Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Want to Build a Positive Culture? Apply Four Bickisms

[Excerpts from an interview with Bick Whitener, currently principle with Bickley and Company.]
"I became the Director of Getting-Things-Done." That’s how Bick Whitener describes the way his boss acknowledged his leadership. Bick Whitener has a long, distinguished career in the property/casualty insurance world and has been with companies such as The Hartford, Prudential, Atlanta Casualty, Assurant, and many others.

I was privileged to consult to one of the companies where Bick was a manager and see the vibrant culture of accomplishment he created. He and his team were very different and getting more done than other areas. They were a "real" team and excited to learn new skills and approaches. The very positive culture he developed within his division stood in contrast to the overall company.

Rebecca Staton-Reinstein: Bick, you have a solid track record of changing the culture of any group you work with to make it more of an integrated team that gets solid results where people love being part of that team. How do you do it?

Bick Whitener: Let me start with what I believe is a simple statement. Culture change happens through people. I believe life is about two things. Life is about choices and life is about relationships.

Culture change happens through people. Have you ever noticed that people don’t like change? So if it is going to happen through people and they don’t like to change, leadership has to be both effective and efficient in helping them change, in helping with the culture transition.

Your people are your most valuable asset. Their time and their skills are your most valuable asset. You have to be wise how you spend those. People go crazy when I look at them and say, turn off whatever the notification is that tells you that you have a new e-mail. It is mail. How many times a day do you run to your mailbox? How many times a day do you run to the post office? Take your time and focus on the important things. The important things are "the right things."

Rebecca: Bick, I know you have a wealth of knowledge and wisdom you package in pithy statements you call Bickisms. Can you walk us through your steps for culture change with these Bickisms? (For a few more, check out Bick’s LinkedIn profile.)
Bick: Sure! 

STEP 1 Bickism: Never talk about culture.

Rebecca, let me start by telling you I’m a sneaky little devil. I never start out talking about culture. But what I do start out talking about is the vision that we have; that journey that we want to take, where we want to get to. So you have got to find people that want to buy into that vision. Clearly articulate that vision. Show them what that vision is going to do in terms of value to them in the future. Then find the people that want to buy in.

STEP 2 Bickism: Nothing anywhere ever gets done until somebody somewhere does something.

Don’t misunderstand. I like strategy. I like tactics. I like planning. I like locking myself in a room and talking about innovation. But I don’t like it unless things get implemented because brilliant ideas that are not implemented lose their value.

STEP 3 Bickism: Create a shepherding group.

Once you find people that want to buy in, you need a shepherding group. That is a tricky part of the process because the shepherding group has to have adequate spheres of influence. Otherwise you are going to get into trouble because those with the power will oppose the vision and the change and they will stop it.

In the early 1500s Niccolo Machiavelli said, There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, or more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain of success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. And almost 500 years later that is proving to be very true in our business environments today.

So never talk about culture. Talk about the vision, speak the vision, get people to buy in, find a shepherding group and start the process.

STEP 4 Bickism: Go for small wins.

Once you get the buy in you can actually start going for small wins. Don’t shoot big. Once you get a couple of wins two great things are going to happen. The first one is some fresh people are going to buy into the culture and the buy-in group gets bigger. And the second thing is you start to create momentum and that momentum becomes your friend.

It’s shared vision followed by wins. Celebrate the wins. Make them very, very visible.

Hear more Bickisms and gain more wisdom as Bick Whitener discusses his remarkable achievements and how he got them. Listen to the entire interview on Business in the Morning produced by Todd Schnick. 

An in-depth profile of Bick Whitener will be featured in the forthcoming book, Washington’s Shadow: How Leaders Cast a Long Shadow and Create a Positive Culture.

 This post also appears on LinkedIn