Many of us remember the Pygmalion story of Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower-seller who was turned into a social experiment by Professor Henry Higgins, who bet a colleague he could turn this crass, accented person into a ‘real lady’.
Professor Higgins did his job, but Eliza didn’t let go of her spunk, and in the process, she changed Professor Higgins as much as he changed her. Continue reading →
“A leader is one who, out of madness or goodness, volunteers to take upon himself the woe of the people.” – John Updike
Teamwork as a cultural norm is crucial, as described in last week’s blog post. But it will never be embedded as a norm if the leaders at the top of the organization are not part of the team. “We’ve got a great team,” said a bank executive. But when irregularities in the company were uncovered, his official statement pointed to underlings who had failed to do their jobs well. Contrast that with the observation of Rajeev Behera, whose Disney division produces game apps for handheld devices, where failure of a product to take hold is common: “Taking responsibility for a failure demonstrates confidence in your ability to move forward from it.” Continue reading →
Last week, Anne, the leader of a key division, suddenly became disabled with a serious illness. She was too ill to even think about what was happening at work as she lay in the hospital. As she improved, she began to worry about the deadline that had now passed for completing crucial work on a product rollout. She flashed a text message to one of her team members to ask the status. What she got back was from Frank, one of her colleagues in another division: “Got you covered. All is completed and in order. Peter and I jumped in. Get some rest. We’ll stay on top of it.” Continue reading →
When news comes out about the bad decisions made by companies like Takata, accused of sacrificing safety to profits in its airbags, and even more recently, Volkswagen, where employees knowingly colluded in deceiving emissions testing equipment, we shake our heads, wag our fingers at these deviants, and proclaim with certainty, “It couldn’t happen here.” Continue reading →
How many times have you found yourself wanting to take a different stand than the conventions of your organization dictate? Or wanting to take a different path than the one ‘prescribed’ by organizational norms? And how often have you hesitated to be so bold, concerned about the potential impact these actions might have on your career?
Organizational culture and norms are strong magnets pulling actions in a common direction, and getting outside that magnetic field without flying off the grid is not easy. Yet, if there were never any challenges to those norms, there would be no innovation. It is to the organization’s benefit to keep the cultural door cracked open. Continue reading →
Carl called his two primary clients recently to tell them his wife needed serious surgery in a couple days, and he asked them to give him a few extra days to complete reports, promising to attend to the work in between periods of helping his wife through post-operative recovery.
The first client, Brigid, expressed empathy and wished his wife well, and then asked a number of questions about when she could get the delayed preliminary findings and what would be the latest he might finish the report. Carl was reassuring, but he ended the phone call feeling stress about how he’d manage everything. Continue reading →
Think your company has an unassailable culture? One that you’ve carefully cultivated over time? Would you notice if it started to subtly change?
One of my clients, the CEO of a successful business with a well-deserved reputation for outstanding customer focus and staffed with dedicated professionals, reported over time an increasing unhappiness with his job: “I don’t enjoy being here any more. I don’t like what’s happening.” He had a hard time putting his finger on what it was that caused his discomfort. When he did, it was an even more troubling realization: “People in the company – and especially some of my top people – aren’t doing what’s right for the firm, only what they see as benefitting themselves.” He went on to describe diversions of blame when goals were not met, lack of personal accountability to the firm’s goals, and decisions in one line of business that disadvantaged others. He wondered how such a reputable and caring culture could have shifted without his seeing it sooner. Continue reading →
Organizational culture is one of those concepts like religious faith – we know it is powerful, it can be potently good or potently destructive, and it has a seeming life of its own. But every leader poses the same question: can it be harnessed and directed; can it be changed to support success rather than hinder it? To answer that, you need to understand what builds and feeds it.
Professors Ken Thompson (DePaul University) and Fred Luthans (University of Nebraska) describe seven characteristics of organizational culture: Continue reading →