“I don’t think women have to deal with overt sexism in the workplace anymore.” My very kind male friend said those words a week prior to my writing this, as I was trying to pick a topic for this column. It occurred to me that many people may share his view that the age of overt sexism is over. Perhaps they believe that the “Mad Men”-esque days of Don Draper-types telling their secretaries to go get the rolling pin ended years ago.
A few months ago, I attended an expert panel on the topic of crafting the ideal corporate culture. To my surprise, these executives instead spent the entire discussion talking about their brand. The person sitting next to me leaned over and asked: “Are they confused, or ahead of their time?” It was a good question.
While most organizations think of brand and culture as separate ideas supported by separate teams, they are remarkably interconnected and must be aligned for long-term sustainability. Ultimately, if your culture and brand are not aligned, any brand equity is inauthentic. While it might be possible to fool your clients for a period of time, the truth inevitably comes out.
Whether due to toxic culture, ineffective leadership, poor results from an employee engagement survey, lack of trust or high levels of attrition, many organizations will find themselves asking how to strategize culture change at some point. But even the most well-crafted strategy is no match for entrenched cultural norms. As the popular saying goes, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
I describe organizational culture as a messy web of systems, processes, roles, communication practices, assumptions, attitudes, goals and personalities. Oh, and there isn’t just one culture. Depending on the size of your organization, there could be thousands across departments (which is perfectly normal). Culture is embedded in every aspect of the organizational system. Every little change within the system has repercussions — some obvious and others less so; some immediate and others long-term. As a result, organizational culture change cannot happen on its own.
Do CEOs really want to know what their employees say about them? Do they actually want to hear about inefficiencies, overly-complex workarounds or gossip going around the coffee machine? Of course they should — although many don’t.
CEOs need to fully understand the values, beliefs and norms of their organizational culture before they can create any change. But it’s challenging for a CEO to reach this depth of understanding because, unsurprisingly, people have a difficult time giving the person at the top bad news. The CEO controls the purse strings, and the hiring and firing decisions. Giving the leader critical feedback, telling them what they are doing wrong or where their blind spots exist, can be — to put it mildly — a career-limiting move.
There’s a lot of controversy about team-building exercises in the corporate world. Do they really boost morale? Does rappelling down a cliff actually build trust that translates into a more productive accounting office? Is retreating worth the time and expense?
First things first: You have to understand the difference between team building and team socializing. Many leaders who take their employees out for happy hour call it team building. It is not. Other leaders schedule structured activities such as escape rooms or go-karting and call it team building. It is not. Those activities are team socializing. Real team building, on the other hand, is thoughtful, done over time and proactive.
Moving offices is a dangerously stressful time for a business: Employee retention rates, cultural harmony and productivity will suffer. Your relocation might just be the straw that breaks your bottom line.
Today, your employees are continuously being asked to adapt to a stream of new processes, systems and technology, and master new skills and competencies. The list goes on. For your employees, the one constant is their personal office space.
Employees typically have a reassuring home base: the desk where they sit, the chair they lean back in, the coffee shop they visit each mid-morning and the view from their cubicle. During an office relocation, those reassuring baseline constants get ripped away, and employees lose the one anchor that allows them to cope with the never-ending requests to “pivot,” “disrupt the industry,” “get out of the box” and “increase agility.”
In his 2005 book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,”Malcolm Gladwell polled Fortune 500 companies and found that 30 percent of CEOs were 6 feet 2 inches or taller. In comparison, only 3.9 percent of the U.S. population are of that height.
Why? Unconscious bias.
Also known as implicit bias, this tendency refers to the mental processes, classifications, stereotyping and decisions that are made in our minds, but outside our mental awareness. These snap judgments lead us to, for example, be more likely to see a tall individual as a leader than a short individual, and are a result of genetically determined processes in which we make quick decisions in order to survive hostile environments. Our brains take shortcuts to judge, classify and act based on limited — and often inaccurate — information.
Sometime ago, a skit was premiered on Saturday Night Live (SNL), an American late-night show, that showed millennials as new hires in a traditional office. The millennials were shown fussing over their smartphones, bragging about their technical superiority, demanding promotions and time off to “get some perspective”. The fact that this stereotype was placed on a national TV show, showcases how deep this myth is running in our mindsets.
As a general rule, all stereotypes are exaggeration of insecurity. This stereotype pertaining to millennials, has given birth to a clan of consultants who charge exorbitant fees to help managers in navigating this supposedly ‘tricky’ set of inter-generational workforce issues. But this stereotype vanishes under scrutiny, like all other stereotypes.
Do your eyes roll when you hear the words “mission statement?” You are not alone.
Many of you work at organizations with a mission statement that is now gathering dust on a shelf, framed on a wall or, even worse, carved in stone above your portal. If the following sounds familiar, you’re in trouble: “Our mission is to be the number one (fill-in-the-blank), while driving customer satisfaction, engaging our employees in meaningful relationships and synergizing with our partners and suppliers.” Sounds like a line straight from Alec Baldwin’s character on “30 Rock.”
Employees and leaders alike are burnt out on mission statements and, frankly, customers don’t believe them. It is time — past time — to rethink the whole mission statement concept.
On this episode of Action Items, Dr. Jessica Kriegel, an organizational development consultant at Oracle and author of the book “Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workplace Can Benefit From Ditching Generational Stereotypes,” and Angélica Quirarte, a government innovations strategist for the California Government Operations Agency, and join host Tre Borden to discuss how the State — and private organizations — can address an aging workforce and prepare for a younger generation of workers.