Tag Archive for: conversations

Conversations at work

As I have mentioned previously, my first corporate job was with a mid-sized publishing firm. I was hired by the Vice President of Human Resources as the company’s first-ever Manager of Training and Development.

At that time I was particularly interested in management as a skill and as something that could be taught (I was a relatively newly-minted MBA graduate). I was excited about my new job because I saw my role as an opportunity to design and lead an ambitious set of management training programs – sales training, problem-solving, leadership, team-building. I wanted to create programs that would brand the company as “with-it,” help us recruit stronger talent into the organization, and – oh, by the way – enhance our performance and profitability.

Much to my surprise, my boss refused to let me set up a formal program.

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Conversations are at the Heart of Culture

Physical space matters. My first job after graduating with an MBA at age 25 was with a leading textbook publishing firm based in the Midwest.

The year before I was hired the company had moved from an aging center city eleven-story skyscraper to a suburban campus complex of four two-story buildings spread out on several acres of grassland with plenty of small trees that created a distinctive park-like setting.

Sounds idyllic, right? Employees now didn’t have to commute to the center city, riding the train or bus; they could drive to the office, where there was free parking and a brand-new, well-designed facility to work in.

I now believe that change in the physical layout of the corporate headquarters was actually a disaster. It completely changed the company’s culture and in particular the relationships between the senior executives and the rest of the employees.

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Collaborative Conversations Create Constructive Cultures

General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, the “Big Three” of the American automobile industry, draw on the same talent pools to staff their organizations. They hire from the same design, engineering, and management schools. Their assembly factories and distribution centers are often located within miles of each other and are staffed from the same local communities. Indeed, in many instances they hire people away from each other.

Yet those three organizations have distinctively different brands, different customers, vastly different organizational cultures, and clearly different track records.

Similarly, The Seattle Seahawks and the Oakland Raiders are two NFL football teams that draw on the same pool of college athletes, recruit coaches from the same broad cross-section of talent and experience, follow the same policies and rules of the game, use the same basic equipment – and have dramatically different won-loss records.

What makes an organization unique?

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