FIVE QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT CORPORATE CULTURE CHANGE

Corporate culture is one of the most important elements to any organization’s success and prosperity. Inc. has an excellent definition of corporate culture:

“the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize members of an organization and define its nature. Corporate culture is rooted in an organization’s goals, strategies, structure, and approaches to labor, customers, investors, and the greater community. As such, it is an essential component in any business’s ultimate success or failure.”

A valuable exercise is to stop and think about what behaviors you experience in your organization. In so doing, you must face the fact that the behaviors—good or bad—exist because the corporate culture permits them to exist. That is a wonderful situation if the behaviors are good. It is a nightmare if the behaviors are bad.

We are each going to embrace and affirm a good corporate culture or we are each going to embrace and affirm a bad corporate culture. That is a pretty clear choice in my mind. Let’s embrace and affirm good corporate cultures wherever they may be found. When we come upon bad corporate cultures, let’s challenge them and aim to change them. Ultimately, this is a professional, ethical imperative.

Now, the question arises, how do we change the corporate culture? And before you even try to answer that question, first you must ask the question, can the corporate culture be changed? Because the “how” makes no sense without the “can.” Finally, you must assess your role in changing the corporate culture. This leads us to five fundamental questions to ask about corporate culture change:

  • How big is the organization?
  • How large is the inertia?
  • Who are the influencers?
  • What can you do?
  • Should you stay or leave?

Let’s consider these questions one by one.

How Big Is The Organization?

Although not formulaic, you absolutely must understand the size of an organization when you are attempting to change its corporate culture. Your knowledge of the organization’s size will drive all aspects of your strategy and process for corporate culture change.

The kinds of challenges a multibillion-dollar corporation presents will not be identical to the kinds of challenges a 20-employee small business presents. The larger the organization, the higher the tendency for the current corporate culture to be solidified, regardless of how good or bad it is. The larger the organization, the more important it becomes for the changes to spring from the top down. Without an executive-level commitment and execution, the changes simply will not catch fire at the middle-management level and down to the bench level.

If the organization is small- to medium-sized, that does not mean that these dynamics are absent, but simply that their speed and style may vary. Your approach will still need to be tailored to connect more effectively with people at various levels. The task is not necessarily any easier. In fact, it could be harder because the smaller the organization is, the higher the possibility for one stubborn individual to create roadblocks to the entire process.

Size never tells the whole story. However, it does remain a significant factor in your strategy and process. Everything about your strategy and process will need to be adjusted to the size-specific assets, limitations, and unique opportunities of that organization.

How Large Is The Inertia?

Inertia is a physics concept that refers to the tendency of an object that is in motion to remain in motion and the tendency of an object that is not in motion to remain at rest. Although it is a physics concept, it has many human illustrations. We all experience those inertia moments at various times and we see them in other people.

What is true for the individual is true for the corporate culture because the corporate culture by definition is the composite of all the individuals. When you want to change the corporate culture, knowing the magnitude of the inertia is crucial. You might find many dynamics in motion that need to be stopped. You might find certain aspects of the corporate culture that are at rest that need to begin moving. Your prospects for success and how you design your strategy and process are all dependent on the size of that inertia.

I remember once moving a very large piece of medical equipment on wheels. It took much more of my strength than I first realized to get it rolling. Once I got it rolling, I nearly took out a wall. It had much more inertia than I initially realized. The good news about inertia is that once you understand it, you will know where to put your resources. You will be putting your resources where they will be most effective and where genuine needs exist. Without this inertial knowledge, you would be nothing more than a feather in a tornado. With this inertial knowledge, you will be a funneling force capable of redirecting energy, objects, and people.

Of course, the inertia of physics is rooted in unbending formulas and equations of the universe. Corporate culture inertia is rooted in people’s minds and hearts where formulas and equations do not always work. However, it is the minds and hearts of people that will move a mountain or create a new one.

Inertia never tells the whole story. Nevertheless, once you understand its size and configuration, then you can apply your energies where they will be most effective. Only then will you have an opportunity to change the corporate culture.

