Chris Edmonds returns to talk about crafting a culture of civility in the workplace.
- Troubling research pointing to incivility on the rise
- The 3 Ds that destroy civility
- A reframe on blame
Chris Edmonds is a sought-after speaker, author, and executive consultant who is the founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group. After a 15-year executive career leading high performing teams, Chris began his consulting company in 1990. He has also served as a senior consultant with The Ken Blanchard Companies since 1995. Chris is one of Inc. Magazine’s 100 Great Leadership Speakers and was a featured presenter at SXSW 2015.
Chris is the author of the The Culture Engine, the best seller Leading At A Higher Level with Ken Blanchard, and five other books. Chris’ blog, podcasts, research, and videos can be found at Driving Results Through Culture. Thousands of followers enjoy his daily quotes on organizational culture, servant leadership, and workplace inspiration on Twitter at @scedmonds. Visit his website at www.drivingresultsthroughculture.com.
Items Mentioned in this Show:
- Sponsored message: Abby Connect answers your calls when you can’t.
- Chris’ Website: DrivingResultsThroughCulture.com
- Chris’ Book: The Culture Engine
- Chris’ prior episode: 149: Getting Consistently Good Behavior with S. Chris Edmonds
- Book: The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard & Spencer Johnson
- Book: The Optimistic Workplace by Shawn Murphy
Chris, thanks so much for joining us again on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.
Pete, I am excited to be here. Appreciate the opportunity.
Oh, I’m excited too. So we chatted way back when in Episode 149.
Wow. Almost a year ago.
It’s wild, but the time flies. And you’re still making great ideas out in the world, so it is fitting that we chat again.
Well, I thank you for that. And I certainly have found that my focus is upon culture and leadership, and we still have culture and leadership problems all around the globe. So I have job security.
It’s true, it’s true. Well, I was also intrigued by… You have another – I don’t know if you’d call it a job, an avocation – you’re a published songwriter and performer. What’s the story about this here?
It’s true, it’s true. I was convinced… Okay, this is going to go back probably before the year of your birth. So I started playing guitar when I was 12 – that was 1964. Yes, it was The Beatles that inspired that. And by the time I hit college in 1970, I was convinced that I didn’t need a college degree; I was going to go to Hollywood and get work immediately. So, that did not play out, but I did lose almost a full year of college courses, which there was some pain having to recover from that.
But what I realized is that I’ve been a working musician forever in LA and in San Francisco and in Austin, which is a very, very cool music town even today. And we’ve been here in Denver for 12 years, and I started with a band and it wasn’t the perfect match from a values standpoint. What a surprise that that would be one of my biases. And joined a team in late ‘06 that I’m still a part of, and they’re twisted, they’re immensely talented, great songwriters, great performers.
And so we’ve been playing together for 11-12 years and have evolved from a country thing to a country-rock thing to a classic rock thing, to now I’m learning Gaga and Pink, because the market is… They want variety. And so we do mostly corporate stuff and weddings and stuff. We do some festivals, we do a few clubs here and there. But I actually got official songwritership from ASCAP for some of the music I wrote back in the early ‘70s. Because once you perform it and someone pays you for that, you are an official professional songwriter. So, I haven’t written anything in the last 10 years; most of my writing goes around the culture and leadership thing. But I have a studio 20 feet away that has 20 guitars hanging in humidified cabinets. It’s a problem.
It’s a problem. I’ve cut back. And years ago my wife would just kind of… We’re celebrating 39 years of wedded bliss next month, so there’s another podcast story potentially. But I said, “I found a guitar, I want to buy a guitar.” She said, “Fine, which one are you going to sell?” Rats! So, she’s pretty smart, she’s pretty smart.
So, just like at work when they make a request, if you say, “Okay, sure thing. Which of these things on my plate should go?”
“Which of these projects would you like me to let go of?” But I hated, hated selling guitars, but I’ve actually been pretty good. And I’ve got some banjos and I’ve got some mandolins and I’ve got a base, and I make reasonable music on most of them.
Cool. Alright, so the main topic of today is not so much your musical career, although that’s intriguing; or your guitar collection, but you caught my eye with your take on civility, which I think is an important issue. And I want to hear why it’s important to you.
