The Campsite Theory of Coaching & Firing

The number one rule for any respectable 
camper? Leave the campsite better 
than you found it.
When my children were young, family vacations were often spent at campgrounds within national parks, where one rule prevailed: leave the campsite better than you found it. The idea, of course, is to respect the natural environment by not just picking up your own trash, but by picking up rubbish others have left behind as well.

Not long ago, while conducting interviews as part of the Return on Values research project, my colleagues and I heard how one company compassionately coaches struggling employees, and, when necessary, lets them go in a way that allows the terminated employee to keep her dignity and respect. One of our staff members commented, “It’s almost like the campsite approach to firing someone: you’re trying to help them be a better employee, even as they need to leave the company.”

Those of us in the room nodded our heads: that was exactly right. It’s not just for the benefit of the departing employee, either: when done well, and with respect, dismissing an underperforming or poor culture-fit employee can improve your workplace environment and the team’s overall performance. Let me share a story that illustrates this.

BerylHealth is a Dallas-area health care customer service firm. Andrew Pryor, Beryl’s vice president for human resources, introduced our research team to Beryl’s Decision Day process.

When an employee is struggling, either because of a poor culture-fit or poor performance, Beryl’s leaders work to coach the employee toward better outcomes. But when that’s not possible, Pryor brings the employee into his office for Decision Day. He told us:

“The conversation always goes something like this. We want you to be a part of our team. We think we made a correct hiring decision. You absolutely 100 percent have a job to come to tomorrow. But for today, we want you to go home. We’re going to pay you for today and we want you to make a decision. Is Beryl Health the company for you?  Do you think you can meet our performance standards? Do you think you’d be happy continuing to work in our culture?  And if not, come back tomorrow and resign and we part as friends. But if you want to come back tomorrow; if you want to be a part of this great organization we ask that you write a letter of commitment to us.”

In one case, an employee who repeatedly struggled to get to work on time returned from Decision Day with the title for a new, reliable car. Another employee whose argumentative attitude was hurtful to colleagues, returned with a letter of commitment vowing to stop listening to political talk radio on his drive to work so he could start his day with a better attitude. About 30 percent of employees choose not to return, but they do so with the knowledge that they were given the choice to make changes.

This may be the most compassionate approach to dealing with difficult employees I have ever encountered. 

In the academic literature, compassion in the workplaces is strongly associated with positive attitudes, feelings and behaviors that have a direct influence on factors such as employee retention and satisfaction. One team of researchers, led by the University of Michigan’s Jason Kanov, identified three subcomponents of compassion: noticing, feeling, and responding. In the Beryl example:

·         Leaders notice an employee’s struggle to meet expectations (in terms of job requirements or organizational culture);
·         Leaders have empathic concern for the employee, feeling the importance of this employee to the greater team, and also feeling the employee has the capacity to change behaviors, allowing him to stay with the organization;
·         Leaders respond by discreetly offering the employee a day to decide how he will respond. 

It’s tempting, when you’re taking down your tent and packing up the minivan, to leave the pop cans and chocolate wrappers behind. Likewise, it’s easy as a leader, to focus so firmly on getting a challenging employee out of your organization that you lose sight of caring for that employee as an individual. Beryl is an exceptional example of a company that does not forget a leader’s first job is to compassionately care for his or her people, even the ones that are on their way out.

Jim Ludema
Director | Center for Values-Driven Leadership | Benedictine University

How's Your Mental Hygiene?

The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. ~William James

Have you ever worked with someone who frequently became defensive? What about the person whose mind seems to wander quickly in meetings? Or the colleague who is always trying really hard but continues to struggle with time management? Have you ever worked with someone who seemed so focused, clear, creative, and compassionate in the midst of a fast-paced and complex organization that you wondered if they could be for real?

All of these scenarios have something in common – mindfulness. This is what William James described when he said "voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again." In recent years, mindful leadership has gained momentum. Effective leadership requires self-knowledge, self-awareness, and centeredness. Research tells us that the best leaders have some method to manage the barrage of information, data, possibilities, perspectives, and opportunities to sustain their presence of mind and overall health. 

A mindful leader trains their mind to turnoff their autopilot, multitasking habits so they can bring all of their mind's capabilities to the moments of their lives. The American Psychological Association says "The inability to focus for even 10 minutes on any one thing at a time may be costing you 20 to 40 percent in terms of efficiency and productivity."

Here's the really good news, at least for me, mindfulness can be learned, with practice. One of the most common ways to learn to become more mindful is through the practice of meditation. If I just lost you, hold on for one minute. For many of us, meditation may have been labeled or defined as thinking about nothing. As I now understand it, that’s not really accurate.  Meditation is a practice that enables just what William James described, the ability to bring your mind/attention back to center, over and over again. When you meditate your mind will wander; that doesn't mean you're unsuccessful or doing it wrong. When you recognize that your mind has wandered and you bring it back to center, you are very much meditating.

