“I heard you had one-on-ones with my people,” my colleague said in a slightly stern tone.
“I’m sorry. They weren’t one-on-ones. I thought you were aware of the ‘listening tour’. Sally and I have committed to visiting all of our offices and chatting with every teammate, in the spirit of getting to know them better and understanding their frustrations. It’s one of the steps we’ve taken to unify our culture,” I replied. “They were benign 20-30 minute chats to listen and learn. We weren’t trying to solve anything,” I added.
“I would appreciate if you told me in advance the next time you talked with my people,” they replied.
“Oh, my apologies. It sounds like you’re upset. Next time, I’ll let you know.”
I was taken really back by the use of the phrase, “my people”. I didn’t think we had people. My colleague was referring to their direct reports, however they were inferring they needed complete control over what their direct reports do, say and with whom they meet. It was rooted in their own insecurities and fears. I felt sad for them and the teammates who have to deal with them as their manager.
It was a reminder of how long we have to go to heal our company’s culture. We’re closer to the tipping point than we were a year go, however there is still much work to do. I am emboldened to keep fighting the good fight.
There are two key threads in the cultural tapestry we are building:
- How we think about our job and our career: It’s not about trying to reach some stature which, once achieved, means you can boss people around and then coast in your status. Rather, it’s about always adapting and reinventing yourself to become a linchpin.
- Recruiting and retaining star teammates isn’t all about the money: Feeling respected and appreciated, both with the work you’re able to do and the colleagues with whom you do it, can be the most valuable component of a job.
We are methodically making progress towards these ends by using a mentoring model. Mature, grounded, experienced, humble, servant-minded linchpins are stepping up to teach and empower reliable apprentices, who then will eventually be qualified to teach others. This self-perpetuating mentor-apprentice cycle will repeat itself until we reach critical mass.
Until then, I’ll be patient.