Well, it’s so interesting because my bias has been, let me help leaders A) be aware of the quality of their culture, and let’s craft a proven template of sorts, a system of sorts, that will allow leaders to be more intentional about the way people treat each other. But boy, what an interesting year we’ve had with the “me too” approach and the dynamic that it has caused with women who’ve been badly treated for, oh, let’s call it centuries, by men in power – being able to stand up and say, “Not anymore, never again.”
And so, what really struck me is Weber Shandwick is a firm – yes, at WeberShandwick.com – and they’ve done the state of civility surveys research for the last 6-7 years or so. And so at about the time of the “me too”, let’s call it tidal wave, Weber Shandwick came out with this wonderful, completely depressing data about how basically 69% of people surveyed – that’s workplace plus it’s community, so it’s neighborhoods – 69% said that there’s a problem with civility today in America. And in 2010 it was about 65%, it dropped to about 63% in ’12 and in 2013, but it’s a problem.
And 75% believe that incivility in America has risen to crisis levels. That’s not a, “Oh, this is something someone ought to look at.” This is a significant red flag. And so, I just believe that if we allow the incivility to continue, these numbers aren’t going to get better. They’re going to get worse. And I’m convinced that with as much time as people spend in their workplaces or doing work if they’re remote workers, which of course is growing – the degree of them being treated with trust and respect is not offsetting the degree to which they’re being treated incivility-wise.
So I’m convinced that this is something that leaders need to not just be aware of, but grab the bull by the horns and look at the quality of relationships in their workplaces. And if we can start there we might actually make some headway in the next year or two.
Chris, it’s interesting – this is a very serious topic and yet I can’t help but chuckle as I imagine all the uncivil things I might say to you as a joke.
But we could there very quickly, which of course the twisted mind of mine is, I laugh. But then it’s, “No, no, no, no, no. We can’t say that on the air. That’s not good.”
Right, so keep the iTunes clean right in here. So, maybe let’s get clear with definitions a bit. When you talk about “civility”, how would you roughly define that, and what is the opposite of civility?
It’s interesting – I’ve learned over the years, and blessed with Ken Blanchard’s friendship and mentorship. And Ken Blanchard taught us the power of simple stories and simple ideas. And he of course with The One Minute Manager way back in 1978 taught us that there were three secrets. So one of the things that I’ve learned from Ken is there are three things that we can remember as humans.
So, one of the things that has been very, very consistent – and I’ve been doing research around, again, the quality of workplace cultures for 25 years – and so my 3 Ds are perfect descriptions of the absence of civility. And they are Dismissing, Discounting, Demeaning. So, if we think of the workplace experiences that we’ve had over our careers, those three come up very, very quickly, and we can see different faces popping up on the little movie screen inside of our foreheads.
And it can be driven by power, it can be driven by politics, it can be driven by flat-out angry people that have really no business supervising anyone, including themselves. But the idea of dismissing others’ ideas, dismissing others’ efforts, dismissing others’ accomplishments – there’s no good in the relationship that’s going to come of that. There is going to be a logical erosion of trust, respect and dignity – what a surprise.
And my three Ps of course are around the culture side, which is Purposeful, Positive, Productive. And none of those three Ps are going to be able to gain traction and be sustained if you have any of those Dismissive, Demeaning, Discounting behaviors happen. And the reality is that as we look at our workplaces and we look at the kind of behavior that often gets recognized, gets rewarded, gets people increasing responsibilities and all of a sudden, “You’re a great sales person”, meaning you’re aggressive, assertive, you’re the most bold with getting customers to give in to your demands for buying X or Y or Z, then you might then become a team leader, in which case because you were a terrific – by the way, maybe a bit mean – individual contributor, then naturally we’re going to put a team under your control.
And if there’s not really a sensitivity that, “Managing a team is different than managing myself”, the 3 Ds is not going to get us anywhere; the 3 Ps will get us somewhere. So, you’ve heard me use a couple of three different languages – the 3 Ds, which are going to erode the trust, respect, dignity. There’s the trust, respect, dignity statement alone which is pretty important. And then it’s the Purposeful, Positive, Productive team culture, division culture, work culture. So, anything that happens that is in those 3 Ds is going to fit right into the incivility side.
