Thursday 27 August 2015

What Your Reaction to Amazon's Culture Says About You

The New York Times' exposé on Amazon's company culture has sparked many responses including Chief Executive, Jeff Bezos', who sent a rebuttal email to all Amazon employees. 

There are three types of responses to the article: supporter, critic and neutral.

The supporters say that extraordinary results require extraordinary efforts. Amazon's excellent results are admirable and a product of hard work driven by its culture. As one writer said, you step back from the stock and say, "Boy. Whatever these folks are doing is working." This is a minority view.

The critics condemn the cultural norms described by ex-employees in the NYT article. For example, a blog post by Michael Hyatt outlines how these practices lead to poor team relations, sub-optimal performance and compromised lives. A burnout culture is bad for business and bad for employees. This is the majority view.

The neutral commentators state that people who chose to work for Amazon are fully aware of its challenging culture. They do so because the rewards are worth the 'survival of the fittest' work environment: working on groundbreaking projects, associating with smart people, building skills, increasing personal market value and benefiting from lucrative stock options. Working at Amazon is a 'fair warning' contract between two parties aware of what they are getting and giving.

The position you agree with says more about your work preferences than about Amazon's culture. Since your view is shaped by your past work experiences, it provides a window to how you view employment environments.

If you are a supporter, high performance ('results orientation' in HR speak) is what work is aboutthe "what" of work is the focus. Cultural behaviours, the "how," are followed because they aid efficient and effective interactions across the company.

If you are behind on your plan or off target, you must do whatever it takes to get back on track. If the cultural behaviours aren't working, taking on new ones is justified as long as they improve performancethe end justifies the means.

If you are a critic, high performance is only half of what work is about, the "what". The "how" of work is equally important. Cultural behaviours are followed because they are based on company values and beliefs, which are mandatory. High performance gained by contrary behaviours is seen as a partial success. 

If you are behind on your plan or off target, you must do whatever it takes within the cultural parametres to get back on track. If the cultural behaviours aren't working, better alignment of people to them is required.   

If you are neutral, achieving goals is what work is aboutthe "what" of work, like the supporter, is the focus. Cultural behaviours aren't necessarily followed; they are inputs for consideration that may lead to achieving your goals.

If you are behind on your plan or off target, you must do whatever it takes to achieve your goals. If the cultural behaviours aren't working, taking on new ones is a given.

Company culture is important to most people. Your views on Amazon's culture might help you better understand what type of culture is important for you.


Friday 21 August 2015

What does magic have to do with change management?

Last Monday, I went on a five-hour hike with my brother-in-law, three of his high school teacher colleagues, and my son, Sam. Our goal was to retrace a path that Samuel de Champlain (a founding father of Canada) had walked 400 years ago to the day.

As you might expect, my teacher comrades were passionate about learning and eager to exchange ideas on how to become better educators. Throughout the day, there were many exchanges about curriculum being taught in the fall, resources being used and learning techniques being employed.

Tim shared his interest in using magic as a learning aid. He told a story of going to a magic shop to learn how he could integrate magic into his lesson plans. An anticipated 15-minute visit turned into a 5-hour conversation with magicians about the parallels between their professions.

The similarities between learning and magic are compelling: they require engagement and attention to work; demonstration creates interest in how to do something; and mystery promotes debate and learning. Teachers and magicians have similar roles with one focusing on learning and the other on entertainment.

As we continued down our 400 year old path, I thought about extending the learning/magic comparison to change management. Since learning new mindsets, actions and behaviours is how people adopt change, there must also be connections between change management and magic. 

Here are the ones I identified:

Magicians and Change Leaders create wonder
Magicians create wonder about the illusions they create. Change leaders create wonder about the better future they describe. Both may seem impossible without the belief and skill of the creators. Wonder is created through showmanship, the ability to capture attention and create the desire to hear more.

Magicians and Change Leaders know their audiences
Magicians are highly observant of where people focus their attention. Change leaders know what people care about and the concerns they may have with a change. Magicians use their knowledge to guide their audience to experience the benefits of their illusion. Change Leaders use their knowledge to guide their audience to experience the benefits of the change.

Magicians and Change Leaders use a step-by-step approach
Magicians follow a sequenced set of steps that sets up and executes their trick. Change Leaders use a stepped approach to plan and implement their change. Both consistently follow appropriate steps to be successful.

Magicians and Change Leaders are confident in their ability to deliver outcomes
I have never seen an effective Magician or Change Leader who is self-conscious and uncertain about his or her ability to deliver on desired outcomes. If they don't have confidence in themselves then people won't either. Lack of confidence directs people to their weaknesses instead of their strengths.

Magic has a lot to do with change management. I asked Tim about his biggest insight from his conversation in the magic shop. One magician said, "Whether you are a teacher or a magician, you are the magic." The performance of the role delivers the outcome. I think the same is true about Change Leaders.


Friday 14 August 2015

How to Change Something You Like: Lessons from Updating My Website

A common change management challenge is people's dislike of trying new things. Even though the new ways of working could lead to benefits, they hold onto the familiar and comfortable ways that have led to past success. Sydney J. Harris wisely observed, "Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better."

