All Blacks culture drives their success

The All Blacks are arguably the most successful International sports team. This year they won all 14 games against the top teams in the world.

The All Blacks culture is the foundation for their success. I teach organisational culture, so I know the theory well and I am always looking for strong examples. They are not easy to find. In yesterdays interview on National Radio, when Kathryn Ryan asked about the team culture, coach Steve Hansen responded:

Well I think culture is a word that is used a lot and I think it should be, because I think it is the key ingredient. If you have got your culture of your business, your sporting team, your school – whatever it is that you are involved in right, and its being lived every day;  And that’s the key thing living it every day from the top down to the bottom rather than to bottom to the top. So you can’t have a day off…If your values are x,y, and z, then you have to live those values every day. You don’t have a problem with having someone not fitting in because that’s just the norm. And when something becomes the norm its easy for a young guy to come in and sees what they do – “oh that’s what they do I’ll do that”.

Its when you have the guys at the top doing something different to what your culture is all about that you get people wandering off and losing focus it becomes a rotten culture, then you are doomed to fail. So it’s a matter of living it every day and making sure the people at the top are driving it.

Here is the full interview. Steve Hansen also talks about the teams vision.

Most kiwis are raised on rugby and have a deep love of the game. So we know rugby culture, its stories, its heroes, its powerful visible artefacts. In the performance of our current team, if we look a little deeper we can see the cultural drivers that makes the team what it is. Players such as Ma’a Nonu, who struggle to perform to potential in regional teams, flourish in the All Black environment. When you watch the players in action, you can see their focus and trust – they focus doing their own role and they trust those around them are doing the same. When it comes together it is something beautiful to behold. This video captures some of the highlights of the year. Watch for the final try of the year against the Irish and the fluidity of the relentless attack.

I am always looking for examples of great leaders. I have found one in Steve Hansen. He doesn’t come across as the most articulate of men, but what he says is worth listening to. He’s this year’s IRB Coach of the Year and has probably been the key person driving the cultural development of the team over the last six years. If we can translate his lessons about culture into action, we can have a great year at work, in our families and communities in 2014.

And a “shout out” to Kath Kozel, a former colleague and communication teacher. I was raised on rugby, by Kath migrated her from the U.S. Her and her husband Matt have become great rugby fans. Her ranking in virtual rugby peaked at number 10 in the nation this year. Sometimes we need “outsiders” to reflect the beauty of the culture. Thanks Kath.

Great companies embrace social media

While many are wary of employees spending too much time on social media, some great businesses are showing us how social media can enhance business. This video features Erin Lieberman-Moran from the Great Place to Work Institute.

Note that Erin recognises a high level of trust as the enabler for businesses to use social media effectively.

Social media and crisis communication

Ethical Corporation’s July 2012 report researches how companies respond to consumers and activists in a crisis. While the full report, with a price tag of £695 targets corporate customers, the Ethical Corporation provides some great information along with this excellent infographic.

Social media crisis Infographic

Engagement and the Regeneration Roadmap

Engagement processes are at the leading edge of sustainability. The Regeneration Roadmap is an initiative of Globescan and SustainAbility aiming to achieve sustainable development within the next generation. Their focus is on the private sector to drive a lot of change.  This video features global thought leaders articulating the road to sustainability. As you watch, notice how pivotal engagement is a agency for change.

Mobilizing the Response from The Regeneration Roadmap on Vimeo.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, a past Norwegian Prime Minister and Director General of the World Health Organisation. She is currently a Special Envoy on Climate Change for the United Nations. She places engagement at the heart of change.

Personal engagement, personal commitment and building confidence with other people and other nations is the only way to move forward.

The video reinforces the need to generate positive discourse around sustainability, articulate a vision of a sustainable planet and create a culture to embed sustainability as a way of life.

For more videos by these gifted thinkers go to the Regeneration Roadmap website.

Moral leadership – the foundation of prosperity

The renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs pinpointed the foundations of a prosperous economy in a recent article. He states: [1]

His post celebrated the life of the late Václav Havel, the Czech playright, who spoke out against the communist regime. His determination to speak out against the suppression of human rights by the communist government saw him imprisoned on multiple occasions. On the collapse of the communist regime, the new Federal Assembly unanimously voted him President of Czechoslovakia.

What is the connection with engagement? Among Václav Havel’s writings is the essay The Power of the Powerless where he decries those societies who force their citizens to “live within a lie”. He was a strong advocate for people having a voice. Moral leadership is about seeking the best interests of the community rather than pursuing a personal agenda. Being imprisoned for speaking out for others is strong evidence of moral leadership.

