Do You Suffer from a Neglected Organization?

You have a problem. Coworkers come to work, aren’t really involved, and generally feel themselves unappreciated. The work environment is characterized by complaining (especially amongst one another), general negativity, high absenteeism, and a large brain-drain of valuable employees who seek better opportunities elsewhere. And because they’re interesting candidates, they’re the ones who’re easily snapped up by other organizations, leaving you with the leftovers. And this while your formidable organization is innovative, offers excellent salaries and the best perks! What the heck is going on??? Seems like you’re suffering from a neglected organization . . .

Empty Promises

So, you and the entire leadership of your neglected organization decide it’s time for change. Coworkers need to stop complaining and start enjoying coming to work. So, let’s make work a fun place. Offer lots of ‘fun’ activities. Especially provide a lot of information on all kinds of subjects like dealing with stress, avoiding burnout, etc. — only to discover a year later that all the money spent on these programs may as well have been flushed down the drain. Your organization has clearly fallen in two traps: believing that providing information leads to (behavioral) change, and that fighting symptoms is an effective way to change organizational culture.

Coworkers Are Emotional Beings, Not Rational Beings

Organizational culture? Yes. Because that’s where the real problem lies. Coworkers feel uninvolved, unappreciated, and negative because they work for an organization where this is the way things are done. And you certainly don’t change culture by providing lots of information (the classic empty-barrel model: just fill the barrel with the correct information and people will understand and therefore change accordingly). People are primarily emotional beings, not rational beings. The choice to remain or look around for other employment opportunities is a split-second decision based on how they feel about their current job, not on rational arguments. Pity. It would be so much easier if they could just listen to all these excellent reasons why to stay. Yet, even if they stay, does that make your organization excellent? With excellent results? Probably not. So, how do you influence your coworkers so that they really enjoy coming to work every day?

Change Your Paradigm

In the first post in this series, I mentioned the three basic needs: connection, mastery, and autonomy. By fulfilling these needs, you tap into your coworker’s intrinsic motivation. The best way to do this is by stepping off the send-paradigm and replacing it with a dialog-paradigm. By sending, your focus is on extrinsic motivation (nice events, for example). By engaging in a meaningful dialog, you communicate three main things to the coworker:

  • A dialog is a meaningful exchange and gives them the feeling of true connection.
  • You don’t tell them what or how to do, allowing them to feel autonomous.
  • You value and acknowledge their expertise and competence, supporting their need for mastery.

Your Culture Needs to be Dialog

Changing culture isn’t easy — a task that will take a year or so before you start seeing real changes. Before you even begin, leadership at the highest level should believe in what they’re doing. Have you formulated your ‘why’ yet (Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle)? Are you convinced that the route toward increased profits is via engaged coworkers? Do you have genuine faith in their expertise and how valuable that expertise is, once applied? Are you certain that dialog will convert your neglected organization into an engaged one?

Changing culture costs a lot of time, energy, and money; so don’t waste your time on an experiment or pilot which ends after a short period and is subsequently forgotten (thereby ensuring you’ll never cure your neglected organization).

Excellent Interpersonal Skills

What must you do? Start by facilitating dialog on all levels. Which means coaching team leaders to actually engage in meaningful dialogs. Train them in excellent interpersonal communication skills. And at every turn, emphasize by action more than by words that this organization’s culture is one of listening rather than telling. Dialog, in a nutshell, means that in any conversation the coworker lower in hierarchy is the one who is doing the most talking and the one higher is asking the most questions.

Note: This post originally ran on the Lead Change Group site on December 11, 2018.

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