Difficult Colleagues 5 – Company Culture Unfit

Our organizations’ cultures can make them unfit to address problems.

Company culture is both dynamic and passive: it is the result of past and present employees interacting on multiple levels over time. Despite the fact that an organization can intuit the need for a cultural shift, the internal culture has already been shaped and is continually fortified by many people, their beliefs and stories, and decades of interaction.

Three groups interweave in culture creation:
1. The Leadership Team, usually far removed from front-line workers – envision the “wished-for” state,
2. Middle Managers, charged with turning the LT’s vision into action– the tactical bridge, and
3. Front-Line Workers – getting the work done despite problems.

This 3rd level is where we see the organization’s true culture.

Since front-line workers know they must get their work done on time, they may bypass other lenses of culture change in favor of a slightly modified status quo. They see the problems, but most will not bring them to their leaders for fear of reprisals or being perceived as difficult.

To start a cultural rewiring, leaders must decouple fear and start to build in trust at all levels. Trust is the only ingredient that can remedy a culture full of blame and factions.

Employees think, “I must be able to trust you with my vulnerability, after all, I’m human and make mistakes. If I can’t trust you not to demean me, I cannot do my job well and will recycle mistakes. I need your trust to do the best job.”

Managers must say, “We’ve made mistakes and want to sincerely apologize for them. We can’t build this business well unless we work together. Let’s figure out how to do that.”

To become and remain vulnerable during culture change is difficult. We’ve been conditioned to be aware of, and blame others when something goes wrong. In reality, changes and decisions were made in incremental steps, far removed from our current org charts. This created a hyper-sensitive and hyper-competitive company where we focused on whose fault a problem was, instead of fixing it.

Trust must be built over time. Listening and co-creatively crafting the changes needed, starts to rebuild trust. When employees and managers become partners in shifting the culture, they create the way forward toward true change.

Building up our cultural muscles must happen every day. It can’t be a one-and-done effort. Failure in this can quite possibly be the largest factor that creates DCs.

How much time should an organization spend trying to understand “How did we get here?” A better question is, “Here is where we are, no matter how we got here. How can we get to a better tomorrow?”

Trust must be built from the bottom up, crisscrossed between all employee levels, infusing the entire organization.

We can grow amazing companies with trust, vulnerability, forgiveness, andacceptance that avoid creating “Difficult Colleagues” in the first place.