How You Can Change the Culture From Your Cubicle

If nearly 60% of employees think the C-suite is responsible for changing culture, then 40% is a big number of the workforce who feel the employees have a say so. Owning your own role, using influence for impact to make life better one person at a time, being transparent and authentic, managing up and measuring down, being patient all contribute to two key dimensions of corporate behavior – climate and culture.

What many pundits and self-proclaimed experts characterize as a culture shift are merely Band-aids on broken legs to make the organizational climate better.  When someone sells you on the idea “they” can transform your culture, you’re best bet is to about-face and run as fast as your Louboutin’s can carry you. Some proponents of the Culture movement espouse short-term fixes and long-term solutions that lack meat-on-the-bone results merely delivering tactics that influence corporate climate and barely scratch the surface on corporate culture.

With so many culture changes failing in the +70% range, why bother if we’re not going to stick with a proven methodology?

Exactly, because if it’s not important enough to everyone then trying to “fix it” through an “All-in” motivational mantra is nothing more than a climate shift that will provide a temporary positive effect and will eventually wane when the next crisis and/or intense deadlines and pressures arises. Evolving a culture from “where we are” today to “where we need to be” or “where we must go” is not a motivational tool. It’s more than a change or shift. It’s an overhaul. It’s a remodel if you didn’t start off on the right foot in the beginning. Walls need to come down, barriers to communication must be eliminated, the environment must be a safe place to fail, egos have to come back to reality and so on – this is big, heavy lifting stuff! Moving your company’s culture in a direction that it must move toward affects every aspect of your business. EVERY aspect from the parking lot, art on the walls, toilet paper and so on – you think I’m kidding or ridiculous, then’s how’s yours working? What leader has the stones to put theirs on the line AND are willing to lead as long as it takes regardless of intense deadlines, pressures and shareholder push-back?

There are many reasons why culture changes fail and the underpinning aspects we encounter stem from lack of support from C-suite and beyond, a lack of willingness to see it through, from time – giving up too soon or eliminating the toxic environment at a variety of levels including protection of turf, legacy silos and many more influencers – EVERY aspect.  Changing your culture is akin to root-cause analysis of people. As each layer is pulled back, one factor and another one to realign and correct is unveiled.

From every level of the organization, every employee needs to feel safe, that the consequences of doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason is right, and if something isn’t done correctly, then they’re not going to get crucified for it! Having the right environment first allows for the proper behaviors to be demonstrated and for engagement to thrive. What is the right environment? To get to the right environment, we first must understand what the wrong environment is and to a degree how it became so toxic.

The root cause to a poor environment is poor communication. A poor environment is where withdrawal, escalation, belittling, false beliefs and false assumptions are perpetuated and in fact rewarded. Why? For whatever reason, real or perceived, few are held accountable and the ones who are may be punished sending the message of “sacred cows,” protected  and isolated people. There is no trust and no cooperation in such a climate or at the least, very little. Email is used to cover your ass, to share disdain, to create and further perpetuate territorial silos, create division and more. When you look at the communication norms over several generations, then you’ve noticed fewer voicemails being answered, even fewer emails are responded to and we’ve regressed to general and superficial communications via text and a myriad of business SMS platforms. A poignant example of this reality can be gleaned from Susan Tardanico’s article in Forbes.

We had a former client who was mired in territorial in-fighting with a propensity to email as their primary method of communication. Prior to initiating a culture influencing project, they understood the need to improve their environment. What they weren’t willing to do is cut emails down by 50%. Wallowing in email hell, they decided the answer is to rank emails as 411 – for your information only, 611 – this needs action and 911 – emergency and respond immediately. What do you think happened? Of course, they joined the ranks of the dinosaurs thinking everyone and everything is an emergency. If you’re not willing to take things of people’s plates and continue to add-on more and more projects, tasks and trivial crap because it’s your agenda, then you will fail – it’s not a matter of if, it’s when!

We’re not advocating we shouldn’t have the capability to communicate with immediacy. However, company’s have absolutely reduced and in some cases eliminated, by their culture, face-to-face communications. Over 90% of our communications today is general and superficial information driven largely by social media and tech.We cannot create deep feelings or understand each other’s deep needs superficially!  The same stat also holds true for non-verbal communications and has been this way for many years.

Climate is environmental. Culture begins with behavioral. In order to deliver the results a successful organization must have, the environment must be re-created and reset to a safe place to work where employees and leadership trust and respect each other and failing is allowed. Until the climate has successfully moved to a more appropriate level where people are valued over process, products are not treated far better than its people and people aren’t considered solely an expense on a balance sheet, initiating a cultural shift is folly. The link between climate changes and cultural shifts in successful organizations is how people trust and respect each other and behave with each other – this is how work gets done. Stop insisting on the band-aid approach when major surgery is what’s required.

