The CEO of an engineering firm wants his top tier professionals to get out of their offices and go talk to the work force. “Be seen,” he encourages, “let your managers know you care.” No one dared roll their eyes, but several wanted to. “If HR would just do a better job with their ‘engagement’ program, we wouldn’t have to do this,” one VP hissed.
The General Manager of a healthcare product manufacturing company tells his directors he wants them to hold lunch and learns. “Communicate with the employees. We have rolled out the values document so lets make sure everyone owns living the values.” “What does that even mean?,” one Director moaned. The GM pounded his fist on the table in frustration. “It means,” he said through clenched teeth, “that if we don’t pull this culture thing together, we won’t survive as a business. We are losing our best people and the exit interviews are implying that the work environment is awful. So get out of your offices and get employees to see we have a great culture!”
How Do You Change a Culture?
Is this any way to get a culture to change? Push executives out of their offices and in front of employees on the front line? YES.
The beliefs, attitudes, practices and protocols of the top of the organization are the culture. Get out of your office and stop expecting anything except personal contact with you to make a significant difference. YOU are the culture. If you hide in your office all day or participate in walking around or lunch and learns because that’s what the boss wants, you best move on. It’s torture for employees to have to grin and bear you barely grinning to get through the demand for more “fluffy, soft stuff” about engagement and culture.
Is Culture Change Important or Imperative?
If the culture change your organization must undergo is important the program or initiatives you choose need to be cost effective and not expected to make much difference. Many things are important day in and day out and lumping culture change in there will add to the noise while everyone means well and tries to support the change. There is usually no owner of such activities overall and the activities come and go. If culture change is imperative, every single executive at the top owns the success of the culture change efforts. If each executive cannot authentically speak to exactly why the culture change is imperative and what can be expected of them in their own personal change, then why are you bothering? You are better off calculating the cost of “lip service” with no behavior change. Even if you were to give that money to your best people to get them to stay it’s unlikely they would. Did you get the memo? Pay isn’t the top reason employees “engage”. Dear Executive, If someone quits working for you, take it personally. They quit you. You are the culture.
A Culture of Success
1. Define and keep up with what professional success is.
The employee is totally personally accountable for his or her success at work. Absent a professional definition of success there is no way for someone in the company to be committed to their success. This is not a list of goals or even what’s in most performance evaluations. Beware the employee that catches wind of how important it is to be clear about what he or she means by “success”. That self-empowering step means they will change the question and need for support to be full contributors to the company or leave to find a place where they can be.
2. All members of the leadership team have defined success
Success defined can’t be coached or mentored if it isn’t lived. You think you will have a culture of success if you don’t continually define your own success, in writing, for all to see and support? Courageous leaders are clear and walk their talk. And, they expect the same of their leadership team. There are actually executives out there who believe they can coach or mentor in others what they do not themselves live. Can you say “nightmare”? The worst possible situation (and I have seen this) is when the organization declares “All managers are mentors in our Mentoring Program that we will be rolling out”. They explain to employees,”Your manager is now your Mentor. They will go to Mentor school and come out ready to Mentor you.” That’s horrible. Anybody seen that work? Get your professional definition of success done and then and only then will you be Mentor or Coach material. Live it or opt out. Faking it is painful for everyone.
3. No nonsense, no excuses
Are you really ready to step up, look in the mirror and tell the truth about what you are thinking and who you want to be in exchange for pay? What are your beliefs, attitudes, practices and protocols that need to change or be given up to remain relevant? I often tell executives that are “hanging on and aging out” especially in STEM careers to ask this question at home. They’ll get free executive coaching if they listen closely. Sure, you have had a lifetime career of proof that what you have in in your head works. It’s how you got where you are. But if a culture change is a business imperative, a burning platform as it were, are you really going to stand there and argue you don’t need swimming lessons to jump off the platform into the water as a non-swimmer? Don’t be that person. Explore. There are lots of resources to shake up your thinking (beliefs and attitudes) that will then have you consider a change in your (behavior) practices and protocols. Leaders we need you!
You are the culture. Get out of your office!