When One and One Equals More than Two #Culture

Season_1_EndRemember when Mike and Carol Brady got married and merged two households (plus Alice)? The girls had to get used to a dog, the boys had to learn all about Kitty Carryall, and everyone had to adjust to six kids sharing one bathroom.

They never did a Christmas show during the original run of the series, but it would have been interesting to watch how these two groups came together to learn each others’ holiday traditions and favorite Christmas foods (“WE eat ham on Christmas Day! WE make a turkey!”). I’m quite certain, with the lessons we were supposed to learn, neither Carol nor Mike would have dominated but rather we would have seen the creation of a “new” Christmas tradition; “henceforth we shall have a Roast Goose for Christmas Day dinner but Alice will make ham and turkey on Christmas Eve!” Something like that.

The blending and melding of two in order to make “one” that still recognizes – and appreciates – what came before.

I’ve been thinking about this lately as I’ve had several conversations with organizational leaders who are grappling with cultural issues post merger, acquisition, and/or growth.

Culture is a powerful factor in the success of any of these situations; culture, after all, drives behavior. During the uncertainty that may arise (“is my position redundant? Will I have a job after this merger?”), employees often wonder if the history they bring will be remembered. Over the years I’ve regularly heard employees lament that post acquisition/merger the slate was wiped clean and there was no appreciation for what “came before.”

In addition, unfortunately, the culture thing is often viewed as something that can be dealt with after the fact. HR and operational teams find themselves focusing on the transactional necessities such as aligning acquired employees to benefit packages, adjusting payroll schedules, or re-calculating PTO balances and neglect the real people factors. There’s often more time devoted to getting performance appraisal systems lined up then there is time devoted to getting PERFORMANCE lined up…know what I mean?

While this is more readily apparent on an organizational scale it also happens even absent a merger/acquisition such as when two departments come together under one VP or a Department Manager is assigned another work group.

So what, pray tell, can we learn from Mike and Carol? I’ve thought of a few things:

  • Don’t go in in assuming that the acquiring organization, based on might or size, has the ‘right’ way of doing things. There may be traits inherent in the smaller work group that are behaviors that should be integrated within the whole.
  • Assess everything. What are the differences – and similarities – in things like leadership philosophies and decision making styles? Are there vastly different human resources models and employment practices?
  • Communicate early and often – not just roles and expectations but mission, vision and values. Talk about culture; the traditions, history, behaviors and the unspoken norms of both entities.
  • What will unify the new team? Is it taking on a competitor? Is it winning new market share? Consider a common goal – there’s the vision! – which can now be reached together through combined strength.
  • Build trust. Confer with every individual employee and regularly ask  “how’s it going? What challenges are you facing?” What can we do to help?”
  • Realize that culture – like family dynamics – is ever evolving. When the kids came back home for A Very Brady Christmas they brought with them new experiences, new ideas, and things learned in the big wide world. Even Jan.

Think about it this way…First, observe. Then consult. Then change.

You can remember what came before…and make something NEW together.

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Culture: A Confederacy of HR Dunces

Confederacy_of_dunces_coverOver the weekend I read another let’s-bash-HR article with the title Here’s why your human resources department hates you.” The author, Cliff Weathers, points out that HR practitioners have become “cold wardens of the workplace” and administrative bureaucrats who see themselves as “masters at the top of the corporate food chain.”

The article hits on multiple issues with modern corporate HR departments including their propensity to kill people with forms and paperwork (resulting in diminished productivity for all), the manner in which they muck up the hiring process, and how their actions ultimately de-humanize entire organizations.

Ouch.

One section stood out to me:

“One tool used by human resources professionals is the open manipulation of “workplace culture.” Employees are expected to follow cultural cues from HR departments, which model how they want employees to act to create a “positive work environment.” And you better like the culture HR creates for you, or else.”

I’m not sure we’re quite as Machiavellian as the author does; he believes this cultural manipulation is done by HR in order to ‘weed out’ (i.e. terminate) the undesirables. While getting the right people on the bus (to borrow the phrase) is important, I like to think we’re not quite so cold-blooded.

I do, however, see a lack of understanding about company culture feeding into the actions and activities of a fair number of HR professionals. Sometimes it’s a lack of clarity on the part of Janet the HR Director. Quite often it’s because the time-stretched – and misinformed CEO – tells Janet to “do something fun; we need to improve our culture.”

So Janet begins her quest to, well, OK – manipulate. ”We’ll have a scavenger hunt,” she thinks. “I’ll add a weekly dress down day and bring in donuts every Friday.” She mentally ticks off policies and activities and even employee benefits she can add…never once stopping to think if they fit the needs, wants or desires of the actual employees or culture. She forces adherence and when Bob in Accounting doesn’t participate in the Annual Halloween Costume Contest she – and the CEO – place him firmly on the “doesn’t fit in to our culture” list.

How do we fix this? It is, quite frankly an epidemic. I regularly see job postings for HR leaders that include duties such as “responsible for building a winning culture.” And ‘building’ is on the entirely opposite end of the spectrum from nurturing, ensuring alignment, and fostering the continuation of an existing culture or the migration to a desired state.