Through meditation, you learn to become mindful. When you are mindful of something, you are observing it, not caught up in it, and not identified with it. You release any judgment about it. By releasing judgment you are able to be more focused, see it with more clarity, and become more creative because you have no preconceived notion as to what is.

If you think that mindful leadership sounds like a lot of gobbledygook, I'd suggest you give it a test drive for a couple of weeks and see if you can sense a difference. Organizations like General Mills, Target, Intel, Mayo Clinic, and United Way have invested heavily in training their leaders to become more mindful.

We brush our teeth every day because we believe that dental hygiene is important. Our mind and mental abilities are key to successful leadership; so what are our mental hygiene practices?
Dr. Kathryn Scanland is the president of Greystone Global LLC, a consulting firm focusing on strategic planning, leadership development and organizational design. This post is republished with permission from Tuesday Mornings.

Time to be the Change: An Open Letter to Our Doctoral Students

Editor's Note: On April 7, just a little over a week ago, the Center for Values-Driven Leadership's first cohort of executive doctoral students completed their coursework and became "A.B.D." (All But Dissertation). The following post was written by one student, Shannon Brown, and reflects on her experiences as a doctoral student in the program. 

On April 1, 2011, twenty-five individuals came together to embark upon the first cohort of the only doctoral program in Values Driven Leadership in the world. As our stories unfolded during that first residency, underneath our different careers, life paths, religious beliefs and personal dreams, aspirations and situations lay a common core of belief that we were part of something bigger and that we have an obligation to contribute to the world in ways that honor and care for the planet and the people who inhabit it. We opened with a focus on our life legacy – those intangible contributions for which we want to be remembered decades from now - focused around the quote by Gandhi that kicked off our first course, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

737 days later, having completed 490 classroom hours, over 10,000 pages of reading and 1,500+ hours studying outside the classroom, not to mention the deep conversations, frustration, tears and more laughter than I remember in my lifetime prior, we gathered to conclude our academic course work and transition into the final phase of our program, the dissertation. It was fitting that the ending of our coursework coincided with the beginning of coursework for Cohort 2, a 23-member group of people from all different industries, backgrounds and family situations.

Looking back, I realized that Cohort 1 came together in that space, and at that time, specifically intent on creating positive change in the world and intentionally working to align all aspects of our lives to serve that purpose. And as I participated in the opening dinner and was granted the privilege of hearing the members of Cohort 2 share their stories about why they chose this program, what they hoped it to be, and how they planned to use that knowledge in their lives, I realized that our membership has grown. We began with 22 people who wanted to change the world and were committed to a systematic way of approaching that goal.  Now our numbers have doubled, to 45, in just two years.

Of course that number does not include the dedicated CVDL faculty and staff and all of the distinguished visiting scholars who supported us along our journey even though the program was new and different and a departure from a traditional doctoral program. Thank you to all of you for your ability to think outside the box and see value in a different way of approaching post-graduate education.

As I walked out of Kindlon 164 for the last time, after lingering well past the official conclusion of Sunday’s final class meeting, I was filled with sadness at the ending of an experience that was truly once in a lifetime, yet smiling with hope for the future and anticipation of the good things to come, and I remembered Margaret Mead’s famous quote, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” 

Farewell, Cohort 1. The time has come for us to be the change.

Shannon Brown is a Ph.D. student at Benedictine University’s Center for Values-Driven Leadership (CVDL) and a VP for Exemplify. She has served in leadership positions with Thomson Reuters and Tata Consultancy Services. In addition, she is an adjunct faculty member at Dominican University where she teaches courses in leadership studies.

Read more from Shannon:

Successful Change Requires Integration Across Differentiation

Green lighting change is always easier said than done. Change processes, like implementing a new customer database, would be easy to manage if  they happened in isolation. But they never do: that customer database needs to be implemented just as you introduce a new product line, hire for a key sales role, deal with stock market uncertainties, and manage kinks in the supply chain.

Complexity exists in change, said change management expert Bill Pasmore at a CVDL Senior Executive Roundtable last week, but it doesn't have to hinder it.
As part of the Roundtable, Pasmore shared suggestions for managing concurrent change processes without losing ground or overlooking needed steps. In large, differentiated organizations, Pasmore told the audience of 115 senior executives, integration is key to making sure a change process is successful.

Tom Walter, CEO of Tasty Catering, spoke as part of the Roundtable as well. Change, he said, requires giving up the idea that you know best. To illustrate this, he shared his own experience of being told by young leaders in his company that he needed to change his management style (see video below).

