Leah Wheeler

Don’t Forget About Your Company’s Best Ally: Culture

Do you work for a startup company that is forming its business foundation? A mid-size company experiencing growing pains as they scale-up? Or a large company hoping to make a major organizational shift?  At all levels, you may be focusing on the numbers, the what and the how; but are you remembering to think about the why? At the core of your business lies the company’s mission, values, and culture. Every leader in the company surely knows the why — why did we open, why is what we do important, and the why behind each and every thing that we do.  Too frequently though, this simple why is not a part of a company’s process. This blog will break this down into three simple steps crucial to leading your company through challenges that you may be facing, with culture as your key ally in the process.

Step 1) Align: You – the leader – are facing a dilemma. Before you act, first look at the why. As a leader, you eat, sleep and breathe the mission, values, and strategy of your company, but have you thought about this dilemma in the context of the bigger issues? Too often we approach a micro-problem with a micro-solution, when really, this small problem is an indicator of an opportunity for a macro-solution. Take for example, in the context of a growing startup, an employee who is complaining about not knowing the guy who works across the desk from him. Your knee-jerk solution might involve introducing the two. Consider, however, that this may be an indicator of something more going on;  could it be a micro-example of the growing pains that your small business is experiencing as the culture of the company is changing?  Is this evolving work culture in alignment with your company’s strategy?  Before reacting to this scenario, you have the opportunity to reflect on the challenges of growth that your startup is facing and what cultural implications these may have.

Step 2) Ask: Our earlier example feeds nicely into step two. You need to take inventory of the rest of your employees. How is the growth feeling from their perspectives? What is their perception of the company’s culture?  In fact, from a social constructivist point-of-view, the company’s culture is defined – even created – by the mutual understanding of your company’s social values across employees. You really need to know the culture, inside and out, and employee engagement is fundamental to this understanding.  Don’t forget to find out the good along with the bad; it is all a part of the organizational culture and will be important in our last step.

Step 3) Adapt: The last step is to evaluate and decide how to evolve as a company. If your business is changing, maybe it’s necessary to accept the hard realization that the culture you started with might just need to change too. Or, on the contrary, if your original culture is still key to your company’s mission and values, then maybe you don’t need to change the culture but instead must figure out how to sustain it within your growing company. Whichever direction you go, realize that a company is never static, and neither is its culture. Cultural adaptability could be the missing puzzle piece for how your startup can grow, but to find that piece, you must start from step one.

Now that you understand these three steps, bring them to whatever dilemma your company is facing and view it with a fresh perspective. You have the opportunity to influence your company’s culture in a way that will reinforce your company’s mission, values and strategy. The result? A long-lasting company with a differentiated and ever-evolving organizational culture.

This blog was inspired by a class assignment developed for the Management Individuals and Organizational (MGMT612) course lead by Dr. Reut Livne-Tarandach.

Written by Leah Wheeler

Leah is a 2018 MBA from the Lundquist School of Business at the University of Oregon. Her interest in integrating sustainability into common business practices led her to choose the Center for Sustainable Business Practices, ranked #1 Green MBA. Originally from Washington, she graduated from Whitman College with a degree in Economics then worked in healthcare management for the majority of her career. After her MBA, she plans on combining her work experience in management with her passion for socially and environmentally responsible business practices by working for a company that shares her values.

Green Buildings: Bridging Health and Sustainability

I joined the 2018 MBA cohort in the Center for Sustainable Business Practices with a passion for the intersection of health and sustainability. The  connection between these two fields is not always obvious, and I would like to share some interesting highlights of  what I have learned and why it matters.

We often think of reducing resource consumption as a key part of sustainable management. According to the EPA, in the United States, buildings account for 39% of total energy use, 12% of the total water consumption, 68% of total electricity consumption, and 38% of the carbon dioxide emissions. Add to this that average Americans spend 90% of their time indoors. Green buildings have emerged as a way to reduce resource consumption, and it turns out these buildings also improve human health! How can this be possible?

