Culture Factor 2.0

How Leaning into Conflict Helped Shift this Toxic Company Culture

Episode Summary

Wanda Dunaway is a Regional Vice President in the Sales industry. She leads and supports a team of amazing professionals and takes pride in creating a rich team culture. But it didn’t start that way when she took on the role 4 years ago.  Wanda was presented with a toxic work environment in her region that wasn’t in line with the rest of the company culture. She has leaned into the conflict to repair and rebuild it to what it is now.  She joins us today on The Culture Factor to provide a roadmap for leaders who are navigating dysfunction in the workplace.

Episode Notes

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Episode Transcription

Speaker 1:
Welcome to The Culture Factor, where we talk to founders and influential leaders about company culture. We share stories from the C-suite that help executives engage their business from the inside and create a map to transform their culture. Because the truth is culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Holly Shannon:
I want to thank our listeners for joining The Culture Factor. And I ask that you subscribe, rate and consider leaving a review. We'd love to hear who you'd like to listen to next. And a thank you to our sponsor, Company Tribes. They have an app and a virtual experience to help keep your tribe together during difficult times like now and business as usual. How strong is your company culture? Reach out to Paul@companytribes.com.

Holly Shannon:
Wanda Dunaway is a regional vice president in the sales industry. She leads and supports a team of amazing professionals and takes pride in creating a rich team culture. But it didn't start that way when she took on the role four years ago. Wanda was presented with a toxic work environment in her region that wasn't in line with the rest of the company culture. She has leaned into the conflict to repair and rebuild it to what it is now. She joins us today on The Culture Factor to provide a roadmap for leaders who are navigating dysfunction in the workplace.

Holly Shannon:
So let's bring her on. Hello, Wanda Dunaway.

Wanda Dunaway:
Hi, Holly. How are you?

Holly Shannon:
Good. Good. Thank you for coming on The Culture Factor. And we also have our cohost and co-producer, Paul Jones. Welcome aboard.

Paul Jones:
Hey, hey, hey.

Holly Shannon:
So we're going to jump right in. Can you share with us how this climate in your team, how it all began and what you did to lead them?

Wanda Dunaway:
Sure. So we had a lot of, I would say, dysfunction in the team. There was a lot of passive aggression, probably some actual aggression that came out as maybe bullying. It was a lot of pessimism and complaints, lots of complaining about everybody. I think the team had the HR manager on speed dial for a while. And there was even an incident in the showroom where there was a screaming match, I think, that had happened. And there were just things like eye rolling and gossiping and hoarding space in the fridge, and just little things.

Wanda Dunaway:
So I was in a different position before I took this one with the company, I was in marketing, and I had come up to the office a couple of times before. And I remember one time I was in there and the manager pointed to two people and said, "Those are my superstars there." And they were two people who'd been there a couple years, they were doing great. But I remember thinking later, how do you think that person felt who has been there for almost 30 years and was a high performer to hear somebody else described as the superstars? And I think, in general, the bigger problem is that they were known in the market as individuals, but not necessarily as a team.

Holly Shannon:
Interesting. It's very difficult when there's favorites played in the workplace, for sure. And then, in addition to that, that they're screaming at each other and arguing within the company. So when you leaned in, what were some of the first steps that you took to understand what those conflicts were about? Because, of course, you heard the history, the screaming matches and so forth. And what measures did you begin to put in place to start healing the team?

Wanda Dunaway:
Sure. I think part of it, because I had heard these stories and had seen some of this, I knew there were perceptions out there. And one of the things I needed to figure out was what was real and what was just a perception. And really, it just starts with listening. I know one of the first things we did, my husband and I were moving from Georgia up to New York City, you can probably tell from my accent I'm not a native New Yorker, and we were doing an apartment search. And so, we scheduled a team meeting with everybody before my start date even happened. And we both showed up at the office and had a great team meeting, but it's amazing how much we found out in just that short amount of time. You find out a lot of the skeletons really quickly, just by the way people talk about each other and to each other.

