Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009

Upcoming Event

Michelann Quimby will be speaking at Wisdom at Work. The topic is "Cultivating Positive Politics in Organizations," and will be based on her article recently published in The Systems Thinker. Register here. Information below:
Friday, March 27, 2009
Registration at 11:30 a.m

Program begins at Noon and concludes at 1:15 p.m.

Cost: $20, cash or check (made out to: WAW). We do NOT accept credit cards at this time.

Location: Marie Callender's Restaurant (in the Gateway Shopping Center)

9503 Research Blvd

# 400, Austin, TX 78759

Directions: From Hwy 183/Research Blvd, Turn right onto North CAPITAL OF TEXAS HWY. Next, turn RIGHT onto STONELAKE BLVD at the traffic light. Look for Marie Callender's Restaurant is on the right at the corner of RESEARCH BLVD / US-183 and Stonelake Blvd. It is in a stand-alone building in the Gateway Shopping Center Parking Lot.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mission, Vision, and Values: What are they, and why do they matter?

by Michelann Quimby

As an entrepreneur, I find it almost impossible to avoid writing a mission statement. I need it for my business plan. I need it for my investors. My mentors and advisors tell me I need it. But what is a mission statement, really? Why do we need it? How can it help our businesses?

Just to muddy the waters a bit, let’s look at Wikipedia’s definition of the mission statement:
“A mission statement is a brief statement of the purpose of a company…The following elements can be included in a mission statement.
• Purpose and values of the organization.
• Products, services, or market; or, who are the organization's primary "clients" (stakeholders).
• What are the responsibilities of the organization towards these "clients"?
• What are the main objectives supporting the company in accomplishing its mission?”
That seems like an awful lot of information to cram into a few sentences that sum up my business. In reality, there are several elements that encompass the foundation of my company, and describe how I want it to be perceived.

I propose that we break this concept down into three progressive pieces, or core elements:

Core Values – Who are we?
Core values identify 3-5 terms that describe the forces that drove you to form and grow your organization. If you are the founder, they are the same as or closely related to your personal values. Your values describe not only who you are as an organization, but also who you are not. They encompass your ethics, principles, and beliefs about your organization and its relationship to the world. Core values are immutable, values that remain the same for the life of your organization.
Example: "integrity, honesty, openness, personal excellence, constructive self-criticism, continual self-improvement, and mutual respect" - Microsoft
Integrity, honesty, mutual respect, and openness speak to how Microsoft wants to be perceived by the world, and provides a basic ethical code for employees. Personal excellence, constructive self-criticism, and self-improvement are more personal and specific. They communicate to employees the behaviors that are approved (and hopefully rewarded), and by extension those that are not.

Vision Statement - Why are we here?
Vision is the reason your company exists. The world changes, technology changes, so your vision statement need not refer to your product. It conveys why you are in this business (and not another). It ties directly back to your core values. If the market changed dramatically, your vision should remain intact because it speaks to what your company represents, not just what it does.
Example: “ help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential.” - Microsoft
I like this vision because it’s about contribution. If the desktop computer was no more, and Microsoft’s software became obsolete, it wouldn’t affect this vision at all. Microsoft could completely change its product line and still be aligned with its vision.

Mission Statement - What do we do?
While your mission should refer more specifically to the type of business you do or products you sell, it can also encompass what you feel your organization's contribution will be to your industry, community, or to the world. Your mission statement may change if your company outlives the industry it started in, but it should still tie back to your core values and vision.
Example: “Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
This is a great mission statement – it’s succinct, but it provides a lot of information. If digital information changed, Google could change its product and still be aligned. But we can also see Google’s values implicit in this statement. Universal access to information implies that Google values equality and knowledge highly, and that it sees its community as the world, not the industry or country its based in.

You may want to combine aspects of these three elements into one statement that you use externally and internally, but it's important to differentiate between them during the development stage.

The Hard Part
So how do we go about defining these elements so they are resonant and meaningful? How do we avoid Dilbert-esque jargon, or overly lofty platitudes?

Start with yourself. If you don't understand what drove you to embark on the journey of entrepreneurship, you can't explain it compellingly to others. I've often asked entrepreneurs why they started their businesses, and the answer is very often "I wanted to make a lot of money." This is a cop out. There are much easier, less stressful ways to make money than starting your own company. Even if you don't know what it is, you have a compelling reason behind why you started your venture, why you're selling the specific product or service you offer, and why you think you can succeed at it. The key to expressing this begins with your own core values.