Corporations have the potential to be as oppressive as a corrupt state if they choose to pursue only their self-interest – and there is plenty of evidence of this (for example, the Enron story). Fortunately, there is a change of consciousness happening as corporates are wising up to the reality of a hot, flat and crowded world and the folly of a myopic short-term focus on profit. Whatever the motive, be it a crucible-forged awakening, altruism or enlightened self-interest, forward thinking corporates are manifesting moral leadership.

Sustainability is inextricably linked to concern for a broad range of stakeholders. To identify and honour stakeholder aspirations requires engagement and a willingness to hear their diverse voices. According to Jeffrey Sachs:

Without restoring an ethos of social responsibility, there can be no meaningful and sustained economic recovery. [2]

So thank you Václav Havel and thank you Jeffry Sachs for being two more voices pointing to a better way to work and live together on planet earth.

Book review – We: How to Increase Performance and Profits Through Full Engagement

Rudy Karsan and Kevin Kruse’s book is pragmatic and of use to anyone looking to improve employee engagement. The book is organised into four parts. The first two deal with the individual and I will get my objections to them out of the way before discussing the gems to be found in parts three and four.

In parts one and two the focus on the individual is understandable – as engagement happens from heart to heart. We know that globally, the rates of disengagement are too high and too many people are disconnected from their work. I also accept that people will feel more fulfilled if they find meaning and purpose in their work – but after reading the first few chapters I was left with an impression that we are Homo economicus – we are one dimensional and our primary function is our work. Through our work we will find fulfilment and happiness. But it feels like a rationale to get people to work harder.

As a New Zealander one bad habit my fellow Kiwis share with the people of the United States (the home of the authors) is that we work long hours – we work too hard. Work-life balance is seriously out of balance. In this context I get concerned when I encounter an evangelistic approach towards the virtue and necessity of hard work.

The positives

Having got that out of the way, this book has many gems. The authors have obviously rolled their sleeves up and got involved with engagement processes. They share the three questions they use to gauge engagement (you will find them in the book). I am a fan of short and open survey questions and intend to incorporate these into my work.

The authors make a beautiful distinction: harmonisation = engagement + alignment.

Engagement is the catalyst to get you to that extra edge in performance, while alignment ensures everyone is heading in the same direction. (page 145)

They raise the bar for us here. Some organisations struggle to get to the point of surveying staff about engagement. They may or may not do anything with the information gleaned. To ensure the material issues blocking greater engagement are addressed, and then to go on to align people across the various structural and ideological barriers in an organisation is a worthy aspiration.

Another concept that resonates with me is their management prescription, embodied in chapter eight – “great managers focus on growth, recognition and trust”. This chapter atones for the issues outlined earlier. The authors prefer valuing employees to recognising employees. To survey your employees, survey them to see to what extent they agree with the statement “I feel valued as an employee of this company.” They prefer it to “I receive recognition when I do good work”.

Valuing is about appreciating the worth of something (someone) and of esteeming something (someone) highly. When we value employees, we appreciate them for who they are and what they bring to the organization. We acknowledge them not merely for tasks, but to the deeper intrinsic worth they add to the organization by just being there. (page 177)

When authors apply concepts about qualities of character, such as trust and trustworthiness, they reveal to me a deeper understanding of the human condition than encountered in many business books. Rudy Karsan and Kevin Kruse highlight trust as an important driver of employee engagement. To understand this better they suggest questions such as: “How can our leadership team foster greater trust among employees?” The three qualities that inspire trust are competence, caring and commitment.

It is hard to find books that focus on engagement – so this one is well worth the purchase price. If you know of others you would recommend, please comment.

We: How to Increase Performance and Profits Through Full Engagement by Rudy Karsan and Kevin Kruse (2011) New Jersey: John Wiley


Stakeholder engagement drivers – Part 5: altruism

In earlier blogs in this series we looked at self-interest and enlightened self-interest as sustainability and stakeholder engagement drivers. This post explores altruism as a driver.

It seems natural that business leaders who prosper seek ways to give back to the community. The survival imperative driving the earlier days of their careers may have prompted self-interested behaviours. As survival needs are met we move up the needs hierarchy. Maslow talked about self-actualisation – is altruism a manifestation of self-actualisation? Anthony Robbins includes contribution as one of six human needs.

We all have a deep need to go beyond ourselves and to live a life that serves the greater good.  It is in the moments that we do this that we experience true joy and fulfillment.  (Anthony Robbins from Personal Power II)

Altruistic enterprises come in various guises. They include:

  • philanthropic ventures initiated by the wealthy
  • not-for-profit organisations
  • profit generating organisations with an altruistic mission
  • social business.

