‘If your workplace culture were a dog, what breed would it be?’
A few years ago, an executive of one of the four big banks was asked what he thought organisational culture meant. He gave the same answer that a Supreme Court judge once gave when attempting to define pornography: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.”
Culture is demonstrated by the ideas, customs, rituals, stories, social behaviour, norms and standards of a group of people.
But back to the question, ‘If your workplace culture were a dog, what breed would it be?’ Hopefully you’ve picked a fun, energetic and friendly breed that you can trust and not a breed that bites or creates mess or doesn’t come when it’s called or defecates on…well, you get the picture.
When working with clients we often see a set of values that the business supposedly stands for, framed on walls throughout the premises. I recall in one business, ‘Honesty’ was one of six core values.
I asked the management team if they had, in the past few days, lied to a client or colleague, and just like you and me they all had. And, based on the staff engagement survey we conducted, their six core values were just words on a wall.
(Research in this area suggests that on average we tell at least four lies a day. And, furthermore, if we were 100 percent honest with 100 percent of people we interact with, none of us would be in a relationship!)
Setting agreed and realistic values is important to help a group become a team that delivers consentient and predictable value to team members and clients. This creates trust. What determines a team’s culture is not what that team stands for. Culture is set by what the team won’t stand for.
A cast study: an ag business had several branches and just over 100 staff. This business’s pain point was not sales -it was efficiency and profitability. Staff reported that they each undertook seven hours of rework each week. This business was going broke being busy!
Part of our improvement intervention was discussing and setting agreed structures, which included setting values. We also asked them what type of dog they liked.
The values staff agreed on were;
Any gaps between what you team is actually doing/behaving and what everyone believes the team should be doing, will be due to inadequate:
The first team members to undertake a peer review were managers. Resentment and cynicism results from managers not demonstrating the behaviours they expect of others.
We can’t demand what we don’t demonstrate.
We also made rework an agenda item in their new weekly toolbox meetings. In addition, everyone had to report on the amount of rework they did for the month at each monthly meeting. When discussing the root cause of the rework they asked themselves, “Is the rework due to poor structures, resources, competencies or commitment?”
As a result, collaboration and cooperation improved, which in turn reduced internally generated rework by 80 percent. Their dog turned from an out of control mutt to a fun, energetic, friendly, predictable and loyal dog.
So back to the question, what type of dog is your business?
Are the values at your workplace just words?
Do you measure alignment and give feedback?
Setting values is the easy part of the process. Getting alignment is the challenging part. If you don’t model, measure, provide feedback and challenge, then don’t bother going through the expense of setting values because they’ll end up being just words on a wall.
“Let’s go back and eyebrow-f**k ol’ mate” This was a plan hatched by two attendees of a course we conducted for a client in NSW.
Ol’ mate was a cranky truck driver that delivered product to the two conspirator’s stores, and eyebrows had been a crucial part of the course.
During this course, we discussed how to develop and maintain a healthy, happy and engaging work environment by avoiding the Parent/Child leadership style.
When talking to others – kids, colleagues, partners – with our eyebrows down we can come across as a stern, judgmental parent talking to a child.
Workplaces that have a parent-to-child or top-down dynamic can be a work environment where:
Moods are contagious
When a leader sneezes their team can catch a cold, or the coronavirus. (I hope you didn't run out of toilet paper). I remember when my youngest son called to ask me what time I was going to be home, he was 18 at the time and had just crashed my ute. (I loved that ute!) I told him the time I was going to be home and he then said “Dad, we need to have a chat, and can you promise to keep your eyebrows up?” Sometimes it’s hard to keep our eyebrows up!
But back to the two conspirator’s and their plan to eyebrow-f**k their ol’ mate.
When dealing with the grumpy, eyebrows-down truck driver they did so with their eyebrows up. They greeted him by name and looked pleased to see him. After a week they reported that the truck driver was arriving to their store on time and greeting them with his eyebrows up too!
Eyebrows play a significant role in communication. Take a look around your workplace. Who has their eyebrows up and who’s are down?
It's not just managers who are work environment mood setters; staff are too. We owe our work colleagues our best efforts; w should not leave those with whom we interact with frowns on their face.
Adult / Adult workplaces
The approach to work design in which the boss sets the goals and workers toe the line is called technocratic (parent/child). It has been the traditional approach to work design, and it has been marked by poor motivation, low productivity, and high levels of rework.
