The aspirational words you hang on the wall and include on your website have less impact on your workplace and culture of success than you think.
Everyone says some version of “Our people are our greatest resource.”
On the other hand, when was the last time you encountered a place where it was obvious that any positive statement about the value of people had no basis in reality? Don’t respond out loud in case you are thinking about your current employer in less than positive terms.
Here’s a test. Which of these four statements best describes the environment in which you work.
- It’s a jungle out there, and only the fittest survive much less succeed. People watch their backs because they know that someone is out to get them.
- Success is a problem to be solved if we can put the best talent in place and equip them to succeed. The workplace is a meritocracy where individuals and teams rise to the top through excellence.
- We co-create our future. Team members help each other succeed because everyone’s contribution is valued. Individual excellence is acknowledged, but helping the team succeed is valued more than anyone person’s expertise or execution. The team competes, but not with itself.
- We are an interdependent whole. We see the entire organization as a single team to which everyone contributes. We are in a symbiotic relationship with our customers, vendors, and even our competitors to achieve a mutually beneficial result.
While there is growing proof that positive work environments are more productive, examples of companies exhibiting each of these environments exist. There are those who fail miserably even though they are a “happy” place to work and those who experience solid financial results in a difficult environment. Before Goldman-Sachs was recognized as a great work environment, it was known as an ultra-competitive workplace. The company delivered solid financial results in both cases.
The only certain wrong answer is a wide variation between the environment the leader wants to create and the one that employees experience.
Steve Jobs, for instance, was known for being a demanding boss or even a jerk depending on your point of view. He also happened to be a visionary and perfectionist on a mission to change the computing experience. Everyone at Apple knew what it was like to work for Jobs, and it didn’t harm the overall Apple culture. You could even argue that it helped foster a profound sense of loyalty and commitment.
As talented as he was, Jobs would have experienced a great deal less success if he was dropped into an organization with a different world view about the environment it was trying to foster.
Here are three actions you can take if you sense a disconnection between the culture you want and the current reality.
- Determine if the environment your team is experiencing is the one that you want to create. It can be as simple as asking people to share their answers to the four environments listed above. Change is impossible unless you are hearing your team’s real perceptions rather than the response they think you want to hear. Consider using an outside third party to provide anonymity.
- Look at behavior, process, and systems. The leadership in one of our client organizations openly talked about and sincerely wanted a culture where everyone co-created the future through engagement and teamwork. Unfortunately, the compensation and rewards system reinforced the notion that individuals should only look out for themselves. Likewise, managers often felt punished for offering resources to help a colleague by seeing their budgets and staff cut in the next planning cycle. Processes and systems create habits in your organization, and those are much more powerful than the words you hang on your walls.
- Help others understand the experience to expect. I had no idea what to think the first time I heard Bill Spence say these words to me: “You keep that up, and you might have a job here next week.” I didn’t understand that I had received high praise until a veteran co-worker clued me into how things worked at the machine shop for which I worked. It is the same with your team. Your words and actions may not be filtered through the same lens of perception that you intended. It is just as important to teach your people how to relate to you as it is for you to understand how to relate to them.
Your view of the world – specifically the role employees play in success – is the determining factor in the environment you create. Make sure that the world you want to see matches the one that your people experience.
Randy Pennington is an award-winning author, speaker, and leading authority on helping organizations achieve positive results in a world of accelerating change. To bring Randy to your organization or event, visit www.penningtongroup.com , email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 972.980.9857.