Your company has had some bad press lately. The CEO’s been called to a congressional hearing. Perhaps a recall or disappointing results led to a drop in stock price. Or maybe a respected leader (and many others) left the company. Or a bad leader stayed too long. Whatever the reason, your employees aren’t happy. Many organizations just buckle down and hope it passes. Sometimes they try and address the cause, but fail to do much else. Results are hit or miss. Others don’t know what to do.
When this happens, the company should care enough to take intentional, strategic action because here’s what’s really going on: for starters, that thing and the employees’ feelings about it are occupying mental space. It’s distracting from their focus on work, impacting productivity, straining relationships, and ultimately hurting business results. By now, you’ve also got a lot of negative mojo out there and it’s spreading through news, rumor, and gossip. That continually depletes the emotional bank accounts Stephen Covey wrote about in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Tapping people’s reserves means they are losing their resilience—that is, their ability to bounce back and recover quickly. Even worse, for some people (and depending on the severity of the situation), the company has broken a psychological contract. The “this isn’t what I signed up for” violated your employees’ expectations of their job and that needs to be renewed or renegotiated. With no improvement in sight, they will otherwise get frustrated and leave.
Simply addressing the cause of the strife is not enough because of these reverberating effects. You can’t wait, and it won’t pass. The longer-term consequence of this climate will influence people’s behaviors. Patterns of behaviors and their associated interactions will impact culture overall. Before you know it, the company evolves to an undesirable version of itself.
You can do something about it. Design of Work Experience (DOWE)“partners employees with their employers to co-create customized and meaningful work experiences that set the conditions for people and business to thrive.” As a methodology to create, affect, and sustain culture, DOWE:
The running theme throughout DOWE is engagement. Especially in difficult times, a company must involve their employees more deeply and work to bring the company even closer. Building walls, practicing avoidance, or denying the reality of the situation only serves to worsen the damage done. With DOWE, you are course-correcting and creating circumstances for different outcomes in the future. This gives life to people, not drains it.
Look for the upcoming book, Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @Work.
I recently attended a talk about humor at work. My interest in the topic was two-fold. First, I just kicked off a new project working with a new team. There are lots of benefits that come with making hard work fun and at times even humorous. I was interested in picking up some new tidbits to either experiment with or share. Second, I wanted this to serve as stimulus for me to think about the relationship between humor and organizational culture. The audiences' questions were not mine to answer. Most were around trying to figure out how to use it: where there are cultural differences between countries, when what's humorous is so subjective, and without offending people. I'll put my two cents in here.
IMHO, humor is another form of communication that comes in play when we interact with people. When companies identify humor as a cultural value, they are communicating an expectation--or in some cases, permission--that humor is not only acceptable, but encouraged.
When we see it this way, use of humor becomes more purposeful. As with all other communication, think about how to deliver with intended impact. That includes making your intentions evident to the receiver, and getting the desired response--a smile, chuckle, laugh, or even a stronger rapport or connection. If the chances of that happening are outweighed by the chances it won't work based on what you know, then don't do it. When it misfires, address it--right away. Ok? Ok. "So a management consultant walks into a bar..."
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