Let’s start by looking at what green building is. According to the US Green Building Council:

“The definition of green building: Green building is a holistic concept that starts with the understanding that the built environment can have profound effects, both positive and negative, on the natural environment, as well as the people who inhabit buildings every day.”

The first part of that definition represents what we typically think – that green buildings are about energy efficiency, reducing emissions, and other environmental improvements. What I would like to focus on is the second part of the definition, the impact of green buildings on human health.

Recent studies suggest that working in a green building has measurable positive effects on cognitive performance, productivity, sleep quality, stress reduction, and overall wellness. Specifically, the COGfx Study found that cognitive testing scores doubled in LEED Certified green buildings. They coined the term “Buildingomics” and defined it as “a new approach that examines the totality of factors in the building-related environment that influence the human health, well-being and productivity of people who work in buildings” (http://naturalleader.com/thecogfxstudy/).

http://naturalleader.com/thecogfxstudy/

This relatively new school of thought has led to many companies implementing green workplaces in order to experience these health and productivity benefits, either by remodeling current facilities or ensuring new facilities are built with this in mind. For example, healthcare non-profit Kaiser Permanente has embraced this trend, working with AECOM on a hospital project in nearby Hillsboro, Oregon they built their first LEED Certified campus. It is not surprising healthcare organizations are eager to incorporate these projects, but beyond healthcare, The Society for Human Resource Management writes about the benefits of green buildings too, citing they can reduce sick leave, regulate both temperatures and noise, and remove air toxins (https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/green-workplaces.aspx). ForHealth has created the diagram below to illustrate the overlap of green buildings and healthy inhabitants.

http://9foundations.forhealth.org/

Health is inexorably linked with sustainability. Yet, there is a tendency to think about the green movement on a macro level without understanding how it will impact each one of us. What I like about this recent study is that it provides concrete evidence for how one specific sustainability initiative – green buildings – has directly impacted human cognition and productivity.

So, why does this matter? The World Green Building Council sums it up well. “How do we accelerate energy efficient, environmentally sustainable, green building? We make it about people.” There is already strong environmental support behind the green movement, and now we can add another reason to get behind green efforts, and it’s something nearly everyone can rally for – our health!  Green buildings illustrate how health and sustainability can be neatly integrated, and remind us that increasing the number of people who are behind green initiatives will help guarantee a healthy environment for present and future generations.

Sources:

http://naturalleader.com/thecogfxstudy/

https://archive.epa.gov/greenbuilding/web/html/whybuild.html

http://9foundations.forhealth.org/

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/features/can-businesses-make-a-profit-while-saving-the-planet/?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=Chan-Twitter-General

https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/green-workplaces.aspx  (photo cred collage photo 1)

http://www.ambiusindoorplants.com.au/why-plants/case-studies/index.html (photo cred collage photo 2)

http://www.aecom.com/projects/kaiser-westside/?qm%5B0%5D=2463&qp=&qt=12 (photo cred collage photo 3)

Written by Leah Wheeler

Leah is a 2018 MBA from the Lundquist School of Business at the University of Oregon. Her interest in integrating sustainability into common business practices led her to choose the Center for Sustainable Business Practices, ranked #1 Green MBA. Originally from Washington, she graduated from Whitman College with a degree in Economics then worked in healthcare management for the majority of her career. After her MBA, she plans on combining her work experience in management with her passion for socially and environmentally responsible business practices by working for a company that shares her values.

How my Global Team Helped Me Redefine Efficiency

Efficiency lives at the core of business. It drives our day-to-day work, our company goals, and it is how we measure improvement. Not only do we strive to be more efficient in our work lives, many of us strive to be more efficient in our personal lives – how we shop, how we exercise, how we use our smartphones –  just to name a few. It is no surprise that I entered the workforce with the assumption that efficiency is everything.  This assumption, however, was about to be tempered by reality.

