Last month, we summarized the tips and strategies provided in two of the morning sessions at our recent Best Bosses Conference. This month, we continue in this series of articles dedicated to the knowledge provided by the workplace leaders and experts at the Conference workshops. In recounting the two remaining morning sessions, “Evolution of a Best Boss: Changing to Grow Your Organization” and “Small Steps to Big Culture Change,” the common theme is organizational change.

Evolution of a Best Boss: Changing to Grow Your Business

“Empowerment is not letting your staff do what they would have done anyway. It’s letting people do the stuff you’re uncomfortable with or that you wouldn’t have done. That’s a lot harder, but that’s what empowerment is.”

These are the words of Charlie Jones, chief marketing officer of RedPeg Marketing, based in Virginia. President & CEO Brad Nierenberg, who was named a Best Boss in 2004, brought Jones into the organization one year ago to help him grow the business to the next level.

Nierenberg had created RedPeg to be “the kind of organization that I would want to work for.” He had built a successful event marketing agency through outstanding sales skills, excellent execution and building a loyal staff. But increasing competition and a quickly-changing marketing landscape made him realize that to continue to grow, RedPeg needed the skills that he saw in Jones: more brand marketing savvy to develop longer-term, value-based relationships with clients. Nierenberg realized that Jones had both the marketing skills and experience with a broad base of businesses that would help move RedPeg into a different competitive position.

The only remaining question was the question of fit. “Charlie believed in everything that I am really passionate about,” said Nierenberg. “He believed in people, believed that a lot of the larger organizations don’t do the little things that are so important. And he’s a great manager.”

“I am great at generating ideas and love executing projects,” said Nierenberg. Still, he will readily admit that he knows less about how to effectively manage his staff. Jones’ arrival has allowed Brad to do what he loves and does best: sell.

Jones, the CEO pointed out, is very adept at managing people and holding them accountable. One of the first things he did was to conduct training for all staff on relationship building, including how to give and receive feedback, conflict management and the impact of different types of power and influence on relationships. The duo also shared how they have worked to build an environment where creative people thrive, which included changing the name of their art department to the Creative Department.

What has Nierenberg had to give up in the process? “I’m no longer the big boss, the guy,” he said. “I had to give up my spotlight, and that is a huge sacrifice to make.” The result is that employees are seeing more opportunity to grow within the firm, and clients are seeing more strategic marketing capability at RedPeg.

Small Steps to Big Culture Change

“It is very important for people to have greater insight into their culture, especially leaders, because if not, you run the risk of being managed by your culture instead of managing it.”

Prepping attendees for the interactive exercises they would soon undertake to achieve an understanding of culture and its significant impact in shaping the work environment, Diane Stoneman, Winning Workplaces’ director of consulting and training, shared this sentiment. Her session partner, Kimberly Scott, director of the Master’s Degree Program in Learning & Organizational Change at Northwestern University, added, “We want to get the imagery going in your mind. I want you to think about the last meeting you attended in your organization.”

Attendees discuss meeting metaphorsRearranging their row seating to assemble in groups of four to five that were conducive to this group exercise, attendees brainstormed on the last meeting they attended – “not a conglomeration of a bunch of meetings you’ve been in, but the last meeting you were in,” Scott added. This distinction would be important for the self- and group-exploratory work that attendees were about to do.

After a few minutes, Scott and Stoneman asked attendees who were comfortable to share their meeting metaphors with each other. Rousing and insightful discussions ensued. Scott then brought everyone together to discuss some of the metaphors that emerged for the group at large. One attendee, Diane, said her meeting metaphor was “like a visit to the zoo or being at the zoo and I’m the zoo keeper.” Another attendee likened her meeting experience to being a sports announcer or referee at a football game.

Scott explained how this exploration of meeting metaphors can lead to ideas about the larger work culture: “Meetings are often described as a microcosm or as a fractal of the organization’s culture. You can look at them as through a microscope and keep honing in more and more on that pattern, and it’s the same at every cross section you take.”

Scott and Stoneman then discussed how varied work cultures can be. For instance, IT companies are often concerned about speed, while financial firms generally focus on building trust and relationships. The presenters concluded the workshop by inviting attendees to describe how they see their own work cultures.

Among other interesting observations that emerged, Eric, a student of Scott’s at Northwestern and a former captain in the U.S Coast Guard, said, “It is crucial that every person at every level understand not just the values but the underlying assumptions. If the whole organization isn’t on board, you’re going to break down and lose any chance to be sustainable.”