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.
Organizations are seeing people speak up about workplace harassment with the rise of the #MeToo movement. Instead of fearing it as a potential crisis, see this for the new possibilities it brings. After all, it’s a good thing to expose what’s hidden beneath the surface and confront what’s eroding the culture, employee experiences, and ultimately the business. The hope is that with these wake up calls, organizations can work toward building more authenticity and congruity among espoused values, culture, and lived experience. Inevitably, the question arises: What do we do?!
We are living in what could be a watershed moment in history. It can’t be ignored because “business as usual” will no longer be tolerated as a society. Use this hot topic as an opportunity to reflect as an organization and facilitate productive dialogue that leads to positive actions. As I’ve said many times over, manage it or it will manage you.
Let HR do its job and conduct the investigations for any specific cases that emerge—thoroughly and with fairness. It’s not meant to be a public spectacle, nor should it be by any means clandestine. As appropriate, communicate that the investigation is happening (especially if there are rumors) and allow due process for those involved (known or unknown). Shut down gossip and conjecture by emphasizing expectations and requirements for respect. Bring in counseling if needed. The outcome of these investigations should reflect true accountability for everyone involved.
Whether there are issues or not, this is a chance for the organization to say, “we care.” Provide resources, develop skills for communication, set expectations, reaffirm values, elevate employees. There are so many ways for companies to be the best they can be. Your workers will reward you for it with their talents, engagement, and productivity.
This also presents an opportunity for an organizational health check up—especially when it comes to culture. Read on.
UNDERSTAND THE CURRENT CULTURE AND EXPLORE THE POSSIBILITIES
Do a deep dive—and I mean a real honest, hard look--into the current culture. The Design of Work Experience (DOWE) methodology begins with a culture study, one that identifies your greatest strengths and unmet needs, as well as the overt and not-so-obvious key influences on the current culture. Employee surveys and focus groups don’t cut it. Use DOWE as a tool to find your starting point with authentic interactions that encourage the organization to understand its truth and build psychological safety for employees. Determine what conditions are in place for harassment or other dysfunctions to exist and identify the strengths, capabilities, and behaviors that should render them obsolete.
CO-CREATE A NEW OR ENHANCED CULTURE AND DESIGN ALIGNED EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCES
Inevitably, the culture study will highlight opportunities that can be seized upon. The DOWE process guides the co-creation of a new (or improved) culture along with the design of employee experiences to reflect it. Pay special attention to the co-create part by engaging with your employees as partners in design. After all, they (from the entry level to the senior executives) will be the ones to live this work. Experiment with new ideas and encourage innovation customized to your company’s unique context. Added bonus: capabilities are developed and utilized as the organization learns through the initiative.
MANAGE AND SUSTAIN CHANGE
Once there are strategies and designs, follow through with the change management needed to realize and sustain the future state. Plan, manage, measure, and follow up. Change has to be as successful as possible in order to make all that preceding work worth the investment. It can’t be wasted. We know from research that change doesn’t have to be perfect. However, the better it is, the greater the ROI. Change is never easy, but decades of research taught us a lot about what factors and practices work and don’t work.
TAKE THE FIRST STEP
You now have at least a general idea of what to do. Engage with your employees. And I’m here if you have any questions. Thanks for reading!
As painful as it will be, and as grateful as I am for the experiences I had in HR, I have to agree with this headline from @HarvardBiz--or at least a separation of sorts betweem strategy & policy/process, for two reasons: 1) The prevailing approach is in desperate need of innovation, and why I work in strategic management consulting today 2) There is such a broad range of capabilities and (unfortunately), "incapabilities" which have given the function an uneven reputation at best. The reality is #HR people play a critical role in the success of the business and need to be enabled to do so. Time for #innovation and #change!
Wow, what a mess this #RedditRevolt has been. It's hard to imagine that Reddit planned for all this to happen on purpose, as some conspiracy-mongers have suggested. Doesn't appear this way at least. Who would subject their own company and personal reputations to such bad PR? The more likely cause was poorly planned and/or executed change. All this was preventable if they acted with an understanding of their stakeholders (users, employees, etc.). As with any organizational change, these stakeholders are the ones who will make change happen. In this case, they revolted. There's a lot that goes into doing change right, but here are some pointers above to get you started in the right direction.
The challenge with all iteration, regardless of topic or application, is persistence. This doesn't come easy to anyone, me included. I do it because I know it is a key differentiator--it increases the chances of success. The majority of everyone else will opt out early. I suppose that's why marketing calls it "satisficing" since requires some sort of sacrifice on one's part. Choose your poison: either sacrifice your comfort level, or sacrifice the potential result. I choose the former in favor of (hopefully) better results. Will you join me?