During our first term in the MBA program, our class participated in a month-long cross cultural project. This project challenged me on many levels, but the greatest lesson was realizing that I had greatly underestimated the human costs of efficiency.  In other words, in my drive to be efficient, I had steam-rolled past the critical step of building a relationship with my team. To help explain, let’s step back and look at a few concrete examples.

My group for this project consisted of four members: one each from Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, India and the United States (me).  During our first online chat, I recapped the assignment for that day and decided we should dive right in. Some team members seemed to be off-topic, chatting about politics, classes, and some silly topics too. I kindly reminded everyone of our meeting goals, and pushed the agenda on our team. In the moment this seemed prudent and efficient, but in retrospect, we missed a crucial opportunity to get to know each other before the deliverables were due.

Fast-forward three weeks to crunch time: our major project is due next week. Our group meeting has gone overtime, instead of 30 minutes we are almost to two hours of online chatting!  Ever concerned with our efficiency, I try to wrap-up and end the meeting within five minutes. I realize later that this was by no-means efficient, instead, it was hasty. So, I decided to write a thorough follow-up email to the group, making sure everyone was on-board with their personal deliverables and asking if they had any questions.  As a matter of fact, many of them did have questions and were unclear about what had been decided!

In both of these cases, my drive for efficiency had led me to skip steps and take shortcuts, which ultimately did not pay off. Taking the extra time to get to know my team and create a trusting environment might have improved communication throughout the project. Furthermore, spending the extra few minutes to wrap-up our meeting fully might have prevented the long string of clarifying emails.  I learned first-hand that efficiency in the short-run did not equate with efficiency in the long-run.

Throughout our coursework in Managing Individuals and Organizations, professor Reut Livne-Tarandach encouraged us to take as much time as needed to form strong emotional relationships fundamental to establishing a strong team. In fact, our very first assignment was to create a thorough team agreement to ensure our groups were well acquainted and had established group norms, processes, and expectations. During the term, we read articles about emotional-intelligence citing it as one of the most important factors in predicting team success. The takeaway was clear: creating a team environment where all members felt respected and understood can have real benefits. Efficiency-driven leaders may want to rush past these crucial steps, but research shows how important it is to redefine efficiency to focus on the long-term goals, even if it takes a few extra minutes.

Nonetheless, people’s time should be respected in business meetings and tangible outcomes should occur.  The key then, is to strike a balance between human/social needs and the need to accomplish results.  Providing a structured time during meetings for human exchanges is not a frill, it can be as fun as it is vital.  Then you can get down to business.

In this MBA program, each project is an opportunity for growth.  I am grateful for the new perspective I’ve gleaned from working with my global team. In the future, as either a leader or member of a team, I will slow down and acknowledge the opportunity to establish a solid team foundation, even if it takes a little extra time!

 

This blog captures the insights students gained following their participation in the Technion Multi-Cultural Team Project. The project represents an experiential learning platform, designed to improve students’ global management skills through work on real global environment. The TMCTP 2016 project brought together 300 students from 20 countries across the world. Each one of our MBA students was placed in one of the 79 cross cultural teams, and worked to identify business opportunities that can fit the cultural and economic context of the country of their choice. This project was first introduced to the UO MBA program by Dr. Reut Livne-Tarandach, as an integral part of the Management Individuals and Organizational (MGMT612) course she leads at the UO.

Written by Leah Wheeler

Leah is a 2018 MBA from the Lundquist School of Business at the University of Oregon. Her interest in integrating sustainability into common business practices led her to choose the Center for Sustainable Business Practices, ranked #1 Green MBA. Originally from Washington, she graduated from Whitman College with a degree in Economics then worked in healthcare management for the majority of her career. After her MBA, she plans on combining her work experience in management with her passion for socially and environmentally responsible business practices by working for a company that shares her values.