“I’d like to start a movement to change the conversation at every dinner table every night by changing organizational culture”

Bestselling Author Matthew Kelly

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I’d change the conversation at every dinner table every night by changing organizational culture. Too many people are left to complain to their spouse and children about their work because nobody else will listen.
I’d change the answer to the question: How was your day? and I would do it by transforming organizational culture.
A few years ago I talked to a guy who had retired that very day from a company he had worked at for 37 years. “What would you change if you could go back and do it all again?” I asked him. He thought for a moment, and then he said to me, “I would have liked a more comfortable chair.”
As leaders it is our responsibility to make sure our people have what they need to succeed and sometimes that is something as simple as a more comfortable chair or a computer that doesn’t crash ten times a day.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Kelly, New York Times bestselling author of The Dream Manager and President of Floyd Consulting. Kelly and his partners have served more than fifty Fortune 500 companies including Proctor & Gamble, Mercedes Benz, McDonalds, Pfizer, FedEx, GE to name a few. He has also served a spectrum of non-profits, government agencies including the United States Navy and Air Force, hundreds of small and medium size businesses, and professional sports teams. His forthcoming book is The Culture Solution: A Practical Guide to Building a Dynamic Culture so People Love Coming to Work and Accomplishing Great Things Together.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I grew up in Sydney, Australia, as the forth of my parents eight sons. My family was deeply steeped in business and the entrepreneurial spirit. I often quip that dinner each night was like an MBA class discussion. Everyone had an opinion, you had to assert yourself to be heard, and it was great preparation for life in so many ways.

During my first year in business school in Sydney I was invited to speak as part of co-op program between CEOs and business school students. That evening I was invited by one of the attendees to speak to his team at work. This was the unlikely and unintended beginnings to what has become an amazing journey as a speaker, author, and consultant.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Wow. Ok. I often use conversation starters at the beginning of meetings to raise the energy in the room. Most people come to meetings as spectators and the challenge is to engage people and get them to participate by moving them from a passive to a proactive posture.

At one time I had asked the team to share the funniest or most awkward or embarrassing first date they had ever been on. At the beginning of each meeting for several weeks I would ask one or two team members to share their first date experience.

On the very first day I called on this young single guy thinking he is probably out there dating now and will have something good. Well he had a showstopper. It took him ten minutes to tell the story about how he planned this date meticulously, and he had the whole room rolling in laughter. After taking the team through getting the nerves to ask this woman out, planning the date, making reservations at a great restaurant, picking her up, and an in depth description of all the emotions he experienced throughout this process, he got to the punch line. They sit down at dinner at this amazing restaurant, they haven’t even ordered drinks, and she says to him, “You know, you don’t have to buy me dinner, we can just go back to your place and have sex.” I have never seen a group of people in a meeting laugh so much for so long. I mean at every turn in the story there was laughter, but when he dropped the punch line grown men were laughing so hard they were crying.

Not sure what the business wisdom is in that story, but you asked.

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

You start by hiring the right people. If you said to me, “I want you to build a great culture or transform a culture, but you can only be in charge of one aspect of the organization.” I’d pick hiring and firing every single time. Everything depends on hiring the right people. You can grow people but you can’t change people. It’s not that people can’t change. They can. But the business environment is moving so quickly you simply don’t have time. And even if you did, as a leader you are responsible for the allocation or scarce resources and I would argue that trying to change people is a really bad use of scare resources.

After you got the right people, clear sense of mission, clear role descriptions, and over-communication. Organizations really struggle internally with this last piece, and yet, they know how important it is when it comes to branding and communicating a message to their customers externally.

Repetition is your friend. It is not enough to tell people something once.

The first time you tell someone something, chances are they are distracted or focused on something else. It takes time for them to focus, so they catch the end of your message and ignore it.

The second time you tell somebody something, they think to themselves, “This is his message for the week. He has a different message each week, and I’m really busy this week, so I’ll get next week’s message.”

The third time you tell someone something, they ask a question, which makes you think they are engaged and listening. Wrong. They aren’t interested in what you’re saying yet. The reason for the question is they want to know how what you are saying is going to affect them — their role, responsibilities, and their life. Remember, most people listen to the same radio station in their heads: WIIFM — what’s in it for me?

The fourth time you tell somebody something, they think to themselves, “This must be really important, because this is the second time he is telling me this.”

The fifth time you tell someone something, they ask another question and then listen to your answer with their question in mind to see if they believe you can be trusted.

The sixth time you tell somebody something, you have their attention for the first time and they really listen.

The seventh time you tell somebody something, they might actually hear it the way you were hoping it would be heard from the start.

Can the cycle be shortened? Sure. The more your team trusts you, the shorter the cycle. The healthier your culture, the shorter the cycle. A dynamic culture is a tree that bears fruit in every season and every situation, and it begins with mission and role clarity and is reinforced with over-communication.

What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?

People are people are people. We have very similar drives and are more alike than we are different. The first danger is to overcomplicate the way we relate with teams. Simplicity is key and tapping into the universal truths about people is at the core of simplicity when it comes to managing teams of any size, but this need is magnified the larger a team becomes or the more a team is geographically dispersed.

Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 and say, “I have a strategic plan.” If he would have the speech would have been forgettable and forgotten most likely. He stood on the steps and tapped into the core of every human being when he said, “I have a dream,” and that’s why they have become among the most quoted words in the English language — because we all have dreams.

Why do people come to work? Not because they love your company, not because they love their work, and not because they love having you as their boss. They may love all these, but the primary reason people come to work each day is because they have dreams for themselves and their families.

