Friday, February 26, 2010

WOW: A Handbook for Living - Book Review

I was given a copy off 'WOW: A Handbook for Living' to review, by Zen Ohashi and Zono Kurazono.
Out of a hundred people there may be only one person who will actually use this book as intended , but for that one person, amazing things will certainly happen.

I am not this one person. And (as a basic stats analysis would reveal) neither are you. However, WOW reminds us of some simple, powerful approaches to improve our work and life. Here is what I want to remember:
  • If you are in a good mood, good things will happen. If you are in a bad mood, bad things will happen.
  • Talking about what is working and going well will significantly improve the mood.
Try this when discussing a difficult problem and see how it works. This point also reminded me of the 'sandwich feedback' method of giving feedback I learned when consulting. Sandwich method: Put the delicious positive feedback on either side of criticism - it's received much more constructively.
  • Answer a question in 5 seconds, and you will answer with your intuition - you'll often have the best solution.
  • Confront a problem of challenge with the question 'HOW' not 'WHY'. This will productively get you to the root cause of the issue. Why were you late? Why don't I have money? ---> How are you going to be on time in the future? How will I get more income?
  • Make sure everyone has a voice and an opportunity to use it. If you can't identify who the pushy one in the meeting is, it might be you.
  • Write down important goals, tell them to a friend, and ask them to call you to see how you are progressing.
  • When a problem occurs out side of your normal area of accountability, it doesn't necessarily mean you are off the hook. As an example, if the parent in charge at home becomes sick and is unable to cook, the parent who works has to take over the duties or the child will not eat. Don't just be accountable, be responsible.
  • Try to live for a month with the premise that there is no one and only right answer.
Do any of these points resonate with you?

Now... don't get me wrong. I won't do all these things. Especially the points from the book I didn't list here. But to be fair, WOW's authors say you need to take each point slow and really let them sink in. And in fact, after putting the book down for a week I found many of the points more compelling than I during my first read. I'm thinking this will be a nice addition to the library.

Monday, February 8, 2010

What makes Company Culture?

Company 'culture' is the buzzword these days. Start-up culture often refers to a work ethic that sacrifices balance. My last post quoted some startup triplet advice - "Hire and invest in your culture." However, it seems talk of culture quickly becomes abstract. To understand and impact culture we need to be more specific.

For me, culture brings productivity and satisfaction through:

Shared purpose. Is there clear and common purpose to people's work? Do actions demonstrate a team approach towards accomplishing a common goal? Do employees understand the company's mission and their role towards accomplishing it? Awesome communication fits in here.

Accountability. Are employees given real responsibilities? Are those tasks followed up on (by leaders and peers) and implemented? We can stick rewards and recognitions here for now.

Opportunity. Do employees have lots of interaction with others, and ultimately an opportunity to learn?

Motivation. Are employees motivated to do their part towards the common goals on their own? (Or do they simply do the checklist requested to prepare for the weekly meeting?) Do employees believe in the value of their contributions? In the value of the company's goals?

Collaborative Decision Making. Are employees involved in the decisions that effect their work, even tangentially? Being part of the decision leads to more informed solutions and more commitment to the solution. Again, enter companies with good communication.

Flexibility. How much freedom do employees have about when and where they work, what they work on and prioritize, and stuff like how they dress. (Having flexibility alone does not make a good culture by itself).

Work Environment. What are the obvious on-site perks? We're talking free lunch, m&m's and Starbucks coffee, bean bag chairs and office slides. I guess we can throw pay, benefits, expected work hours, and whatnot here. Since visitors and job applicants notice this stuff first, it makes it important. (Again, this aspect of culture by itself is shallow and means little without some strength in the other areas.)

Defining what culture really means helps us talk concretely about measuring and improving it. For me, right now, doing well in these areas equates to a great company culture. Did I miss anything key in your culture?