When any movement gains momentum for a sustained period of time, the “[Insert Movement] is Dead” article appears like clockwork. The corporate culture movement is no exception, yet the recent death knell piece in MIT Sloan Management Review, The End of Corporate Culture as We Know It, is more perceptive than prophetic because the future is already here.
Having worked in the world of culture in various forms – leader, builder, guide – for the past decade and exposed to a myriad of organizational cultures, I have come to believe we are all striving for the same thing – the best way for humans to work together, produce great results and feel good about how it is done.
Therefore, most corporate value systems and cultures connect to three things:
Agile Working has become the buzzword for how to turn your business into a thriving, creative and productive hub while attracting and retaining the best talent. It’s moving from flexible working to smarter working. And it does what it says if you follow the recipe.
Agile Working was originally created by Toyota to get production lines moving faster. It gives people the ability to work in various locations to complete the tasks necessary to do their jobs. Specific desks do not exist – you can work from a collaborative space, a breakout area, home, a café, or wherever benefits the task at hand. And employees are supported with practices and processes that allow them to be agile. Agile Working makes work seem less gray and more technicolor. It’s enticing, exciting and human. And it works.
Well, nothing has changed. We all still hate our jobs.
Wait, that’s not quite right. A third of us are engaged at work. We love our jobs. But the other two-thirds, according to the most recent State of the American Workplace from the Gallup organization, are “actively disengaged” (16%) or “just there” (51%). Wow.
That’s a resounding vote of no-confidence in our current management practices. “The very practice of management no longer works,” says Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton. He calls for “transforming workplace culture.” Embracing purpose and identifying employee skills, “strengths” in Clifton’s nomenclature, are solid goals.
My youngest daughter is a skateboarder. With her, I’ve spent a fair amount of time at skateboarding events and at skate parks. While I’ve been wowed many times by bold and amazing stunts, I’ve also noticed one thing: skateboarders fall. A lot. Pros, beginners, veterans and young rippers all hit the deck. Mount a GoPro on their helmet and the courage factor goes way up but it still doesn’t keep them from falling. Here’s the thing: they almost always bounce right back up.
Why is that? Well, for one thing, they (sometimes) wear protection. Mostly though, their ability to jump back on the board uninjured is because they know how to fall. In skateboarding, knowing how to fall (or fail) is part and parcel to knowing how to continue to push to achieve new tricks (or success).
“Knowing how to fall is, like, a basic life skill,” one skateboarder told me. “If I didn’t know how to fall, I wouldn’t be able to learn new tricks either.”
Letting your guard down basically boils down to one thing… being appropriately vulnerable in your communication, which in turn promotes a culture of trust. This diagram is a simple visual showing a different way to achieve effective management and stronger leadership.
Get on a Southwest flight to anywhere, buy shoes from Zappos.com, pants from Nordstrom, groceries from Whole Foods, anything from Costco, a Starbucks espresso, or a Double-Double from In N’ Out, and you’ll get a taste of these brands’ vibrant cultures.
Culture is a balanced blend of human psychology, attitudes, actions, and beliefs that combine to create either pleasure or pain, serious momentum or miserable stagnation. A strong culture flourishes with a clear set of values and norms that actively guide the way a company operates. Employees are actively and passionately engaged in the business, operating from a sense of confidence and empowerment rather than navigating their days through miserably extensive procedures and mind-numbing bureaucracy.
There are many ways to destroy a culture. It can be destroyed by arrogance, hypocrisy or hubris. It can be demolished through bad leadership, nepotism, unchecked misogyny or other unethical practices.
But, a pervasive lack of care might be the most effective way to destroy a culture. Whereas the list of sins above is obvious pathologies of an organization in decay, they are visible, and often manageable, vices. We tend to pay a lot of attention to these vices as they, by way of their visibility, draw our eye. And we tend to overestimate their importance as we underestimate the small things in our organizations.