Wanda Dunaway:
And I think, in general, people really want to talk and then you have to figure out what's going on there. I think what was key was setting expectations for the team. What were the non-negotiables, is we were going to be a team and we were going to grow. And then, I think, modeling behavior is really important. One of the things that I believe was really key was that I jumped into this new city and this industry and was out a couple of nights a week, sometimes with the team and a client, sometimes with just a client. And so, they saw that I was providing value and I wasn't asking them to do anything that I wouldn't do.

Wanda Dunaway:
One of the things we did early on was a contest. Salespeople are used to contest. They're very competitive. And so, we did this one a little differently. They had individual points that they could work towards and it was things like, there were behaviors I wanted to encourage. And some of it was just administrative stuff, things that they really needed to do, but I wanted them to do it faster. But some were things that I wanted to promote as team behaviors, like giving recognition to each other or promoting a win, sharing a win with the team. And we even had negative points, like leaving the dishes in the sink and not washing them, just because that had been a point of contention.

Wanda Dunaway:
So we would do these different things, but the twist on it was that the individual points all rolled up into team points, with the prize being a team outing. And of course, my secret was that there was going to be a winner because we were going to have a team outing. That was just as much a part of it as the actual contest.

Paul Jones:
That's fantastic, Wanda. Going back a little bit, I find it interesting in your story that when you tried to shift, at least from what I'm hearing from your story is that, if you're coming into a challenging culture, it sounds like previously that the manager had really established a hierarchy and obviously had favorites. And so, one of the things you could have done, and a lot of people probably would do, is sync up with a manager on, Hey, how do I take this team over? And it even sounds like that's what the previous leader was doing in the sense of saying, "Hey, these are my superstars." Basically, I'm trying to perpetuate my perception of how you should lead the team onto you.

Paul Jones:
But because you came from such a different perspective and because you came from outside of that political realm that had been created, you didn't really play into that at all. And so, I think that helped reset boundaries or reset everything for the team. Was that something that you intentionally did when you came in, was just say, you know what, I'm not going to get caught up in what is currently existing. We just need to reset that whole thing.

Wanda Dunaway:
Absolutely. I know when I was putting together my informal inter-, or actually, sorry, formal interview for the position, even though it was internal, we still go through all the processes, I was thinking about what are the things I need to do and what are the values that we want to have for the team? And one of those, because of things that had happened in the past, was really consistency. I wanted to make sure that I was treating everyone equally, but not necessarily the same, because they're all very different.

Wanda Dunaway:
And just this week, I was talking to somebody that was worried about being too salesy. And I said, "I never worry about you being too salesy." I have other people in my team that I might not say that to. But you have to treat them, they need to all be treated with respect and feel like they're all a part of the team, but do the things that are helpful for each person.

Wanda Dunaway:
And the other part of that was I wanted to build a bridge to the actual company culture, because New York had gotten off on its own. And, of course, New York is known for independence, but we had gone further than we needed to. And we almost used it as an excuse, New York does things differently. And so, that was another part is one, consistency, and two, driving things back to our overall brand.

Holly Shannon:
Wanda, is it possible that you could share a story with us that might exemplify a technique that you use to dissect these problems and force the team to face the issues head on so that you could really turn it around and start to function well and, obviously, make more sales?

Wanda Dunaway:
One of the issues we were having was I was getting a lot of individual complaints about different people, which is fine, but the individuals did not want to address these concerns with the other person. They just wanted to talk to me about them. And so, one of the things we did was I worked with our training department to put together a team-building training exercise. It was called The Speed of Trust. It's actually a Franklin Covey program. And I liked it because it was less touchy-feely, and more about economics, the economics of trust. The thing was when trust is down, costs go up and time spent, efficiency goes down. So we were looking at this and the core of it are these 13 behaviors of trust.

