“To create a fantastic work culture, don’t keep changing directions; It’s one thing to be nimble, another to cause whiplash” With Lynne McNamee

Don’t keep changing directions. It’s one thing to be nimble, another to cause whiplash. I once worked at a company where there was a reorg or change in service offerings essentially every month. Depending on which leadership book the CEO read, almost everything in the company would change, from reporting structures to marketing messages. It […]

Don’t keep changing directions. It’s one thing to be nimble, another to cause whiplash. I once worked at a company where there was a reorg or change in service offerings essentially every month. Depending on which leadership book the CEO read, almost everything in the company would change, from reporting structures to marketing messages. It caused so much unnecessary stress to employees, and negatively hurt the company’s perception by the public. It showed a tremendous lack of leadership.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lynne McNamee. Lynne has been an innovator and professional in the marketing field for twenty years. Having directed the Avis Rent A Car®, Hewlett-Packard Company and Bank of America® accounts (among others) at Dryden Partners in Connecticut, Lynne has deep experience in both strategy and execution for Fortune 50 clients. She is recognized as a unique and creative thinker, most notably for introducing synergies among brands, products and new technologies. She was noted by the New York Times for her innovative thinking. Currently, Lynne leads Lone Armadillo Marketing Agency, a full-service marketing agency helping companies achieve their sales growth targets through strategic and digital marketing. She has also just launched Lone Armadillo Learning, which hacks the marketing tool kit to improve corporate Learning results. She is a proud Hufflepuff.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Growing up, I used to leave for the tv show and return for the commercials. I’ve always been drawn to trying to understand how another person thinks and what motivates them, which is the role of marketing.

When I first relocated to Texas, I took an embedded role with a company that consulted in the Learning, Talent and Human Capital Management space. While there, I learned a lot of explicit theories and strategies around people development, which reinforced my own history and beliefs.

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

While late to start, once I started ready the Harry Potter series, I was full in. The four houses of Hogwarts (Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin) are a great way to think about employees and a way to structure a business and business teams.

We try to have diversity of the houses in each part of the business. An ideal salesperson? Gryffindor plus Ravenclaw. Client Services? Hufflepuff. In general, we avoid Slytherins, because of the lack of team-first attitude and the conflict which they frequently introduce. Our culture is collaborative and supportive and creative. A Slytherin wouldn’t be successful or happy here, so why set them up for failure?

The office is decorated like the Gryffindor Common Room, and Harry Potter references are commonplace. It adds an element of fun, gives some instant comradery, especially when people learn they are in the same House, and, with its allusion to the famous Wizarding school, communicates that this is an environment for constant Learning.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am launching a new technology solution to tackle the core challenges in Corporate training using strategies which have been proven in marketing to work. Rather than using data fornegative or questionable aims, as is too frequently happening in marketing, this is an opportunity to use the data to help individuals advance their individual professional development goals while helping corporations address the talent gaps which emerge when corporate training isn’t fulfilled.

In addition, it will help address some of the “learning impact” metrics with which the industry struggles by using approaches which are common in other business units and to which the C-Suite is familiar.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

People are unhappy when they have expectations which aren’t met. Thus, the challenge is to better manage expectations of both employees and employers, which requires active listening and a willingness to change.

With each new generation joining the workforce, being articulate about what are the expectations in the workplace is needed, even and probably especially around things which previous generations take for granted, such as attendance requirements, appropriate attire, time and place for texting, and email etiquette, as well as the pace of advancement, leadership opportunities and flexibility to allow younger employees to contribute sooner.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

Just last evening I was discussing this with a friend who works at another company. While she and others like the company, it has incredibly high turnover. The “perks” don’t outweigh getting raises, being given respect in front of their peers, and being positively recognized for their contributions.

So productivity and profitability immediately suffer if trained talent, especially those with a good deal of institutional knowledge and/or customer relationships, leaves your organization. After investing in training someone, a company will see a higher ROI if that employee stays with them.

A good way of thinking about it, I think, is to consider Tony’ Robbins’ 6 human needs. First and foremost is the need for “certainty” that an employee’s job will be there for them. In addition, are they respected and appreciated and will they have an opportunity to grow and contribute? If a company can help meet an employee’s needs, then the employee will be in a position to positively contribute to the company plus experience happiness.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

