Category Archives: Organizational Development
A number of years ago there came to light a scientific case study called “The Dilution Effect”
It posited that an increase in species to create a greater biodiversity could greatly reduce the risk of Lyme disease in humans. Thus, generating a broader spectrum across an ecosystem could prevent the environment that allows Lyme to reside and infect ticks that spread the disease.
While the research is still being done to prove this study, there is a laboratory where dilution can help mitigate a toxic environment. The workplace.
A toxic culture is usually the presence of counter-cultural individuals and/or teams within an organization that threaten to poison the current environment.
While many times the wisdom is to prune and remove these individuals it is more necessary to replace them and grow the organization with those who are more pure with the work culture you are promoting.
There are times when you need to separate or allow attrition to remove toxic people from your company. This is vital to ensure the culture stays intact and is not corrupted. Yet even more important is to replace them with people who are closely aligned with your core values and culture and will keep the culture intact. Otherwise you will run the risk of introducing toxic behaviors and attitudes and return to the same, or worse, state that you were originally in.
Another steps is to continue to hire and grow the organization with people who are more closely congruent with your culture, creating a larger and larger dynamic that can minimize the toxic impact of others. In some cases, as I have discovered in my own leadership career, gaining a broader base of employees who are culturally instep can actually change some peoples’ toxic behaviors into champions of the culture – a kind of FOMO (fear of missing out) workplace transformation.
Think about it this way. You have a beaker of pure water and introduce a drop of raw sewage into it. That pure water is tainted and now needs a larger influx of pure water to flush out the sewage and mitigate the harm done by the impure substance. This represents lessening the impact of toxic individuals by replacing them with more culturally sound people.
In addition, you can also dump the beaker and refill it with pure water, akin to removing the toxic individual.
The premise is simple but you need to exercise discernment in keeping those who are culture champions engaged as you build around them, and not replacing them as well. This is a challenge to keeping the right mixture and balance in your organization of tenured people who have grown the culture and newer, culturally-aligned individuals graft in sometime later. Having the right focus on building complimentary teams and creating harmony and engagement adds to the equation, so keeping this in mind is vital to growing the culture without dividing it inadvertently.
Back in my formidable days of being a twenty-something manager, Jack, one of the senior leaders of our theme park department, would spend time throughout his days discussing various leadership and operational strategies with us. Whether you agreed with him or not, his insight was usually based on foundational truths and we had the utmost respect for him challenging our leadership mindsets.
One of the lessons I learned from Jack was how to seek team members who complemented each other. As a young manager emerging to be a more effective leader, my tendency, as was most of ours, was to hire or promote people who had a certain style, demonstrated a particular personality, or fit a specific mode. Jack worked with us to show how shortsighted that approach really was.
Building a team, he said, is like putting together an engine or a puzzle. Not every piece is cut the same, nor does every part have the same function. In applying his teaching over the years, I’ve come to learn how valuable this pearl of wisdom has become. Here are the values of why we should focus on a complementary team-building approach.
WITHIN A TEAM, NOT EVERY ROLE IS THE SAME.
In our food and beverage department in the theme park, we had many roles. Cooks, cashiers, stockers, supervisors, and prep cooks. Each required a different skill and a different focus. We needed to understand these roles intimately in order to realize the traits needed to perform the job properly. Just putting any person into the role could mean forcing a round peg into a square hole.
WITHIN A ROLE, NOT EVERY PERSON HAS THE SAME TALENT.
I would staff 15 cashiers at one of my restaurants on a given shift. As much as I would like them all to be great at suggestive selling, some of them were more focused on the customer experience, and others on speed. One of the strategies I used in helping build their skills was to schedule a strong salesperson next to a customer focused one, in helping them learn from each other in the course of their work. Not everyone can fire on all cylinders, but if I had enough salespeople, expediters, and smile makers, I could cover all my bases of what I hoped to deliver on any given day.
LEADERS NEED TO COMPLEMENT THEIR STAFF.
In the many years since, my focus has been on developing leadership teams that matched the needs of their people. One of my foodservice operations had a pretty well rounded team that focused on quality, efficiency, customer service, and regulatory compliance. But when the opportunity came for us to promote a supervisor, we chose a bright young woman for the position who was a stickler for rules and ethics. Many bristled at her promotion, but her growth and alignment within our team showed she could make a positive impact. At first, it was rough. But over time, the team took to her so well that they responded to her high standards and raised their game willingly. They admitted that Caroline was just what they needed to help them get to the next level of standards. Not only did the staff need her insight, the rest of the management team did as well as they stepped up their performance to stay on par with Caroline’s.
COMPLEMENTARY FITS EXTEND TO BEHAVIORS AS WELL.
If you have a basketball team of all great shooters, but none who want to pass to their teammates or help play defense, what percentage of games do you truly expect to win? A team of people whose behaviors fits together works more effectively than those who try to stand on their own. Finding behaviors such as teamwork, a willingness to share their skills, and abandoning the “it’s not my job” mentality will create a far better winning strategy than those who have an “eight-and-the-gate” mindset.
DON’T NEGLECT COMPLEMENTARY VALUES TO ROUND OUT YOUR ORGANIZATION.
Hiring the right people, who embody your core values, is vital to organizational development. What if your values were Respect, Customer Service, Creativity, and Serve Others but not everyone is strong on each one? If your candidates have the basics of your values in place, you might have an organization where your people who are great at Customer Service fill certain roles, and those who excel at Creativity work in a differing capacity. Or, as mentioned before, you might align complementary strengths within a team to round out the strengths of each value and ensure each team has people who champion all of your values within those spheres.
Set your organization and each team up to cover every base through complementary team-building. Fill in the holes and make the pieces come together. The best organization may not have the best people, but people in the right roles working together in a greater capacity for success.
(This article first appeared in Lead Change Group)
There are two ways to have your organization be molded.
The first way it to enact policies and practices as you go. This method addresses performance issues when they arise, meets compliance and regulatory standards, and manages the overall behaviors of the company.
It also has a direct impact on culture. and typically a negative one.
When policies are the driving mechanism in managing and leading, they take priority in the strategic goals of the company, leaving culture to be wrapped around it and fit in where it can.
For instance, if a policy is implemented in reaction to a new regulation of due to circumstances like increased injuries, then the culture may have to adapt in response. A company that claims customer service as a key value can hardly execute that culture when it devises a tenuous procedure on verifying returns or damage claims that protect the company first and leave consumers with a poor experience on how these claims are handled.
That’s where culture needs to be the driving force in everything an organization does. This is the second and best way to have your organization molded.
When culture has its rightful and preeminent place in your organization, it will permeate everything it touches. Culture well defined will seep its way into meetings, decision making, processes, and yes even policies. When culture is allowed to have its way, it will transform the way a company operates.
Those policies that are necessary due to regulatory compliance become less of an encumbrance to staff. Instead, culture will look at the compliance issue and say “How can we enact this in a way that still gives dignity to our people and excellent service to our customers?”
Culture will always keep your core values intact, engagement high, and your systems in congruence with your people. It will allow the human touch in business, not like the robotic and cold, technical and policy-driven approach does.
When culture is at the center, it’s effects will ripple out and make lasting waves through your organization. It flows more freely because it doesn’t force actions but enables them to be more organic.