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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.

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How are types of Organizational Change Different?

How are types of Organizational Change Different?

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

There are three fundamental types of organizational change. The most frequent and least disruptive is a developmental change (Marshak, 1993, p. 8). This process occurs in organizations all the time and may go unnoticed by the majority of people. It is experienced as business optimization, changes to improve efficiency, responding to varying customer preferences, and corrections to problems uncovered by regular business operations. Developmental change can be thought of in terms of people doing their daily job functions while seeking opportunities for incremental improvement.  Additionally, it arises from organized efforts that seek improvements in existing processes or products as a response to changing market dynamics, customer preferences, or business conditions.

Transitional change is significant and disruptive to the organization (Allen, et al., 2007, p. 192). For example, mergers, acquisitions, and the introduction of entirely different business processes will impact teams in very meaningful ways that disrupt current methods being used. This may be the goal of the transitional change as the company seeks new opportunities or addresses fundamental challenges in the market. In response, productivity and effectiveness will improve or fall because of these types of changes. Transitional change does not occur as often as developmental changes, but it happens frequently enough that leadership must be competent and capable of leading the organization through the process.  This is not the level of change that most managers will have success in bringing through their organization.  These are significant shifts in the firm, and a dangerous degree of resistance and obstacles should be expected.

The last form of change is transformational and does not occur frequently. A company is fundamentally reborn and pursues a new path through transformational change. New or different markets, products, and services are combined with a different mission, vision, values, and probably leadership to produce the transformational event. Companies do not resemble the former organization after this change is complete.  Expert leadership is needed to plan and guide the organization and corporate culture through this level of change.

Resistance to Change

Each of these levels of changes brings about challenges for the leadership team. Employee resistance to developmental changes is usually minor, and a consensus is not difficult to achieve. Employees are often willing to accept this level of change as it may make their lives easier. Transitional change is met with greater levels of employee resistance. This level of change can bring about significant shifts in job responsibilities, processes, and organizational structure. These changes can make some employees feel that their expertise, resources, and status are threatened (Allen, et al., 2007, p. 192). Additionally, there are trust issues, resentment, and fear that will surface and need to be addressed throughout the process. Transformational changes bring the most significant internal resistance, and leadership must be prepared to deal with these challenges or their initiative will fail. Obviously, extensive expertise is needed to navigate the tactical elements of this type of change, in addition to, the psychological issues that the team will experience.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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A Solution’s Implementation May Be Its Key to Success

A Solution’s Implementation May Be Its Key to Success

In my last post, I discussed a theoretical debate that I had with a friend. This person is an attorney and has some very strong beliefs regarding the importance of protecting his corporate clients. We had a lively and very respectful conversation that highlighted the differences in our positions. In full disclosure, I was sandbagging in this conversation because I have written on this topic before for an entirely different purpose. I pulled from that content in our conversation and in these blog posts.

A Short Background: An organization wishes to keep the event but lower the risk of a safety incident. The company should institute a two alcoholic drink maximum per employee and offer no-cost and no-questions-asked rides home for any employee who becomes intoxicated. This solution allows the management to maintain spirit and joviality of the event while significantly lowering the risk of an alcohol-related traffic incident.

The proposed solution is a developmental change for the organization. Developmental changes are adjustments to existing processes and procedures and do not necessarily have to be large in scope. Because they are smaller in scope and adjust existing procedures or processes, these types of changes are met with lower levels of resistance or anxiety by employees.

Implementation Is a Key to Success

The lack of acceptance of an organization change by employees may give rise to resentment and lower employee engagement. Utilizing a framework, such as Kotter’s 8-step change process, may help improve the outcome of a change initiative. There are many frameworks to choose from, but this is the one I am most comfortable utilizing. The first step creates a sense of urgency in the organization that leadership may do through opening up a dialogue about employee safety.

Once enough awareness is achieved, select members of the leadership and influential employees should offer guidance on the strategy and become the base of a grassroots support effort. Next a guiding coalition should be formed to develop the vision and philosophy of how employee events may be safer in the future. Communication needs to be consistent and widespread. The leader needs to get across to the organization that they genuinely care about employees and wishes everyone to have fun while doing it in a way that keeps people safe. These communications may take the form of emails, posters, company meetings, department meetings, and small group back channel conversations.

At this point, it is time for the organization to put action forward. The leadership needs to empower others which would include initiating the home ride process and developing a discreet way that employees may utilize the service. Employees may use the honor system and corporate culture peer pressure to limit drinks to two per individual. Should this prove ineffective, a drink ticketing system could be developed to reinforce the point of moderation. The next step is to demonstrate some successes. The management team should uphold the two-drink standard and remind everyone about the ride home service during a subsequent employee event. Consolidation of the improved organizational behavior may be completed by continuing the safety messages while stressing the fun elements of an employee get-together.

Arguably, the last step may be the most critical. The new behaviors must be anchored into the corporate culture. This is a critical function of the leadership team as they must support the initiative through limiting their own consumption and utilizing the ride home service periodically. The maintaining of standards by the leadership team must consistently be executed at all future company events. Any failure to do so will destroy the initiative and send a deeply conflicted message throughout the organization.

A Few Closing Thoughts

If communicated correctly and supported by consistent actions, the employees will understand the necessity of a change. In this particular hypothetical case, the majority of people should not experience any impact whatsoever from the limitation on the amount consumed beverages at company events. The organizational culture of responsibility and accountability should reinforce this change and may even foster new values of peer support and mutual accountability. Over time, the employees should experience the change as another demonstration of leadership’s commitment to both a dynamic workplace, fun, and a commitment to their well-being.

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Reduce Off-Hours Communication to Improve Work-Life Balance

Reduce Off-Hours Communication to Improve Work-Life Balance

Technology has brought about many changes in our world.  All-new industries were given birth or faded into history because of the information technology revolution.  However, the information technology revolution was not a panacea and did not resolve all the world’s problems.  It allowed businesses to become more efficient, improve operations and increase their competitive advantages (Porter & Millar, 1985).  However, the rise of mobile communications, email, text messaging, and web platforms has increased the intrusion of business-related matters into personal and family time (McShane & Glinow, 2014, p. 8).  It is becoming more commonplace for workers never to log off from work as the evening hours have become a new de-facto night shift (Butts, Becker, & Boswell, 2015, p. 763).  Furthermore, this new always-on work environment has altered the relationship between management and employees.

Employees may feel obligated to respond to peers and management regardless of the hour.  Management knowingly or unknowingly may be sending messages that establish these expectations with employees.  Additionally, management may mistakenly believe that employees will leave off-hour communications in their inbox until the following workday.

Management teams should discourage off-hours communications.  When this is impossible because of time zone differences or travel requirement, the utilization of a delayed send function is encouraged. At a minimum, all off-hour messages should clearly indicate whether the message needs a response before the next workday.  Again, the preference is not to send messages off-hours or use a delay send function since many employees will still check messages off-hours.

By taking these small steps, employers can help their teams improve work-life balance and lower employee stress levels without sacrificing productivity.  They might even find that employees are more efficient when they experience lower levels of stress.

References

Butts, M. M., Becker, W. J., & Boswell, W. R. (2015, June). Hot buttons and time sinks: The effects of electronic communication during nonwork time on emotions and work-nonwork conflict. Academy of Management Journal, 58(3), 763-788. doi:10.5465/amj.2014.0170

McShane, S. L., & Glinow, M. V. (2014). Organizational behavior (Third ed.) [Kindle].

Porter, M. E., & Millar, V. E. (1985, July 01). How information gives you competitive advantage. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/1985/07/how-information-gives-you-competitive-advantag