The way we change this is for HR leaders to band together and stand up to CEOs or other organizational leaders who command them (yes…command them) to “fix” the culture. The way we overhaul this is for HR professionals to educate first themselves and then their leadership teams on the real definition of company culture.

If we do that we can ALL be geniuses.

“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” Jonathan Swift, Thoughts on Various Subjects, Morals and Diverting

image: Louisiana State University Press

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note: even though I’ve read A Confederacy of Dunces 3 or 4 times, I intend to read it again; it’s the book chosen by the East Baton Rouge Parish Library as the spring read for our “One Book One Community” spring 2015 kick-off.  It’s one of my favorite books and truly reflects what Ellis Marsalis once said: “In New Orleans, culture is not handed down from on high; it bubbles up from the street.” 

Hmmm…culture. Again. 

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Join Me: Drivers of Engagement in New Hire Onboarding

We discuss employee engagement a lot don’t we? We realize there are benefits to our organizations when we have a highly engaged workforce; things like improved performance, higher productivity, and improved retention.

Across the continuum of the employee life cycle there are numerous touch points and multiple opportunities for us to focus on strategies that address our desired outcomes. And the onboarding of employees is one of those times.

But how do we tackle it? How do we improve the onboarding experience, ensure it’s aligned with our company’s business objectives, and measure success? What are key talent metrics? And how, if you’re considering revamping your onboarding program, do you get from here…to there?

Join me next Thursday (2/26/2015) for “Drivers of Engagement in New Hire Onboarding” when I’ll be part of a panel discussing the essential elements of high-performance onboarding, key practices for gauging impact, and the importance of talent technology.

Hosted by cfactor Works Inc. (developer of Vibe HCM suite) and Brandon Hall Group, a leading HCM research and advisory services firm, and will feature, in addition to me, a whole bunch of smart people:

I promise we’ll have a great discussion and share some interesting information, so go here to register and join us.

Onward to onboarding!

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How to Work for a Rotten Boss

Boss_tweed2It’s inevitable. At one point or another you’ll undoubtedly work for a lousy boss. Hopefully it’s already happened and you’ve moved on. Battered and bruised perhaps, but no longer under the reign of a craptastic manager.

If, however, you’re still stuck, there are a few things to consider.

This guy (or gal) who wields such power over your day-to-day happiness might just be new to his role and learning as he goes. It’s possible (let’s give him the benefit of the doubt) he wants to do better but the organization is dysfunctional and he’s limited by heavy-handed HR policies. Of course, unfortunately, he could just be a contemptible human being.

I’ve run into rotten bosses who are passive, lack knowledge and are both physically – and mentally – absent. The more prevalent type of rotten boss? The bullying autocrat. You’ve seen her. She minimizes the feelings or ideas of others, makes up rules as she goes along, and loves to criticize individuals – often publicly. He’s the manager who flings accusations (”you’ve screwed up that report again!”), isolates certain individuals from the group, and picks other team members as his favorites…for now.

In any event I hope it gets better. And it can.

  • Talk to someone. Have a conversation with someone in your HR department, give a call to your employee assistance program, or have a chat with a trusted mentor/advisor. Don’t, however, just band together and grumble with coworkers. While the solidarity might make the shared-pain momentarily diminish, your collective negativity will only make the situation more intolerable.
  • Talk to the tyrant your boss. This may fill you with terror but it’s part of being an adult and a professional. “Hey Jane,” you can start the conversation. “I wanted to clarify your expectations for my performance but also need to make you aware of how your reactions/policies/tone of voice impact my performance.”
  • Run it up the flagpole. Talk to your boss’ boss; unless he’s a jerk too. In which case refer to #1. While there’s no law against being an asshole, there are laws against discrimination and harassment. Make sure you let someone in your human resources department know what’s going on; they can’t take action if they’re unaware.
  • Put yourself in her shoes. Really assess what’s going on. If she’s yelling at everyone for wasting time at work, is it true? Is there some validity to what she’s saying? If your team is composed of a bunch of slackers and work isn’t getting done it might be time for some self-reflection.
  • Find something positive to do for yourself. Exercise, join a book club, or take up square dancing. Go home and snuggle your cat, dog, children, or partner. Look for a new job and get the hell out of there. Take care of you.
  • Learn from the mistakes you see your rotten boss making…

…and vow to never be a rotten boss yourself.

 

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Image Source: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

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Invite a Colleague to Lunch

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIsolation at the office.

People trudge into the building, settle into a cubicle or work station, and never leave the confines of their department. Lunch is consumed at one’s desk and, unless one has meetings to attend or conference calls to join, the only conversations occur with those in close proximity.

So here’s something awesome you can do today.

Grab a co-worker or colleague and invite them to lunch. Talk about music, movies, Mardi Gras plans…whatever. Ask them about their family and tell them about yours. Build a bond. Build trust. Connect as people.

EXTRA points for this if you work in human resources and head to lunch with someone from IT or sales or marketing or….?

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