Who Are The Influencers?

Let’s consider the influencers. Do you know who they are? And lest you answer too quickly, remember that a job title does not automatically equal influence.

In any organization, it is those who have influence that are the genuine leaders. At its core, leadership is influence. Sometimes that comes with an impressive job title and sometimes it does not. Once you have identified the authentic leadership, then you will know who the influencers are.

Identifying the influencers is key to executing corporate culture change. When you know who the influencers are and you understand how they think, what their goals are, their integrity, and their character, then you can deduce the options for corporate culture change. The influencers will drive that change. Knowing who they are tells you much about what that change might look like.

As with all these variables, knowing who the influencers are never tells the whole story. Nevertheless, once you understand the influencers, you at least have a much better idea of what the future may hold. In knowing that, you can commit to the future with an informed confidence and excitement about that corporate culture change.

What Can You Do?

Let’s consider what might be the most important question, what can you do? You have a voice. You are empowered. You bring a perspective. Never underestimate where your volition might take you and the organization.

Understanding what you can do frees and empowers you to do it. The specifics of exactly what you can do will vary with the situation. You can offer input. You can affirm the positive. You can share your opinions. You can set the example. You can meet with a key influencer. You can challenge the status quo. What you cannot do is dodge the professional, ethical imperative to embrace a positive corporate culture and to change a negative one. You do not have that selfish luxury. The professional, ethical imperative does not permit such inaction.

Although it is easy to focus on what other people could do or should do, the professional, ethical imperative demands that you take other people out of the spotlight and place the spotlight on you. You cannot control what someone else will do. You can only control what you will do. Understanding what you can do is perhaps the most important step in corporate culture change.

Should You Stay Or Leave?

Let’s consider that last question, should you stay or leave? The question is intensely personal and corporate culture change is never easy. You will have a lot to analyze. Nevertheless, your answers to all the prior questions will provide the resources you need to make a good—albeit not easy—decision. By understanding the size and inertia of the organization, by identifying the influencers, and by discerning your ability to contribute, you will have a rich resource reservoir to create your solution.

This is all you need with just one exception. The single item that trumps everything else is your integrity. Although the previously described analyses are necessary, you must let your integrity be your final arbiter on whether you stay or leave.

In some cases, the quality of the people, the timing, the need, the opportunities, and a sense of calling will overwhelmingly affirm your decision to stay with your integrity intact. You are part of the glorious solution. In other cases, certain aspects of your findings will clearly confirm that for your integrity’s sake, you must leave. When a situation will compromise your integrity, you have two choices:

  • Leave the situation and thereby preserve your integrity.
  • Stay in the situation and thereby destroy your integrity.

Remember, leaving an organization is not the worst thing that can happen in your life. However, preserving your integrity is one of the best things that can happen in your life. The challenges of corporate culture change will always be there, and not every hill is a hill worth dying on. In some cases, your best choice is the choice to live to fight again another day.

CONCLUSION

Corporate culture change is a complex, challenging, stressful, and complicated task to say the least. It will stretch you in unimaginable ways. This multilayered process demands that you continuously bring your best self to the task. By exploring these five fundamental questions, you will have the assurance that you are engaging the corporate culture challenges in the best possible manner for the best possible outcome.


HOW TO HANDLE A LOUSY BOSS

A few years ago I did a post on how to lead a lousy team. That scenario presents some significant leadership challenges that demand examination. How the leader responds can make or break that team.

Shortly after that post, one of my readers turned the tables by proposing a follow-up question: how do you deal with a lousy boss and how does that affect the team? That’s an excellent and welcome question! Here are some ideas to get you through that difficult and complex situation.

It’s Not You, It’s Me.