Well, I’d love to get your take… I have a feeling that listeners and myself included would say “I don’t dismiss, I don’t discount, I don’t demean.” Can you share what are some maybe subtle or overlooked ways that we can be guilty of doing this stuff?
It’s so interesting, and it happens often in one-on-one kinds of scenarios. We have a lot of organizations, especially in the US and in Europe are doing a lot more project-driven work environment. So in other words I might be in a team of – and I’ll use a classic one – of sales people, but we’re working on a big project, which means I’m working with technical folks and folks that do manufacturing for example, or they are delivering services out in the field around the globe or what not.
So my project team may not be a team that is a, quote, “intact” team; it might change from project to project. And what can happen in that dynamic is there is often – again this is very Western – it’s about showing up others. So if I can withhold information from you, then I look like I know more than you do, I’m smarter than you are, I’m more valuable than you are, and yet what I’m doing is I’m eroding the team’s ability to get their work done and to wow that customer consistently. So I can be very indirect by withholding information that you have asked me for that I’m supposed to give you, but I can be very, very, very subtle in that way.
The ideas that often get generated in a project team, and most project teams are not calm and cool, they’re “hair on fire”, right? They’re moving pretty fast, and often deadlines are increasing and we may not be delivering exactly according to plan, which increases everyone’s heartbeats and what not, so the pressure goes up. It can again help me as a player on that team – maybe not a leader on the team, as a player on the team – to say, “Weren’t you supposed to have that done last week? I still am waiting for X.” That’s discounting, that is the dismissing.
Someone comes up with an idea: “I know we can fix this if we just all stop and do X right now.” And if you and three others in the room go, “That’ll never work. We’ve tried that before” – there’s the dismissing thing. The idea of winning… It’s so interesting as I look at organizations, and as metaphors we use sports a lot, and of course it’s a very American thing, I get it. It certainly happens in Europe, but the sports things is about winning too. It’s not about a great locker room and a great team and we all sacrifice to win. It’s about me beating you, us beating your team. So those subtle things are all about keeping score and about me looking better than you, including me making you look bad. So that’s one avenue.
Another avenue, and I remember a culture client that was a delight, because they made such great progress. But what I typically do when I go into a client who’s saying, “We think our culture’s bad / broken, and we don’t know what to do” Leaders are really not asked to manage the quality of their culture, so when they discover that the culture is bad or broken, they may not know exactly what to do. So they may do nothing – that’s not helpful. They may try something which could be helpful. They may bring a consultant like me in, which could be helpful – hopefully helpful.
So this particular client I did probably 24-25 phone interviews – part of my discovery – to learn what are the norms in this culture, what are the things that get valued and validated, what are the things that get quashed or discounted in some way. And what I learned was that the executive team – there were five members of that executive team – teased each other and their direct reports mercilessly. I mean from the moment they hit the door they’d been thinking of cutting remarks they could use, quote, with their “buddies”.
They really did like each other and they really did trust each other, but what the interviews helped me realize is that those comments – hilarious, creative as they may be – erode trust, respect and dignity. And people basically said the teasing is so bad that, “I can’t simply show up without my armor on.” And my armor on might be, I’m on edge, or I’m thinking to myself of what’s the comeback I’m going to make to Lee when he comes by, or whatever it is. It creates an energy-sucking and heart-sucking kind of dynamic. And these guys were shocked; they said, “No one’s ever told us that the teasing is bad.” And they all of sudden kind of got… I said, “No one?” And they said, “Well, we’ve had a little bit of feedback, but we dismissed it.” There’s one of my Ds.
So, it’s interesting the bold dismissive things, the “You’re an idiot, you shouldn’t be in charge of this project, you always fall apart when the pressure…” – those kinds of messages are not teasing; they are very, very bold and demeaning and eroding people’s confidence. And again, it’s the “I win, you lose” kind of a dynamic. It’s the subtler things that leaders may not be aware that are, “Oh, he’s only teasing”, right? Well, sure, but if through that teasing you are reducing trust and respect, you’re reducing the likelihood of people proactively solving problems for their customers and for the company – that’s really stupid. That’s not just dumb; that is full on stupid.
