Posts Tagged: Company Culture


What Would Alan Burkhard Do?

July 30th, 2014

Throughout most of my formative years as a leader, I started off my thinking with the basic question, “What would Alan do or say?” Alan Burkhard is my Pop, a serial entrepreneur, a good Father, an activist for the community & any underdog that he comes in contact with, and most importantly, the most unique leader I know.

Alan's PictureFor example, I used to call him every Friday when we worked together and without fail he thought differently than most leaders. For most situations he would not give me the answer I sought. Rather, he would point me back to the information. He would say, “You don’t have enough information to come up with the solution. Go back and get more.”

Recently, the Outside-In® Companies was awarded with a very large contract. We have worked for it for years. As is typical of a comprehensive workforce program, the customer needed help well before we finished implementation! We had a choice stick with our higher retail price for services until we implement or give the volume price and trust that this is the right thing to do.  Do we have more margin now or do we establish a great “wow” moment of trust with a new customer? What would Alan do? Most grab the margin. We gave the volume price and we will trust that the rest will take care of itself!!

So my statement, “What would Alan do or say?” has nothing to do with seeking fatherly approval or anything like that. It is simply a phrase that keeps me sharp and focused on what being an Outside-In® leader is really all about.

Another example of his unique leadership occurred while at a recent baseball game. Alan commented on the recent security changes at the MLB ballparks. Essentially, ballparks are going to be like airports and large office complexes in the sense that game goers will be patted down and go through scanners. All in the name of homeland security. We might mumble and grumble about our loss of rights and civil liberties but we go along with the crowd and think that this is just another precautionary measure. Not Alan. He brings forward the classic Outside-In® leadership principle. We always seem to police and create rules for the handful of wrong doers and then punish everyone else. Security is serious business of course. However, I get his point as he as always applied this to his business.

Stereotypically speaking, leaders create too many rules and over complicate things. We create policies and handbooks galore. Don’t misinterpret me, I believe some structure and system makes sense. Just don’t over do it! Allow good people to follow simple rules and be allowed to operate freely within that loose system. That is why Outside-In® leaders lead with values. Values are there when we are not (which is often). Besides, bad leaders want to be superheroes anyway and are much too quick to dole out answers. That is NOT what staff wants. Staff wants to grow and be challenged in their job.

So for me, “What would Alan say or think?” is my mantra. It keeps me sharp. I am reminded that it is OK to cut against the grain and to be Outside-In® every moment of every day. This is very hard as most of those in the leadership world would rather make a rule than to actually lead or take action!

An Entrepreneurial View of Failure

July 23rd, 2014

When Edison searched for something to use to illuminate a light bulb he spent months and months with hundreds of different filaments until he found one that worked. Do you think he viewed each unlit bulb as a waste of time or something irrecoverable? He knew with each failed experiment, he was one step closer to something that would work!

ID-100209779As a small business owner, I have failed many times. I have hired the wrong people, put the wrong programs in place, even launched the wrong business ideas. However, I don’t view this as failure. Rather, this is a process to make something right and unique. This is how business works. Try something, fail quickly. Tweak it. Make adjustments. Learn from it. These are the basics. This is not failure. This is how we grow and gain knowledge.

Some say that being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. How do you handle the rejection? The no’s? The pats on the head when your business is just starting? Some will say, “When are you going to go get a job?” This is all part of the failing—dealing with the fact that most people really can’t handle the risk of trying.

I always feel as if I have more control of my own destiny when I am my own boss than when I work for others. That is just my my view. I would rather have tried to be a small business owner,  to have launched new services, and to have hired the wrong person because most of the times we end up getting it right. And we only need to get it right more often than not in order to be successful!

So the next time someone is taking a risk, think twice about your commentary. Risks create learning, knowledge, and opportunity. Everything changes. Why not be the one that initiates and drives change? Then failure will not be an option!

Create a Culture Holiday!

June 18th, 2014

How do you reinforce and teach the right organizational behaviors to your employee base? Leaders want their company to have a culture that reflects the values they put in place, but how can you do this from a practical day to day perspective?

Generally, we want to tell stories around our values. We want to reward and recognize values-based behaviors. And then we want to keep repeating and reinforcing. Not so hard in theory, but it can be difficult in a practical sense.

At the Outside-In® Companies, we have established a values holiday calendar. We have quite a few values, so every three to four weeks we celebrate one of our unique values for the day. Employees partner up and work on a value to find a way to bring the values to life. The value gets reinforced at our morning huddle. Legacy stories might be shared. A module of learning might be created. Handouts and visuals placed on desks or in prominent places to reinforce the message. The key is the simple routine and consistency. The challenge is to keep it fresh and changing.  And to make the story and symbolism meaningful.