It is wise to pause first and do some careful analysis. The seriousness of the subject demands sober judgment. As a professional person, you want to refrain from immediately jumping to conclusions about your boss. Therefore, before you affirm that you genuinely have a lousy boss, consider these important questions:

  • How much time have you invested in mutual feedback with your boss to improve each other’s performance?
  • Have you tried to manage your boss better by accommodating his or her work style?
  • Do you and your boss have the same understanding of the work that needs to be done, the group’s mission, and office politics?
  • Is it possible you are misinterpreting or prejudging your boss’s behaviors?
  • Do you have a personality clash?
  • Is your preferred communication style in conflict with your boss’s default setting?
  • Have you sought the advice of a trusted confidante who might provide insights that you could be missing?

I have seen many people apply themselves to these questions only to conclude that they genuinely did not have a lousy boss. Instead, they simply had to do some work on communication style, personality awareness, interpersonal skills, or feedback loops. The result was that the worker-boss relationship was beneficially reframed. What had begun as a question on how to handle a lousy boss transformed itself into a better reality of refining the worker-boss relationship. Both the worker and the boss grew through the experience.

On the other hand, if the above approach still leaves you with the conclusion that you have a lousy boss, then you need to go to the next step.

Aligning Our Goals.

Your boss probably will not decline your help to achieve key goals. Schedule a session with your boss to learn more about his or her goals. In so doing, you will have the opportunity to affirm how your goals as a team member align with your boss’s goals. This might sound simple, but sometimes you must start simple for two reasons:

1—The nonarticulation of goals can do a great deal of harm to a team. The team does not know what the target is. That meeting will allow you to hear your boss articulate the goals. That alone allows you to confirm or correct your understanding. Based on that understanding, you have additional opportunity to share how your goals align with your boss’s goals. Some bosses have simply never fully realized this, but they need to experience that awareness. Your argument just might make a great deal of sense to your boss.

2—Sometimes a person is a lousy boss because of a deep distrust of people. Your act of sitting with your boss to ensure your understanding of his or her goals could be very powerful. Through your listening ear, your boss might come to realize that you genuinely are a valued contributor. That revelation can work toward neutralizing dysfunctional behavior patterns that your boss holds. Trust can grow. Some of these dysfunctional patterns are hard to break, but you have to start somewhere.

Some bosses are lousy bosses because they have always believed it is an us-versus-them world. By you taking the time to ensure goal alignment, your boss might grow in his or her understanding of teamwork. That understanding has the potential to improve any boss.

This is just one dynamic involved in handling a lousy boss. Many additional factors are involved such as . . .

Leading The Horse To Water.

If you genuinely have a lousy boss, then one of the ways that you may need to render service is to point gently in the right direction. Yes, there may be times when you can see the solution but your boss cannot. You must lead that horse to water.

You can do this in ways that are nonthreatening. Sometimes it will demand some creativity and conversational jujitsu. For example, you might digress into a minibrainstorming session and then leave your boss hanging with an unanswered question in which the solution becomes more obvious over time. You might be surprised how many times the next day your boss is trumpeting what you already knew was the solution to the problem.

Did you receive the credit? No. Did the boss arrive at a smart decision? Yes. Did the team win? Yes. So what if you did not receive the credit? Sometimes that is how you take a hit for the team.

Remember, the premise here is that you genuinely have a lousy boss. If that is the case, then sometimes adjustments must be made. As long as you have a lousy boss, the more adjustments you can make that ultimately advance the team further than it would have advanced otherwise, then the better off everyone is.

This strategy will not always work for the same reason the adage remains true: although you can lead a horse to water, you cannot make it drink. In some cases, that horse will go thirsty. In some cases, your lousy boss simply will not see the solution to the problem.

When you have a lousy boss, you have to make many adjustments for yourself and for the team. As I have stated before, this is a very complex situation. That is why you may need to move to another level . . .

Caring Enough To Confront.

As we have already discussed, when you genuinely have a lousy boss, you must constantly make accommodations and adjustments. That is just part of the game called “managing your boss.” However, eventually you want to be a catalyst that prompts your boss to improve. That is when caring enough to confront must occur.

