5 Ways to be Your Own CCO

I run a business unit where Sales and Logistics are supposed to work together. Instead, I inherited a culture where the Sales staff griped that Logistics kept failing to provide enough trucks for deliveries. We outsourced our trucking services and Donald, the Logistics supervisor, would blame these truckers for not allocating us with enough vehicles. The result was tension between the two departments, stressed-out employees, and angry customers.

“Nelson, fix this,” said my boss.

Why did I feel like Ethan Hunt who was given a “Mission: Impossible?” But unlike the movies, my boss didn’t say “should you choose to accept it.” It was a mandate, plain and simple.

Through the process, I am reminded anew that leaders mold the corporate culture. Poor leadership breeds dysfunctional behavior. Excellent leadership molds a learning and problem-solving environment.

So here’s a thought: every organization has a CEO, COO, CFO and all those other C-Os. Why not a CCO? It stands for Chief Culture Officer. His task is to envision, create, and sustain the best possible culture for the organization. He identifies the relevant core values and designs incentives for people to observe them.

Wait. You say no such position exists in your organizational structure? Then that’s an opportunity for you.  Appoint yourself as CCO.

Secretly, of course.

It is not a matter of formal power or position. It’s a matter of influence. That is what’s leadership is really all about. You may not be a department head or business owner, but you can persuade your peers and subordinates in subtle, if not overt, ways.

When I coach a supervisor, I usually ask him “Who are the people whose attitude you can change?” Often he would point to his subordinates and say that he knocks their heads with the Company Rulebook or slaps them with disciplinary action. The problem is that the workers keep repeating their negative behavior.

The correct answer is that you can only change yourself. So model the attitude you want to see in the organization, whether it is initiative, creativity, integrity, and so on. Everything flows from there.

Certainly I can scold Donald, the Logistics supervisor, for not doing his job. But that would only worsen the situation. Here are the principles I used:

1. Suspend judgment and complaining. 

Complaining is tacit acceptance of the negative status-quo. This, in turn, tends to short circuit critical thinking and constructive solutions. It’s like letting gravity trap you on Earth when you can be constructing a rocket ship. The moment I join the Sales team’s litany of woes against Donald, then I slip into thinking he is irredeemable.

2. Seek the opposite. 

After freezing that complaint inside you, ask yourself, “What is its direct opposite?” I dreamt of Sales and Logistics working together like a well-oiled machine, devoid of finger-pointing and defeatism. But what would it look like? For me, it meant that Logistics would coordinate well with our truckers and Sales would show appreciation to Logistics.

3. Solve the root problems. 

The best intentions of culture change will still fall flat if the organizational structure and systems still break down. It is like promising to arrive at the office on time by driving a car with a flat tire.  I called for a meeting with Donald and the trucker, where we learned that the latter had allocated 8 number of units for us based on an outdated sales plan.  I asked the trucker how many total vehicles it had and how many it can commit to us, regardless of our sales figures. It turned out that it can provide two more units and, if need to, can invest in one more. I made the trucker reserve those 8 + 2 units, which eased our delivery woes.

4. Set up new roles. 

Now you may think I castigated Donald for lacking critical thinking and problem-solving skills. On the contrary, on the next joint meeting between Sales and Logistics, I made Donald present an Excel file which matched our trucking requirements and the trucker’s capabilities. Then I half-jokingly designated Donald as our new “trucking czar,” warmly commended him for his effort, and led the Sales team to applaud.

5. Sustain the desired behavior. 

A month went by, then two months. I asked the Sales supervisor if there was another failed delivery due to a missing truck. She smiled and replied, “No sir. In fact, every time Donald provided the truck, I made sure to thank him.”  Whenever I would bump into Donald on the office corridors, I gave him a thumbs up and say “Good job!”

I have noticed that Donald used to sport a depressed look on his face. Now he greets me with a wide smile. It was as if he was laboring in the shadows until given the opportunity to shine. I made a mental note that for each monthly review, he was to present the status report of being the “trucking czar”, complete with delivery KPIs met 100%. I certainly don’t want his enthusiasm to sputter and we backslide to square one.

Instead of thinking what you cannot do, think of what you can do. Resist the urge to complain, dream the opposite, help solve the root problems, make someone the hero, and reinforce the desired behavior. If you need the support of your boss, ask for it! But do so only after having a game plan from using the five principles above.

Will there be resistors and stragglers? You bet, but my experience is that they are a slim minority. The majority of workers want their workplace culture to change for the better. They just need a Chief Culture Officer to lead the way.

And that’s you.

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