Okay. Well, that’s a great example there with regard to the teasing. I’d love a few more, maybe even some non-verbal things. I didn’t even say a word, but I am indirectly or unintentionally being dismissive, discounting, demeaning.
Absolutely. Let’s see how many eyes have rolled across tables in yours and my careers over the years. So there’s the heavy sighs… Again, some of us can go to our own families, and my mother was a pro at the non-verbal dismissive stuff; my poor father. Mom’s 96 years old, still here. She’s actually turned very kind, which is just a shock to most of us, but… I’ll go visit her next month, which is kind of cool.
But the body language conversation, and it’s about the slumping in the chair and it’s the holding one’s hand in your hands and shaking your heads while someone’s explaining their idea or their solution, or “Here’s what I tried to do and it didn’t quite work” – all of the those things, everybody notices. And especially if you’re in a leadership position and you begin to either, again, verbally discount and demean, verbally dismiss people’s efforts and ideas – everybody else is watching.
And so there’s this interesting dynamic of, “I don’t want the eye roll. If they get the eye roll, then I could be winning, because I’m not being judged at this point by the boss or what not.” And it’s so interesting to think back to some of my – they weren’t “worst” bosses, but they were really, really challenging bosses. And one I remember I worked for him for a couple of years, and I remember him being incredibly talented at the full body dismissiveness, and it was classic, it was just wonderful. It was the heavy sigh, and it was the shaking of the head, and it was the getting up and pacing while someone is…
Those are not subtle; those are very, very bold. And his intent was to express disappointment that we weren’t doing the right things, that the problem wasn’t solved, that the customer wasn’t satisfied, etcetera. But his anger was so powerful in the room. And the thing that was very interesting – as you posed that question I got this guy’s image clearly pacing in one of our conference rooms. And I remember when I left that job, that he wrote me a very kind card that said, “Appreciate all you’ve done. You’ve really advanced our programs, and your customers love you” and yadda, yadda yadda. And I completely dismissed it, because it was the first time in two years I’d ever heard an encouraging word from him. So you think about my expectations day-to-day around him – it was, “I hope he is mad at somebody else today”, as opposed to, “We’re all going to rock it and he’s going to love us.”
And then I go to my best bosses – Jerry Nutter, who’s is the best boss that I celebrated in my book The Culture Engine. And he had Nutterisms, he would say, which we of course – his team… I’m still connected to these folks that I worked with under Jerry; 30 years later we’re still connected, we still remember Nutterisms and kind of share them a little bit.
But Jerry’s view was, “You guys are brilliant, you’re closer to this than I am. I’m kind of over here doing more strategic things; you guys manage the tactics and if you need something from me, then let me know.” And he was great in front of a big team, he was great in front of our volunteers. But what I remember, what all of us remember was, when we did something wrong, when we fell short, Jerry never demeaned, discounted us, never dismissed us; but he engaged us in conversations. It was almost worse. It’s easy to discount someone who’s going to go, “Oh, you’re an idiot. You just screwed it up again.” It was like, “Yeah, whatever.” I’m going to go off and do my own thing, because I’m not going to get anything of validation from this boss, or from these peers.
But Jerry was so driven to want us to make new mistakes every day, not the same ones. It was totally cool, it was totally cool. And so we often… And again, I’ve had this conversation with Sue and with Anne – part of this team that worked for Jerry for quite a while – we would go into that meeting with a full plan of what we should’ve done different, and what we’ll do next time.
If I was dealing with Skip – the other boss – I wanted out of the room as quickly as possible. I didn’t want to engage, because even if I came up with an idea, I knew it wasn’t going to be good enough. And so, there’s this deflation that happens and it’s like, “I’m going to go get beaten up again.” And again, I think all of these bosses are attempting to find the magic; they’re trying to craft a way to motivate people, a way to inspire production. And mostly it was all production.
What was great about Jerry was that… And again, some other great bosses that I’ve had and been blessed with – is it wasn’t just about production; it was about production, but it was also about learning, and it was about growth, and it was about opportunity, and it was about, “What can we do different? How do we wow these folks next time, because we’re going to do this cool program in three months again? How are we going to completely wow them, because now we’ve kind of wowed them again? What are we going to do?”