They also believe that by hitching their wagon to your organization that their dreams will be furthered. When that ceasing to be true one of two things will happen. If you are lucky they will leave and do it quickly. But most likely they will slowly disengage until it becomes so painful that they cannot stand to stay or you cannot stand for them not to leave.

This is why The Dream Manager struck such a universal cord, and that’s why it has been used by banks and janitorial companies, hospitals and schools, start-ups and Fortune 500 companies.

In all of this it is essential not to lose sight of one fundamental truth that emerges from the conversation around personal dreams: people who are unwilling or unable to form a vision for their own lives are incapable of engaging to fulfill your organization’s vision. It is lunacy to expect people to do something for your business that they are not willing to do for their lives.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Make people a priority. Our tag line at FLOYD is “We grow people.” I have often asked myself: What is the difference between the people who succeed and those that fail in all aspects of life? I always come back to the same answer: leaders, mentors, teachers, coaches, and parents. As I look back on my own life I can see a long, long line of people in all these categories that have taken time to guide and encourage me in my next step.

If you really want to grow your people and give them their best chance at success start giving feedback like an NFL coach. An NFL coach doesn’t worry about hurting people’s feelings. An NFL coach doesn’t wait three weeks to give feedback. Feedback is immediate and to the point. NFL coaches are constantly giving feedback. The feedback loop is tremendously short.

In the corporate culture too many managers wait for the annual review. The annual review is a dinosaur. People need constant feedback: encouragement, correction, and coaching. The more you give them the more they get used to the feedback. Champions love coaching. They are hungry for feedback. They want to get better every day. It is one of the key differentiators between mediocrity and excellence.

Get committed to growing your people. Invest in your people by become a coaching leader.

Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?

Culture. Culture. Culture. It is the currency of the future. It is fast becoming the most significant benefit an organization can offer employees. Companies with dynamic cultures are going to rule the war for talent that everybody knows is coming, though I will say it is going to be much fiercer than most people think.

Yes, people have traditionally quit their managers, but they are increasingly quitting their company’s culture. So much so, that I see people taking less compensation to work in healthier cultures.

Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”?

1. Treat people like people. I know it sounds stupid and simple and completely obvious, but it really is the first step when it comes to leading people. Show an interest in who they are beyond the work they do. Start by just finding out what is a key interest each person on your team has outside of work.

2. Coach don’t Manage. People don’t want to be managed, and you don’t have time to manage people. In fact, if you need to closely manage someone you have hired the wrong person. People don’t want a manager; they want a leader — and ideally a coaching leader. Your organization can only become the-best-version-of-itself to the extent that your people become the-best-version-of-themselves.

3. Have a Hiring Process. Get actively involved in hiring people who are going to join your team. It might be easier to let HR handle it but in the long run you will be sorry. Nobody knows better than you what is needed in a particular role. It is a horrible feeling to have to let someone go. Keep that feeling in mind when you are hiring people. Do you hope they can do the job or do you know they can do the job? The right hiring process ensures the later. Have a hiring process and stick to it.

4. Role Clarity. Abolish job descriptions unless you want your people just to treat their work like a job. Use Role Descriptions instead. Language matters and people deserve to know how they are doing. One thing I love about working with professional sports teams is there is no confusion about how the team is doing. There is no confusion about how a particular player is doing. They have dozens of stats that tell them. Each member of your team deserves to know exactly what his or her role is, how you are measuring his or her success, and how he or she is performing in relation to those success factors.

5. Be an Advocate. Advocate for your people. Brag about your people. Don’t hold on to credit; give it away like a hot potato. Be an advocate for your people even when that means you lose one of your best people to another team. Let your brand as a leader become synonymous with someone who grows people and helps them onward and upward in their careers.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d change the conversation at every dinner table every night by changing organizational culture. Too many people are left to complain to their spouse and children about their work because nobody else will listen.

I’d change the answer to the question: How was your day? and I would do it by transforming organizational culture.

A few years ago I talked to a guy who had retired that very day from a company he had worked at for 37 years. “What would you change if you could go back and do it all again?” I asked him. He thought for a moment, and then he said to me, “I would have liked a more comfortable chair.”

As leaders it is our responsibility to make sure our people have what they need to succeed and sometimes that is something as simple as a more comfortable chair or a computer that doesn’t crash ten times a day.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’ll give you two — Churchill and Coolidge — and a related story.

“Never give up. Never… Never… Never…” Winston Churchill.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Calvin Coolidge.

Many years ago I went hiking with some friends. The challenge: Mount Elbert, Colorado, 14,440 feet, the highest point in the Rocky Mountains.

We started early in the morning and as we made our way above the tree line I knew we hadn’t taken enough times to acclimatize to the altitude. We had flown in the day before. But we pressed on. We lost people one at a time, until there was just two of us left. Above a thousand feet from the top I told my hiking partner, “Go ahead, I need to rest.” I sat down on this big rock and a few minutes later a women came up the mountain. She got about fifteen feet passed me and then turned around and said, “You know if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, taking it one step at a time, you will get there.”

Anybody who looks back on their body of work, a lifetime of dedication, realizes that it was achieved not with great leaps, but by putting one foot in front of the other even on the days when you didn’t feel like it — especially on the days when you didn’t feel it.

The difference between the heroes, legends, saints, and leaders and the rest of us, the great mass of humanity, is not what they did on the days when they felt like doing it. It’s what they did on the days when they didn’t feel like it.

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