For decades, senior leaders have dealt with the classic symptoms of a less than optimal business operation – low employee engagement, less than excellent customer service, poor retention rates, and barely acceptable levels of productivity – rather than the problem: an unhealthy culture company.
So although we have spent billions of dollars over the past three decades, we have made no progress. And the reason is obvious: You can’t improve engagement, retention, and productivity if your work culture sucks. And in too many organizations, the culture (the authentic culture, not what it says on the “About Us” page) still sucks.
Who is responsible for the corporate culture?
The leaders. The CEO. The executive director. President. The founder or owner of the business.
It is not a responsibility that a leader can delegate or reject. The old-fashioned ‘money stops here’, the ultimate decision maker in each organization is solely responsible for creating a useful, positive and productive work environment. A culture where other leaders, employees, contractors and all other stakeholders (not just shareholders) can expect respect while helping to accomplish the organization’s mission.
Most leaders aren’t quite ready to lead a culture change
Most business leaders, motivated and measured exclusively by results for most of their careers, are ill-prepared to meet the new expectations of the workforce they will lead. Most have never witnessed a successful culture change initiative, let alone led such a change effort. Boards of directors and investors never asked their predecessors to do so. The business school teachers did not teach it. And the mentors that leaders rely on to give that advice can’t help because they’ve never been there, and they never have.
But a culture change is needed because employees vote with their feet. Call it “The Great Resignation” or “The Massive Exodus of Employees of 2021,” but people are no longer willing to invest their time, energy and intellectual influence in companies with zero culture.
Company culture and new demands placed on managers
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees have experienced something different from their employers. Before the pandemic, employees accepted the need to come to work every day just to be treated in a less than respectful manner. Eighteen months later, employees of all generations know better.
They know that commuting is not a requirement to do a good job. Many have thrived in more self-reliant working conditions. They appreciated having a say in where, when and how the work is done. And they’ve gotten used to staying home to care for their children, elderly parents, and pets. And, yes, during office hours they sometimes took the opportunity to enjoy the distraction that is Netflix. But are these distractions more expensive than Facebook in the office, conversations on the water cooler, or an “I’m on break” jump on Subway Surfer?
They now know that life is about more than work. And, as they’ve already proven, they’re less likely to tolerate lousy work environments. This means that every leader, rather than expecting their employees to conscientiously return to the “old normal”, must embrace new expectations and accept new employee demands.
As leaders, how do we react? (Hint: Don’t “react”, instead “act”)
Faced with this new challenge, leaders are at the proverbial fork, deciding in which direction to go. Some are paying close attention to data like that provided by the Best Practice Institute (BPI), which has indicated that 90 percent of the workforce would prefer to continue working from home in some form or another. Others, like those on Wall Street, insist that employees return to the office. Specifically, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon said: “[remote work is] an aberration that we will correct as soon as possible.
On the one hand, it would be easy to assume that Solomon’s commentary (and many others like that of many other old-school leaders) came from a place of ignorance. But, on the other hand, one could rationalize that CEO Solomon’s compensation package dictates that he make the best interests of the company his top priority, not the wishes of the employees.
However, comments and decisions like this aren’t all about what we can see on the surface. Below, leaders like Solomon really struggle to answer this question:
“How do we show our resilient employees the respect they deserve AND refocus on results? “
The solution: Valuing both respect AND results
Only the most dumb (or the most confident?) Leaders would say, “Whatever! Forget that you ever felt a sense of freedom… Forget that you were happier, more balanced. We need you to get back to work in our frustrating and unsatisfying culture. Goodbye!”
Fortunately, this backward thinking is not necessarily the norm. Most executives have already realized that their corporate culture has changed and that there is no turning back.
As they crafted their back-to-normal strategy, many of these leaders also learned another important lesson: that now, more than ever, there is power in “AND” statements:
“Respect AND results.”
Perhaps they have also learned that there is no better time than right now, as COVID variants keep their deadly grip on many parts of the country and segments of the workforce. , to intentionally create the ideal culture for their organization.
These leaders know: they don’t have to fall back on who they were, which is often what they know best. Instead, they can combine what worked best before the pandemic with what has worked well since and what employees have enjoyed most. Leaders can make the best of both worlds and create a company culture where people expect the respect of their leaders and peers while enthusiastically helping to achieve optimal results.
First things first (and good must come first)
In our new book, Good first: how today’s leaders create an uncompromising company culture that fears nothing, S. Chris Edmonds and I show leaders how to create a purposeful, positive and productive corporate culture in which the foundational principle that binds all the pages and concepts of the book – and good comes first in the corporate culture – is’ to match respect and results. . “
We’ve seen first-hand what happens when a leader intentionally creates a corporate culture where people are valued and validated. We’ve seen how hard people work and how much better they focus on their work, when they know their contributions matter …really question. And we’ve seen what happens when managers turn into coaches and mentors by showing that they care about the employee as much as they care about the job.
And yet, we know that leaders are still measured almost exclusively by results. We understand: this will not change overnight. But we’ve seen what happens to results-driven business metrics like employee engagement, key employee retention, customer service reviews, productivity and profits when a culture of good comes first. all. This change also does not happen overnight. Within 18-24 months, however, 25-40% increases in these desirable metrics are not uncommon.
Don’t settle for the old normal. Don’t bring people back to a corporate culture that may never have inspired peak performance. Instead, invite your fellow leaders and key employees to a conversation designed to enable the co-creation of your next normal: an uncompromising corporate culture that not suck.
Written by Mark S. Babbitt.
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