Relationships Matter

Bob Wilson, Founder and Chairman of ADVISA, writes a quarterly Chairman’s Letter. Bob’s letters skillfully incorporate his years of consulting experience into real-life stories. He writes from the heart. We hope you’ll enjoy.

 

A client CEO recently told me, “I’m concerned about our culture.” I asked him why; and he couldn’t really put a finger on what the problem was. What he knew – and he couldn’t define that either – was that he wanted to see his people more engaged.

He seemed to be suffering from engagement malaise.

I’ve thought about this conversation quite a bit of late – trying to understand what “engagement malaise” might mean and how it could be addressed. I hope I can offer some insight that might help in the case you’re thinking you might have it.

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When I built ADVISA, I knew that I had to try to build relationships with the people in the business – which is hard for me. I worked at having the best relationships possible with each of the people who worked in the company. We developed a Values Statement (here it is, if you’re interested) that served and continues to serve as the interpersonal guardrail for how we treat each other.

Generally, we did a good job of carrying those values out on a daily basis. The culture was results oriented, we were successful, and people generally enjoyed their jobs.

Our Core Values – otherwise known as our House Rules – hang in our 2nd floor hallway to remind us what is most important.

When I passed the reins of running the business to Heather Haas (our President) several years ago, I knew she shared the Values of the business and, while not doing things the same way, or perhaps not even doing the same things, I could trust her to run the business in a way that continued the posterity that we both hoped to build. And she has done exactly that.

Her operating style, however, brought through her behaviors, words and deeds, added a new Value to our operating principles – one that has fundamentally improved and altered the business from my days in command: Relationships Matter.

What did she do and how did she do it? And, how did that change the culture of ADVISA?

From the beginning of her leadership, Heather focused on relationships. She would not let animus fester. In contrast, when I was in charge, if people had a disagreement, I figured they could / would figure it out. I’d tolerate disagreement and discord. Heather didn’t. Some people just didn’t like each other and wouldn’t work together. Heather didn’t tolerate that. She’d sit people down, get them to communicate. Work to get them to understand their respective points of view. She didn’t need people to be friends, but she needed them to have relationships. If people couldn’t do that, they didn’t last.

Additionally, and unlike me, she’s created more opportunities for interaction beyond the day-to-day operations of the business – opportunities for having fun together. Not only more social events, but, by leading things like book readings, where people are given opportunities to share their perspectives on the writings being evaluated. And, as our business has evolved, and the needs for collaboration increase as we work on projects with clients, our team needs to work together harmoniously. They need to trust. And they do.

I felt relationships mattered – but, the only ones I thought about were mine. Heather feels relationships matter – all of them – within and without our business.

 

 

That simple shift has significantly impacted the culture within ADVISA. People like working together. They like being in the office. People call us asking to work for us. Our culture is one people like working within and the reason is simple. Within it, relationships matter. We have no engagement malaise at ADVISA.

I think many of the organizations we work with do their best toencourage leaders and managers to have solid relationships with their subordinates. What’s missing, all too often, is that those are the only relationships that are encouraged, fostered and managed – which, unfortunately, leads to silos and mistrust between departments. And that creates the cultural malaise that I believe was the source of the concern felt by the CEO of the original conversation. Something’s wrong – I just can’t put my finger on it.

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What to do? How can you address this within your organization? How do your transition your organization in the way Heather transitioned ours?

 

In the case of the organization mentioned in the first paragraph, I recommended that they first assess their current culture using two different tools – our cultural / engagement survey and a senior leadership cultural roundtable. What they need first is to figure out exactly where their culture is at so they can take a purposeful series of actions to get them where they need to go. How else can they create the culture they aspire to?

While we’re assessing where the organization is, we also want to lay out what and where they want to be – we want to create a Values Statement. This is both an aspirational document and one to live by. It provides a mechanism to convey to everyone inside and outside the organization how people need to treat each other within it. It gives you a document that you can preach from – and you should. If it’s on your walls, but not used, either start using it and preaching from it or re-write it and re-start the process the right way. This is the foundation of your culture. And, if you don’t know how to start, we can help you.

Comparing the Values Statement (what you want to be) with the cultural assessments (what you are) allows an organization to determine the gaps and how to bridge them – what steps are necessary to create the culture that will set you apart.

Your culture is your true competitive advantage (or not). You need to decide what you want it to be, and then do what it takes to bridge whatever gaps that there are – with coaching, education, training – whatever is needed to add that single intangible edge you can have over your competitors. You must harness the marginal effort of your people through their engagement.

And that gets me back to the title of the article – Relationships Matter. Where you emphasize the importance of relationships – all relationships – within your culture, you will benefit. You will create a place where people want to come to work. Where engagement is natural – because work becomes fun.

Competitors can’t compete within the boundaries of your business. Giving your people the environment to operate at full capacity is what you should be aspiring to. When that happens, you won’t have to be concerned if there’s something wrong with your culture. I don’t.

Thank you for reading. And remember, “Relationships matter.” Put that in your Values Statement.

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