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The Cultural Artifacts of an Office

The Cultural Artifacts of an Office

The building blocks of an organization’s culture consist of the shared artifacts, beliefs, values, and assumptions (Heskett, 2012, p. 34).  Corporate culture is often considered one of the strongest assets in a firm and may be regarded as the way the company conducts its business (Heskett, 2012, pp. 34-36).  Culture has a measurable impact on performance, and for this reason, leaders seek to build healthy cultures that align with their underlying missions. How an office culture consciously and unconsciously uses artifacts is a fascinating element of the corporate experience.

Today, I challenge you to walk around the office while looking and listening for cultural artifacts.  They are pervasive throughout the environment. From a one-person office to the enterprise level, these elements exist and serve a valuable but underappreciated function.

According to Professor Macrcoulides of California State University at Fullerton and Professor Heck of the University of Hawaii, cultural artifacts may be some of the most observable elements and include such things as the physical structures, logical structures, rules of conduct, policies, imagery, stories, and rituals (Marcoulides & Heck, 1993).  Additionally, they act as reminders of what is important to the organization’s members and frequently have a wealth of internalized meaning.  It is not uncommon for artifacts to be subtle and pervasive throughout the firm’s operating environment.  The reinforcing impact of cultural artifacts cannot be overstated.  By their nature, artifacts are durable and reinforce impressions in the collective’s membership. Finally, many cultural artifacts are encased in legends, stories, and rituals that become ingrained as institutional knowledge. This is a double-edged sword and must be treated with care.

Walk around and look at the painting, pictures, décor, layout, organization, and social practices, while listening to the stories and legends of the company. These stories are shared, part of the lore, and help in the indoctrination of new members to the established group norms. The artifacts are fascinating to watch and listen to when taking a moment to appreciate the meaning and subtleties they convey.

I urge people to ask about these elements when visiting other organizations.

If you are interviewing, spend a few minutes asking about what you see and hear on your way into the interview. People in healthy corporate cultures love to talk about their environment. For other business meetings, it can be an excellent way to break the ice and start a conversation that builds trust. Artifacts of culture are everywhere. Take the time to look, listen, and value their significant messages.

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Strategies for Increasing Message Retention

Strategies for Increasing Message Retention

I know that it is troublesome that everyone else, “but us,” have such a terrible memory and inability to remember details. However, there is more going on when we dig into this commonplace challenge. Humans develop mental models, cognitive maps, frames, internal scripts, and other processing methods to understand the environment and situational context albeit with frequent misunderstanding and imprecise perceptions (Tversky, 1993). Even with these accuracy challenges, the automatic use of mental shortcuts is a power element of our existence and helped spur our advancement as a species. The realities of humanity’s unconscious mental information processing mechanisms are the significant loss of the content details from the beginning, middle, and end of an interaction (Edvardsson & Sund, 1998, p. 1). Think about that fact before walking into your next meeting. What we say at the start of a meeting is forgotten as much as what is said during the conclusion.

Remember, most people will not remember the details of communications or interactions. People will primarily remember the themes and generalities of a message (Edvardsson & Sund, 1998, pp. 1-2). To combat this natural loss of informational detail, we must address the issue of content’s significance. Research demonstrates the connection between the level of personal significance an individual applies to the content with the ability to recall the details of that content at a later time (Edvardsson & Sund, 1998, pp. 3-4). As we take part in meetings and exchanges with our colleagues, we need to adapt our messages to how people process and keep meaningful information.

If we desire participants to retain more details and for longer, then the content must possess a high level of personal significant to each member (Holbrook, et al., 2005, 749-752). This requires the content sender to understand from each person’s perspective their internal motivators, desires, and goals and how the information will speak to these factors. Challenging, to say the least, as many people may not be aware of their own motivators and goals. We can start by thinking about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. However, if the retention of details is a lower priority, the focus of the content development should be in the formation of an emotionally connected narrative story, so the participants retain the desirable themes, tone, and impressions.

Both approaches require meaningful forethought, planning, and solid execution. The process starts by taking the time to understand the goals and the level of retention required for the given situation. This is not as simple as it sounds, but that is another topic for another day.

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Aligning Professional and Personal Roles to Core Values

Aligning Professional and Personal Roles to Core Values

Having a strong work-life role as part of our overall identity is healthy and normal for high-performing people.  However, it is easily taken too far.  People may become so emotionally connected to the business that it consumes their identity until “the company” represents a huge part of the individual.  On the other hand, having a weak work-life component of our identity leads to career stagnation, mediocrity, and disengagement.