An alternative approach is socio-technical work design (adult/adult). The key difference is collaborative participation in goal setting and problem solving. Studies have shown that the greater degree of participation, the better the process works.
Socio-technical work design builds and maintains motivation, improves productivity, reduces rework and creates a culture of cooperative relationships.
When a work colleague has their eyebrows down - looks annoyed, frustrated, stressed - we could ask, "Bob, you look annoyed. Is everything okay? Is there something I could help you with?" This is a supportive way of ensuring bad moods don't spread through the entire team.
How’s that working for you?
It doesn't always work though. Some years ago, when playing golf, I gave the eyebrows-up tip to an angry, eyebrows-down playing partner. I didn’t know he was a police officer.
A few months later, travelling between Swan Hill and Kerang, I was pulled over for speeding by guess who? Yes, the golf-playing copper. He recognised me and said with his eyebrows up, “How’s the eyebrows-up tip working for your now Sunshine?” We both laughed. He let me off with a warning. Phew!
Keeping our eyebrows up
Keeping our eyebrows up in stressful situations helps us remain cognisant of how we’re feeling, which helps in keeping our emotions in check. This in turn helps create healthier, less stressful environments at work and at home.
When we asked a client to keep his eyebrows up when dealing with staff he said, "I'm going to have to tattoo the bastards up"
Let us know if you need a referral to a tattooist.
I’m writing this article on my patio looking around our now weed free, trees trimmed, nothing out of place back yard, which apparently is only just the start!
Our lives have changed. Our priorities have changed. Our world has changed. Bloody COVID-19 and stage three restrictions and Brenda’s list! (The list goes from here to August!)
When change is forced upon us and is outside of our control. Cope or Mope?
In general, coping strategies fall into two categories; problem focused coping and emotion focused coping. Both have its strengths and weaknesses, and both are suited to particular situations.
Problem focused coping
With problem focused coping we change or eliminate the stressors. This approach works when we can control or influence the stressors e.g. too much stock on hand or too many overdue debtors, which is more than one. We change a business input - structures, resources, competencies, commitment - to change a business outcome. Stressors lessened or eliminated.
Emotional focused coping
This approach is for the stressors we can’t change or influence. What can we do when we feel that we can’t do anything? In reality stressors that are outside of our control - e.g. COVID-19, droughts, floods, short supply of seed and glyphosate, can get us down (mope) but we can also do things that keep our moods and our eyebrows up.
Four emotional health boosters
Jessica Watson on the 18th of October 2009, aged just 16 sailed out of Sydney harbour to sail around the world...on her own! In a recent article she said that she accepted that she would feel lonely and that this acceptance made coping with isolation easier. In business nothing changes until we confront and accept the reality of our situation.
Think: ‘How can we profit/benefit from this?” This focuses on what we could gain from the loss.
2: Constructive Thinking - What are our gains from the loss?
My back yard looks better. I’m not even for an instant suggesting the loss of free movement, seeing grandchildren, work ceasing, being stood down is anywhere near equal to having a better looking back yard. But it can be a silver lining. Going on a holiday comes at a cost – air fares, accommodation, adult children coming along and not putting their hands in their pocket for a damn thing - but then there are gains from taking a holiday too.
Moods can follow actions. Do something good and we generally feel good. Exercise increases the serotonin levels in the brain which helps regulate anxiety, happiness, and mood. Low levels of serotonin have been associated with depression.
In his seminal book, Broken Years, Australian history professor Bill Gammage wrote about the use of humour by the Australian soldiers in the 1st world war. He retold a story of a group of Aussie diggers trying to extract one of their mates from a boggy bomb crater. After several attempts to pull him out of the bog using a rope, one of the rescuers said, “Barney, you’re too deep in the mud, mate. Is there anything you can do your end to help us?” Barney’s deadpan reply, “Do you think it would help if I take my feet out of the stirrups?”
We can still find joy in our worlds even in the direst of situations, if we just look for it. If you’re doing more moping than coping please reach out to a health professional or call Lifeline 13 11 14, or give me a call, it will get me out of the back yard.
PS: This is Brenda – if Neville did a bit in the garden each weekend and not play so much golf, he wouldn’t have a list!