All kinds of conversations occur about people and behavior in every company. These conversations will take place at the water cooler, the coffee break room, in meetings and in emails. They will occur in official communications and unofficial whispers. All of the conversations drive and document the culture inside the organization.
For the company that has determined its values mindset, actively talking about the positive aspects of people and their contribution (behaviors) is critical. The purpose is to identify those conversations and amplify them so they become the driving force, the tribal history.
These are the conversations that keep us alive. These are the conversations that distinguish one company from the next, one that is struggling and the other that sees success. What does yours sound like?
“Our culture?” Miguel stopped. “Well, there is the official story, and then there is the truth.”
I smiled. “Well, we all know the story is better than the truth.”
“Yeah, I know,” Miguel continued. “I mean, we try hard. We got the company mission statement posted by the front door. We got the teamwork posters on the wall. We have an employee newsletter, but you know, morale is still in the dumpster.”
“What do you think is the problem?”
“Don’t know. We try to get everybody on board, but the enthusiasm just isn’t there. It’s like they just don’t believe what a great place this is.”
“Who decided it was such a great place?” I asked.
Miguel was puzzled. “What do you mean, nobody really decided.”
“That’s the point. We, as managers, have manufactured the things you describe as culture. The mission statement looks like it came from some Mission Statement book. The teamwork posters were bought out of a catalogue. I have read your employee newsletter and all it talks about is how to make changes in your 401(k) plan and make a claim in the health insurance program. You have the tools to create and communicate your culture, but you are not using them.
“The biggest tool you have is participation. People will support a workplace they help to make.”
“It’s a wholistic approach,” Pablo said. “When we look at a role in the organization, we think we need a project coordinator. So, we hire a project coordinator and a human being shows up for work.”
“We hire people, we don’t hire project coordinators. There is nothing that interrupts a person’s professional productivity more than something going on in their personal life. We hire a person, they play the role of a project coordinator. As a manager, it is our accountability to bring value to the problem solving and decision making in the role, that is very specific. And, it is also our accountability to create a work environment where people are able to do their best, free from dramatic distraction, to focus on the work at hand.”
“You may think that your company stands for integrity, honesty, that it holds trust as an abiding theme?” Pablo raised an eyebrow.
“Yes,” I nodded. “I would agree on all those things.”
“I don’t think so,” Pablo countered. “You don’t stand for those high ideals. You stand for what you tolerate.”
I let that sink in a moment. “You are right. It is often easy to spot a toxic employee. Their toxicity sticks out like a sore thumb. But, we are very slow to react. We fret about the confrontation, the optics, the perceived impact on our culture. And, so we tolerate it, if only for just a little bit longer.”
“And, what happens to the company in that interim? What happens to surrounding team members? What is the impact on the pace and quality of work? What happens to the frequency and cost of re-work? Not just an emotional drain, but hard costs.”
“What’s the quickest way to change your culture?” Pablo asked.
“Great question,” I replied. “Shifting culture usually takes time and intention.”
“But, there is a way,” Pablo nodded.
“Is this a trick question?” I wanted to know.
Pablo continued to nod. “It’s not a trick, but it’s generally not where you look. The quickest way to change your culture, is to bring in new people. They bring a culture with them.”
“Unfortunately,” Pablo continued, “that culture they bring with them may be counter to the culture you intend. If, based on surveys, we find that most people are disengaged at work, then I assume most companies have cultures that are disengaging. In companies where people feel undervalued, underutilized, not challenged, team members will engage in coping behaviors that may be counterproductive. They quit, and get hired by you. Guess what assumptions they bring with them? And, that is where culture starts, with their assumptions, their beliefs, the way they see the world. Your initial employee orientation may be the most important time they spend to ensure they understand the new culture they will become a part of.”
- Ufnfamiliar Turf
- Jeering Crowd
Why do sports teams statistically have better records for home games than road games? In their championship series, why do sports teams jockey for playoff positions that award home-field advantage ? What impact does home-field advantage have on Motivation?
The locker room for the home team has individual accomodations, with names on each locker. Each player sleeps in their own bed the night before, life routines are simply routine. If a problem arises, any team member (including coaches and administrative staff) can tap into readily available tools, or hit the supply cabinet (readily stocked).
The visiting team is in unfamiliar surroundings, life routines are interrupted. Accomodations are adequate but anonymous. If a problem arises, the team member might have to improvise or “do without.” No hugs from family here, just the cold hard reality of a rival field of play.
