The workplace is sometimes a place where deeply frustrated people gather to pretend they are all ok. It is not easy to think of a more diverse place in the world that our places of work – multicultural, multi focussed, filled with strategists and implementers, happy and sad, married and single, young and old, task oriented and goofer-offers, people we like, and people we don’t like. You name it, they are there.
As with any team, when it is flying and overachieving, all is usually fine. No one’s issues are too serious. But, as with all teams, there are times when things are not all fine. Either the tumult has commenced, or the storm clouds are on the horizon. Having worked in and with numerous companies in transition, I have noticed some distinct trends when the corporate weather is changing for the worse. The one dynamic that seems constant, is that when things are not going so good, those who feel they do not have the power to change anything, revert to a strategy of “quiet desperation”. By this I mean they withdraw from team members and colleagues to resolve their internal debates. They withdraw their obvious support in favour of a lower risk implied support – implied by their silence. (Which is actually not support at all…)
How do we as leaders keep a finger on the pulse of these dynamics – usually similar in comparative volume to a whisper in a storm. How can we see and hear these subtle indicators in the middle of our busy days, in the midst of our responsibility of managing finances, production, sales, HR, and leading change and keeping an organisation on course?
2 ideas for us to think about (amongst the many):
Firstly, we cannot do it alone. There is just too much going on in the corporate ecosystem for one person to be that sensitive. That is why we have co-leaders, managers who, if they are doing it well, are sensing the atmosphere in their teams and collaborating with their team members to break down those isolating factors.
Secondly, and far more importantly, the corporate culture needs to be one where difficult and vulnerable upward-facing conversations can be held. If we look objectively at our corporate culture, can we honestly say that our employees can be vulnerable with us as leaders? Can they show us their fears and weaknesses in the workplace without being prejudiced for their honesty? Can a disenfranchised employee speak their mind?
I suspect that that is not a reality in most cultures. That is why disenfranchised people go quiet, why the voiceless – or at least those who think they are voiceless – give up their role as co-labourers and become mere observers… they fold their arms, and wait to see if their world will become safe again. And if it does not, they plan their departure.
Here is my challenge:
To an employee, the corporate culture of an organisation is, quite simply, the environment created by their immediate manager. If the immediate manager is a bully, the organisation is a bullying organisation. If the immediate manager is loose-tongued, the organisation cannot be trusted with secrets. If the immediate manager is a politician, the organisation is a political organisation. And if the immediate manager cannot/will not engage employees, the organisation cannot/will not, either. There is NO DIFFERENCE to the employee.
So, Mr CEO, the leader in the storm, here is the question for us all. (By the way, it is too late to worry about these things when the waves are higher than the boat. This is a question for the good times, for the productive, all-is-well times.) What have you done, and what are you doing to make sure that your managers and co-leaders, represent to the employees they lead, a consistent and congruent company culture? The kind of company culture you want to have. And what will you do to resolve a dissonance between the stated culture and the lived culture, of your leadership team?
Are you possibly being fooled by what might be some selective upward communications? Are your managers managing you? It’s good to rely on your team, but do you rely on them a little too much? Or do you know – for yourself – what is really, really happening in your organisation?
Is the behaviour and actions of your leadership team shouting so loud, your employees cannot hear what YOU are saying?