By Stan Slap
What Stops The Full Commitment of Your Employees To Culture and How To Stop That
Culture may be the most overused but least understood concept in business. Managers sling around the word, though few have an accurate working definition of what an employee culture actually is or how it makes decisions. Even fewer have the proper respect for the power of an employee culture to bury them and their filthy little strategies if it wants to. Let’s make sure you’re not either one of those by defining the concept of company culture. Here’s the bottom line: A culture is your employees’ shared beliefs about the rules of survival and emotional prosperity. It asks “How do I survive—in this company, on this team, working for you—and once I know I’m going to be okay, how do I get rewarded emotionally and avoid punishment?”
If you’re a manager at any level, you will constantly be given strategic handoffs to drive over the line—your part of a financial goal or organizational change. Considering that your job success involves achieving results through the work of others and that those others work for you, an unerringly accurate understanding of an employee culture is the most important information you can possibly have. Yet despite constant reminders that it won’t work, enterprise strategies and performance goals remain frontloaded on the planning side, with implementation expected to be carried by the logic that calls for them or the bribery that pays for them. Let’s call this 1, 2 … 10! In between 1, 2 and 10! are the 7 Deadly Sins of Cultural Commitment that cause employees to limit or deny their support.
Note to overachieving managers: The key is to avoid all seven sins, not to accomplish them.
THE ORIGINAL SIN: FAILURE TO RESPECT THE POWER OF YOUR EMPLOYEE CULTURE
The Original Sin, from which all others are born: A failure to respect the absolute power of an employee culture to make or break any management goal—and any manager right along with it. Your employee culture will give you anything you want; you just have to give it what it wants first. A culture has an extraordinary need for energy, which it uses to defend itself in a world it cannot reliably anticipate or control. Demand whatever energy you need, but be sure to replenish it as you go, because your employee culture’s energy translates into its flexibility, resilience, commitment and productivity.
THE SECOND DEADLY SIN: PRESUMPTION OF RAPID BEHAVIORAL CHANGE
Any performance strategy that requires rapid cultural change to succeed won’t. Your employee culture won’t suddenly become one happy team by Q2 to make Q3 numbers. These kinds of serious behavioral transformations take a while and not because a culture is naturally slow to react. Its cheetah-like speed is reserved for lunging after the new and different, pinning it to the ground and leaving it lifeless.
An employee culture doesn’t hate change. It hates the loss of the known rules of survival and emotional prosperity that change represents. Even good, logical change produces anxiety, and the culture moves to stop or slow the change. To facilitate change, give your culture perspective by explaining what isn’t changing at the same time you introduce what is. Then let the culture sell it to the culture—don’t go for mass buy-in. Sell to early adopters first and let them sell it culture-to-culture.
THE THIRD DEADLY SIN: PLENTY OF MANAGEMENT WHERE LEADERSHIP IS NEEDED
Leadership and management are different things. They are different for your company, different for your employee culture and different for you as a manager.
An employee culture doesn’t trust strategies; it trusts leaders who bring it strategies. But that would be real leadership, which comes from a manager’s sure understanding of their deepest personal values and the translation of those values into the promise of better working conditions.
THE FOURTH DEADLY SIN: BIG KICKOFF. LITTLE PAYOFF.
Most companies handle the introduction of a strategy pretty well, promoting it big and hard at the outset. Most companies are pretty good at explaining the end goal of a new strategy: world domination. If you do a good job of introducing a goal and a good job of explaining the end result, you can’t blame your employee culture for believing that everything in between has been figured out too. When the culture realizes it’s being forced down an unlit, unproven road it will resist moving forward.
THE FIFTH DEADLY SIN: SAY WHAT?
Communicating to an employee culture and convincing it are different concepts, and the first doesn’t guarantee the second. If you want your employee culture to be convinced, start here: The purpose of communication to employees is to inform; the purpose of communication to an employee culture is to persuade.
Grand acts alone won’t convince your employee culture of anything. A culture is focused on its survival and so it places a premium on consistency—it’s looking for a pattern of management behavior, so the small things in between the big things are most important to the culture in gauging dependability. However, legends are critical to getting the culture’s attention and setting the context for those all-important management behaviors that might otherwise go unnoticed or unconnected.
THE SIXTH DEADLY SIN: PAY WHAT?
Companies regularly overestimate the importance an employee culture places on money. It’s not that the culture doesn’t like money. It likes the money, it will take the money and it will ask for more money. But a culture’s concerns are chronological and specific: Survival comes first then comes prosperity, which is emotional, not fiscal.
An employee culture uses money to buy meaning – skip the middleman and give it the meaning. You have an unlimited budget to do this, since what the culture cares about most is what money can’t buy: the linkage between its performance reinforcement and its safety, and the emotional prosperity that comes from the effort you make to be creative about compensation.
THE SEVENTH DEADLY SIN: ASKING FOR TOO MUCH TRUST TOO FAST
There comes a point in the execution of any performance goal where you must ask your employee culture to trust you—at the most, that everything will be better when the goal is achieved; at the very least, that the goal is going to last a while before being replaced by another. Management is focused on success, so it’s always looking forward to see what can be sold next. An employee culture is focused on survival, so it’s always looking backward to see whether the last thing it was sold worked out as promised.
Try not to declare company values, but protect them at all costs if you have. And remember to ask for trust a little bit at a time.