When you encourage employees to take on a value they must become learners in order to act as teachers. Allowing all to be innovative and unique in how they communicate it is simply part of our culture. This reinforces taking risks and being knowledge-based workers.

Screen Shot 2013-08-01 at 1.39.32 PMSpeaking of risk taking and holidays. Check out the $9 dollar bill with my face on it. This was the handout on for the Risk Takers values holiday. I always say make $9 dollar mistakes. Involve others when its goes to $99 or perhaps $99,999 or up. Once you bring the values to life in a meaningful way the rest will fall into place as employees live and breathe your culture. Humor. Education. Recognition. Rewards. Repeat.

No Excuses Leadership

May 7th, 2014

no excusesWe make them all of the time. In our home life. At work. In our minds. We say it out loud. We think of it often and we blame others all too much. Our kid got a bad call on the sports field. We would have gotten that promotion or bonus if the boss was more reasonable. We could have hit our budget, however, the winter weather kept workers home. As leaders at the Outside-In® family of companies, we have serious responsibilities to consider as a team.

No Excuses as a value seems self-explanatory, right? Try hard to control the space between your ears and learn to own whatever you are responsible for and for whatever happens to you. Placing blame, well, that is the easy path to take. Everything can be rationalized and made someone else’s fault.

As a leadership team No Excuses requires a commitment to some important management ideals and practices.

1. As leaders we need to think in terms of contingencies. Things always go differently than planned. Thinking through different options. Planning to stay ahead of your business. Making sure you stay ahead of things. The concept of getting ahead matters.  

2. Getting ahead and staying ahead and out in front of your business. Having enough focus and balance on the future of your business is critical. Do you have enough staff? Do you know who your next hire is? Are they ready for your next opening?

3. Balance of today’s workload with tomorrow. Did you just barely get through the day? Are you growing your business? Are you giving employees a reason to come back? Would anyone notice that you’re not working towards a future state or plan? A business is a plan of resources that meet today’s demands but also keep you aligned to your future. Too much today focus can mean that stakeholders become disinterested and begin to question where we are headed. Too much forward focus? Well, the bright picture you’re creating maybe too big a chasm for your employees to believe it today and it looks ugly!

4. Anticipate. Everyday clients have issues. Staff needs help and coaching. You will have interruptions, distractions, things that occupy time. New prospects need cultivating. You know everyday these things happen. And this is just a normal day, where, nothing big happened good or not so good. If you know this be ready for it.

5. Have a daily plan. As a leader you can make it through your day and have a full one simply by helping the staff and customer that need it and by going to the standing meetings on your schedule. I bet success for you is defined by more than reacting to your day.

Avoiding excuses starts well in advance. To avoid making big ones requires planning, delegation and an effective of balance on the work of the day versus the long range direction you have set for your business.

What is Your Personal Operating Philosophy?

April 2nd, 2014

Although each of us has one, few of us have ever sat down to work on it. Yet it still exists and your operating philosophy is at play all of the time. How do you react to people and situations? How do your beliefs impact how you act and perhaps even how you interact with the world around you. Your series of beliefs are your operating philosophy.

Trust me, even if you think you do not have one you do. So we all have a choice to make here to determine our philosophy. People do not know themselves. They know they don’t necessarily like dishonesty or rudeness or folks that lack direction or purpose in their lives. But knowing these things for yourself. Well I think in business and as a talent expert I see all kinds of people who simply have not taken the time to decide who they are and what they stand for. Imagine a culturally led organization asking culture-based questions to folks that don’t know their own culture? Hard to find a match.

So how do you go about defining yours? A business has an operating philosophy that defines in many different ways. Things like a mission statement, values or culture, even things like a purpose define the operating philosophy. They work hard to answer the basic questions of what a business does, why it exists, and how it goes about doing its business. I get asked this everyday as a business owner. And an answer I must give.

As people we have a choice. Are we half full or half empty? Are we reactive or proactive? Are we going to be friendly or nasty? Each of us needs to determine what we stand for and believe in.

ISTJ2I help people refine their personal operating philosophy by asking the following questions:

  • Brainstorm leaders in your community and famous people. What is that you admire about them?

  • Think of who you admire most. Then determine why.

  • Find an assessment tool like Disc, Strengthfinders, Myers-Briggs, or other tools for self-reflection and thinking.

Most important of all is to do some thinking about what the world needs from you. If we truly control our reaction to the world, we get to decide what we put out to the world, right? So the real answer is to define your thinking about your attitudes, beliefs, and values. And be able to talk about them.

So what is your operating philosophy?

