Working in organizational consulting and career coaching for years has taught me an important lesson about “people” problems. Company culture problems often stem from an unfortunate mistake in how the human mind understands and perceives. When a problem or inefficiency arises in the workplace, we tend to immediately believe that a person or team is to blame.
This is very rarely the case, or rather, this is very rarely the sole root cause of inefficiencies.
Sure, some people are certainly harder to work with than others — people can be lazy, difficult, or just plain inefficient!
But the majority of employees are actually doing the best that they can within their circumstances. So what gets in the way?
Inefficient processes and tools. Misunderstandings and miscommunications, which stem from the use of limited technology and communication means we have today.
A Typical Scenario for a Business Consultant
Take for example a typical scenario we might see as an business consultant. A CEO is pulled in so many directions that he does not have time to follow up or talk directly to his different project leads. He delegates one of his reports, a trusted VP, to manage and communicate to project leads. He assumes she is perfectly aligned with strategic goals AND individual team goals. After all, they had spoken about it all at the beginning of the year.
However, much has evolved since then and yet, both of them are too tied up with client sales meetings to communicate explicitly again on the projects. The VP leads and directs in her own way, giving feedback that aligns with her own understanding of priorities.
Come month end, the CEO still has not reached expected KPIs. Since he has had the least contact with the project teams, naturally he blames them for being inefficient and unmotivated, not working up to the mark. The VP keeps quiet and steers clear of the conversation to avoid reprimand for her mistake in not fully understanding and communicating executive goals.
Who is to blame here? OK, the VP did not do the most courageous, upstanding thing. But really, the culprit to blame is a lack of time, and lack of clear and transparent internal communications processes.
Get the Right Tools and Processes
There is not much we can do about lack of time in this day and age. But we can fix processes, by implementing the right tools.
For example, if the CEO implemented a tool like Workboard, strategic KPIs could be mapped to individual project work. All stakeholders at different levels would be aligned on goals, working towards the same measures. This would eliminate the need for additional meetings and time wasted on unimportant work.
If teams used a real-time collaboration tool to work on documents, all stakeholders could periodically review work, leave comments and feedback, and respond to eachother’s feedback to ensure alignment.
However, without these tools, corporate communications can easily devolve into a game of “Telephone.” Messages get muddled as they are passed along from source to source(much like data!). The receiving party of the mixed messages often becomes the inevitable scapegoat, due to the inherent, hierarchical nature of the organization.
Now imagine this is not happening with just one team, but with an interdependent system of teams in a large organization — the potential for disaster!
That explains why toxic company cultures arise in many organizations, where the villain becomes “that project management team” or “that person.”
So, it is essential when business consultants embark on “People and Culture” assessments, that we look beyond just People.
What is Company Culture and How Do You Measure It?
Company culture is just an offspring of the organizational design, processes, communications strategies, and infrastructure in place at an organization. Culture encompasses it all and is the collective mindset that develops as a result of all these factors.
A few areas I look at as a change management consultant and agile coach:
How clear is the leadership vision and strategy across the organization? What tools and processes does leadership use to communicate the vision?
How hierarchical and fixed vs. agile is the organizational design?
What kinds of functional, regional, brand siloes exist in the organization?
How are roles and responsibilities determined/communicated?
How do teams communicate and collaborate on work? What modes of communication do they use? What tools?
How do people grow their skills? What kinds of training opportunities and incentives are available?
How easy is it to access documents across teams? What processes and tools do teams use to house documents?
Remember, people and culture problems rarely stem from “people and culture,” alone. All employees, especially leaders, need to understand that truth and end the blame game, if company culture is to improve.
We might do better as business consultants if we teach our clients to trust in the basic goodness of people. To instead, work on continuously improving their communications strategies, processes, and tools.