If you’ve been following my posts for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that I have been approaching the subject of workplace culture from just about every side over the past several months. The main reason is because HR and career strategists have been touting it as the #1 issue or trend for 2014. It’s all the buzz.
[Plus, every time I bring up workplace culture, I get in a bit of trouble for some reason. So, like the little kid that I still am, I keep doing it. :-)]
BUT there is a very good reason why I do: Client after client after client tells me the same thing. Culture matters, matters, matters to them, but the more companies keep talking about it and implementing “new” programs, the more unhappy they generally seem to be. They sometimes even like the new concepts…more flex time, open forums, brainstorming sessions, less silos, etc. But even with that, they still don’t seem all that happy.
So, obviously, then, something isn’t working.
I have two very unscientific theories for why I think this is, but they are based on lots of experience listening to working professionals and discussing career advancement with them:
1. Employees expect “good” culture to be given to them.
2. Companies think they can do what no other civilization has done before them: successfully define and enforce their idea of “good” culture in a way that doesn’t ultimately lead to revolt.
Listen. It’s wonderful that everyone wants a great working environment, a place where all are valued and respected. But that is where the consensus generally ends because everyone’s perception of what that is and how that should realistically play out is shaped differently…and it is very difficult to bring that into one harmonious reality!
For most people, culture is external…something out there that they must interact in.
So they care about it. They want the atmosphere at work to be right. They want to like what they do and where they do it. Therefore, they pressure their companies to make the environment better. They see greener pastures all around. They’re convinced if the company would just do something to get it right, they would be more productive and stay longer.
Generally speaking, I think we can all relate with this feeling. BUT at the same time, basically, we are saying that the conditions around us must be just right or we can’t/won’t perform to our best. Hmmm.
The trouble is, of course, that there are 50-100-500-1000 people around us in the office that all feel exactly the same way, but they don’t agree on what those perfect conditions should be like. They just know it is someone else’s responsibility to fix it….or….
So off goes corporate…doing what corporate does…taking polls, implementing programs, forming committees, plastering mantras, conducting workshops, training evangelists…anything it can think of to create “good” culture…again, whatever that is exactly.
Back in my corporate leadership days, we were inundated with calls to improve our culture and respect our “brand,” in particular, for recruiting purposes. And that was before social media!
I mean, you have to admit that companies have poured more energy and resources into defining culture and branding in the last several years than ever before…and yet the polls show more people are leaving jobs because of culture than ever before (of course, companies have laid more people off than perhaps ever before too).
In the technical world especially, the more companies try, the more techies run the other way. And everyone is left scratching their heads.
Why can’t we all just get along?
The truth is, well, we just can’t. We try. We do our best. But we can’t. Conflict happens. (Think about it, if we could, we’d have much better marriages and family relations…all things that matter more than work, right?)
And although we might follow the Golden Rule, not everyone else follows it in return. Or maybe they think they do even if we think they don’t! It’s a rabbit hole that can tie leadership up in never-ending circular arguments. (I remember a previous manager of mine who was sent off to “be nice” seminars for 2 weeks. She came back transformed in such an inauthentic way that we were literally begging for her to go back to her true not-so-nice self!)
Sure there are magical moments of collaboration, unity, respect…all great things…where we start to think we just might have landed some “good” culture…until the wind changes direction and people do what people do: change jobs.
Truthfully, the best innovations, as history bears out, usually come out of the harshest conditions…necessity and all. But we aren’t really willing to endure that. Or we are as long as people aren’t involved.
Listen. Workplace culture matters…much in the same way it matters to us whether people like us.
We can say that we don’t care about that, but of course we do. Life tends to be easier when people like us.
But not everyone does like us. And at some point, we have to accept it or at least figure out what we are willing to accept.
The last thing we would ever want, however, is for someone to “make” them like us or to “make” us like them. When that happens, you can be sure a revolution is just around the corner.