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The True Bottom Line In Business: An Interview With Dov Baron

David Mizne
David Mizne

Dov Baron is recognized as one of the top 100 leadership speakers to hire and a brilliant corporate cultural strategist. He is the founder of Full Monty Leadership, and provides essential soft leadership skills to good leaders who are committed to becoming great while growing their people and the bottom line.

This is the second part of my interview with Dov. In Part One, we discussed workplace diversity, millennials, and company cultures that embrace vulnerability. Read more here.

DM: What do you think of the philosophy framed as what can I get from my employees?, versus how can I offer support for this person to encourage their greatest work?

DB: What is the first rule of business?

To make money.

Whether we like that answer or not, whether we consider ourselves to be holistic or not, let’s take that as a given. If you don’t make any money, you aren’t going to be in business.

But the real bottom line is people. If you don’t invest in your people, you don’t have an avenue for making money. No matter how advanced, how technical, how “Silicon Valley” you are, there isn’t a business that exists that doesn’t have people involved. There may be far less people because of automation, but people are ever-present. If you don’t know how to take care of them, you are out of business.

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Even if you have a completely automated system, on the other end your customer is not automated. Even if I’m buying an automated system from you, I (as a person) am buying it. If I run into problems I don’t want to talk to an AI, I want to talk to a person.

The true bottom line is people.

DM: I interviewed our CEO for an article and one of the questions posed was, what etiquette rules have you integrated into your company culture to make sure customers are treated well during interactions with your staff?

His response was, None. If you have to create etiquette rules you have already failed and hired the wrong people. Hire people who love to be of service, are friendly and engaging and trust them to be themselves. Provide them with core values, integrate them into your culture, and let that be their true north.”

DB: If you have to give them a script, there is no culture. When I go into a company, one of the questions that I’ll ask is, what’s your culture?

They’ll hand me some brochure. And I say, you do realize that’s not your culture, right?And they insist that it is, pointing to some page – Here’s the part that explains how employees do blah blah blah…

If I’m the undercover boss or the secret shopper – whatever they call it – and I come in to the company for two days, I guarantee you that I’ll see something very different than what’s written in the brochure. Because leadership is influence and culture is permission.

I will read and study the entire brochure as a new hire in disguise, and come in to get trained. The trainer will ask if I know what to do. I’ll say, yeah I read it in the brochure. They will say, yeah I know what’s written in there but here’s what we really do…

Here’s what we really do is the true company culture. Your subculture is actually your real culture based on permission.

[Tweet “Leadership is influence and culture is permission.”]

Let’s say there’s a rule that everyone has to be at their desk fifteen minutes before work. Culturally speaking, everyone is always ten minutes late and covering each other’s asses. That’s the true culture and what’s so often missed.

DM: I have a caveat in some of my blog posts dealing with “soft-skills”, where I explain that the advice presented is not new-age nonsense. I try to include scientific research to back up my arguments. Do you ever get similar negative feedback?

DB: Yeah, but I don’t put up with it. People respond to the numbers, that’s how I penetrate their biases. I use a statistic and they can’t argue.

For example, when I discuss purpose, I ask what’s the why of your why? The easiest place to site from is the Jim Collins statistic from his book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. Of the Fortune 500 Firms that existed in 1955, only 12% remain today. What do those 77 remaining companies have in common? They’re all purpose-driven.  You can’t argue with that.

DM: We have a new product that is essentially OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). These are currently transparent company-wide, but some cultures don’t want to share that openly. How much transparency is too much for a particular culture, and how do you develop a culture with increased transparency?

DB: You’re going to run into resistance at any level of transparency, let alone the global version you’re talking about. Leaders have to decide how comfortable they are willing to be with their own discomfort. You can’t do that without first nailing down the true purpose of the organization.

In the model that we designed, purpose is at the center. Then no matter what comes up as a conflict, it’s addressed there. Your purpose is bringing out the best in people. So maybe you don’t want Bob to know what your salary is. Ask, how does hiding that or sharing it bring out your best? How does it bring out Bob’s best?

I worked with someone who had that question. She was angry because she got a glimpse at how much people were making inside the company. She was upset because she was making less than some people. If that level of transparency pushes your edges, there’s only two potential reasons why:

1) It goes against your own moral code, at which point you should leave the company.

2) It challenges you to step into a bigger game. If the culture’s not doing that for you, you’re in the wrong place anyway. You’re too comfortable, and comfort is death.

Whatever comes up, you have to answer it with purpose. And if you can’t do that then you’re making excuses, because you either haven’t got your purpose firmly established yet or you’re misaligned with it. You’re telling yourself you like the company because you like the espresso machine or some other trivial aspect, but it’s not really true to you.

[Tweet “Whether you like it or not, you’re a leader to everybody you interact with.”]

In the example I gave, I was brought in by upper leadership to talk to that employee. I told them if they hire me, they’re going to lose some key people. First of all, if they have a superstar who is a diva I want them out, because they’re going to destroy the culture. If they have a superstar who isn’t aligned with the culture they need to go too, but leadership doesn’t have to get rid of them. They will likely self-reject.

The woman I worked with stayed for so long because it was a great job and a great company, but it wasn’t aligned for her. She received emotional support and counseling, and the social camaraderie was present. She had a ton of freedom and power to do her own thing.

I said to her, you have two challenges. On a personal level you’re crap at accountability. You want to blame somebody else and that’s never going to work. The other thing is, your heart and soul are not in it.

She was in marketing, but what she really wanted was to be a makeup artist. She complained that she was not qualified, and I told her to make herself qualified: Number one go back to school. Number two, make YouTube videos. People will see your work and that’s your Ph.D, you’re done. But this job is not going to make you happy.

A week later she handed in her notice and left on good terms.

Losing people is not a negative, because on the surface they seem good and are making you money, but they’re also costing you. One of the things I saw was an undercurrent of resentment going on with her and the other staff members who all genuinely loved working there. They felt her resentment because she didn’t want to be there. That ripple effect is what we don’t pay attention to.

If you’re not a full yes, any degree of no is having a ripple effect on everyone else. We as human beings are impact beings. Whether you like it or not, you’re a leader and a teacher to everybody you interact with. The question is, Are you leading them into misery, are you leading them into playing small, or are you leading them into greatness?

Image Credit: Philippe Put