Great article recommended by Andy Christiansen of High Capacity Leaders. Incredible concepts we might need to look at…4 take aways:
1) Define/review the 5 biggest mistakes of last year (we think too positively)
2) Appoint a Devil’s Advocate: Very much like and embrace the concept…for some strange reason the idea of the Papillon from The Citadel’s Bond Volunteer/Summerall Guards come to mind…that would probably NOT work well in a military or business unit, but I digress
3) Email is bad when dealing with disagreements: The author uses Skype (would be so nice if we could get the USAF to embrace the information age)
4) Finally: love the idea of drafting one page to write about yourself, what would you say? How would you describe yourself? And I want to hear self-reflection and self-criticism, not just positive things. Been pondering this for a while…. an important exercise might be to develop an “elevator speech” on your life’s work…this probably falls into this category.
Q. Tell me about your approach to management and fostering the culture you want.
A. A few things are particularly important to me. It’s important that people are happy in what they do. I believe my role is not to make people work but to give them the right working conditions so that they will enjoy what they do. Also, doors are never closed. And I believe that it is much more dangerous not to report mistakes than it is to make mistakes in the first place. It’s natural that we make mistakes. The question is, what do we do with these mistakes as an organization? Do we repeat the mistakes? Do we learn from them? Do we investigate them and implement a solution?
Q. What else?
A. I feel that openness and trust in the good will of people is the basis for a good working environment. I told one of our salespeople recently that he didn’t have to sell our product to people who were not nice to him.
Q. Why not?
A. I really believe that being a young company, especially in the medical technology area, you can’t afford working with people who are not good people. It’s similar to how selective you have to be when you’re bringing people on board as employees. You need to look at your vendors and your customers the same way. We want people who are critical but work with us in a constructive way. We want people who have the same style of communication, which is direct and not afraid of either receiving or giving criticism.
So when I talk about the organizational culture, I think it’s beyond the environment of our building. During the growth stage of the company, you can’t afford not managing the organization as part of a wider ecosystem.
Q. But it can be hard to turn away customers when you need to grow.
A. I have been there more than once. But you end up selling the product to the wrong person, you don’t get what you had hoped, you feel that you sacrificed a lot and you’re disappointed. When you set expectations, it’s not just between me and the employees, it’s also between us and our customers. We need partners in the clinical field who will help us develop our products.
Q. Other thoughts on management?
A. One thing that I learned is that you really need to ask yourself what you can get and what you can’t get from your employees, and then focus on what you can get from them. If you focus on what you can get, you can maximize their contribution. You can also encourage them to improve, but you need to know the limits and abilities of everyone.
Q. So how do you have that conversation with people?
A. We have a very structured process of how we communicate and set expectations and define objectives. In general, I believe people perform best when they know where they are heading. I don’t like a culture where people are surprised. I feel that most people want to have some certainty about where they’re heading and where the organization is heading. So we have a process that begins with the management team defining the objectives for next year.
But before we set the objectives we have a tradition where we define the five biggest mistakes we made last year — and we’ll focus on the big ones, not the small ones. And every year we look to see if there is something common among these mistakes. Then we set the objectives for next year.
Q. What are some of the patterns you’ve seen in the mistakes?
A. One of the most obvious mistakes we found is that too often we choose to believe in an optimistic scenario — we think too positively. Positive thinking is important to a certain extent when you want to motivate people, when you want to show them possibilities for the future. But it’s very dangerous when you plan based on that. So one of our takeaways from that was to appoint one of the executive members as a devil’s advocate.
A. He’s actually very challenging and he knows how to ask the right questions. He really makes sure to say to me, “Let’s be more humble with our assumptions.” And the most surprising thing that he’s the V.P. of sales for international markets. You would expect the V.P. of sales to be pie-in-the-sky all the time. But he has a very strong, critical way of thinking, and it is so constructive. I feel that in a way, one of the risks of leadership is thinking too positively when you plan and set expectations.
Q. What are some other things that you do at your company in terms of culture?
A. There are a few different things that we’ve developed over the years. One is about communication between different groups in the company, and especially between the American, Asian, European and Israeli teams.
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One of the things I’ve found is that e-mail is a very dangerous way of communicating. It has a lot of benefits and a lot of advantages, but I find it dangerous because in cases of conflict, of disagreement, when people begin to argue over e-mail, they escalate their commitment to their opinion.
So we made a rule in the company. And the rule is that I can write you something, and you may disagree, and so you might write back, “I strongly disagree for these reasons.” Then I might write you back, and say, “I also disagree with you for these reasons.” After that second response, there is no more e-mail correspondence. Then you pick up the phone. And we also try to use Skype videoconferences for that. It takes 90 percent less time to resolve conflicts when we talk, compared with when we write.
Disagreeing in e-mail is just not constructive. It’s not the right way to communicate if you want to come to an agreement. So that’s one rule that I insist on: Just let’s talk, or let’s pick up the phone. And I try as much as we can to use video. I want to look at the eyes of the other person, especially when we disagree. So that’s one rule.
Another ritual that we have is that once a week we have a meeting for all the employees. We go around the table, and we have people on the phone from our offices in other countries, and everyone reports about something — what happened last week or what will happen next week that will affect others, or something like that.
It takes about a little bit less than an hour, and the reason I’m doing it is that I feel that one of the threats to organizations when they grow is having too many meetings and too many e-mails. I think that the most constructive and the most productive way to communicate is informal communication.
So in one hour, everyone is synchronized. And when I talk with many of the employees I hear that it’s a very important meeting for them because it gives them the opportunity to hear about the business. I believe that devoting one hour a week to listening to what happened in the organization can solve so many other problems.
Q. Let’s talk about hiring. What are you looking for? What questions do you ask?
A. By the time I meet with someone, I assume that they have already been vetted for professional skills. I want to assess whether they will fit the culture and style of our organization. And I want to learn more about their personality.
I often begin the conversation by describing the organization. Then I’ll say to them: “You know, I believe that this interview is mutual. I believe that just as much as I want to know about you, you want to know about me and about the organization. So I invite you to ask me questions, whatever concerns you.”
I pay a lot of attention to what kind of questions I’m asked. Not so much the initial questions but what are their follow-up questions, and how much they listen to me.
There is another very important stage in the interview process when it comes time to negotiate over a job offer. I pay a lot of attention to how they prioritize what they want to negotiate about. I feel that when I negotiate with someone, I will learn so much about what will happen in the future.
Q. If you could ask somebody only two or three questions to get a sense of whether they’d fit into your organization culturally, what would you ask?
A. The first one is: If you had just one page to write about yourself, what would you say? How would you describe yourself? And I want to hear self-reflection and self-criticism, not just positive things. Please describe yourself in the most open way you can, and don’t try to market yourself.
The second question would be: What concerns you about our organization? What makes you feel a little bit afraid? What is it that you’re not sure about — whether you can meet certain expectations or maybe something you’re not sure you’d like to be a part of?” And that gives me another dimension of the person.