Your employees seem happy. You haven’t really noticed any major discontent. But what are they saying to their family? Their friends? When was the last time you paid attention to the values you espouse and how they are being enacted in the workplace? Do you really know your current culture and how your employees feel about it?
Just as it is important to know what your customers are saying about your products and services, it is critical to understand your employees’ needs and concerns. What does it mean for your company if the employees are complaining about company integrity,lack of accountability, refusal or inability to innovate and lack of leadership? Do you want to know, or is ignorance bliss? And if you do know, what do you do about it- brush it off because what do they know anyway?
Leaders take heed. Employees are brand messengers and at the same time representatives of the culture. Don’t ignore their messages. Give them an opportunity to be heard at work and take seriously what they say. Compare what they say to what you would like them to be saying. How big is the gap? Do something or not? Ignore them at your own risk and the risk of your company’s sustainability.
Employees that interview well and ultimately get hired show enthusiasm, confidence and engagement. They are not a bundle of stress and anxieties. Who wants to hire and deal with that? Yet a glance inside most companies finds a high percentage of employees who are stressed out and lacking engagement. What happened? They didn’t come this way.
Many employers justify this change by saying that “this is the big leagues and what we do is hard” and employees need to suck it up and keep going. Sounds like they are trying out for the movie role of a Marine drill sergeant.
Conditions at work are what cause employee stress most of the time. It can come from unreasonable bosses, unreasonable workload, lack of collaboration, lack of voice, lack of decision making authority, being used in a position that does not take advantage of a person’s skills or talents or any combination of them.
People welcome a challenge at work, particularly if presented in the right way; if it allows them to do what they do best and if they have the right team around them to be successful. Much stress is not from the challenge itself but from the absence of the factors that enable employees to successfully meet it.
If you see stressed out employees, what do you do? Do you consider it normal? Do you want to reduce it, and if so, have you considered how? If not, you are complicit in the erosion of your own human assets that are costing your organization big money. Remember, they didn’t come to you this way. What are you going to do to undo what your company has done to them?
Those that join the military learn quickly about unit discipline. All of the toughness and craziness of basic training is designed to get soldiers to respond to certain situations that the drill instructors know they will face, and to respond in a disciplined, planned manner. In business, employees do not get that sort of training. So when the wheels start coming off the wagon, how will they respond?
Tough questions. How would your organization answer them? Any thoughts you might have?
Every company wants to put its best foot forward, be it in the public eye, or in individual sales situations. Talk is around the strengths, the unique features, all of the things that make the company great. As we know, there is a fine line between extolling existing virtues and puffery. Puffery sometimes isn’t bad. But extreme puffery moves toward bluster and that evolves into hubris. Often times, this change is so subtle that there is very little awareness of the damage.
Hubris is dangerous. Selling on hubris is detrimental in many ways. Picture a small business that lands a big sale or big account based on the CEO overselling both product and service capabilities. The great news is they got the contract- the bad news is they got the contract and have no way to deliver on it. Suppose the company drops all other work in process to service this one piece of business that can move the company into the big leagues. What does that do to existing customer relationships? What does it do to the culture of the company when everyone is forced to drop what they are doing and focus- in a very rushed, maybe frantic manner- on something they haven’t done before. They may not have the necessary experience or expertise, which means creating a solution that is not proven, or spending a huge amount of time on research to build a solution. Or it may mean that the company has to bring on more people quickly to service the account, without properly vetting them and integrating them into the culture.
Be careful of bluster. It is only a step away from the cliff. As you slip over the cliff, you may be reconsidering whether it was worth it, but by then it is too late.
Organizational culture is a hot topic- finally. Numerous books, scholarly papers and blogs and articles are being written about it regularly. Down in the trenches of businesses large and small, it is addressed much less often. So it is interesting to observe and see how and where the culture really “sits” in an organization.
Ideally, it would permeate every nook and cranny and be a part of every employee’s DNA. It would guide decisions, actions, tactics and strategy. In actuality, that is usually not the case. Sometimes it is the leaders who lead the culture by words, example and by holding others accountable to it. And other times, the leaders seem to be AWOL on the subject. In those instances the company can lose its way, or it can be kept on its path by others picking up the flag and running with it. Culture champions influence those around them to remember why they joined the company, why they were once passionate about it, and how they can still make it great, even in a cultural leadership vacuum. Instead of complaining about the bosses, they are taking matters into their own hands and setting examples of how to align values and behaviors.
Stories of the machine operator or accounting clerk; or the nurse or a mid-level manager helping to get the train back on the tracks are not just isolated anecdotes. Individuals can lead a few followers and turn them into a movement, which from the bottom up, get the culture to where it needs to be. Don’t jump ship if the company’s executives have culture amnesia. You can be the big dog and get the culture wagging again.