Have you ever seen this before?

There’s a little boy playing alone in a sandbox. He’s driving cars through the sand and using the rails as launch pads. The little boy is having a grand old time. Then, a big boy stops over and asks he can play, too. Sure, says the little guy, as he shares a couple of cars. A few minutes later the big boy grabs a few other cars buried in the sand. He then lines them up on the rails so the little boy can’t use them, or the rails, anymore. The next thing you know, the big kid has ALL the cars, ALL the rails and is sitting in the MIDDLE of the sandbox, clearly taking ownership of the entire thing. When the little boy does try to play with a car, the big boy swipes it away. The little guy can only climb out, scratch his head, shed a few tears and turn away.

Some might call the big boy a bully. Some might say, that’s life, kids.

The analogy might be made, however, that this sorry situation mirrors what can happen when a new company with a sour corporate culture takes over your workplace. We all know of examples of companies who are clueless to employee morale. They ratchet up the job responsibilities while taking away almost all the incentives (big and little) for employees to work hard. We’re talking things like:

  • Eliminating holiday parties
  • Reducing benefit packages 
  • Freezing 401k
  • Freezing hiring (but increasing job duties)
  • Freezing raises (ditto for above)
  • Not investing in new equipment
  • Stripping gym memberships or other perk programs
  • Not celebrating an employee’s achievement

In the end, they have a grumpy group of people who hate the ownership.

There is salvation. The catch is that it MUST COME FROM THE TOP. If you’re not willing to take a close look at the sum of your parts, then you’ll never see your organization’s culture improve as a whole. So let’s take a look at why culture fails and what you can do to fix it.

The Daily Grind

Culture begins to crack when there aren’t enough distractions from the daily grind of a person’s experience on the job. It doesn’t matter if you’re a construction worker, an Emergency Room nurse, or a marketing assistant at a bank, you need a break now and then.  

On the flip side, morale begins to slip when no one feels like they can get anything done because there is too much busy work. Things like meetings, phone calls, emails, noise pollution, and questions are time sucks that prevent an employee from tackling big tasks.

So what can you do?

Breaks from work need to be worthwhile. Use them to celebrate an employee’s success, one that was had at work or outside of work. It doesn’t matter. Simply bringing employees together to congratulate one of their own can be its own motivation.

Help employees corner some solid work time. Monday mornings might be full of answering emails and phone calls so why not block off 2 hours every Monday afternoon for ‘quiet time.’ No emails. No phone calls. Just a calm time to work. You can offset that serenity by making Thursday mornings ‘brainstorm time.’ 

Who Are You?

Rarely does something drive a person nuts more than being invisible. Your employee is a person, with a name, and interests and dreams. They are not cubicle #149. If you don’t care to learn your employees names, how can you expect them to learn each other’s and work as a team?

So what can you do?

Office softball league. Kickball lunches. Museum Nights. Scrapbooking Sundays. These out of the office activities let people get to know one another on a friendly level and they may discover some shared interests. This is a great ice breaker for people who work in different departments, or for the couple of folks in the office who always seem to butt heads. The thing is, though, YOU (THE BOSS) need to show up. Your face time here is extremely important to set the tone for your company culture.

My Way or The Highway

Even though it’s slowly (oh so slowly) recovering, what transpired at JC Penney over the last couple of years is a prime example of one man thinking his way is best. If you are driving the train, you better be sure you’re consulting with your navigator, engineer, dining car and crew to ensure you’re where you need to be, you have enough supplies and your passengers are pleased. If you don’t, you will alienate a lot of people and your culture (if ever there was one) will disintegrate. 

So what can you do?

Imagine that big boy on the playground. What fun he missed out on by taking, taking, taking and not collaborating with the little boy. Picture the highway of sand they could have created together! Instead, he was left alone to his own devices and the little boy was free to find new playmates. He easily could’ve had more fun, created a bigger transportation system, and learned new things if he’d only listened. That’s what you need to do if you’re the boss and establishing a culture is important to you.

Thanks to this blog post from Turnstone for being my inspiration. I read. I listened. I learned. I passed on your knowledge. Thanks for your culture.

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