The next Senior Executive Roundtable will be Nov. 8, 2013.

Six Principles for Creating a Positive Culture

Beryl's "Queen of Fun & Laughter," Lara Marrow, makes 
mummies of bowling pins for an employee event, an important
culture-setting activity for the company. 
My wife Beverlee and I have been married for nearly three decades; I have to tell you – we got lucky.

Through a lot of trial and error and forgiveness, we've stumbled onto a way to make our relationship work. No one sat us down, in our early twenties, and said, “Here’s the way to make your life together a happy one.” There wasn't a class we took, or a set of iron-clad principles we followed. Instead, we found our way by following the example of a few good marriages around us, by taking a little of the advice we read in books, by fixing what was broken and discarding what didn't work and laughing as much as possible.

This may seem, at first glance, to have very little to do with creating a positive business culture – but more times than not, this “stumbled onto” method of making things work is exactly how the leaders I meet with have succeeded.

I was reminded of this recently when we did the first of 30 deep-dive case studies into values-driven companies, as part of the Return on Values initiative (a partnership of the Center for Values-Driven Leadership and the Inc. Small Giants Community). For our first case study, we decided to go to BerylHealth, run by CEO and founder Paul Spiegelman.

Beryl is a remarkable place – I was blown away by the deeply-ingrained positive culture Paul and his team of exceptional leaders have created. But here’s the thing: no one told Paul how to be a values-driven leader. He stumbled into creating a great culture much like my wife and I stumbled into creating a solid marriage: by trial and error and common sense.

As part of the more than three hours of interviews we did with Paul, my research team asked if he had a formal theory of creating culture. “Nope,” he said. “No real theory. We just do it.”

What one of our researchers, a Ph.D. student in our doctoral program, noticed was that the process of embedding culture that Paul and his colleagues employ mirrors the well-researched and documented process identified by organizational theorist Edgar Schein in his book Organizational Culture and Leadership. He writes that there are six primary mechanisms for embedding a positive culture:
  • What leaders pay attention to, measure, and control on a regular basis.
  • How leaders react to critical incidents and organizational crises.
  • Observed criteria by which leaders allocate scarce resources.
  • Deliberate role modeling, teaching, and coaching.
  • Observed criteria by which leaders allocate rewards and status.
  • Observed criteria by which leaders recruit, select, promote, retire, and excommunicate organizational members.
After three days of interviews, I could tell a Beryl story for each of those six points above. You should know that Beryl’s senior leaders measure everything you’d expect of a typical call center, including profit and loss by each call center team. But instead of paying their staff by the number of calls taken – which encourages people to move through calls quickly, even if you’re not thoroughly meeting the caller’s needs – they pay their staff by the minute, giving employees the freedom to truly care for the caller.

When the company’s financials were down one year and all the financial targets had been missed, Paul and his leaders decided to pay small bonuses anyway – allocating the suddenly scarce resources to their employees. When new recruits noticed that the transition from trainee to employee was a little rough, Beryl created a “buddy system” that assigns a tenured colleague to new employees, helping to ease the transition with informal training and mentoring.

How do you move ahead in your career at Beryl? “The measure of success for your career over time is your adherence to our five core values,” says Paul. His staff backs that up in big ways (by shaping annual review processes around cultural competency) and small ways (by awarding premium parking spots to employees “caught” exemplifying the values).

Schein also identified secondary mechanisms for articulating and reinforcing culture in organizations. He said to look at the organization’s design and structure, systems and procedures; at the rites and rituals; the design of the physical space; the stories, legends and myths of the organization; and the formal statements of philosophy, values and creed. Beryl knocks it out of the park in these ways too. Just one example: at most call centers, shift workers share cubicle space. At Beryl, every worker, on every shift, has their own desk they can personalize (and boy do they). It gives them a place of their own and a sense of belonging in the office.

As an organizational researcher, a few days spent in a company like Beryl is a gold mine. We’ll visit 29 more companies like Beryl as part of the Return on Values project – and through the process we anticipate certain themes will emerge. We’re exploring cultures of excellence, as I've highlighted here, but also community engagement, customer loyalty, leadership style, and (importantly) business success as seen in revenue, growth, and job creation.

At the end of this process my hope is we’ll have a clear list of “must do” items that entrepreneurs can follow to embed a strong culture, grow customer loyalty, and outperform their peers. In the future, CEOs like Paul won’t have to stumble onto the right processes and procedures: they’ll have a clear set of guideposts to follow. 
Dr. Jim Ludema is the principle investigator for the Return on Values project and the director and co-founder of the Center for Values-Driven Leadership at Benedictine University. He is a professor of leadership and change.