This year's Super Bowl was fun to watch, even for me. My spouse called it the best...game...ever! What will live in infamy was that last call made by Pete Carroll, the Seahawk's coach. Everyone was talking about it. Those that gave him a fair shake understood why he made the call he made, but it was likely that other outcomes were not considered possibilities. That came back to bite them big time.
When it comes to purposeful work cultures, environments, and experiences, the design should be considered with not only the context in mind, but also the possible outcomes that might make a difference. You could have the best design in the world, but if the implementation stinks and sustainability can't be achieved with people, then you have a lot of wasted time and lost potential. That is why change management is a key part of the DOWE model and process. An organization's transformation brings the design to life.
That all being said, you can't anticipate for everything. There will be failures. We should live in workplaces (and societies) that allow for failure as learning opportunities to be celebrated. Let's let up on Mr. Carroll here--any one of us could be in the same type of situation, even if we aren't NFL coaches at the Super Bowl. He's a smart man who's strategy didn't work as planned. Haven't we all been there?
2/5/15 Update: Matt Lauer's interview with Pete Carroll happened to be on when I ate my breakfast this morning. Here are some sound bytes I jotted down quickly to illustrate:
"I'm an optimistic person...it's the way I'm wired."
My reaction: Good for you Pete Carroll, and I love that it is what drives your decisions and your philosophy after the fact.
"...never make a call thinking it's gonna go bad." My reaction: Thanks for confirming my suspicion, but I encourage that optimism with a healthy dose of planning for other outcomes. Even if he reaches the same decision again and has the same outcome, he has the right attitude about being positive.
It wasn't a bad call, "it was the worst result of a call" My reaction: This is the piece that I refer to above--sometimes you can't anticipate for everything. And sometimes it is the worst case scenario that happens. The test is what we do thereafter.
So a retailer, bank, service provider, etc. has a bad culture. While many employees and customers are miserable, we are lucky the mortality numbers are low. Businesses that deal with our physical infrastructure, like utilities and energy companies have even bigger reasons to purposefully manage their cultures...people's lives. As I say above, disaster is totally preventable and totally fixable from here. All they need to do is Design of Work Experience. Let's hope that the message is heard, for people's sake!
When will companies learn? Click on the pic above to learn all about the failures of A&F, partly due to their culture. Media coverage of good and bad cultures are pretty polarized--an organization is either rocking it or crashing and burning. I personally think that we could learn a lot more from companies that are "working on it" somewhere in the spectrum. After all, should we all be in that bucket?
Every organization I have ever worked with, both as an employee and as a consultant, has struggled with recognition. The opportunities range from developing, harmonizing, or rolling out a program to having quality interactions that are actually received as they are intended. Then there are those organizations that have almost no recognition to speak of--those are the worst because it shows in other places (performance, engagement, culture, etc. ) but they blame it on other things. The point is, we all struggle with it, even the ones that do it best. Luckily, there are lots of things out there that offer great learning and stimulus to inspire ideas, like this eBook above from Baudville. Many organizations have failed to see recognition as an employee experience, one that can be purposeful designed for with the employees and their context in mind. Design of Work Experience (DOWE) is the methodology that I've found to be most useful in creating these customized solutions. Best practices only go so far. Contact me to learn more about DOWE...no need to wait for the book the come out!
Here's an interesting news story about the short tenure of the Today Show's GM after 10 weeks on the job. You can click on the pic above to learn more or check out this CNN article that provides some more perspective from behind the scenes. My favorite line was that he was "doing the right thing the wrong way." Something tells me that it was more than just that, but I love the insight. While the buzz here shall pass, it does prompt us to reminisce about other short-lived stints, like Bill Perez's 13-months with Nike back in 2006. Contrary to what the top 10 listers would tell you, each and every one of these had very different circumstances with only one thing in common: job-person (mis)match. Though it is easy to criticize what these leaders did wrong (and they might have), I am more apt not to blame specific people. I'm much more critical of the circumstances, however. How purposeful was the selection? What conditions were set for failure vs. success? Did anyone, ANYONE look at the culture? Sometimes it just doesn't work out, but it behooves us to learn from it every single time. Just my two cents :)
A place to share interesting concepts that will inspire, spread, and/or apply new ideas. This page is dedicated to sharing my twitter feed, announcements, and blog posts.