In too many places, I have seen the same pattern bear out.
An employee lodges a complaint with leadership. Leadership thanks the employee for bringing the issue to their attention, which is the polite response. Underneath the polite response, the reaction is anything but polite. The reaction? Resentment.
The reason is simple: nobody likes criticism. Think of the last time someone was critical of you. Even if they were right, it still hurt. Even healthy criticism can leave a bruise on our ego, make us question our competence, and/or present a (new) problem we would rather not focus upon, much less know. Resentment is our knee-jerk response to such feedback.
Instead of acknowledging and addressing this reaction at the moment it happens, many managers allow their resentment to grow like yeast, even while denying its existence. This resentment unconsciously poisons the relationship, seen through rising criticism, questioning decisions and standards that were once acceptable, and putting the employee’s performance under a microscope. The intensity of negative attention eventually becomes unbearable, and another valuable employee is lost.
Why are they valuable? Because an employee with the courage to speak up is the kind of employee you want.
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Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
I once had a gig-job delivering pizzas (who doesn’t nowadays?) I’m not going to name the franchise, but I would say I enjoyed working for them – the values of quality and service matched who I am.
Yet, there was a word we were supposed to use whenever we made a delivery, a word that was blatantly manipulative. That word was “only.” Pull up to the customer’s residence, bring the order to the door, knock, introduce yourself, summarize the order for quality control, and then punctuate the summary with “Your total comes to only,” followed by the amount.
In an era when everyone says “saved”, the use of the word replaced what had become cliche (even though “save” is still strangely effective with many people). This was precisely the rationale given in the training material: the driver was subconsciously suggesting a lower than expected cost for higher than expected quality.
Yet, stress-testing this word revealed unintended consequences.
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Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
After reading some of the posts on this blog, it would be reasonable to conclude that I am presenting a sort of naïve idealism regarding the nature of people.
I am not an idealist. Instead, I am a realist. The response when initiating a cultural transformation can be broken into three parts.
The first are those who enthusiastically embrace the change you wish to see, adopting whatever individual changes are necessary for making that transformation a reality. Although they are the true believers, they are also few in number, and are never enough to initiate any lasting change.
The majority will not embrace your vision, at least not initially. They won’t tell you this. Publically, they’ll support your new initiative, often maintaining the façade through a few tasks and exercises. Privately, they’ll express their skepticism (or cynicism) through a few eye-rolls, all while demurring to their coworkers. For these, “cultural change” is just the most recent fad.
And then there are the remaining few who will seek to destroy your efforts from the beginning. These are your opponents for winning the hearts and minds of the skeptical majority.
How do you win the skeptical majority? By expanding the few in your corner until they are the majority, thus isolating the few that are not in your corner.
To put it another way, by understanding the normal curve in your organizational culture, and working towards skewing it.
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Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
We have become a people of shortcuts.
For every challenge, there’s an app to address it; for every problem, a lifehack. The rapid proliferation and distribution of the Internet has fundamentally altered how we approach life’s challenges, adding a speed of efficiency we never could have dreamed of before.
That efficiency, as more are beginning to realize, came at a cost. Much has been made about how we are changing our very brain chemistry through our use of the Internet, whether those behaviors include hyperlinks, scanning content, multimedia and, of course, social media. It seems our ability to multitask has made us all a little ADHD.
The cure has become the disease, as fewer and fewer take the long road home anymore.
It’s not a genuine problem until we need to learn something which can’t be gained through a shortcut. Some things simply can’t be learned through shortcuts: to learn how to ride a bike, you need to get on it and gain muscle-memory.
The discovery of what we are doing to ourselves is often found when we pick up something with more density, such as literature or philosophy. Our capacity to focus, read, and think about one topic for extended periods has been compromised by our daily use of apps, lifehacks, and other shortcuts.
Another subject that can’t be learned through shortcuts? Humans.
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Transforming an organizational culture is not like a pre-packaged meal, cooked in the microwave and served to your followers. Many consultancy-driven initiatives approach culture in this way. Many fail.
Instead, it is a handcrafted recipe, deliberately prepared utilizing the unique flavors already present in the organization, marinated before cooking slowly over a low heat.
Not only does this require following Drucker’s advice and working with what you have, it also requires patience and courage in addition to people-centered leadership.
It also requires a key ingredient to begin the marination: a catalyst.
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Estimated read time: 12 minutes
Better culture needs better communication.
Everyone agrees with this, but not everyone understands the factors involved with better communication. It’s not just about skills; it’s also about the character of those communicating, specifically how they view each other. If I hate you, your communication skills are not going to matter very much.
I consistently teach and model three principles, no matter where I am or who I am with, principles that I have found to be consistently true no matter where I am. These principles work wonders for improving organizational culture. When internalized by a group of people, conflict disappears. In its place arises constructive communication, better work relationships and, most importantly, teamwork.
These principles exist in every healthy culture, just as they exist in every healthy relationship. I come back to these principles time and again throughout my writing. Here I summarize them.
So, without further ado…
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