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Photo Credit: Patro
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.

Photo Credit: "guess who farted in the elevator?" (CC BY 2.0) by istolethetv
Refusing to Ride in Silence

Refusing to Ride in Silence

It is a morning ritual that a significant number of people experience every Monday through Friday.  No, not the daily Starbucks run, but the time we spend riding up to our offices in an elevator.  It seems like a good time to say good morning to people and exchange some basic pleasantries.  However, most of my fellow riders are engrossed in other things and avoid making any eye contact.  I honestly believe the smartphones that have captured all of their attention is a tactic to avoid the scariest thing imaginable, genuine real-life human contact.

Do not miss an opportunity to engage briefly with people while riding the elevator.  Most people do not expect it, and that is half the fun.  Be the one to break the silence and start the conversation.  The dialogue will begin to naturally flow from that point forward.

Every day, I make a point to say “good morning” to my fellow elevator occupants.  When I disembark, I politely wish everyone a pleasant day.  I smile and try to start my day off in a positive and upbeat fashion.  I do not want to be the cranky person that darkens the moods of my fellow office building citizens.

So far, most people are willing to engage in small talk, as long as they do not have to start the conversation. This morning I rode with a person whom I have spoken with six or seven times over the last two months.  I started the conversation, and we exchange pleasantries until we arrived at my floor where I disembarked.  I do not know if the feeling is mutual, but I think we had a pleasant conversation and a good start for the day.

It is possible that I am completely misguided. Maybe all these individuals whom I ride the elevator with think that I am just some nut job sufferings from an overabundance of morning enthusiasm.  I am quite convinced that my children believe this is the case.  I will keep chatting my way through the elevators to improve my small talk skills and to meet interesting people inside the building.

If you ever in Southern California and a strange guy is chatting in the elevator, it might just be me.  Take a moment and say “hi.”

Photo Credit: The Fish Market
The Dangers of Taking Work too Personaly

The Dangers of Taking Work too Personaly

I started to write about a recent bad experience I had at one of my favorite restaurants, but after a couple of days of cooling off, I realized this was a good example of taking work too personally. It is a simple enough story of a restaurant manager with an attitude.

My family went to the Fish Market located on the harbor of San Diego near Seaport Village. It has great views of the harbor when sitting on the patio or near the large windows. As much as we love the view, we prefer to eat at the Oyster Bar in the front of the restaurant because the food is superior and the staff is very personable. Unfortunately, we were not able to sit at the Oyster Bar this time because seating was not available for our six member party.

We ended up sitting in the center of the restaurant with a view of the kitchens on one side and the harbor on the other. When we ordered dinner, we asked for an item to be substituted on the children’s menu to accommodate my daughter’s preference. Our server told us this change required an up-charge. We commented this was done many times for us in the past and without prompting our server went to speak with her manager about our request. Shortly thereafter, the manager stopped by the table and informed us that the substitution was impossible without an up-charge and the other staff was wrong for making the substitution. She told us that she would be speaking with the staff to remind them that such activities were not permitted.

The problem was her attitude and how she communicated her decision. Her tone, demeanor, word choice, and body language all strongly conveyed her disapproval of our request. The encounter made us feel like we were trying to cheat the restaurant out of an up-change. This cast a negative tone through the remainder of our meal. We have been going to this restaurant about twice a month for over 10-years and have never been treated so abruptly. I cannot think of another time that I have had someone try to make me feel like a cheat for asking for a meal modification. Because of this experience, we will be taking a break from the Fish Market.

This manager, while trying to protect the profits of the restaurant, effectively alienated a customer. She took a too narrow view of what was in the best interest of the restaurant and failed to look at the potential long-term impact of her actions. We were not trying to take the money out of her or anyone else’s pocket. She could have simply informed us that the policy had changed without the condescending attitude and skipped informing us of her intent to reprimand the other staff members, which made us feel terrible. She forgot that she is the highest representative of the restaurant to the customer and should lead by example.

When people become too engrossed in their work, they develop an inflated view of their job responsibilities. They personalize interactions and lash out, even unknowingly, at customers and employees that commit perceived violations against “their” company. In other words, they lose perspective.

Effective people must take ownership of their work. This sense of responsibility should be encouraged but not allowed to crossover to territorial attitudes and beliefs. In reality, management is more susceptible to falling into this mode than any other group in a company. As management, we invest much of ourselves into the companies we work for that we can easily lose our perspective. When we take work too personally, we end up damaging the very company we work so hard to protect and grow.

Fanboys/Fangirls, they just crack me up

Fanboys/Fangirls, they just crack me up

PC World had a funny post about “fanboys”.  As I was reading it, I started to laugh because I actually know some people who would qualify as fanboys.  PC World has several more descriptions, take a read, and see how many people in your life you can recognize.

…every story written by professional journalists who don’t think like you are totally “teh biased”, “on the take” or “in the back pocket of [Insert your least favorite company here].” –Darren Gladstone, PC World

…you feel utter contempt not only for Mac and Windows users, but for users of any Linux distribution other than your own. –Steven Gray, PC World

…you believe that the world is divided into a force for good, as embodied in Steve (Ballmer or Jobs), and a force for evil, as embodied in Steve (Jobs or Ballmer). –Steven Gray, PC World

A few of my own definitions of a fanboy/fangirl:

  • Anyone that is not able to engage in actual conversation with another human being about any topic other then their pet company or product
  • People who take shorthand or vernacular from one media, like a video game, and use it in daily conversations and/or writing (this one really bugs me)

Overzealous fans are not limited to the tech world, just look at the nut jobs that obsess about Hollywood celebrities. So many people need to unplug for a while and take a serious assessment of their lives. It is crazy some of the discussions I have gotten myself into with over obsessed people. You can find the same kind of blind allegiance in extremes of both political parties. Those ones really keep me up at night. . .most people in the world need a serious vacation.