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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.

Photo Credit: Lincolne
Work is a Means to an End

Work is a Means to an End

Meaningful work is a preferred method by which the majority of people wish to get many of their goals in life. Well, this is at least my firm belief. The work in-of-itself is not “the goal” or the be-all end-all purpose for our lives; it is a vehicle that moves us down a chosen path. Albeit a simple concept, it took me a while to internalize its meaning and applicability.  Many people get caught up in their careers while losing the connection to themselves. The inner person may become twisted and warped resulting from a lack of internal alignment between personal values, goals, and actions.

Looking back, I understand why my mentors and leaders placed a high value in the idea that work or a career is a method of achievement and not the purpose of life or the central point of our identity. My executive coach accelerated my learning in this area by incessantly challenging me to question my long-held beliefs.  I would seek shelter in the safety of what got me to that point before gently (or not so gently) pulling the rug out by merely questioning me in a way that cut right through the layers of obfuscation I had carefully constructed.  This is what I needed for me to realize the fallacy of my earlier logic that put work ahead of everything else and allowed me the freedom to explore new concepts.

The difference for me arrived when I understood that work and career are a vehicle of life and should be designed to give an opportunity for me to achieve, explore, and expand whom I am as a person while providing a valuable service to my firm and the needed financial support to my family.

I work because I want to work; where I want to work; and I am with the people I want to be around.  Work is not optional for me; I have to work if I want to fund my family’s lifestyle and prepare us for retirement.  Still, I work because I want to work, and I work where I want to work. My career is personally fulfilling, but it is not who I am or what I do with my life.  Work is no longer my identity. It is part of me but not all of me.

As I shifted and understood my real priorities, changes flowed naturally.  I have lower stress, a happier life, and even more professional success. I did not realize how much easier things become when you are aligned in thinking, values, and actions. By putting first things fist, I support the needed alignment for both personal and professional success.

Photo Credit: "Now" (CC BY 2.0) by new 1lluminati
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.

Photo Credit: gross
Miss Me Yet?? No, Not Really…

Miss Me Yet?? No, Not Really…

Back in February, I decided to close or curtail the use of a significant number of my social media accounts. At the time, this radical action included the likes of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, discussion forums, and general new sites. The first week was troubling as I felt a nagging sensation that I was being delinquent by not looking or logging into these platforms. For Twitter and Instagram, I did not have much of a choice as I closed my account. I also closed my tumbler account and unfollowed nearly all, if not all, WordPress blogs. There was a distinct feeling of loss as if my favorite security blanket went missing. I finally understood Linus.

After a month, the feelings of neglect and loss are all but dissipated. There is no sensation of obligation or failing to meet other people’s expectations regarding my involvement. There is a surprising upside to the amount of free time that has been created. It is a lot easier to find time to work out and see friends when you do not have as many digital obligations. This is not to say that I am some overgrown child that lives in their mom’s basement. We all have a lot of things competing for our time and attention and this is a surprisingly easy group of items to cut out to allows us to spend time more meaningfully with those that actually matter.

Just doing my part to keep my life a little simpler…

Setting the Agenda and Leading the Conversation

Setting the Agenda and Leading the Conversation

Corporations and their management teams can lead and their respective market segments, but they can also lead in other areas such as industry trade groups and engaging in conversation with their customers and peers. For a long time, I have believed that the leadership team of an organization should engage in social media and Actively Participate in industry conferences in order to help set the agenda, lead the conversation regarding their industries, and help set best practices.

Companies and their leadership teams must go beyond social media and join the speaking/roundtable circuit. They will help define the very markets, shape regulation and best practice, build the company’s reputation, and highlight their strategic thinking. It is not easy to go down the path of active engagement in social media and/or speaking due to the time commitment involved. Certainly, this is compounded when most corporate social media is focused on the purposes of marketing the company’s products or services to a particular audience with the intention to move consumers along the purchase continuum. While a corporate approach (the corporation itself and not the products/services) to social media marketing is targeted to an audience, it is not typically the same audience that purchases the company’s products and services.

By engaging in conversation around industry norms and best practices, management can demonstrate high levels of leadership that enhance the company’s reputation while building individual members of the management teams personal brands. Not only does a company benefit in building its reputation and brand through peer and industry recognition, the individuals involved in the process benefit through the increased industry exposure.

It takes time and effort to engage in this level of social media and personal speaking activity. It builds the corporate brand and demonstrates industry leadership within a given market. It can act as a recruitment vehicle, tell the corporate story through the eyes of an individual, and humanize the entity. The benefits far outweigh the cost and time it takes to create, develop, and maintain a social media presence and engage in industry trade activity.

Photo Credit: Morcate
Exercising Caution on the Phone

Exercising Caution on the Phone

We received a call at the house last night that was strange and a little disturbing.  The caller said they were with our bank and needed to confirm our identity before speaking to us about an important matter.  They reported to be with our bank, and they had that information correct.  However, they wanted to confirm our identity by using our Social Security NumberI laughed and said no.  The person told me this was important financial information, and that it was critical that we speak about it.  They said that they could not discuss it with me, unless I confirm my identity.

Again, I told them that I would not give them that information to some random person that called me on the phone.  I asked why I should trust them.  Would they give that information out to someone who called them?  No answer other than they have important information to discuss with me, but they need to confirm my identity first.

This was getting very odd.  I asked why a bank would expect their customers to share such information when “the bank” made the call in the age of identity theft?  It was not as if I called the bank and had knowledge of whom I was speaking to.  They said it was the bank’s standard practice.

Wow – I told them that I was not going to do this.  They said they were done arguing with me. Okay…great!  I asked if they would send me a certified letter with what matter was soo important since we had reached an impasse.  I got a noncommittal okay and a hang-up.

Is this a new vishing scam to try to get personal identification?  It has to be one of the oddest phone calls I have had in a very long time.  With all the identity theft going on these days, I am very cautious as to what information that I give out on the phone or anywhere else for that matter.

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The Internet Never Forgets

The Internet Never Forgets

An elephant never forgets? Forget that. Try getting something pulled off-line when you really need it to go away. As you will quickly find out, it is nearly impossible to remove information completely off of the Internet once it has been posted. The Internet is such a distributed network with caching and proxy servers all over the world that once information is posted online it is part of that information collective and extremely difficult to sanitize (make it disappear permanently.) And when I say posted, I mean anything that is written to an Internet-based server is fair game, and you should be ready for that information to never go away.

I am not a conspiracy theorist that believes the black helicopters are scanning my brain waves or that the government is using my flat screen television to subconsciously program me. I do believe that the vast majority companies that provide us Internet-based services are honest and ran with integrity and concern for their customers’ privacy. However, I am not naïve enough to accept the fact that information does not get exposed accidentally or there are unforeseen circumstances where information may be breached intentionally or unintentionally.

So what is the big deal? Well, think about all the information that you store online; this goes both professionally and personally. Think about it really. If you are like most Internet savvy people, you have a tremendous amount of personal and professional information stored online. This can come from cloud storage such as Dropbox or to services such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter. Many of us do our taxes; host confidential and proprietary meetings; engage in personal and professional email communications that are sensitive; and even conduct medical activities online. How much of this would you like to see in Google’s or Yahoo’s search results? Would it matter that the information was accidentally exposed?

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