Wanda Dunaway:
And so one of the exercises we did, which was, I think, a turning point is there was a white board and it had each of these 13 behaviors that promoted trust. And everybody was supposed to go up and put check marks next to the ones where we felt like we had the biggest challenges. And the one that overwhelmingly won was confront reality, which obviously, that was something we knew because people were hesitant to confront somebody about something that they were doing that was bothering them.

Wanda Dunaway:
And so, we started talking about that and at one point, I said, "Okay, so would you rather," to the whole group, "If someone's doing something that's hurting them, hurting the company, or just just annoying you, would you rather," sorry. I said, "If you were doing something that was annoying others, not helping yourself or hurting the company, would you rather them come tell you or would you rather them go to the manager and tell them what's going on?" And everybody on the team said, "I would rather them come to me, because I want to know, for one. And two, if they go to the manager, it's going to be secondhand and I can't ask all the questions to clarify what was going on."

Wanda Dunaway:
And so, that was something that I said, "Okay, you all heard it here. Everybody raised their hands. Everybody said they would rather you talk to them. So why aren't we doing that?" And we left that with action items, and almost everybody's action items had something to do with being more transparent, being more willing to confront issues head on.

Paul Jones:
Wow. That's so cool. How long did it take, or how many iterations or suggestions to go sync up with somebody did you feel like you had to give before the team settled into giving feedback to each other?

Wanda Dunaway:
Yeah. Well, the interesting thing, and I'm sure this is like this for every team, is we're still not a hundred percent there and there's still times that people hesitate to go. But one of the follow-ups that we did from that session was in each of our one-on-ones, we talked about ... actually, the next one-on-one, I had them remind me what was their action item that they left the meeting, what was their commitment? And I put that in our one-on-one notes so we could see it every time.

Wanda Dunaway:
And if someone came in, was complaining, or giving me feedback about someone else, and I said, "Have you talked to them about it?" "Well, no, not yet." "Well, didn't you say you were going to be more willing to confront people when something came up?" So I think that was helpful, because they were like, "You know, you're right. I did commit to this." So I think that was part of it.

Wanda Dunaway:
We also did some three 60 ratings on the team using the stop, start, continue method. And I don't know that we got any surprises, maybe a couple, but most people already knew, but this just kind of gave them that idea, or the reinforcement that there were things that they need to work on. And one thing I realized during this three 60 process is that I was a part of the problem. Coming into this team culture where people weren't getting along, I really wanted collaboration and I wanted everybody to get along. And I realized that while I was asking everybody to get along, I was not necessarily encouraging that healthy debate.

Wanda Dunaway:
So one of the things I'm doing now is reading Radical Candor, so that's going to be one of the next things. Actually, I've already started talking about it with the team. So that's the next things that I'm going to talk to them in our one-on-ones is, when they come up with something, it's like, okay, if we care about these people, we have to be radically candid with them.

Holly Shannon:
It's interesting, Wanda, you're using a lot of tried and true properties that are out there, from Covey methods and Radical Candor and one-on-ones. You're using a lot of things that people talk about doing, but they don't necessarily employ them, but you're really doing the research and then putting them into action with your team. And that's great to do all of that. And I think, obviously, you're seeing that it's starting to turn your company culture around.

Holly Shannon:
I think also in a previous conversation, we had talked also bottom line, one of the big conflicts your group had was around the comp structure. And that, actually, was a tool that you used, and maybe you can elaborate a little bit more on that. So it was aside from all of the different methods that you had been using, you actually, in some of your research, realized that that was one of the main things that was a deterrent to them being cohesive.

Wanda Dunaway:
That's right. The sales industry has become, just the sales process has become a lot more complex. It used to be really simple. If you called on someone and they liked you and your product was something that they needed, they would buy it. But now, there's a lot of different decision makers. You have to surround the opportunity. And what we've done is everybody was individual contributors before, and now, everybody is on a segmented team, where they're segmented by markets and they are tied financially to each other.

