Stop Ignoring The Elephant

For those who don’t want to hunt through the post for what exactly the elephant is, let me tell you here at the top: It is a faux culture combined with a lack of accountability. If that makes no sense to you, you better read on…

People have issues. When people have issues, it instigates more issues with even more people. Before you know it, one person stops talking to another person, one project team stops speaking to another project team and throughput and productivity starts getting delayed or stopped completely. This in turn causes a drop in revenue, profit, etc. Those are just the hard numbers around this “soft stuff.” We haven’t even mentioned the misery most of the employees are living in daily due to having to work in such a toxic environment, (or at least the ones who haven’t left by now because, rest assured that by this point, the A-team people who had options are probably gone.)

So, why doesn’t simply talking about our culture and putting up signs on the walls not get the job done? Here is where you say: “Wait a second! We were told that if we OVER-communicate things, people will eventually get it and buy in.”

To quote this World Economic Forum article:

No amount of over-communication is too much when alignment is at stake.

Don’t get me wrong, alignment is vital to a healthy culture and a healthy bottom line, but how does “over-communicating” our cultural values align the organization if simply “communicating” them didn’t?

Chances are that when we don’t see everyone “buying into” our cultural standards, it is for a reason. And where most leadership principles point us to here is to begin to over-communicate them in hopes that they will catch on.

Unfortunately, this fails to address the elephant in the room, which is WHY people are not engaging.

Our employees are smart enough to listen in a meeting and read a poster on the wall, otherwise, why would we still have them on our payroll? If what they see from other leaders or managers aligns with what they hear and read, they will buy in. If they don’t see the culture being lived out at the top and middle of the organization, no amount of communication, over-communication or any other type of internal marketing is going to sway them.

The issue here is that rather than talking about expectations of how we live out the cultural values and then installing an accountability system for when we don’t live them out, we simply keep repeating the same thing in different ways, hoping it will sink in, eventually.

But the elephant in the room is that if we as leaders don’t install a system of holding our teams, our staff, and yes, even ourselves accountable, we never open up a feedback channel for people to explain why they think our cultural values are a load of crap (in a respectful way of course).

You want engaged employees that are fully bought into the culture? Here are some ideas on how to begin:

The Bullet Point Version (Explanations Below)

  • Write out the values and then write out five behaviors associated with each.
  • Execute the behaviors daily and use your experiences to iterate.
  • Once you have them finalized, launch them with your other leaders for 60 days.
  • Finally, hold the meeting and announce the why and the what and then the how.

Before you put up a poster or have a staff meeting to unveil these grand epiphanies, figure out what your values are going to be and then write down five ways you can execute those values every week. Then, task yourself with living each value out every day, every week for 6 months. This will give you time to iterate and tinker as you experience the inevitable successes and failures of trying new things. You don’t know what you don’t know, and how other people react to new behaviors is a big question mark for us as leaders.

Once have been doing this for a few months and have finalized not only the values, but the behaviors which support the values, then you are ready to take it to your leadership team. Give them 60 days to do the same. The idea is to instill the culture organically through allowing the organization to see the leaders living it out.

After the organization has had time to view and digest what they are seeing from the leaders, their brains will automatically approach the announcement with more openness. They will see you simply putting words to how they saw you acting for the last several months. And, when you empower your people (within a process and system) to hold their leaders accountable to the new cultural values and behaviors, that is where things get really fun.

Neuroscience is a funny thing, and the science behind (especially millenials) our ability to spot faux behaviors and whitewashed corporate speak is at an all time high, meaning distrust of faux-cultures is at an all time high.

On the opposite side, this also means that TRUST in high performance, healthy, constructive cultures is soaring and the performance and financials back this up, every single time. I know lots of companies that are nailing the culture and their people are engaged, high performing and the businesses are on a growth scale that would make Silicon Valley drool.

It is possible to do this well, to right a capsized or burning ship. Most leaders say I just don’t have the time, no way we could try something as large as that and still stay in business. I challenge you to adjust your perspective. If some of this hit home, how can you afford not start putting the fires out? How can you afford not to make a drastic change? Your culture is your company, and every culture can be better. The better the culture, the better the results in every area of your business, your personal life and the personal lives of your employees.

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