Regardless of how difficult, unreasonable, incompetent, or rude your boss might be, because you are a direct report, you have an ethical and professional obligation to be a force for positive change. That is implicit in the unwritten social contract you agreed to when you said yes to the job. As a professional, you want to exercise your influence for good.

Obviously, every situation is different. Therefore, here are a few factors that you will want to consider as you prepare for a caring confrontation:

Where To Start. You don’t necessarily want to go for the biggest project on the list. It could blow up in your face and only make matters worse. Identify the low-hanging fruit first. You want to go for the relatively easy wins. An early victory will be good for you, your boss, and the team. Simultaneously, it has the potential to open up your boss’s thinking to deeper discussions about bigger situations.

Duration And Frequency. Your knowledge of your boss’s personality and psychological profile will help immensely on this one. Some people will be open to lengthy and frequent discussions aimed at self-improvement. Other folks may be more fragile. Your choices concerning duration and frequency can make or break the whole endeavor. Therefore, choose wisely. If you are unsure, then begin with something isolated and short. That will allow you to initiate action and gauge your boss’s reaction, which will inform your next step in the bigger plan.

Strategic Alliances. Although one-on-one caring confrontations are often extremely effective, some cases might be better handled with a very small group. Think carefully about whether a mutual colleague should be invited into the caring confrontation with you and your boss. Sometimes a boss who is struggling needs to hear the truth from more than just you. A wisely chosen associate can work wonders.

When you carefully consider how these factors will inform your approach, a caring confrontation can be a crucial turning point.

As we have seen, handling a lousy boss is no easy task. You have many and varied factors to consider all with multiple possible strategies and tactics to employ. The specifics of your situation will drive your decisions, and those decisions have the potential to improve your boss significantly. Armed with those insights, the big question for you to answer is where do you go from here?

What About Tomorrow?

As you reflect upon your personal professional situation with a lousy boss, I offer you these very important contextual factors. Contextual factors are those specific aspects about your situation that you absolutely must evaluate. By evaluating these contextual factors today, you will attain a much better idea of what you should do tomorrow.

Identify Your Boss’s Core Difficulty. Based on your experience with your boss, you should be able to identify a root cause of his or her performance difficulties. A technical competency deficiency is often more easily solved than a deeply embedded psychological problem such as a dysfunctional personality. Interpersonal relationship skills can be taught, but on the other hand, that will be impossible if the person is simply not willing to learn them.

Evaluate The Effectiveness Of Your Feedback Process. Feedback that is never delivered has no value because it has no impact. There is a right way and a wrong way to deliver feedback and to receive feedback. The more effective your feedback process is, the more opportunities there will be for people to improve. However, without feedback, improvement chances significantly diminish.

Study Your Corporate Culture. Every organization is different. The degree to which you can successfully employ these various improvement strategies will be driven by your corporate culture. If you are blessed with a “five star” corporate culture, then your improvement strategies will have much direct and indirect support, further enhancing their success probability. However, if your corporate culture is poor, then even your best strategies may be unsuccessful because of too many negative distractions.

Make The Best Long-term Decision For You. At some point, you will have to decide what the best long-term decision for you is. Some hills—and bosses—are not worth dying for. Ultimately, as nobly intentioned as you may be to help your boss, you still have to think about the quality of your work environment today and in your future. The best outcome of course is that your boss is able to receive your input and significant improvement occurs. That situation is a win-win. The worst outcome is that your boss completely rejects all your input and you remain in a horrible work situation. That situation is a lose-lose. Please don’t accept the lose-lose. Just because your boss chooses to lose does not mean you have to embrace the same outcome. Transferring to another department or moving onto a new company may be your best solution.

Embrace Your Lessons Learned. You can learn as much from a lousy boss as you can from a magnificent boss. If anything, you at least learn what not to do. Regardless of the ultimate outcome with your lousy boss, maintain the attitude that says I am going to embrace every single lesson learned so that I can forge ahead into my future more equipped than I have ever been. By embracing your lessons learned, you will strengthen the foundation of all your future endeavors. That is a solid win for you!

Summary Of Key Points.