Wanda Dunaway:
And we didn't do this at the beginning, because I felt that we didn't have enough trust in each other's, their abilities or their motivations or their willingness to work together. And so, I thought it would fail if we did it without building that foundation of trust. So we had taken our collaboration and our teaming to a certain point, and I felt like this was the natural next step, that we wouldn't get to the next level if we didn't tie them together financially and make sure that working together hit their bottom line.

Paul Jones:
I love that, Wanda. So what I'm hearing here is first, coming into the team is creating a new slate. Second, it's building trust. Third, it's realigning comp structures. And comp structures are always something, especially in sales, is something that is widely debated and discussed. And I could see how a knee jerk reaction to someone coming into a new team, the first thing you're going to want to do is line up the unit economics to help and promote teamwork. But I find it interesting that you decided to go down the trust route first. How did you frame this? So you have trust now established with the team, you're having more open communication. How did you then transition into this discussion about comp structures with them?

Wanda Dunaway:
We had been talking about it for a while. It wasn't a surprise. It basically was on my radar for every quarter to say, "Is this the time for it? Is this something that we need?" And so, I talked to the team about it and it was a process where everyone was able to give input. It was my decision in the end, but I listened to everybody's input into how it should work, what was the best way to do it? So I took all that input, listened and made that decision.

Holly Shannon:
I wonder, Wanda, if you brought that whiteboard out now, a few years later, and did that exercise over again, I wonder what that would look like now.

Wanda Dunaway:
That would be interesting. And I've actually adopted four new members this year from upstate. So now we're not just the city and Long Island, we're actually all over New York. So that is my next challenge is integrating that team into the other team.

Holly Shannon:
Well, I think you have all the tools in your kit. You've been doing the research and deploying tried and true research, and spending time with your team to know where their gifts are and how they can work best together. So I think you are probably well positioned to scale, to be honest.

Wanda Dunaway:
Thank you. I appreciate that. One thing that's interesting now that we're in a quarantine is we used to meet monthly as a team. Now we do weekly Hangouts and I think that's been really good. And what I'm finding is my team's actually talking more with each other during this quarantine. And another challenge I have next is figuring out how do we continue that networking, connectivity as we come out of this.

Paul Jones:
A lot of companies are thinking about that. It's been interesting. As we've dove in here on the podcast, talking with executives, what you just said is widely definitely a theme that we're hearing is that, I think more than ever, executives are thinking about connection, employee connection. And more than ever, companies have been more intentional about that connection. And I think right now, a lot of people are asking, wow, we've seen incredible connection happening among our employees. We've seen productivity go up, engagement go up. How do we keep this moving forward?

Holly Shannon:
Yeah, it's interesting when something positive could come out of something so catastrophic in a lot of ways. But yeah, that seems to be a recurring theme that we're seeing a lot of people ... We're all vulnerable, right? The playing field has been leveled, everybody's at home dealing with the same stresses now, no matter what level you are. So it is interesting to see that while it's virtual, the byproduct is people are actually feeling more connected.

Holly Shannon:
So thank you, Wanda. This was really amazing. We're really happy that you came on here to share your story, because I think it's actually not unique. I actually think it's something that a lot of people don't talk about that needs to be on the table, because having viable tools to move through dysfunction is very important. And so, I feel like you really provided a framework for our listeners.

Paul Jones:
I think we're going to need to have Wanda come back. Radical Candor is one of my favorite books. Kim Scott is awesome. And it's one of my favorite books because I'm the worst at it. I'm the most ruminous empathy manager you've ever met. So we're going to have to have you come back on with us, Wanda, and talk about how you implemented that book with your team.

Wanda Dunaway:
You got it. No problem.

Holly Shannon:
Oh, good. Part two of The Culture Factor with Wanda Dunaway.

Wanda Dunaway:
That's right. That's right. I love talking about developing people. I love talking about developing culture.

Holly Shannon:
Well, that's our number one topic here on The Culture Factor, so it's a good fit. So we will circle back around with our listeners for a part two with you. And we thank you so much for coming.

Wanda Dunaway:
Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Paul Jones:
Thanks, Wanda.