a classroom full of degreed designers pursuing their Master’s in Design, I asked them to define “design.”

It went as well as all my previous attempts.  Lots of thoughts and ideas.  Lots of “it’s this but not that.”  Lots of debate about whether it needs to have a purpose for it to be distinct from art.

Absolutely no simple explanations or punchy definitions.

So, when I unveiled the definition from the very official-sounding International Council of Design, we all just stared at it.

“Yes, but it’s not quite right.”

“It is all those things, but it’s more than just those things.”

“I guess it is a ‘modern construct’ when you think of it as a job, but we’ve done it forever.”

As we squinted and puzzled, what was missing slowly dawned on us. 

There was nothing human in this definition. There was no mention of feelings or empathy, life or nature, connection or community, aspirations or dreams.

In this definition, designers consider multiple aspects of an unnatural environment in creating something to be used. Designers are simply the step before mass production begins.

Who wants to do that?

Who wants to be a stop, however necessary, on a conveyor belt of sameness?

Yet that’s what we become when we strip the humanness out of our work.

Humans are messy, emotional, unpredictable, irrational, challenging, and infuriating.

We’re also interesting, creative, imaginative, hopeful, kind, curious, hard-working, and resilient.

When we try to strip away human messiness to create MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) target markets and customer personas, we strip away the human we’re creating for.

When we ignore unpredictable and irrational feedback on our ideas, we ignore the creative and imaginative answers that could improve our ideas.

When we give up on a challenge because it’s more difficult than expected and doesn’t produce immediate results, we give up hope, resiliency, and the opportunity to improve things.

I still don’t have a simple definition of design, but I know that one that doesn’t acknowledge all the aspects of a human beyond just being a “user” isn’t correct.

Even if you explain something simply, you may not understand it well enough.

Image Credit:

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