I knew it was time to update my website after I reviewed a free video assessment of it called Peak by a company called User Testing. A reviewer navigates your site and provides real-time comments on what he or she experience.  

My feedback was painful (video here). One comment was, "I would like to see something that tells me what this is. What type of change is it--is it corporate change, is it individual personality change? What type of change are we talking about?" Ouch. 

It was clear that my website needed to change. Even though the reviewer wasn't someone looking for my services, he was someone having difficulty navigating my information. 

My personal challenge was that I really liked my site. Each section was a collection of decisions I had made with the best intentions; they were my best solutions. To realize the benefits of change I had to change what I liked.

Here's how I approached my website redesign that allowed me to move past my "I love this site" bias.

Be clear on purpose
My site objectives are to:
  • Create awareness of what we do and how we do it
  • Build relationships with people who may need our help in the future
All content had to support one of these objects. The new site has 40 percent fewer pages and the remaining ones have been rewritten based on my objectives.

I was surprised to see that a lot of the content was out of date: our client list was missing three new clients, biographies needed updating and our approach to change did not reflect our latest learnings. We will also be updating the "Our Story" video to reflect latest developments.

Begin with the customer in mind
Information on the site needs to answer questions that potential customers would have. The three main questions are:
  • What do they offer?
  • Why should I hire them?
  • How do I contact them?
Now all content answers one of these questions.

Partner with experts in the field
I worked with Krishan Jayatunge who is an excellent webmaster and media professional. He is creative, collaborative and comfortable with giving me honest feedback. I knew that my enthusiasm for a particular idea would not bias his expert perspective. 

Strive for simplicity
The reviewer also commented that the site was confusing. This is understandable, since it had four layers of navigation. My desire to cram as much information onto the site as possible led to complexity and difficult navigation. I was expecting someone to click or scroll up to four times to find what you they looking for. Although the three-click rule of web navigation has been around for years, there is evidence that suggests people want to click only two times to find what they are looking for. Reducing content was the easiest way to reduce complexity.

Adopt a continuous improvement mindset
To avoid similar change challenges in the future, I have taken on a mindset of continuous improvement. Continuous testing and feedback will help me avoid holding onto my preferences. I am committed to and am scheduling regular 'test, learn and update' reviews. 

Today, was relaunched. I think the changes have addressed the feedback I received. It felt good to click through the new pages. My site can always be better though, so please send me a note if you have any feedback. I would appreciate hearing about your preferences.


Thursday 6 August 2015

How to Inspire People to Achieve Your Goals

The title of a YouTube video caught my eye: "Dave Grohl's Response to the 1,000-Person Cover of Learn to Fly". 

Dave Grohl is the founder, songwriter, rhythm guitarist and singer of the long-standing band Foo Fighters. He is also the former drummer of the famed early 90's 'grunge' band Nirvana.

A 1,000-person rendition of a song seemed interesting, but even more so was this famous musician's response to his fans.

Dave's thank-you video was short and sweet, thanking people for their awesome show of appreciation. He spoke in broken Italian, which was a nice touch given that the song was recorded in Cesena, Italy. The simple message, recorded on a smart phone had an impromptu and sincere feel to it, befitting of a personal thank-you.  

I became curious about the music video that prompted Dave's warm response. How did 1,000 people perform a song at the same time, and why?

A year ago, Fabio Zaffagnini, the founder of a virtual guided tour startup, had a dream of the Foo Fighters playing his hometown of Cesena, a Northern Italian town of 112,000 people.

He came up with the idea of creating a tribute video to help bring attention to his request. Fabio took action by enlisting his friends and building a crowdsourced budget of $50,000. 

A year later, at sunset on July 26 2015, 1,000 musicians (traveling at their own expense), 100 volunteers and a 30-camera crew created the video (take a look). Within days of being posted, it had been watched 18.6 million times including members of the band.

Zaffagnini said that his project worked "because he had a huge amount of people working for free, helping us for nothing." How did he convince so many people to support his goal in a world where only 13 percent of employees are engaged with their employer's businesses? What was it that spoke to so many hearts and minds to accomplish something so big?

Here are some possible reasons why people signed up for Fabio's dream:
  • He (the leader) was clear on what he wanted to achieve (Foo Fighters concert in Cesena) 
  • The goal meant a lot to him personally
  • People (musicians) could relate to the goal (hold a concert)
  • It had never been done before
  • He created a solid plan
  • The plan was well-financed
  • Everyone had a clear role 
  • Skilled people were enlisted to manage the logistics (e.g. a conductor coached the musician on how to synchronize their performances)
  • It felt like it would be fun
  • The project was a once-in-a-lifetime experience with bragging rights ("I was there.")
  • Everyone could see how their part contributed to the project's success
  • People were recognized for their efforts (check out the end credits)

Fabio's project holds many lessons for other leaders. Business leaders can definitely gain insights on how to inspire and motivate their teams. All they need to do is watch the video and be inspired by the looks on everyone's faces.