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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Write a Thank You Note

original_set-of-12-handmade-thank-you-note-cardsI don’t know about you but I still like holding an actual book in my hand. I enjoy the pleasure of flipping through a glossy magazine. I don’t mind being handed a sheath of papers and having the ability to sit down and read, mark it up, and curl the pages. I’m not a fan of newspapers though; I don’t think I’ve sat and read a printed newspaper for years.

But I like love hand written cards and notes.

A birthday card received in the mailbox. A note left on my desk. A post-it note slapped on my monitor.

Nice little reminders to stop for a moment and appreciate human connections.

So here’s something awesome you can do today.

Take a few minutes, sit down with pen in hand and compose a thank you note to someone who’s made a difference in your week. Surprise your co-worker in the next cubicle, the hard-working receptionist who manages the flow of visitors to your office, or a colleague in another department.

Deliver it yourself…or support the USPS. Your choice.

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image: (and cards available at) notonthehighstreet

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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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The Harsh Reality: Sometimes HR Has to Talk about Sex

50 Shades of HRThis week brings the much-anticipated (well, in some quarters) release of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 4 years you’re likely aware that the Fifty Shades trilogy has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. According to Boxoffice.com, the movie is forecast to make $89 million in the US and Canada over the upcoming weekend and it’s been reported that close to 50% of advance ticket sales in the US have been from fans under the age of 30; two-thirds of them are women.

And next Monday morning these moviegoers will flock back to their offices, gather around the water cooler or huddle in cubicles, and give a blow-by-blow discuss flogging, paddling and shackles with co-workers. Amidst all the breathless (no doubt) titillation, I can guarantee you there will also be employees who are offended and place a call to the HR Department. Most human resources practitioners are accustomed to having conversations about FMLA, WC, ADA, OSHA and LTD … but not so much BDSM.

This all got me thinking about the “Seinfeld” case. Who remembers that one?

In 1993, Miller Brewing Co. fired Jerold Mackenzie, an executive, for an incident that arose from his discussion of the show with a female colleague. Mackenzie, relaying the story line from an episode, explained that Jerry was unable to recall a woman’s name that was described as rhyming with a part of the female anatomy (Mulva? Gipple?). Mackenzie, embarrassed to tell his colleague Patricia Best what the character’s name (Dolores!) rhymed with, ended up showing her the word in a dictionary.

She was offended.

Mackenzie, after being fired for sexual harassment, sued Miller Brewing Co. and Patricia Best. The jury (10 women, 2 men) ruled for Mackenzie and ordered Miller Brewing Co. to pay $26.5 million. The verdict was appealed and eventually the entire jury award was set aside. (note: the actual case focused on issues other than harassment – specifically Mackenzie’s lawyers argued that Miller deceived him for years and dubbed it “misrepresentation to induce continued employment”)

I’m not suggesting that HR Directors send out emails admonishing staff “not to wear leather” but perhaps it’s advisable to listen for excess talk about riding crops and bondage. It may be time to figure out, once and for all, if the cultural norms of one’s organization include language or visual displays that, well, might not meet grandma’s approval. As the lawyers and Supreme Court like to say, a hostile work environment is one that is “sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.” This means when you work in HR you need to watch out for that stuff. I’m not saying be a humorless prude…(lord no); don’t be like the HR lady I met at a recent conference who was upset that an attorney speaking-about-sexual-harrassment used anatomically correct words for body parts. Please don’t be like her.

I am saying that even though you may not find it easy to tell the guys on the loading dock to “knock it off,” sometimes you just have to do that. And you might have to use words you’ve picked up by reading “Fifty Shades Darker” in order to adequately convey your message.

Claims of a sexually charged hostile work environment are often not painted in black and white; sometimes they’re in shades of grey.

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image: classic HR swag via Cornerstone on Demand

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