Outside-In® Ubiquity

March 19th, 2014

Last year we realized that Outside-In® Companies have done much work to achieve our written and stated purpose. You see, we like a purpose because it is more actionable than a mission statement. I hope you don’t care for mission statements—they get put on lobby walls and above doors of conference rooms, but are not often talked about or brought to life. I am not sure what consultancy started to charge tens of thousands of dollars to Corporate America sometime in the 80s, but they should have to give their money back. In fact, most are not active in the day-to-day lives of the typical employee. Committees write them, yet no one understands them. And it’s easy to know why, they are just a bunch of jargon and buzzword-filled statements that impress but have no real purpose. In fact, most mission statements don’t seem to make any sense and are foolish, even!

purposeNow, purpose–this is why I hope you bolt out of bed every morning and get excited about what you’re doing. (Of course you love your job and career, right?) All of us at times need to think in longer terms, say 10-15 years in order to achieve and dream. Creating a big future and broader meaning for being are critical to culture and the experience that your employees and customers feel when they are a part of your organization. This is what drives you through thick and thin. And it is why I am writing this story. A purpose needs to be talked about, be actionable, and be alive and well in every single meeting. There is little coincidence that we use the word ubiquity in our purpose. We want our purpose everywhere, every place, all of the time. And everyday we bolt of bed to climb the Outside-In®  Mt. Everest. We put it out there for others to use. Now we need to get inside people and create a doctrine of beliefs that people can find useful to making their lives better and more fulfilled!

We have always wanted to get Outside-In® to become a household name in business. We registered the trademark in 2004. We wanted to encourage its use and not litigate, defend, or protect our claim. To me, the greatest form of flattery was when the national business magazine, or local technology blog used Outside-In® in a way that described customer-centered thinking and a culture that is, in essence, built around the customer.

I have a shelf full of books and an electronic database of references to our precious, Outside-In® moniker. Here’s four:

Getting Outside-In® in everyday language was fun. This was hard work. This is still a vibrant goal.  But we wanted to think bigger and differently about the next ten years. To us, Outside-In® is about our values and how they can play a role in our lives as employees, as parents, as neighbors and siblings, frankly all of life’s roles. We started to think that perhaps our new purpose is about showing everyone that Outside-In® Ubiquity is quite possibly the best thought we ever had. We started to hear from employees that they were taking our values home and into their personal lives. That they helped show the teenager the value of homework, that they improved relationships with neighbors—that our values were becoming ubiquitous. This makes a lot of sense. If you hire for values you have employees that generally came there for those congruent reasons. If we are rewarded, recognized, and appraised consistently against these values then the purpose becomes more like an Outside-In® tattoo. It is forever omnipresent in our lives.

Interrupt Us!

January 29th, 2014

At Outside-In® Companies we have a value that is rooted in being responsive. Responsive is somewhat nebulous because it means something different to everyone. The key to being responsive is to be Outside-In® with your audience. To do this you must ask the questions, “If I got back in touch with you tomorrow at 9am would that meet your needs? Is an email summarizing our pricing by end of day going to work for you? Honey, if I take the trash out before dinner is that ok?” I think you get the idea. We must all work hard to establish expectations with our various relationships if we hope to have any shot of living up to (and exceeding) our own standards.Responsive

We like to take responsive one step further here at Outside-In® companies. Each and every one of us answers the phone during office hours and we set a standard of picking up in three rings. We’re competitive so two rings is better; one ring is best. Hard to do better then that, although we would if we could. Being responsive is a cultural mindset that starts with leadership. Like a drumbeat, it must have a consistent and never ending rhythm.

However, that is not good enough. Part of being responsive is the demonstration of our commitment to it. When you call our offices we will ask you if you would like the person you are calling for interrupted. Please take us up on it! So few will, but, we know you called for a reason. To show you the importance we expect our staff to be able to juggle calls, take your call quickly, and arrange the best way to get that thing done your were calling about. Of course there are exceptions. However, most of the time we can juggle and we know it makes our customers more productive. Most importantly, being responsive stops the game of phone tag cold!

Welcome to our value of being responsive!

Leadership: Vacation or Values?

January 8th, 2014

I once worked with a leader of a local business who told me the greatest stories of his early years in running his company. Most of them revolved around the tough decisions that leaders face. One time, when his business was just a few years old, he went on a family vacation.  These vacations were rare. His wife and kids did not ask for much. This was their time. Besides, he needed the break to recharge and rejuvenate on so many levels.

