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Stuck in the Everyday

Posted by | June 1, 2015 | Change, Coworker, Productivity, Workplace

Via LinkedIn : Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Those of us working in complex organizations (pretty much everyone) have not only heard this famous Drucker-ism – we’ve lived it. But why does this maxim ring so true, especially in today’s knowledge economy? Why do entrenched behaviors so consistently overpower the brilliant, finely honed directives from enlightened senior leaders?

Much ink has already been spilt addressing these poignant questions, and although I wish I had a silver bullet answer, I can only offer a few thoughts based on my experience working across 15+ Fortune 100 companies.

See if you agree with my points (the list is far from exhaustive)

A Crisis of Trust

Western capitalism, the most familiar economic model in business today, has proven itself to be a viable and resilient path to prosperity for many. However, it is not without cautionary tales that both undermine trust in the overall system, and thwart the efforts of strategists everywhere. Even the most upstanding, well-intentioned CEOs face an uphill battle in winning the hearts and minds of their rank-and-file (or even more senior) workers.

Why? Several reasons come readily to mind. Accounts of corporate corruption and greed litter the media landscape, and these stories, often reinforced by our own experiences, prevent any of us from embracing any CEO’s vision at face value. What is he hiding? What is she really after?

These questions haunt us, and without a relationship of trust to draw from, we believe we’ve seen this movie before, and it ended badly. Add to that a dash of post-modern skepticism that pervades popular culture, and every leader, big or small, faces a serious trust deficit right out of the gate.

The Power of the Everyday

While many of us live for mountaintop experiences – winning that proposal, closing that sale, hearing that applause for a flawless presentation – we still dwell in the everyday. Our everyday shapes more of our behaviors than we’d like to admit, and upsetting that equilibrium makes us feel vulnerable, because we care deeply what our everyday colleagues (team members, office mates, lunch buddies, etc.) think about us.

We often crave their acceptance and validation, regardless of level or even location. This is completely natural, and can positively impact culture, too, but it also creates powerful resistance to change. Behaving according to our cultural norms (both company and regional) keeps us on a sure footing, and provides us with a form of security and acceptance in a business world that offers little of either.

I may ‘get’ what the CEO is trying to accomplish with her new initiative, and I may even acknowledge it’s a necessary step towards saving the company. But if acting on that belief puts the acceptance of my everyday colleagues at risk, even the sharpest business logic becomes fuzzy.

Generational ‘bait-and-switch’

Most Gen Xers and Gen Yers watched their parents repeatedly get the shaft as the western job market evolved over the past couple of generations. Pension fund raids, broken government promises, mass offshoring, frequent layoffs for the nearly-retired, and a ruptured employer-employee bond all marked the total demolition of the implicit 20th century worker’s contract.

Certainly, some of these changes were necessary, but few of us stopped to analyze the macroeconomic factors – we just knew that our dad lost his job because a greedy bastard wanted to pad his wallet with a few more million than he could ever spend.

Now, as the boomers cede their workforce dominance to their offspring, Gen X and Gen Y are collectively saying, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…”

I’ll leave it at that for now, but will continue where I left off in my next blog post, focusing on some of the things leaders could (or indeed should) do to arrest this troubling trend and foster greater trust among their employees.

I welcome your thoughts and thanks for reading.

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