  1. Share information with the team. If people understand the “why,” they are more willing to buy in and are able to make better decisions, because they get the context and the objectives
  2. Don’t keep changing directions. It’s one thing to be nimble, another to cause whiplash. I once worked at a company where there was a reorg or change in service offerings essentially every month. Depending on which leadership book the CEO read, almost everything in the company would change, from reporting structures to marketing messages. It caused so much unnecessary stress to employees, and negatively hurt the company’s perception by the public. It showed a tremendous lack of leadership.
  3. Let employees know what you stand for…and what you won’t stand for
    Don’t let some get away with not performing while others are giving it all they have. More importantly, if there is a bully, don’t tolerate or reward their behavior. People need to trust that management will support everyone, not just a select few.
  4. Additionally, don’t preach values to clients that you don’t intend to practice yourself. It is that much harder to put up with poor treatment at your own company while you’re promoting and implementing good treatment for your clients.
  5. Listen to and Value the ideas of the Admins. They know what is actually going on. Rather than view admins as the lowest on the totem pole, Admins are the real gems of any company. They know the politics among employees, they can generally deduce what’s next to happen in the company, from products to regional expansions. They see where the bottlenecks are, have a customer’s perspective on the company and frequently have practical ideas about how to improve things.
  6. Give people the opportunity to fail and applaud them for doing so
    This is how to truly embody a Culture of Learning. Learning involves trying something new, which means one is not an expert at it. A company benefits by getting the insights and perspectives of people throughout the company when they are growing and trying new things, rather than expecting uniform outcomes. This is why we hire humans and not machines. With the rise of automation in the workforce, it is a good time to think anew about the value-add of humans versus machines. Yes, there are many tasks which benefit from robots. But the value of a robot — continuity — is frequently the shortcoming of one, too.
  7. When people add their own history, experience, education, perception, dreams, to even something like Excel, there are new insights which can help transform the company and even an industry. But if the company culture only welcomes uniformity, then learning and experimenting will never truly catch on.
  8. Celebrate the failures and the successes will follow.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

Change the HR laws which limit a manager’s ability to customize coaching to the individual’s needs. With so much fear of lawsuits, we have a society that depends on lowest common denominator, so that no one is offended or perceives differences. However, people’s education, professional experiences, interests, preferences, etc. — the things that make them human — are written out of too much HR. We can’t change culture in a company until we start treating people as individuals.

Also, add an employee advocate to the company. Most of us understand that the HR department really exists to protect the company. Yet having a People Officer who can really advance the needs and opportunities for the employees is increasingly a good move.

Stop with the stupid perks. I was at a company which added free lunch once a week — but didn’t give raises. Many people were resentful. It kept the focus on employees as part of the company, rather than as human beings who shared their time and energy investing in the company. These perks frequently have the company as the focus and real beneficiary, rather than truly appreciating the individuals and their needs and desires.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I strongly believe there is a difference among Leadership, Managing and Supervising.

I think of a supervisor as someone who makes sure someone shows up and does their job. I’m a terrible supervisor. If you’re an adult, I shouldn’t have to tell you to show up for work and to do your job rather than spending the whole day shopping online.

A manager is someone who orchestrates who does what when. I am strong at that, but it’s not my favorite piece. I think helping train others about how to set priorities, to create effective production schedules, etc. — those are important and valuable parts of managing someone. Show one, do one, train one, taken from the medical field, is my approach here.

My main forte, I would suggest, is as a leader. The leader sees the vision and gets others excited about the destination. A leader calls forth the ideas and suggestions and energy and emotion of others. Help them see what they couldn’t see as possible before. To get there, there needs to be trust built along the way. Authenticity is key. In addition, one needs to apologize for mistakes and shortcoming, to create an atmosphere where mistakes are expected as well as owning up to them.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Tom Dryden took a chance on me when I was changing careers. The temporary position I was in was coming to an end. On a Friday, I saw a job posting in marketing that was me to a T, with the application closing date that day. The same day on which my computer died. As in…”on the street curb, can’t get it to turn on, melt for parts” dead. So, with my horrible handwriting, I faxed a note explaining that I would get the application to them by Monday morning, but here’s why I hoped they would still consider my application. Tom later shared that the resourcefulness to find a solution, which was critical to the actual job, helped me get the position in the end.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I am active in Rotary, so I give back on an almost daily basis. I do this by helping raise awareness and funds to support Rotary’s global efforts to end polio as well as for local and global projects around child and maternal health, literacy, economic development, water, sanitation and hygiene, peace and conflict resolution.

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

“You never do wrong by doing what’s right.” Emotions can tempt or confuse us from doing what’s morally right. I had a former employee whom had lied to get the job and also was resistant to training to learn to do the job. By following this mantra, I continued to fully invest in their development, and to share stories of their successes…which wasn’t always easy. I tried to model the behavior desired from the team.

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. 🙂

Join Rotary! You’ll get professional experience, meet people from around the corner and around the world, all while making the change you want to see in the world.

Whether with Rotary or some other organization, get involved and do something for someone else. Don’t let your neighbors or your co-workers remain anonymous. Try to understand things from other peoples’ points of view, which is the start to the path of peace.

And stop hating on Hufflepuff.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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