Philanthropic ventures

Successful business leaders such as Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Warren Buffet have given millions. Bill Gates has set up the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “dedicated to bringing innovations in health, development, and learning to the global community”. As these ventures typically target the disadvantaged, dealing with social issues, they are sustainable in intention.

Not-for-profit organisations

These are the most numerous of the “altruistic” sector. Many are strongly aligned with environmental or social sustainability issues. Most have strong survival instincts and devote significant effort to self-interest.

Profit generating organisations with an altruistic mission

Along with social businesses, these organisations have emerged relatively recently and have a clear sustainability agenda. The Grameen family of businesses established by Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus is a clear example. Founded in 1983 the Grameen Bank now has over 8 million members. The mission of the bank is “to eradicate poverty”. The bank spawned several other innovative enterprises that raise the quality of life and well-being for the people of Bangladesh.  Muhummad Yunus’s letter to members, on the eve of his forced departure from the bank, beautifully summarises the Grameen story. This video about Grameen Shakti illustrates the multiple benefits generated by a brilliant altruistic business.

Social Businesses

Grameen Danone was launched in 2006. This social business was inspired by Muhummad Yunus and is a partnership between Gameen and the French company Danone. It stands alongside Danone’s for-profit businesses as a “no loss, no dividend” company. Any profits are returned to grow the business. Social businesses exist to deliver social good. Grameen Danone produces nutrient fortified yoghurt at a very low price to relieve malnutrition in Bangladesh. Muhummad Yunus also drove an environmental agenda, asking Danone to produce a biodegradable, and then edible yoghurt container! Several other social businesses have followed. Here is Muhammad Yunus explaining the social business concept.

The recent development of organisations such as the Grameen Bank and Grameen Danone are, I believe, indicative of a shift in human consciousness to a more empathetic business model that looks beyond self-interest and recognises our interdependence. These are the early days – it is exciting to imagine what will emerge as more businesses learn to transcend the drivers of self-interest. Tell us about where you have seen these businesses emerging.

Engagement tools: dichotomy busting

Engagement hasn’t been the default mode of communication. So it stands to reason that we need to re-evaluate how we communicate for engagement, and learn to use some new tools. Earlier posts looked at the communication spectrum and the shared meaning model. You can add dichotomy busting as a tool to surface the underlying thinking that will support or hamper engagement.


Humans have this natural drive to create neural patterns. (Here is a link to a cool YouTube video providing a great metaphor for creating neural patterns). Our primitive nature, for survival purposes, prompts us to categorise things – good/evil, friendly/hostile, in the box/outside the box, potential meal/might eat me. Sharp distinctions aid quick decisions and these dichotomies are useful for our survival. But for higher thinking, dichotomies are a mixed blessing.

In I Am Right You Are Wrong, Edward deBono illustrates how ideas can become polarised with an elegant metaphor. Imagine a drop of rain falling on the peak of a mountain range (such as the Andes). If the wind is blowing from the east, the raindrop will end up in the Pacific Ocean; if the wind blows from the west, it will traverse other lands and end up in the Atlantic. Dichotomies tend to polarise. Edward deBono claims that dualistic, right/wrong thinking, came from the ancient Greeks and today,plagues our institutions, public and private. It is embodied in our language and works well for argument and physical sciences, but no so good for engagement. The author then highlights the need for more flexibility in our thinking.

Our existing perceptions, concepts, models, and paradigms are a summary of our history. We can look at the world only through such a framework. If something new comes along we are unable to see it. Or, if we do see it, we see it as a mismatch with our older perception so we feel compelled to attack it. In any case we can judge it only through the old frame of reference (page 283).

Dichotomy busting

Our dichotomy buster is a quadrant, aided by questions of enquiry. Its is similar to polarity mapping, but I believe, simpler.

When a strong dichotomy exists, the positions can be seen as polarised on a continuum. Here the costs associated with engagement create the polarity. Engagement is seen as resource hungry and tight budget constraints position engagement as being an expense.

If we change the continuum to a quadrant, we open possibilities for increasing positions from two to at least four. Here is the same example below.

Notice that in the top right hand corner questions direct attention to finding synergy between what might have been conceived as polar opposites. And notice how this relates to the deBono quote above – we are impelled to look to new ideas for solutions.

But people are challenged by this. Recall the raindrop, travelling down one side of the Andes. As it travels it gravitates to deeper and deeper channels until it reaches the see. So it is with deeply patterned thinking. It is very easy to reach polarised conclusions.

…the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.
F Scott Fitzgerald

Using the dichotomy buster

If you use the dichotomy buster please let me know how it goes.