Though there may be occasional fans supporting the road team, the majority of the cheering crowd is firmly in support of the home team. What is the impact of an engaged stadium full of “positive noise?”
What are the lessons in home-field advantage for the working manager?
- Comfortable familiar environment
- Problem solving systems
- Available resources
- The right tools
- Ample supplies
- Hugs (Support from the extended team)
The challenge for the manager, in the supervision of a team is to create an environment of home-field advantage in the workplace.
Simon moved quickly down the hallway. Morale was down. “I just don’t understand,” he said, “Our hotel managed a five star rating last year. I would think the staff would be proud of what they accomplished.”
“Show me around,” I insisted. “Let me look. I will tell you what I see.”
As we walked, I noticed the posh lobby and beautiful appointments of the hotel. It was truly wonderful. But then, I asked to see the work areas behind the forbidden doors that say Employees Only. That is where it hit me. The contrast was amazing; like we had been transported to a different place on earth. It was clean, but stark. Away from the warm glow in the guest areas, team members were bustling around bare cinder block walls lit by harsh fluorescents. The air was still and clammy. Team members, each, had their name scrawled on a piece of tape slapped on a gray metal locker.
It struck me that we treat our customers with a warm glow, while we treat our team members in harsh monochrome.
Do the surroundings in your workplace have an impact on productivity? Does beauty in the workplace have a positive impact? Look around, what do you see?
From the Ask Tom mailbag –
What is culture? Everyone talks about it, says how important it is. I know it is there, but it’s one of those warm and fuzzy concepts that’s like nailing jello to the wall.
Culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our required behavior in the work that we do together. The culture cycle can be understood as a reinforcing system, recursive through four descriptive stages.
- Beliefs and assumptions, the way we see the world.
- Those beliefs and assumptions, typically unwritten, drive specific behaviors (for better or worse).
- Driven behaviors, or cultural behaviors are tested by the consequences of reality.
- Those behaviors that survive the test of consequences become our customs and rituals. Those customs and rituals reinforce our beliefs and assumptions, the way we see the world. The cycle begins again.
Every company (or social group) has a culture. That culture may be intentional or it just happens, but every company has one, and has the one they deserve. Culture is critical because it impacts the social structure, the way it operates and its impact on each individual. Culture determines the way you enter a group (company), how an individual is selected for the group. Induction includes the customs and rituals of orientation. Culture determines how roles are defined, assigned, formed, re-formed.
Culture determines any system of merit, performance management and review, individual development, career path, coaching and mentoring. Movement in the organization is impacted by systems of promotion based on accountability and authority. Compensation is designed, crafted and executed according to the way we see the world, the company and its business model in the competitive platform on which the company plays.
All of these elements are critical to a person’s understanding and self-perception. And most people in modern nation states exist inside a cultural system that impacts self-definition, not only the way a person sees the world (beliefs and assumptions), but the way they see themselves. Psychological healthy people are a product of psychologically healthy organizations.
Mark nodded, head-bob up and down. “It would seem very different for us to talk about performance issues in the executive management team. I am not even sure how I would start.”
“Why don’t you start with yourself?” I asked. “I am absolutely certain there are some shortcomings in the company that you can own, where you could have made a different decision, or handled something in a different way. Why don’t you start with yourself?”
“I suppose if I can’t think of something, you will say that I am in denial,” Mark replied.
My turn to nod. “We are often in denial. The sooner we confess to a problem, especially our contribution to a problem, the faster we can get on with solving it, learning from it, avoiding it in the future.” I stopped. “So, think about a decision you made that was hasty, not thought through well enough, that now, with 20-20 hindsight, you can clearly identify as bone-headed. What would it sound like to ask for feedback from your executive team?
“I want you to think about something,” I continued. “When your team makes a bone-headed decision, it costs pennies. When you make a bone-headed decision, it can cost millions.”
Mark thought long and hard before he responded. “But, bringing up her underperformance in front of everyone else is not my style.”
“You’re not talking about her underperformance in public OR private,” I said.
“You’re right, I should talk to her in private,” Mark shrugged.
“I didn’t say either way, but why are you so uncomfortable bringing up performance issues in the executive management team?”
“Well, you know, it would be uncomfortable,” Mark admitted.
“Of course, it would be uncomfortable. Do you convene your executive team to talk about comfortable issues? If there is no contention, no conflict, no active discussion, what would be the point?”
“We are just not used to that. I would like to think we treat each other with respect.”
“You can be respectful and still hold someone to account for their performance,” I insisted. “The reason you are not used to talking about performance, with respect, is that you don’t practice it.”