corporate culture

October 14, 2015

Soul-Sucking Or Awesome? Your Culture, Your Choice!

by Pat Palleschi, Ph.D., President of the Executive Agency

Employees often tell me that the culture of an organization can encourage them to be productive or be so soul-sucking that they’re dying (figuratively, I hope) to leave.

Culture is one powerful aspect of your organization… and it doesn’t take a penny to improve. Here’s how.

What is “Organization Culture,” anyway?

If it were a game of hide and seek, culture is hard to hide and easy to find.

Sociologists describe culture as a “social identity built on group membership” (adapted from Wikipedia’s definition). The culture drives behavior — just like membership in a tribe drives behavior. If you’ve been a “Bank of American” or worked for Google, you know the power of the tribe and the power of culture.

Identify YOUR culture: Command and Control? Soul-Sucking? A Hot Mess?

I have a high-level client who requires that all decisions go through his COO — except when they don’t. And no one knows how to tell the difference. Command and Control!

I had a client who worked for the CEO of a major corporation, and who was consistently angry and too engrossed with his own bitterness to learn the employee’s name. (“Hey, you” was sufficient, I guess.) After 10 months, my client quit. Soul-Sucking!

I can call one of my clients and get his secretary who will tell me that he is too busy to talk to me and I should talk to the HR person, who will then tell me to talk with one of her supervisors, who will say “I can’t respond, I have to talk with my manager!” A run on sentence… a run around… and, yup, a Hot Mess!

Looking to build an awesome culture?

I believe that no one goes into a company saying, “I’m going to destroy all that is good about this place!” or that entrepreneurs start a company thinking, “I’m going to create an awesome place to work!”

Here’s how to create awesomeness in your company:

  • Keep your public and private actions in consonance with your company values statement. (Yes, DO a Values Statement… WITH your team’s input.) Consider that culture is a reflection of what you do when you think no one is looking. Indecisive in private, but trying to look decisive in public? The private act wins.
  • Verbally abusive, but good intentions? Verbal wins. For instance, in a company with a stated value that “employees are the key to our success,” one leader told the sole senior female in the company to “Sit down, young lady!” when she politely disagreed with him. Yes, in that company some people feel like dogs. No matter what the values statement says, this is a Sit, Fido, and Sit! Culture. It is also known as “Command and Control.”
  • Have the right people at the right levels make decisions (and make roles clear). Everyone knows that clarity in who makes which decisions is vital. But it is so easy  to think that a title or a set of experiences makes a person the one who gets the final say. “Lower level” employees may make suggestions, have ideas, even recommend innovations — but the senior person, who may have very little context or is blissfully unaware of the problems — blows the chance at positive action. A “Hot Mess” Culture.
  • Realize that the whole company knows when the leadership is “out of sorts.” Are your leaders slamming doors, not attending meetings, or not responding to certain emails? This is behavior based only on their own feelings — not for the good of the company. Guess what? Everyone knows when leaders are feuding, and cultural rules start at the top. It’s like when mom and dad fight. Instead of hiding under the bed, employees want to hide under their desks. It ‘s an “Unsafe to Act” Culture or a Soul-Sucking Culture.

Your company’s identity and its culture shape employee performance. What is your corporation’s culture — awesome or not?

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The Founder and President of The Executive Agency, Patricia consults organizations, teams, and individuals who want to improve performance. She previously held executive positions at Bank of America and Disney, and taught at Loyola Marymount University and Antioch University Los Angeles. Pat received her Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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