  • It’s Not You, It’s Me. Before you put it all on your boss, consider what might be your contribution to the supposed lousy boss problem.
  • Aligning Our Goals. As a starting point, begin searching for common ground with your boss by aligning your goals. Let your boss know that you genuinely are on the same page.
  • Leading The Horse To Water. Be willing to use some conversational Jujutsu to lead your boss gently toward better outcomes.
  • Caring Enough To Confront. Know when to do the intense work of having some clear conversations with your boss to exchange feedback.
  • What About Tomorrow? Always have your endgame in mind. Ultimately, you must think about your future too.


ALWAYS THE DEFINING INGREDIENT

Fortune released its annual “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, and the results are always fascinating to analyze. Editor-in-Chief Clifton Leaf kicked around several reasons why these companies made the list (“Building an Idea Factory” March 2018, p. 6). Perks such as unlimited vacation time, sabbaticals, and periodic blocks of time to work on anything without regard to the company’s normal agenda are just a few of the items that make these companies so effective at attracting and keeping talent.

The relationship however is symbiotic. All that tangible and intangible investment in its people directly drives benefits to the organization as a whole. This derives from that larger factor that causes employees to deliver their best every day—the corporate culture. Ultimately, it is the defining ingredient of any company. Leaf speaks to this concept indirectly:

“Not every company, of course, has that kind of relationship with its employees . . . But employers who can forge that trust with their workers seem to have an extra advantage on the competition: They get a potentially never-ending font of fresh ideas.”

The corporate culture drives innovation and innovation drives company success. Without that high-quality corporate culture, the opposite occurs, and that is why I say corporate culture is the defining ingredient of every organization. Here are four truths about corporate culture:

1—Corporate culture always moves from the top down. An organization’s leaders set the tone for the entire organization. Regardless of whether you have a rotten corporate culture or a golden corporate culture, look to the leadership. You can usually see the connection.

2—Corporate culture by definition is omnipresent. Whatever the company’s pervading values, ideas, behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs are, they tend to be everywhere. You cannot escape your corporate culture and that is why it absolutely affects everything you do.

3—Corporate culture can be changed. Notice I did not say “will be,” but “can be.” I have seen organizations willfully, strategically, and effectively change their corporate culture. It demands a great deal of group and individual soul searching, but for the organizations that are willing to do that, success will eventually arrive.

4—Corporate culture will make or break your company. This is why corporate culture is one of those nonnegotiables. When it comes to the story of a thriving, vibrant, successful company, high-quality corporate culture must be there in the beginning, the middle, and the end. Too many companies with great products and services have met their demise due to a dysfunctional corporate culture. On the other hand, when an exquisite corporate culture is in play, it is a beautiful thing to behold; as much art as it is science, as much relationships as it is tasks.

Thinking about your own organization, here are some questions worth asking:

  • How is your organization defined?
  • How do you want your organization to be defined?
  • What is your corporate culture?
  • Does your corporate culture need to change?
  • Will your corporate culture change?

How you answer those questions may very well send you on one of the most exciting and productive adventures of your career. I wish you the best!


ARE YOU HEALTHY ENOUGH TO HANDLE FACEBOOK?

Facebook has woven its way into so many people’s lives and thinking it is taken for granted now. With over two billion monthly users, the behemoth continues to grow, steadily entrenching itself into the social routines of our daily existence. That phenomenon alone is not disturbing to me. What is disturbing to me is the number of people who continue to misuse Facebook to their own detriment. Tragically, much of Facebook’s misuse happens behind closed doors deep within the chasms of individual psyches.

In May 2012, the cover story of The Atlantic was, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” by Stephen Marche (pp. 60–69). Marche, a novelist and an Esquire columnist, insightfully challenges us to explore those dynamics deep within the chasms of individual psyches. In Marche’s concluding thoughts about Facebook’s psychological and emotional influence, he accurately captures the essence of the struggle into which many people fall:

“Our omnipresent new technologies lure us toward increasingly superficial connections at exactly the same moment that they make avoiding the mess of human interaction easy. . . .