Many people find it helpful to define their own personal vision statement. There are a multitude of books, websites, and coaches available that can help. However, I believe that defining your personal core values is a better place to start. Looking at my core values, I begin to understand the career choices I made in the past, and recognize the underlying needs and assumptions that compelled me to create my own venture. This provides a framework through which I understand my motivations, and strengthens my ability to talk to others about my company's goals.

At that point, you may want to utilize an exercise from a book, or engage a consultant to help you further define your organizational values, vision, and mission. You if you want to communicate these elements publicly, or reserve them for your employees, shareholders, or customers. At the very least, I recommend that you have public mission statement, which may include elements of your values and vision.

Here are a few examples of compelling statements from well-known organizations:
“To inspire and nurture the human spirit— one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”
Starbucks' statement is very clever - it describes how their product adds to people's lives, shows their focus on community, and has a little dash of humor.
“To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. If you have a body, you are an athlete.”
I love how this statement defines athlete to include everyone. I'm not so sure about innovation - hardcore athletes may be able to define innovation in their products, but I don't know if everyone can. Still, it communicates that innovation is a core value.

And here is an example of how not to write a mission statement:
“Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh. Today, Apple continues to lead the industry in innovation with its award-winning computers, OS X operating system and iLife and professional applications. Apple is also spearheading the digital media revolution with its iPod portable music and video players and iTunes online store, and has entered the mobile phone market with its revolutionary iPhone.”
A laundry list of accomplishments is not a mission statement. Mission statements are not used to promote your products; they describe your desire to make an impact, in your community, industry, or in the world.

Why do they matter?
Values, Vision, and Mission are crucial to setting a clear, understandable, and easily communicated direction for yourself, your partners and employees, and your investors and customers. It's not enough to feel passionate about your product or service, you have to consciously understand what drives you in order to communicate it to a diverse group of people.

In Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, it's often expressed as a pyramid, with physical survival-based needs on the bottom, and the uniquely human need for self-actualization on top. You can visualize an organization's goals in a similar way:
While individuals begin by meeting their physical needs and eventually grow into higher modes of thinking, organizations are different. The more clearly you can articulate your high-level goals from the beginning, the less time and resources you will spend trying to fix poor communication, alignment, employee engagement, and unwanted cultural artifacts like destructive political networks. When you recognize the guiding force these Core Elements provide, your strategic goals and tactical plans will be more aligned, streamlined, and easier to communicate to you stakeholders.

Core Elements can also be the difference between corporate survival and failure during times of crisis. A well-known example of corporate values put to the test took place in 1982, when several people died from taking cyanide-laced Tylenol caplets. Tylenol is manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, whose company credo states that their first responsibility is to their customers. True to their values, Johnson & Johnson responded to the crisis by pulling 31 million bottles of their product from stores, and offering free replacements. While the short term cost to the company was high, the company's fast and comprehensive response soothed consumer fears, increased investor confidence, and paved the way for future growth.

In contrast, the Ford Pinto scandal of the 1970s illustrates a story of corporate values gone awry. When Ford leadership first learned of the faulty design that caused cars to catch fire when hit from the rear, they decided that the cost of paying damages to the families of those killed was more viable than redesigning the faulty fuel tank. Either Ford's values did not clearly emphasize ethical concerns, or they were not actively in use at the time. The botched response to the fires caused lasting damage to Ford’s reputation.

Organizational core elements inform all aspects of business decisions - internal and external.
Branding and identity, the cornerstone of effective marketing and sales, must be authentic and compelling to attract customers. When branding aligns with corporate behavior, it is a powerful force. When misaligned, it creates confusion or disillusionment in customers. Wal-Mart is known for providing great value to customers, but has a poor reputation for its relationship to suppliers and employees. By contrast, Southwest Airlines has a great customer service record, and is consistently cited is one of the best workplaces to in the country.

Similarly, internal communications and policies need to be aligned with core elements in order to be effective. Employment and hiring policies, compensation, training, and ethics must all reflect the organization's stated values and vision. Lack of alignment creates cognitive dissonance, or confusion and discomfort in employees who recognize that the organization doesn't "walk the walk." Employee engagement, efficiency, retention, and innovation are all effected by how authentically, clearly, and consistently the organization's core elements are communicated and demonstrated by leadership.