You can’t rush corn in the field. It’s going to grow when it’s damn good and ready. Influencing culture establishes a foundation to yield long-term results.

In reading this piece, you may be saying to yourself, “…not in my company…” I hate to disagree with you, but it exists with over 80% of companies in North America. Productivity gains will come and proliferate once the right environment is established or re-created and the expected behaviors of how we’re all to get along professionally are solidified. They will only become permanent and long-lasting gains as long as the environment and behaviors stay aligned. How you ask? From action to accountability, from systems and structures, from compensation to perks and rewards all are aligned in the same manner. Only then will and can an organization prosper earning the results it needs in order to enjoy a sustainable outcome. It’s a long and lengthy process and many Executives resist the time, effort, capital and sweat equity it takes to see it through.

An analogy we like to use is training up a highly-skilled golfer to a level of world-class performance.  It’s a process that cannot be rushed and cannot be short cut. The practice tee is littered with thousands of beautiful swings. The amateur ranks are littered with highly skilled and successful players; put them in an unfamiliar situation like the USGA Open Championship where earlier this month only 14 qualified out of nearly 10,000 entrants (both professional and amateur) and the stress and strain produces less than favorable results. Why? Because under such intense pressure, their outcomes haven’t produced in such a setting previously.

In business, athletics and life’s stress and pressure, you will revert to the level you have Mastered, not the level you’ve been trained.

The only thing you can control in golf and in business is being prepared. In a world where outcomes are so important, setting your high-performance culture up for success is paramount. Getting the environment right in order to earn the right to demand and to model nothing less than acceptable professional behaviors puts you on the path to being fully prepared. Getting repetitive behaviors consistently exhibited and you’ll earn the right to productivity gains. Once productivity gains becomes sustainable, then and only then will you get the results you must have. Here’s some data to chew on:

Data Points to Consider:

  1. 64% of all employees do not feel they have a strong work culture – Columbia University, Job Satisfaction and Employee Turnover Intention

  2. 71% of employees are not engaged at work and 22% are actively disengaged, leaving just 7% engaged in the work they’re doing, Gallup Organization, State of Global Workplace Survey

  3. Disengagement costs the United States alone over half a trillion dollars a year, Gallup Organization

  4. $11 billion is lost annually due to employee turnover, The Bureau of National Affairs

  5. 49% of all employees are not satisfied with their direct supervisor, TinyPulse

  6. Turnover at companies with a poor culture is 48%, Turnover at companies with a great culture is just 14% HR Statistics and Best Practices, Glassdoor

  7. Only 21% of employees feel strongly valued at work, TinyPulse

  8. 80% of employees who are dissatisfied with their direct manager are also disengaged, Dale Carnegie

  9. 26% of employees plan to leave their employer within the next 2 years, Willis Towers Watson

  10. 69% of employees report engagement is a problem in their organization, Psychometrics

  11. 82% of employees said it’s very important that their organization address the employee engagement problem, Psychometrics

  12. 88% of employees don’t have passion for their work, Huffington Post

  13. 60% of employees lack the elements required to be highly engaged, Willis Towers Watson

  14. 1 in 4 employees does not have the tools needed to be successful in their jobs, TinyPulse

  15. 66% of employees do not see a chance for professional growth, TinyPulse

  16. Unhappy employees take 15 more sick days each year than the average worker, Michelle McQuaid

  17. Low engagement results in a 33% decrease in operating income and an 11% decrease in earnings growth; High engagement, however, results in a 19% increase in operating income and 28% increase in earnings growth, Willis Towers Watson

  18. 80% of senior managers are not passionate about their work and 83% of HR Managers feel they don’t have a compelling employment brand, Huffington Post

There’s reams of data and even more geeks who can skew the numbers to accommodate their agenda or business model for you to buy. There’s dozens of “platforms” to make your life easier in the intense pressure of the moment of operating your business.  Everyone has a unique situation and a customized SaaS or some out of the box solution won’t fit your organization regardless of their promises. Change takes work, effort and commitment on the part of leadership.  Our commitment is being your stake-in-the-ground when it hits the fan.

Get Started on Your Environment. Along our three-decade journey, we’ve discovered seven dimensions in getting an organization’s environment right. Certainly, you can come up with more or less, however this is what’s worked for us and delivered 5-10X ROI for our clients from $15M private businesses to $8B global enterprises. Personalizing your situation is what we do to demonstrate and deliver what your climate looks like today and how that future state make take shape PRIOR to engaging on Influencing Your Culture.