But the price of this smooth sociability is a constant compulsion to assert one’s own happiness, one’s own fulfillment. Not only must we contend with the social bounty of others; we must foster the appearance of our own social bounty. Being happy all the time, pretending to be happy, actually attempting to be happy—it’s exhausting.” (p. 68)

My contention is that the fundamental reason so many people succumb to this mindset is a lack of wholeness and personhood independent of social media. Facebook does not directly harm people—it is what people bring to Facebook that does. The proper and healthy use of social media presupposes that you are proper and healthy. With these thoughts in mind, these are my suggestions for all Facebook users:

1—Don’t expect Facebook to fill the voids in your life you should be filling yourself. Facebook is not a religion, philosophy, 12-step program, psychologist, counselor, mentor, spiritual advisor, spouse, lover, or God. It is up to you to seek those resources as you feel so led. Don’t let Facebook become their substitute.

2—Don’t fall into the trap that because other people look happy, they are and you are not. We all have our demons. They just don’t show on the outside. Life is not easy. We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people including the person you and I meet in the mirror daily. Remember—pictures and posts capture happy moments in time that we memorialize and thereby artificially overemphasize. Pictures and posts don’t usually tell the whole story . . . and they certainly don’t tell the “hole” story.

3—Build your life on things that count for the long term: Faith, absolutes, family, relationships, values, serving, quality, nobility, virtue, and truth. Facebook can be just one small outlet and avenue for these things, but it is not the object upon which you build your life.

4—Facebook—like all social media—is merely a tool. How you choose to use that tool is your decision. Facebook can be a catalyst for growth in our relationships, professional lives, personal lives, and spiritual lives. Nevertheless, it is still just one tool in service to these endeavors. Don’t expect it to be more than that.

5—As our business world and our virtual world continue to evolve, you must remain authentic, optimistic, open, and alert. Social media isn’t disappearing. The best thing we can do is remain authentic, optimistic, open, and alert. That stance will ensure we maintain a balanced perspective. It will prevent us from prematurely accepting, condoning, rejecting, or condemning any new social media phenomenon.

Are you healthy enough to handle Facebook? I hope you are. But if not, then please don’t go there.


DOCTOR AI WILL SEE YOU NOW

Although I frequently make fun of artificial intelligence due to some of its inherent limitations for certain situations, the fact remains that when AI works well, it works extremely well. Additionally, as big data gets bigger, AI becomes stronger. This is proven by current trends in healthcare technology.

No one would deny that the screening colonoscopy is an invasive procedure. That is exactly why many people search for every opportunity to use some kind of a substitute process. Researchers have been attempting to satisfy this demand. An Israeli health-tech company, Medial EarlySign has created a blood test called ColonFlag that capitalizes on AI and big data to determine colon cancer risk. The blood test performs rather well as Paul Tullis reports (“Colonoscopy? I’ll Take a Blood Test” Bloomberg Businessweek. January 15, 2018, pp. 24–25):

ColonFlag . . . predicts colon cancer twice as well as the fecal exam that’s the industry-standard colonoscopy alternative. . . . ColonFlag compares new blood tests against a patient’s previous diagnostics, as well as Medial’s proprietary database of 20 million anonymized tests spanning three decades and three continents, to evaluate the patient’s likelihood of harboring cancer.” (p. 24)

Another excellent example of AI’s value in healthcare is mammogram interpretation. Houston Methodist Hospital is using AI software for this task with much more effectiveness compared to human doctors. Authors Frank Malcolm, Paul Roehrig, and Ben Pring summarize (What to Do When Machines Do Everything: How to Get Ahead in a World of AI, Algorithms, Bots, and Big Data. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2017):

AI software . . . interprets [mammogram results] 30 times faster than doctors and with 99% accuracy. By contrast, mammograms reviewed by humans result in unnecessary biopsies nearly 20% of the time.” (p. 2)

You’ve heard of safety in numbers. AI and big data are proving the concept in exciting new dimensions.