Then he got a dreaded call. A trusted employee shared intel that the employees were making their own rules, coming and going when they pleased, and were covering it up. Asking her to also participate, get her buy-in so to speak, by incriminating herself in action! She said no and called the boss. Thank goodness. This was a service business. Customers calls and requests were not being responded to. In fact, they even left her to run the business for extended periods of time!

rear-mirror-167581_640So what does a leader do when they get this kind of call? They sit in their car on the side of the road for several hours weighing their options. If I ignore it, I can go back to the beach with my family. I can simply deal with it later. Not perfect, but I deserve the downtime. However, this is about culture and values. Your culture is what people do when they are alone at 3 am. Culture is your company personality. Values are those key guide posts that drive behaviors when you’re not around. Well, you’re not around and the values are not being lived. What do you do?

You get in the car and drive right to the office. In the end you let a few people go and you warn a few others. All in all, you make it clear what your leadership is all about and that values matter. Especially if it means you will have to work harder and start over in your business. Even if you’re inconvenienced during your time off.

Curiously, I am not sure if this is truth or a great leadership fable. I am not sure it matters one bit in the grand scheme of things. What does matter is what you would do as a leader. Would you take the path of least resistance? Stay on your vacation? Or drive home? I like to dream that I would get in the car and prove that culture and values matter!

What if Santa Decided to Use a Few Temporary Elves?

December 18th, 2013

elf2We have all seen the holiday movies that suggest that perhaps it is time for Santa to modernize the factory, get some of his lead elves certified in Six Sigma, or to employ lean manufacturing in his workshop. Gone should be the days of elves singing Christmas carols, eating cookies, and making toys from scratch. The days of that sort of craftsmanship and artisan work are long gone as the nice list runs into the millions.

I am a contingent workforce expert. My Outside-In® Companies help leaders like Santa make sense of the realities of today’s workforce and workplace. And well, Santa does things the old fashioned way with his people, I mean elves. Today’s toy workshops have challenges in staffing and productivity during the busy season. Imagine Santa’s workshop in the weeks and months leading up to the big day! More importantly, what does he do with all of those elves in January?

I propose that Santa would benefit from a temporary elf workforce. Santa could bring in new skill sets and the workshop would flourish with new ideas and concepts. Those hard to fill roles might get the attention they deserve during the busiest of times.

lisaelfjNow, Santa would have to consider today’s laws and hiring standards. No longer can he claim that the measured height of his workshop is a legitimate bona fide job requirement. OSHA made him change that in the winter of ‘82. It just might be a good thing to see a few more guys and gals that look like Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel on the Big Man’s campus. A little diversity is important. Santa needs to keep up with his Affirmative Action Plan as people now live at the North Pole, too.

Most importantly? Santa can staff up and professionally work with the Outside-In® Companies to wind down post-holiday season. Rather than having elves paint the workshop and sweep the floor each and every day, Santa can feel confident that his staffing partner is redeploying his elfen talent that was there for the “busy season.” When one Holiday ends, another begins. Perhaps we can skill-market that talent to the Easter Bunny and have a temporary workforce plant hidden eggs around the globe?

What Do You Need for Christmas?

December 16th, 2013

Guest blog spot by Caitlin Olszewski, Communications & Design Coordinator

When you’re a kid, Christmas is about as magical as it gets. (I have yet to see a unicorn, okay?) The fact that you go to bed with a belly full of apple pie and ice cream to wake up to toys and treasure underneath your tree is the highlight of the year. And parents, those behavioral Jedi mind tricks you can use on your kids while “the elves are watching” are truly miracles in themselves.

“What do you want for Christmas?” The question all of us were asked year-after-year by the red-velvet-clad cookie connoisseur sparked elaborate answers of Transformers, high-tech gadgets, and cavity-inducing candy. However, the moment you opened a present to unveil a pair of socks or the dreaded pack of underwear you immediately came to the conclusion that you were on the naughty list. What if you actually wanted those things and worried more about your cold toes than the latest toys? What if all you wanted for Christmas were simply things that you absolutely needed?

Each year, we partner with Delaware Social Service’s Adopt-a-Family Holiday Gift Assistance program. The program provides the sponsor with a brief description of the circumstances that led each family to the need for assistance. We survey through the available families looking to make their holiday season extra merry and bright. This year, when I was reading each informational bio, one family stuck out in particular.

adoptafamA recently-singled father and his 7-year-old daughter were simply asking for a $200 gift card for groceries along with hats and scarves to brave the cold weather. So what did we do? We used our Service to the Nth Degree value to provide roughly $600 in gift cards to make their Christmas extraordinary. However, we all know that there’s nothing like the suspense and sound of ripping open wrapping paper on Christmas morning, so we set off to provide presents and various necessities for our family to make their holiday a little more Outside-In®.

Through working as a team and providing peace of mind for our adopted family this season, we helped keep the spirit of Christmas alive for them, as well as ourselves. No matter what you celebrate, I hope you can discover your own holiday magic this season and share it with those around you who truly need it.

Want to be a part of the Adopt-a-Family program next year? Click here for more information.

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