Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Building Performance Cultures: Insights from James Chitwood, Expert Consultant at PerformanceCulture

Leaders Perception Magazine is currently running an interview series called – Leadership in Times of Crisis
Today, we had the opportunity to interview James Chitwood who is a Expert Consultantat PerformanceCulture.Expert (PCE).

Meet James Chitwood, an expert consultant with a strong background in higher education and sales operations. With a unique blend of operational expertise and a passion for people leadership, James has successfully guided organizations through turnarounds and culture transformations. Today, he shares his valuable insights on creating performance cultures, the importance of transparency and authenticity during crises, and the power of effective communication.

Interviewee Name: James Chitwood

Company: PerformanceCulture.Expert (PCE)

James Chitwood’s favourite quote: The greatest asset of an organization is the undeveloped potential of its people. – Roy Chitwood.

I like this quote because assets are to be invested in, they are a positive on the balance sheet. When an organization starts looking at employees as an asset and not an expense. the entire approach to running the organization changes.

The Interview

Thank you so much for joining us today! Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your backstory?

James Chitwood : My career has been in higher education, primarily in the for-profit and non-profit university setting as both an executive and a partner manager working for education technology companies. My experience spans from startup operations to turnarounds, from small founder-level to large national organizations. I have been a university president, campus president, and a vp many times over. My expertise in the world of academia is enrollment management. To the rest of the world, it would be called sales operations.

What makes me unique is the combination of an operations mind and a passion for leading people. I have three college degrees in business administration, an associate, bachelor, and master’s degree. I pursued a doctorate in organizational leadership because I found myself very good at quantifying everything and felt I was becoming disconnected from the people. For my dissertation research, I studied the connection between leadership style, employee satisfaction, and productivity in a sales environment. That research forms the keystone of the work I do today at PCE helping organizations create environments where employees thrive. One of my favorite mantras is, “If we focus on the numbers, the people will leave. If we focus on the people, the numbers rise.”

Could you please share a specific crisis situation you’ve faced as a leader and walk us through the strategies you employed to navigate through it successfully? What were the key decisions and actions you took, and what were the outcomes or lessons learned from that experience?

James Chitwood : I was brought into an organization to help turn around the sales efforts. At that time, the organization was under heavy regulatory scrutiny and as a result, was performing secret shopping of over 1400 salespeople. I was hired to lead these sales efforts while changing the culture.

When I started with the organization I quickly learned that the outcome of 75% of the secret shopping reviews was the immediate termination of the employee. This fact resulted in a team of salespeople who were constantly in fear of saying the wrong thing and getting fired. Prior to me coming on board the solution was to provide scripts that the salespeople were to read. Any deviation resulted in termination.

The problem was that nobody wants to buy from a salesperson who is reading a script and not authentically having a conversation. Combine that with the fear of being fired. And the result was that salespeople were under pressure to reach sales goals without any real way of doing so. They were afraid of losing their job for not hitting their goals and afraid of losing their job for saying the wrong thing. Sales were down. Turnover was up. Fear was palpable across the nation of salespeople. And here I was brought in to turn around the operation.

The strategies that I employed at that time became a later AHA moment for me that I use today in building a performance culture. I conducted countless interviews with staff, executives, and compliance lawyers to find the right approaches. My solution was to focus on training, recognition, accountability, and communication. We trained the salespeople on how to have authentic and compliant conversations. Revised the recognition strategies to leverage the power of the team. Changed the accountability systems to connect with recognition and tap higher levels of intrinsic motivation. And communicated throughout the entire process.

The result of these efforts was a drastic decrease in turnover and an increase in performance. After a year of these efforts, only 25% of the team was terminated as a result of secret shopping. Morale was up and the numbers looked good. A performance culture was thriving.

From your observations, what common mistakes or pitfalls have you seen leaders fall into during a crisis?

James Chitwood : Common mistakes I see leaders make in a time of crisis involve:
1) A lack of transparency. Many leaders in a time of crisis want to try and paint a rosy picture at all times. The challenge here is that people are not blind or stupid. They see through the bull and know when a leader is not being transparent. The leader needs to be transparent on all issues in order to establish strong bonds of trust with the employees. Failing to be transparent is a recipe for disaster. This leads to the second issue.
2) A lack of authenticity. This to me is one of the greatest mistakes leaders make, they try to put up a front that they have all the answers. As mentioned above, people see through the bull$#!t. In a time of crisis, there are always questions without answers. An authentic leader will own this truth. It is okay, perhaps even good, to explain to the team that the leader doesn’t have all the answers, but will transparently seek them out with the help of all information sources, most importantly including the employees. And believe it or not, showing vulnerability in an authentic fashion builds trust with the employees.
3) A lack of empathy. I am always amazed by leaders who have no real care for the fact that employees are people with families and outside concerns that have nothing to do with the organization. And this goes both ways. When the organization is in a time of crisis, this has a negative effect on the employees’ families. The leader needs to understand that the fear and uncertainty experienced by employees in the organization are compounded by the fact that the fear gets magnified by the employees’ personal lives.
4) A lack of communication. The simple word communication is so misunderstood in organizations that I wish I had a better term. In my business, I discuss internal communication strategies. Many leaders believe that because they have clearly made a statement that they are communicating. That’s like saying I spoke to someone without listening to their reply and we had a conversation. A conversation requires listening. An internal communication strategy requires three-way communication, from the top to the bottom and back up to the top, as well as across the organization. The entire organization must be listening to each other. A leader needs to listen more than speak in order to be truly communicate.

Leaders Perception would like to thank James Chitwood and PerformanceCulture.Expert (PCE) for the time dedicated to completing this interview and sharing their valuable insights with our readers!

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