Engagement. There are common engagement elements that every organization adopts and adapts to in their climate. One step towards an engaged workforce is recognizing the employees are the main touch points for their customers. Happy employees treat customers with respect and gratitude. When employees feel leadership has a genuine concern for their well being, employees feel good about where they work and are secure in their job. Identification is another aspect of engagement employees cling to from brand recognition as a personal compliment to a sense of value, pride and ownership in the organization’s purpose. Here’s where many experts insert the 10 C’s of Employee Engagement and unfortunately stop there. Every step along the way in affecting a change in the environment establishes the foundational shift from climate to culture, however step one is just the beginning – getting employees involved.

Purpose Alignment.  Leadership must plan to ensure alignment between the organization’s mission and its resources to effectively operate the organization. From fine-tuning strategies or to find out why the strategies are not working to affecting change around a number of issues involving scalable efficiencies.  Identifying what’s working, what’s not working and what lessons have been learned drive strategic issues and goals. An engaged team will want to solve all of the problems for the customer. Purpose identifies the design goals of a process, business rule, function, or feature. It does not define the sequence in which the work on that process, rule, function, or feature must occur. Step two is Leadership having an actionable plan for planned outcomes.

Professional Development. An environment ready to move forward believes in leveraging the strengths of its people. Having opportunities for development at all levels not only improves the climate and the environment in which you work. The serendipity of providing professional development opportunities gives employees more than the feeling of being valued. They understand the investment in their own development delivers an ROI which not only benefits everyone within the organization AND the customer benefits from a more diverse, well-rounded and knowledgeable employees. Step Three is assessing where your organization’s strengths are and what an ideal role profile looks like, then developing people to a defined level of success – thus success is planned and then executed to an expected outcome.

Employee Value and Loyalty. Attracting the right talent, recruiting more candidates, and re-inspiring your current employees helps organizations improve the quality of hire and reduce employee turnover more successfully.  There’s value employees gain in return for working at your organization by strategically communicating employment branding, corporate branding, rewards and benefits, enhanced recruiting strategy and professional development. The value proposition is critical for attracting the talent necessary to reach the goals necessary for the organization. The Change and Communication Global ROI Research Study,  Willis Towers Watson shows organizations that use their EVP most effectively are five times more likely to report their employees are highly engaged and twice as likely to report achieving financial performance significantly above their peers. Step Four is designing and implementing and employee value proposition that drives loyalty and results while preserving internal and external relationships.

Sweat Equity. Skin in the game, the acknowledgement from human capital is essentially a formal recognition of people who actually carry out the corporate mission and play as important a part in the business as the people who provide the capital equity. The argument of risk and reward affect both the people who commit a third of their waking life as well as investors who have more ability to guide the operations of the business and shape its outcomes. Employees can lose their livelihoods by challenging management or through simple management incompetence, while the investor protects himself from such calamities. Step Five is empowering human capital to make decisions at the lowest practical level to drive autonomy and action to full accountability.

Sense of Winning – is a sense of belonging. There are many studies on competition in the workplace and how they engage or disengage employees. Our experience has shown us how to create an environment of winning without envy or jealousy, how employees are challenged without threatened, and how unreasonable expectations are avoided. There are extrinsic factors that may create a sudden spike in performance, but intrinsic factors are more likely to generate a long-term behavioral change, which is what we’re after in solidifying a healthy workplace environment. The competitive landscape is adjusted in accordance with the people affected – encouraging them to compete against an internal goal or comparatively to “benchmarked” performance of someone at their level.

Gamification at work provides real-time feedback about driving job performance. The same drive can be leveraged by having managers link employees goals and track them in real time, relative to themselves, channeling that intrinsic drive.  This Fifth Step is where managers are coached to set realistic and personal goals employees can engage with without feeling disengaged or overwhelmed.

Set your organization up for success by committing to changing the climate first and move the environment forward in order to fluidly prepare to lead a High-Performance Culture. How do I change the culture from my cubicle? Through living the appropriate behaviors and values the company lives by to foster the right environment. Without the right climate, we don’t even get the opportunity to establish or reset a culture of high-performance.  It’s clear your organization needs to turn around performance as the issues go much deeper than strategy and financial performance. You have talented people, but for whatever reason, you struggle with moving things forward.

The values witnessed in action are not in alignment with the organization’s stated values, and you’re not satisfied with the overall culture of the organization.  What’s required are meat-on-the-bone answers to today’s problems and ever-changing business environment that can be implemented immediately. Here at Brookestone, we break through the critical human and cultural integration challenges that obstruct your company’s ability to breakthrough boundaries. By leveraging the best attributes of all legacy cultures and being fully inclusive of all talent, we deliver an efficient, effective path to maximum impact and results while preserving critical relationships. We preserve the core and enhance your organizational capacity for collaboration, innovation, and productivity gains to drive business results with agility.

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