And it was this constant feeling like I can come up with ideas. They may be stupid; I’m not sure they’re stupid or not. But we had an environment with Jerry that no idea was stupid. It might be less brilliant than others will come up with, but the ideas of, “How do we make this better? How we do this different?” moves you away from maintaining a system to actually creating new experiences and better loyalty from customers, and even more important – and you can hear it in my voice – better loyalty from the employees, because we felt valued, we felt validated.
When we screwed up it was mostly kind of laughter and, “Gee, that didn’t turn out like I thought.” But if you think of the productivity, which is often the sole output that is driven by lousy bosses and okay bosses. Great bosses are typically interested in growth and maintaining a good relationship and in essence being kind, but also being kind of the “tough love” thing – being truthful about, “Here’s our target, here’s what happened, where we felt short. What are we going to do?” But it’s much, much my experience – and Pete, I know yours is too – it’s much, much more likely that we’re going to drive harder and move the organization forward faster if we feel trusted and respected and treated with dignity, than not.
Absolutely, yes. And I want to kind of touch upon that point when you said you knew you screwed up and you were going in for the conversation, and it wasn’t demeaning. What were some of the questions posed to you, or how did that conversation unfold?
Well, it’s so interesting because I think back to… And let’s use the Skip and Jerry comparison, because the classic lousy bosses and a great boss. And Skip was always interested in blame, and it rolled off his tongue very, very quickly. And so, if I was going in as an individual contributor that had fallen short, I knew I was going to get blamed. And maybe this is going to give you some insights into the way my mind works – it’s like, “What creative ways is he going to blame me today?” I was really kind of intrigued with that. “Where is he going to go with this?”
But it wasn’t that I was interested in learning from him; I wasn’t feeling like I was going to leave inspired. It was, I was going to be blamed. And I didn’t want to be blamed; I wanted somebody else to be blamed, which is again, not a team-building thing; it’s a team-eroding thing.
And so, the questions that Jerry asked were about, “Tell me what you’re thinking now. I know what your plan was, we went through the plan. If there was one or two things that you wish you would’ve done different now, knowing what we know now, which we didn’t know before, what are they?” So it’s the solution thing. What are we going to do different next time? He would say all the time, “How do we make new mistakes?” I remember him asking me once, “Did we make all new mistakes on this thing, or did we make some old ones?” And I said, “Well, I think we made a couple of old ones.” “Well, tell me more about that.”
And so it wasn’t a power conversation, it wasn’t him better than me, him dismissing me, demeaning me, discounting me. It was, what’s out there that we can learn from? How do we share this with the rest of the team? So again, we make new mistakes, we do different things. What are people going to be asking for next, because we’re going to have to deliver it? How do we inspire a much, much better experience?
And again, I was a non-profit executive – I was a YMCA executive for 15 years, and it’s like, how do we create those environments without spending a lot of money, and wowing these folks and wanting them to increase their loyalty and increase their feeling like we’re helping their kids, we’re helping them with validating, character-building kinds of programs. And again, yes, what I’m saying is, in this environment, Christian-based, Christian values-based, pretty classic non-profit organization with a crystal clear purpose about serving others and building character, and yet I had some of the worst bosses I ever experienced, in that organization. And I had some of my best bosses in that same organization.
And I went into the, boy, corporate finance. How’s that for moving from an environment of a non-profit into the opposite? And I found – not surprisingly – bosses that came at this thing from fear and didn’t want their people to make mistakes, and were demeaning, dismissive and discounting. And in the same environment I had absolutely great bosses. In that scenario I was a coach, I was an internal consultant. And so, I saw the same behaviors.
So, there could be some humanness to this, but the idea to get to… Hopefully I answered your question around what did Jerry ask, what did your best boss do to kind of inspire learning and resolution to whatever we screwed up. And I think both bosses were interested in the same thing, but one was about creative solutions and validating what we tried, and the other was about blame.
Okay, very good. Thank you. Well, tell me, Chris – anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and talk about some of your favorite things?
