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[Interview] Louis Carter, Author Of ‘In Great Company: How To Spark Peak Performance By Creating An Emotionally Connected Workplace’

Louis Carter is a well-known executive coach, CEO, and social/organizational psychologist. His books include “The Change Champion’s Field Guide“, “Best Practices in Talent Management” and “In Great Company: How to Spark Peak Performance by Creating an Emotionally Connected Workplace” (McGraw-Hill Education, February 21, 2019). He was voted one of the Top 10 Organizational Culture Gurus in the world and is CEO and founder of the Best Practice Institute.

We ask Louis about his latest book on organizational management.

What is the Best Practice Institute? What is its mission?

The Best Practice Institute is a think tank and solutions incubator founded in 2001. It’s won a number of awards and includes more than 42,000 ranking managers from Fortune 500 and Global 1000 brands. Our mission is to transform ourselves and our organizations by implementing the best and next practices in organization development and change. We want to create a world of work where everyone wins.

I launched it with ten Fortune 500 C-level executives — pioneers of change management, including Kathleen Dannemiller, Marshall Goldsmith, Richard Beckhard, Warren Bennis, W. Warner Burke, Frances Hesselbein, Sally Helgessen. We have over 900 experts, thought leaders, professors, and university department chairs contributing original research, innovative publications, and practice on management and leadership. We offer peer-to-peer networking, learning and research resources, benchmarking opportunities, a library of webinars, podcasts, publications, and more. We reach over 500,000 management professionals.

What was the impetus for you book “In Great Company”?

I truly believe organizations can be a horrible place to be. I have been in organizations that haze, daze, and confuse. That was the defining experience of my first job, where my boss told me to stay in the office and do everyone’s work while he went out to a party with my coworkers. At 2 am, finally done, I realized I was locked in without a key or code to get out. My boss was so drunk he barely understood why I was calling him.

When I joined a company whose people share great integrity, ethics, respect, values, and a clear focus on outcomes, I felt connected and worked more deeply. Everyone wanted to help me succeed there, and I reciprocated happily in everything I did. The more I gave to others — leads, ideas, and help, the more help, leads, and ideas I got back. Life was good.

In college, I got my first taste of how a group of leaders with passion for something can make real change happen. I created and founded one of the first student-run course evaluation guides. I brought together a group of students who were passionate about the quality of education, and the power of our voice as students. We did our analysis with scantrons, paper and #2 pencils. We collected thousands of signatures from the student body, and the President – Clarie Gaudiani – gave me a check for $10k and a job working for her to create the Conn College Review.

Decades later, when I had already written ten books, my mentor Marshall Goldsmith, coauthor of many books (like “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” challenged me to come up with a new idea. My books focused on the hundreds of models, tools, and instruments that great executives were using to create change, talent and leadership development programs. But the through line was something more innate. I asked executives: What really drove the success of your program? What makes you want to perform more and better? What makes you want to run for the hills?

After coding all of the answers, I saw that everything came down to feeling connected emotionally to your company. That’s biggest factor for the success of their change programs, leadership, and even back at home. I also realized there’s a disconnect about what people want from work that cuts across the organizational structure and company culture everywhere. 

Explain the process of writing In Great Company: how did you draw on your work with the Best Practice Institute, and the research the Institute conducts?

The Best Practice Institute brings together some of the best and most passionate leaders in organization development and talent management. I drew from their research, writings, and my own conversations with them. Repeatedly, they expressed concerns with the disconnect between leadership intent and rank-and-file perceptions. They understand that an organization’s success depends on reconciling the dichotomy.

This drove me to pull together ideas I had been developing separately, and shaped and directed my research among employees, managers, and executives. Though bursting with data and information, I saw the need for practical definitions and useful practices. That led to the workbook and toolkit approach of In Great Company. 

You’ve worked with notable organizations, such as the J&J, Federal Reserve Bank of NY, Allstate. How can legacy institutions or large corporations work to change their culture?

Culture change happens from the top and from the outside, when people see what is happening and rally around a common vision. When they share a sense of how they want to respect each other and the world at large, great things happen.

I have noticed that culture change happens faster when there is a lack of internal bureaucracy and politics. When large organizations thrive on politics, they can barely move. A change project that should happen in two months takes ten years. I know people who come into work completely exhausted because their meetings result in absolutely nothing happening. People give their “yeah, sure’s” and never do anything about it. Their culture of accountability is at rock bottom.

What do you do about this? Release people of their burden of moving slowly, which needs to start at the top. The highest CEO-level must demand it, live it, and show he or she is getting involved. For example, in sales: work with salespeople, do a sales process with people, set the vision, work with marketing, show a sale from beginning to end. Shadow a salesperson on the road. Show the value of hard work and getting it done, and learn from failures as well as successes. My CEO client, Morris Miller, is an extraordinary example of this. As co-founder of Rackspace, he got deeply involved. Then he sold Rackspace for billions. I do the same thing in my company. I get involved, show how to go rid of the roadblocks, and we all succeed together.

When you lose your entrepreneurial culture as you grow, you lose your agility. Don’t let this happen. Be the entrepreneur that made your company what it is today. When you lose your roots, you lose a part of yourself, and your company.

Explain the power of emotional connectedness to drive performance — why are traditional incentives like salaries and bonuses less effective?

People will work towards a reward, and larger and richer compensation and perks will often lure people to reach and perform high. However, using money to motivate tests ethical behavior, drives employee turnover, and inspires discontent. It’s too often inconsistent, counterproductive, and punitive.

I asked 150 executives, “What is the one single factor you need most from an employer to motivate your performance and help you be great at your job?” Nine out of ten said it was a “feeling of respect.” Only two out of ten said compensation, benefits, or perks.

I then expanded that research to over 300 CEOs and Chief HR Officers, thousands of employees one of a Global 500 manufacturing company, roundtable discussions with colleagues and management experts, and conferences with hundreds of employees. All my inquiry, analysis, and synthesis led to one result: Respect in the workplace is directly related to a feeling of emotional connectedness. People feel respected in an environment of mutual support, a bond of acceptance, values alignment, two-way dialogue, and reciprocal trust. Respect enables emotional connection, and emotional connection cultivates respect.

 

Learn more about Louis Carter at louiscarter.com/project/in-great-company.

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Daniel Goh is the founder and chief editor of Young | Upstarts, as well as an F&B entrepreneur. Daniel has a background in public relations, and is interested in issues in entrepreneurship, small business, marketing, public relations and the online space. He can be reached at daniel [at] youngupstarts [dot] com.

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