Organizational core elements: Values, Vision, and Mission are vital to your ability to communicate clearly and consistently with your customers, shareholders, community, and employees. Consciously understanding your personal values and goals, helps you articulate why your brought your company into existence, and how it contributes to the world it inhabits. Nothing is more compelling to your customers, or motivating to your employees than that.

Friday, February 6, 2009

DiaMind at RISE Austin

RISE - A Relationships & Information Service for Entrepreneurs is an upcoming event in Austin. Michelann Quimby will be hosting a session discussing the importance of establishing Core Elements - values, vision, and mission - for entrepreneurs and start-ups. Here is the preliminary information, details to follow:

Session Title:
Values, Vision, and Mission: What are they, and why do they matter?

March 4
4pm - 4:30

Friday, January 16, 2009

Exciting News!

We are happy to announce that partners Carol Howard, Karl Logue, Michelann Quimby, and Jeff Schoeneberg, have been published in the Winter 2009 issue of OD Practitioner. The article title is "Framing Change: A New Approach to Change Management Analysis." We were invited to submit our article as winners of the 2008 Organizational Development Graduate Student Paper and Presentation Award. We are honored and gratified to be included. If you would like to read the article you can purchase the issue here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Reading is Fundamental

By Jeff Schoeneberg

Most career development happens on the job as a direct result of experiences from projects, coaching sessions, even observing someone else’s work performance. The manner in which one absorbs that experience is highly dependent on personal context – personal experiences, personal knowledge, and (perhaps most importantly) personal attitude. The greater the context one has, the more likely one is able to turn any experience into personal growth.

Continuous learning is a great way to expand context. It enhances knowledge and can provide a new lens through which to evaluate experiences. Many people enhance their development by reading books focusing on personal growth, business management, and technical skills. To that end, we have some book recommendations that we have found to be valuable in this regard.

Change Management:
Leading Change (John Kotter, Harvard Business Press) and The Dance of Change: The Challenges to Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations (Peter Senge et al, Doubleday) are two books which, in combination, provide a great framework for understanding the mechanics and demands of change management. Kotter’s book provides an 8-step model for effective change, and also discusses common mistakes. It is a valuable guidebook for anyone trying to move their team from point A to point B. Ultimately, however, change is quite a bit messier than Kotter’s model suggests.

Senge (perhaps best known as the author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization) embraces the mess. He describes the many ways change efforts can lose momentum, detailing real-life experiences in sustaining organizational change. His assertion, “organizations have complex, well-developed immune systems, aimed at preserving the status quo” is well substantiated by his excellent book.

Leading Change is packaged neatly and is very digestible. The Dance of Change is something you’ll need to spend some time and effort in absorbing. Both are well worth the read.

Over a period of 15 years or so, Frank LaFasto and Carl Larson interviewed more than 6,000 team members across a variety of industries to find out what conditions help or hinder team success. Their conclusions are published in When Teams Work Best : 6,000 Team Members and Leaders Tell What It Takes to Succeed (Sage Publications). LaFasto and Larson reveal the factors that distinguish effective team members, the dimensions of team leadership, and steps to effective problem solving for teams. This is a good read for all members of a team, not just team leaders.

Leadership and Spirit (Russ Moxley, Jossey-Bass and the Center for Creative Leadership) is a very different book than you’ll see on the business best seller list. It does not focus on driving business results, directly. There are no catchphrases or nifty allegories. The purpose of the book is to…well, I’ll just let the author tell you in his own words:
“By personality, preference, and temperament, I prefer data and truth that can be known through one or more of my senses. I am logical and rational. But slowly and over time, as I reflected on my own experience and paid attention to the experience of others, I have come to believe that there are truths that cannot be empirically proven, truths about effective leadership that we have too long ignored. One of those truths is that our practice of leadership either suffocates or elevates spirit.”

This is a powerful book.

We hope you make an effort to read these books and would enjoy your thoughts on them. And if you just can’t make it through Chapter 1 of a business book without falling asleep, never fret. Find the learning mechanism that works best for you. The important thing is to learn and have fun in the process.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Actions Speak Louder than Words: Understanding the Power of Symbolic Action

By Michelann Quimby

How companies communicate with their employees, explicitly and implicitly, is crucial to employee engagement. While employee engagement is considered a "soft" consideration in many workplaces, in a customer-service industry it is directly tied to financial considerations. So how do companies communicate with employees, when is it effective, and why or why not?