When we permit our personal identities to be compromised by allowing the corporation to supplant our true selves, we are letting our family, team, and company down.  Our objectiveness and priority system is unbalanced, and that compromises our judgement.  This situation leads to burnout, frustration, and an ever escalating level of damaged relationships.

FYI: This post is not what I intended to write.  However, it is some honest thoughts, and I feel it might be worth sharing.  I hope you find some value in it.

This is avoidable by aligning our priorities and actions with our core values. This requires us to understand what matters the most to us as a person.  Frequently, it is our family. I have learned the importance of regularly looking at my obligations and roles through the lens of my core values. This approach allows for the separation of the corporation from the person. I am not advocating for the separate identities for work-life and home-life.  This would create an entirely different set of problems. I am a complete person that has multiple obligations and roles in life.  When integrated together through core values, I am a unified and authentic person. I would recommend that we look at where our efforts/resources are being directed while asking a couple of questions.

  • Do I understand the needs and expectations of my stakeholders? Even if I am sure, I will ask them again. This understanding must be comprehensive and include both internal and external such as family, friends, colleagues, business and community.
  • Are my actions and resource allocation (time, energy, mind share, and financial among other items) aligned with those needs and expectations?
  • Do I agree with the current alignment between my core values, conduct, the external expectations placed on me, my internal expectations for myself, and my allocation of resources? If not, what beliefs, actions, or assignments need to be modified to gain the required alignment?
  • If I feel my resource’s allocations, actions, and beliefs are aligned with my core values, do the desires of my stakeholder’s need to be modified? If so, what methods may I use to help them in recalibrating their expectations?
  • How often should I recheck my alignment with my stakeholders and core values?

The allocation of resources and assessment of our behavior moves as our life situations change. The aim is to keep the true priorities that are derived from our core values first in our personal and professional lives. When we have an agreement between our core values, behaviors, and stakeholders, we are free to experience higher levels of fulfillment, clearer judgement, and ultimately the success we seek.

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Increase a Message’s Personal Significance to Improve its Recall

Increase a Message’s Personal Significance to Improve its Recall

I am a firm believer that a person’s personal perception is their reality regardless of the underlying facts. Because of the perception issues, the primary speaker should alter their approach to accommodate the audience members and not expect the audience to adjust to the speaker’s preferred way of communicating. When we do this, too much is left open to chance and poor understanding. The speaker can say whatever they want, but is the communication being received in the way that is wanted or needed? We may even believe that we are clear and compelling with our statements, but all that information is being processed through the receiving person’s perceptions and beliefs.

Knowing how few details are retained by communication participants allows us to adapt the content in ways to increase the likelihood the messages correctly understood and retained in more detail.

I am not an expert in effective communication practices, but I think about these issues as part of my preparation. I start by asking myself a few basic questions and writing down the answers. I can look at these answers and tweak the approach to improve my results.

What are the key messages or information I want the group or person to understand and retain?

I keep this list as short as possible.  I prefer only one or two items as it helps with clarity, and too many concepts dilute the significance of the most important message.

How are these messages personally relevant to each participant?

Before I go into the meeting details, I want each person to understand why the content matters to them.  I explain how the information relates to their individual goals, desires or needs. This takes time and forces me to understand the situations of my fellow participants. If I cannot help them understand how the material is personally significant for them, then I should expect poor understanding, little recall, and nearly no follow-through. When the avenues of personal significance are divergent for the group members, I meet in advance with individual members to discuss how the content is of particular importance for them.  With this already done, I spend only a short amount of time in the meeting as a refresher on the relevance for each person.

How will I know that each person understands what I plan on saying?

Having a good meeting etiquette and an organizational process is a given for most leaders. This includes having a command of the information they plan on sharing, practicing the delivery, and possessing positive body language.  If these elements are missing, most likely, the messages being delivered will lead to misunderstandings among the participants. I use methods of active listening and interactive dialog throughout the discussion.  I want to hear my fellow participants paraphrase and expound on what I am saying in their words.  I ask questions about what the information means to them, does it impact them or their team, and what they feel should be the next steps.  After the meeting, minutes are sent out with the agreed-on action items and due dates.

A few days later, I visit the participants to make sure they have no additional questions. I ask them to give me the gist of the meeting, their key takeaways and review any action items. I would spend a few more minutes asking them what the information means to them and the business. Lastly, I ask for feedback on the meeting. I take the feedback to heart, thank them, and incorporate the feedback in future meetings.

Closing thoughts…

Like I said, this is not the end-all-be-all of improving information recall or retention techniques that leaders may employ. It is a leadership concept designed to promote information recall, message understanding, and follow through by tailoring the content to increase the personal significance that each participant assigns to it.