Michael Timms has dedicated his career to making leadership easier and to helping leaders and organizations reach their potential. As a leadership consultant, author, and speaker, he has taught thousands of people in leadership positions how to harness the principles of accountability to transform virtually every aspect of their operations. This is the first book in his Creating Accountability series. His previous publications include Succession Planning That Works: The Critical Path of Leadership Development. Michael lives in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley with his wife and three daughters.
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We’re happy that you could join us today! Please introduce yourself to our readers. What’s your story?
Michael Timms: I am a leadership development consultant and author of two books: Succession Planning That Works and How Leaders Can Inspire Accountability. I worked for over a decade as the head of HR for several companies in the construction and manufacturing industries. The executives I reported to got progressively worse throughout my career, with my last boss being the worst. I didn’t want anyone else to feel the way my boss made me feel, so I started a leadership development consultancy in 2015 to help senior managers create a leadership culture within their organizations.
CEOs and leaders usually have different motives and aspirations when getting started. Let’s go straight to the beginning. What was your primary goal for starting your business? Was it wealth, respect, or to offer a service that would help improve lives?
Michael Timms: There are two answers to this question: a) see above, and b) I never wanted to have a boss again.
Tell us about 2 things that you like and two things that you dislike about your industry. Share what you’d like to see change and why.
Michael Timms: The leadership consulting industry is full of many good people who want to make a difference, and I believe we’d have far more inhospitable workplaces if leadership consultants didn’t exist.
However, the industry is overcrowded with people who don’t have unique or practical ideas and solutions to offer.
Richard Branson once famously stated “There’s no magic formula for great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.” and Stephen R. Covey admonishes to “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers. What’s your take on creating a great organizational culture?
Michael Timms: First, what is culture? Simply put, culture is the patterns of behavior that form within an organization. Why do people in an organization begin behaving in similar ways? Did they all get together and have a secret meeting where they agreed to behave a certain way? No, they didn’t. The invisible force that influences people to behave in similar patterns is power or formal authority. Evolutionary forces have hardwired human beings to pay close attention to people or things that affect their livelihood and survival.
Employees don’t create culture, and culture doesn’t “just happen.” Those in positions of authority create the culture—intentionally or unwittingly—by how and what they indicate is important to them. Patterns of behavior emerge when employees come to the same conclusion about what their managers’ true priorities really are. With their managers’ priorities in mind, employees naturally behave in ways that they predict will maximize positive consequences for themselves and minimize negative consequences.
Creating a great organizational culture begins with determining the type of leader you want to become and the things that are most important to you. Poor leaders tend to over-focus on achieving results. Great leaders, however, care as much about the people they lead as they do about achieving results. They demonstrate this by meeting their employees’ needs above all else, including their customers. Why? Because great leaders understand a simple principle that most people in leadership positions miss: human beings cannot be optimally effective until their own needs are met.
Let me be clear, employees’ needs are not more important than the organization’s mission. A company’s mission, for instance, won’t be achieved unless the company retains its customers and attains a steady revenue stream. However, in every organization, employees’ needs must be met first. It is a natural sequence of events. We are reminded of this principle every time we hear (or more likely, ignore) the safety demonstration on airline flights. The flight attendants instruct us to put our own oxygen masks on before attempting to assist others.
Likewise, true leaders know that the surest way to achieve organizational goals is first to meet the emotional needs of those they lead. Only when employees know that their leaders care about them as much as their leaders care about results will employees feel safe enough to innovate and be engaged enough to engage customers.
The overwhelming majority of more than 9,000 workers included in a recent Accenture survey on the future of work said they felt a hybrid work model would be optimal going forward, a major reason for that being the improved work-life balance that it offers. How do you promote work-life balance at your company?
Michael Timms: Work-life balance is an outmoded term. It implies that work is somehow at odds with life goals. At Avail Leadership, our first and most important value is “Fulfil Life Goals. The company helps team members fulfill their life goals. Otherwise, we may as well get a normal job.”
Business leaders must ensure that the jobs they provide employees help them fulfill their life goals in a meaningful way. This means consciously designing jobs around people’s strengths instead of forcing people to contort their personality and interests around a job description. It means placing a high value on employee development by meeting with employees three or four times a year for the sole purpose of discussing what new assignments employees want to try out and what their manager can do to help them expand their capacity and increase their market value.
Fulfilling employees’ life goals also means discussing how the company can modify the employee’s work schedule and working arrangements to better fit their lifestyle and life responsibilities so that they will be willing to make small sacrifices of convenience when necessary to meet work demands.
How would you describe your company’s overall culture? Give us examples.
Michael Timms: The CEO is the least qualified person to describe their company culture. All they can do is describe what they see, and the CEO sees a tiny fraction of what’s really going on in their organization. The best way for CEO’s to discover their company culture is to ask their employees for anonymous feedback on the positive and negative aspects of their culture, and not dismiss the negative comments as simply “a few naysayers.”
It is believed that a company’s culture is rooted in a company’s values. What are your values and how do they affect daily life at the workplace?
Michael Timms: A company’s culture is not rooted in its values. Enron’s values included communication, respect, integrity, and excellence. While Enron is an extreme example of misaligned values and culture, most of us have belonged to companies where cultural norms are completely disconnected from the values.
The purpose of values is not to create the culture. The purpose of values is to set the minimum standard of who belongs here. Values should be unique enough to attract people to want to join the company, and repel people who can’t see themselves living those values.
Avail Leadership only has three values.
- Fulfill Life Goals. The company helps team members fulfill their life goals. Otherwise, we may as well get a normal job.
- Deliver Perfection 98% of the Time. Quality is more important than efficiency. However, chasing the extra 2% will put us out of business.
- Model Accountability. When we make mistakes, we quickly own them and mitigate the consequences.
Behaviour that deviates from these values is met with immediate, frank, and supportive feedback with the goal of helping the employee see how they can exemplify that value next time, not demoralize them.
An organization’s management has a deep impact on its culture. What is your management style and how well has it worked so far?
Michael Timms: I help create a leadership culture for my clients by identifying and teaching the leadership behaviors that have the greatest positive impact on people and results. The two most important things a leader can do are model personal accountability and hold others accountable in a supportive way.
I model personal accountability by a) resisting the impulse to blame other people or circumstances for problems, b) looking in the mirror to see how I may have contributed to problems, and c) focusing solutions on fixing processes, not people.
I hold others accountable in a supportive way by a) agreeing on expectations of one another, b) meeting regularly to discuss progress on assignments and goals, c) frequently requesting specific feedback, and d) providing timely feedback in the form of observations and then checking my observations with them to see if I’m missing anything.
Every organization suffers from internal conflicts, whether functional or dysfunctional. Our readers would love to know, how do you solve an internal conflict?
Michael Timms: The root of all conflict and failed relationships (work or otherwise) is unmet expectations. Unproductive conflict is essentially eliminated when people a) agree on expectations with one another at the beginning of every new relationship, project, or assignment, b) regularly check in with each other to see how they are meeting those expectations, and c) resist the urge to blame others for problems.
Instead, accountable people consider how their own actions may have contributed to problems and determine how to change the processes within which people work to produce better outcomes next time.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Michael Timms for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Michael Timms or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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