An organization is comprised of the sum of its parts. Internal cannibalization is counterproductive to growth. Corporate posturing and ill-gotten political moves steal from long-term financial gain to feed the short term immediate. The result of cutthroat players and poor corporate ethics is an erosion of quality from the inside out that is last seen by shareholders and investors when profits drop or scandal occurs.
The migration from well-intentioned to dysfunctional
Passion to grow and elevate one’s career can be beneficial to the company. Drive toward promotional and financial gain when not aligned with the ethical and moral standards of the organization is detrimental. If unchecked or misguided, this drive can turn into a cancer that will plague the organization by creating an ill-advised career path to promotion and financial gain. As a result, the organizational culture will not be guided by mission, vision or value statements nor by training or espoused values but rather by the accepted dysfunctional norm of advancement within the company.
It takes a team to drive change
When a company hires a new CEO, the expectation is that this new leader will help drive a positive change within the organization in a multitude of ways. In larger companies, one person cannot do this alone and they therefore need an aligned executive team. However, if the executive team obtained their positions through posturing and political games, what message is being sent to the up and comers regarding how to get ahead in the organization?
Collaboration and communication
If a company wants to change and improve its company culture, it may want to look at how it rewards its workforce with promotions and compensation. Additionally, it should evaluate what the acceptable norms are within the organization. Collaboration and communication are often two landmarks of a successful organization. If posturing and politics runs rampant within the company, how can collaboration or appropriate communication ever survive?
Profit sharing is often a good method for the compensation structure to support proper corporate values. Profit of a company is dependent on the whole of the organization functioning in an optimum manner and therefore natural byproducts of a well-structured profit sharing plan should be collaboration and communication. Keep in mind however that a company with a dysfunctional culture can still generate profit (there are plenty of examples in the recent decade that show us this fact). Therefore, a compensation structure isn’t enough on its own to help drive a positive change in culture.
Live it or don’t put it in your handbooks or on the wall
Leadership sets the tone for the culture within an organization. Dysfunctional companies generally don’t have dysfunctional handbooks or mission statements. So if the written values that the company puts forth within their communication with their employees isn’t completely driving the culture, what is? The answer is the accepted day to day norms. It’s often the unspoken way things are done within an organization that drive the behavior on a macro level. Since it is the unspoken norm, it can often be a challenge for executives to know exactly what to change for improvement.
Starting the change
The executive team should be the first party for evaluation. If alignment doesn’t exist on the team, future departmental dysfunction is a likely result. The executive team should be formed or reformed into an aligned unit with an agreed upon set of corporate values and direction. Only then can the organization begin to heal and change can occur. Once the team has agreed upon appropriate values, guidance and compensation change can begin to take shape. Prior to instituting any major changes within the organization, an employee blind survey is advised to collect additional data points. This will serve two purposes. 1) The executive team will gain a more thorough understanding of the present issues. 2) The workforce will have input into the future company culture. This survey is an essential exercise. When the executive team is provided with additional insightful information and the workforce feels heard, change is more precise and is more readily accepted by the employees.
Anytime change is to occur or a new leadership team is employed, it may be met with skepticism by the workforce. This is not due to the workforce not wanting a better organization to work for. It is often the result of past failed change attempts or due to previous repetitive frivolous change occurring. The workforce will listen to the proposed changes and then look for evidence of change from senior leadership and management. For change to truly take place; clarity of vision, communication, incentive, controls and peer accountability must be present. An executive team should be prepared to discuss with the workforce the rationale for change and the subsequent benefits. If the employee survey was previously conducted, the rationale should touch on some of the areas employees expressed issues. When a workforce understands the rationale for change with future benefits and they witness evidence of these changes being lived out by management, the organization begins to transform. Add to this the benefits of compensation increased aligned with corporate vision and motivation towards positive change will start to form. The workforce must understand that ethics are important and valued within the organization. Also, when promotion not only stems from productivity but also good corporate citizenship, behavior aligns with corporate values as the pathway to growth is governed by the new acceptable norm.
With all change, time will play a factor. It will take time to course correct a company and time will need to pass with consistency in changes for the workforce to believe the changes are not fleeting. Repetitive surveys through the following 18 months of a change announcement are a good way to understand how deep the change is setting in at all levels of the organization. In addition, there must be a safe platform to discuss deep seeded issues that are not comfortably discussed. Peter Senge’s book, The 5th Discipline has some excellent tactics to help facilitate an open communication format. Some of these tactics are discussed at a high-level here. Just remember, dysfunctional team members that are allowed to continue their disruptive and destructive behavior will poison the well. Make sure that the leadership team, management team and workforce is comprised of individuals that are aligned. Alignment, shared values and common focus will turn individuals into teams. Teams that have collaboration and superior communication become learning groups where the group IQ exceeds that of the individual participant. Ultimately, when the organization is comprised of enough learning group members, the organization itself becomes a learning organization that is able to adapt to a changing business environment and drive innovation.
Author: Rob Comeau is the CEO of Business Resource Center, Inc. a management consulting firm with an emphasis on business efficiency consulting, M&A, revenue growth, strategy, corporate culture, compensation design and net profit increase.