Well, I really hope that there’s something to be said for… And the “me too” movement continues to gain some powerful advocates, and I’m hopeful that we can craft more civil, validating experiences for anyone who’s ever experienced that kind of harassment. But what I want leaders to do, and you said it earlier, that, “I don’t do anything dismissive. I don’t do anything that could be remotely seen as harassment.” And I think, “You know, there’s some of my teasing that I probably did.”
So, it’s the idea that as leaders you need to be aware of how people feel, and whether or not they’re feeling trusted, respected in every interaction. And I think you will be shocked and surprised to find that for the most part incivility is very, very common. We could look at the bullying influence, which is unfortunately classically American. But there are great leaders doing great things in organizations and not letting people mistreat others. And we spend, again, so many hours in the workplace, that’s something that I’m very, very hopeful about. So, I’m going to keep pushing, and I appreciate you giving me a forum to kind of preach to the choir.
Oh, that’s good, thank you. Certainly. So now, we did it last time, but I’d love to see if maybe anything’s new and evolved. Could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
Oh boy, where I’ve really gone, and it’s certainly been shaded by some of these conversations around civility, is I go back to Nike’s “Just do it” mantra. And I’m kind of like, “No, if we do it and we’re mean and nasty and ugly – yes, we might win but others may not.” How about, “Just do it nicely?” So, can we evolve to actually being civil, and maybe even the next layer of that is being nice to each other? That’s my bias right now.
Alright. And how about a favorite book?
I just finished Shawn Murphy’s The Optimistic Workplace. Shawn’s a longtime friend, and I was pleased to help him with his launch a couple of years ago. And I was sad to say that I didn’t read the whole book. So, read the whole book and I just love it. And I think, again, what an interesting title, looking at how do we create workplaces where people want to go to work, where they want to contribute, where they want to be creative, where there is a natural optimism that we’re actually – God forbid – improving the lives of our community members and our employees and our customers. That’s a high, high target. And I want to give a shout out to Shawn – he’s just gotten a contract for his next book, which is going to be about belonging, which I’m very excited to hear about. So, couple of shout outs to Shawn Murphy there.
Okay, thank you. And how about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours that’s handy?
I just had a wonderful opportunity last week at a learning session. I was qualified in an assessment that is about leadership impact. It was really, really cool; but a whole bunch of consultants in a room at one time, which can be kind of dangerous. And what was really, really interesting was going out to dinner with all these folks. Again, I travel a lot; most of the time it’s a very, very solitary life. And for the last seven years or so I’ve been on Tim Ferriss’ low carb diet and it’s worked very well for me.
So, we go into these beautiful restaurants and I’m like, “How’s that prepared. Can I have it grilled and not fried? No starches, no potatoes, don’t even bring me the breads.” And people would look at me and it’s like… We did this three nights in a row. And they’re like finally on the third night, “You’re really serious about this”, and I said, “It’s something that if I don’t feel my best physical self, then how can I do well?” I just turned 66 and I’m out traveling all the time; it’s exhausting to travel. So my habit continues to be to be disciplined in how I fuel my best self, and it’s working still pretty well.
Oh, great. And do you have a preferred means of folks contacting you or reaching out if they want to learn more about your stuff here?
Absolutely. I’d send them to my absolutely wonderfully, recently redesigned website, which is at DrivingResultsThroughCulture.com. I know it’s a handful, but I’ve got my books available there, I’m in the midst of Year 2 of culture, leadership charge videos – little 3-minute videos on how leaders can be more effective in managing their team culture. So, that’s probably the best place – DrivingResultsThroughCulture.com.
Alright. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?
Absolutely. So, one of the things that is critical – and again, we can take it from the “me too” and people speaking up – create an environment in your team. And you don’t have to change the whole company, but in your team, where people can speak up, where people can say, “We’re not working together well. We’re mistreating each other, the teasing has gone too far”, so you can start to address what could be harmless intentions. That may not always be the case, but to in essence reduce those things that erode trust and respect in the workplace. Let people speak up. It can be hard conversations, but to continue on a path of dismissing and demeaning folks, isn’t going to serve you well.
Alright. Well, there you have it. Chris, thank you so much for chatting again, this was a lot of fun. And I wish you and your company and your book all sorts of success and luck in the months to come here.
I so appreciate it, Pete. Again, thanks for the opportunity, always enjoy speaking with you.