Symbolic Action and Dissonance
I frequent a couple of national coffee chains for my daily latte. One chain, let's call them "Green Coffee" has a good product, and excellent staff. No matter how long the line, I can get in and out in under ten minutes, and my embarrassingly complex order is always delivered correctly. The employees are relaxed and friendly, and they're diverse in age, race, and personality.

Occasionally, I frequent "Red Coffee". While I like the coffee better, the employees, who are less diverse, are disengaged. Sometimes they're friendly, sometimes not, and my order is frequently messed up (even when I'm the only customer). They generally seem more interested in talking to each other than to me.

Visiting the websites for the two companies, I notice an immediate difference on the employment page. While Red has the standard boilerplate about "putting people first" and competitive pay and benefits, Green has personal testimonials, documentation of fairly advanced training for the food service industry, and itemized available benefits including retirement and insurance for employees who work twenty hours a week or more.

From this I surmise that leadership at Green Coffee wants to present the impression that employees are valued. However, while many companies present themselves this way sometimes impressions and reality diverge. Organizations that talk a good game about employee appreciation and investment don't always demonstrate those values, where less flamboyant companies may have values that dictate good employee/organization relationships.

For example, I have a relative who works for a national retail chain that has its home office in the Southwest. The temperature in her store (on the west coast) is regulated from the home office, so it's often out of sync with the weather outside. If it's 95 degrees at headquarters and the AC is cranked way up, customers and employees may be freezing in the store on the west coast where it's only 75 degrees outside. Corporate does not allow store managers to adjust the temperature in their own stores. So while the company's website details extensive career development and benefits available to employees, the appearance of employee value does not align with how they are treated. The organization does not demonstrate trust in employees, so it is unlikely that the employees trust the organization.

Green Coffee talks a good game, and the values they espouse seem to be active in the organization. Key indicators are the fact that they provide useful training and benefits for employees. In turn, employees seem engaged and relaxed, and provide the company with good customer relationships. These indicators are symbolic actions - ways organizations and employees act out their values, regardless of external PR or internal propaganda.

The other day when I was at Red Coffee the employee who took my order was discussing company policy with his co-worker. It seems company had issued a new list of employee edicts, including one where employees were only allowed to come in through the front door (the side door is far more convenient for cafe employees). Without knowing why the company issued this restriction, it was clear that the employee found it frustrating.

For me, this revelation made perfect sense. Regardless of what the employer said about their value for employees, their actions indicate (at least to this particular employee) that they don't trust them. If I were to translate this action into a statement, it would say, "I (the company) do not trust you (the employee) to make basic decisions about how to behave around customers, so I will dictate how you should behave." As an employee, I would feel that my individual value to the organization was negligible.

Is it a surprise that Red Coffee employees don't seem to take pride in their work? Company policies towards employees communicate far more about their value than employee value statements, or titles like "partner" or "team member".

I suspect Green Coffee's employees seem happy and engaged because there is little conflict between what the company says about how they treat employees and how they actually treat them. This translates very directly into satisfied repeat customers and revenue.

Putting it to Work
Do your company's values align with the policies in practice regarding employees? If you cite respect and honesty as core values, but monitor employees' every move, you're creating dissonance (conscious or unconscious discomfort with the contradiction between statements and actions) that affects the quality of work. If your stated values were instead consistency and quality, then close monitoring may be more appropriate. It is this dissonance between words and actions that can cause problems like employee disengagement, low productivity, and high turnover.

If your organization, like a coffee shop, relies on consistent, attentive customer service for its revenue stream, then this internal dissonance may also create discomfort for the customer. Imagine taking you kids to Disneyland and being ignored by grumpy, disengaged employees. The slogan "The Happiest Place on Earth" would become a parody, rather than a promise. Consider then that your employees represent the values you communicate to them to your customers.

Here are some suggestions to help you craft appropriate employee policies:

  • Be Consistent
    If you have a company vision and values statement, check it against your employee policies and see if they contradict each other. If so, consider changing policies to reflect company values, or even revising your values statement if it is outdated or underdeveloped.

  • Be Authentic
    If you haven't developed a values statement, spend some time considering what values your company demonstrates, and how they inform employee decisions. This will help you recognize if policy and values begin to diverge. Core values are a map of your company's DNA - they should inform how you treat customers and employees

  • Think Ahead
    Consider the long term impact of short term decisions. When times are tight and cutbacks are necessary, don't be caught unaware when layoffs lower employee morale, productivity, and commitment. Remember the power of symbolic actions, and find ways to mitigate the negative impact of difficult decisions, or risk losing the benefit of short term gains to long-term problems.