Beware the Shadow Directive

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This is a danger when you have too many priorities. It happens when the leaders believe and communicate that everything is important.

Because they create so many goals, people know that it’s simply impossible to reach them all at once, so they do one of two things:

  1. Nothing – All those rules can’t be enforced, so why change behaviors?
  2. Follow the Shadow Directive – They realize that while the leaders say one thing, workers are being evaluated on something else that determines their future. Examples include:
  • Do whatever is on fire
  • Please my manager
  • Do whatever makes us money
  • Work long hours (even if not productive)
  • Keep head down and stay out of trouble

The alternative is the Prime Directive.

What’s the one or two big things that will move the needle on everything else?

Invite people to opt-out

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What happens when you’re ready for a culture change, but you know that your company is not. What can a leader do or say in this position?

Once the culture standards (values) are determined, the leader must absolutely live by example. There’s no way around that. But that can take time. What can the leader do or say now?

First and foremost -share the why. Why a culture shift? Why do you want change? How will we all benefit.

Secondly, invite them to opt-out…

“In order to develop this culture, we have to change our behaviors. Now some of you are very excited about this and have wanted it for a long time. Others may be resistant. We’ll work through it together, but let me be absolutely clear – If you have the sense you do not want to be here, or you know in your heart that you are not giving 100% to your job, then I recommend you start considering other options while it’s still your choice.”

Setting standards can be very powerful – if you keep to them. And it’s actually a courtesy to let people know you will do that in advance so that they can choose their own future.

“How do I get someone in another department to do something?”

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You need to get something done. But you need someone in another department to make a change. You have no authority over them.

For some reason, they won’t do it. Maybe they don’t care. Maybe they’re too busy.  What’s one to do?

The solution is to really get to know the other person.

It’s very likely they feel you don’t understand their role, their department, their workload, or their emotions. Because of this, they may not even hear your words. They have other priorities. But if you get to know them over time, they will feel you understand them. And only then will they really start to hear you.

There’s no way to circumvent building relationships within culture. Better to start now. Before there’s a problem.

The quick culture diagnostic

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Sure you can do assessments, polling the whole organization, tracking it over time. But there’s a quick test you can use to determine if you’re in a company with a strong culture.

When people speak about the the company, do they use the word “we” or do they use the word “they?” When it’s “we,” clearly there’s a feeling of ownership, pride, and connection.  With “they” there is a distance, a separation.

The feeling of “we” can be more powerful than you know. Tommy Lasorda said the greatest compliment he received from a player was from Kirk Gibson after the 1988 World Series win.  Even though he had recently come from the Tigers, Gibson said, “I feel like I’ve been a Dodger my whole life.”

If you’re interviewing for a job, or consulting at a company, this can be very telling.

If you’re a leader, I hope you understand that you can’t make people say “we.” It comes naturally when people are co-creating the culture.

3 Steps to a Culture Change

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Here are the three key steps to any culture change.

1. Are you sure you have the right people?
If not, either lose the ones that must go, or fully commit to who you have.

2. Do you have clear expectations?
Do people understand what constitutes a fireable offense? What is required and what is optional?

3. Do you have agreement? 
We assume agreement when it may not be there? Did you confirm people have explicitly agreed to do what you asked? And can they say no or challenge you?

The Reverse Beta

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Everyone knows about the “beta test” – try something new and see how it goes. (For a more prescriptive process, see the Beta Blueprint chapter in my book, The Culture Blueprint).

But even easier is the “Reverse Beta.” This is the exact opposite. Try stopping something that may not be working.

For example, at one company we had to fill out two forms and get two signatures to note our use of vacation time. It was a huge pain. HR was upset that people were not using it enough and vacation time was going unreported. Some people were taking too much, others were not taking enough.

What if the forms were killed entirely? What if people could just email timeoff@company.com and simply tell HR that way? No forms, no signatures, just easy. Everyone was happier.

You can easily find sources for this by asking your people, “What is a total waste of your time?” And then try stopping it for 90 days and see what happens.