Four Drivers of Dysfunction

Rightio then. Massive change has turned up to your doorstep at work, and isn’t leaving anytime soon. We get it. #changeisthenewblack 

The stress this change is bringing is likely to test our resolve and see if culturally we are functioning effectively, or if we are actually dysfunctional.

Dysfunction is rarely caused by a singular moment, but rather, a gradual accumulation of behaviours that leads to a breakdown in good function. Take for example, if you’ve ever pulled a hammy whilst exercising. Whilst you might think the reason for the pulled muscle was because of the extra effort put in at the actual time of strain, the deeper, more thorough diagnosis, is likely to show a muscular or skeletal imbalance that happened some time prior. Given a right/wrong circumstance, it was waiting to happen.

Cultures at work are the same. It’s rarely a sudden event or rapid change that causes a workplace culture to suddenly become dysfunctional, but rather a cumulative build up of poorly aligned behaviours, rituals and processes that leave us susceptible to breakdown when placed under duress. So what are some common imbalances that can leave your workplace culture susceptible to breakdown when placed under duress from change? Damn good question; so glad you asked. Here’s four big ones that tend to be accepted practice yet are clear contributors to longer-term dysfunction in your workplace culture.

Anonymous review processes.

Get rid of them. Please. They only serve two groups of people.

  1. Consultants who charge copious amounts of money to administer them.
  2. Executives who are at best out of touch with their workforce, and at worst box-tickers who have no real interest in driving cultural alignment.

We’ve been sold a lemon. Cut your losses and start the processes that involve us having open feedback discussions. Ramp up your feedback and drop the cloak of anonymity that drives real feedback underground and towards malicious intent. If you have managers who have staff that are petrified to give honest feedback, then here’s an idea. Instead of using an anonymous feedback process, to tell you what you probably already know, why don’t you put the right person in the managers role?  

100% check managers

The classic bottleneck. Organisations regularly bemoan staff not exhibiting ‘ownership’ or wanting to ‘empower’ them to make decisions for themselves, yet often the hierarchical structures in place at work send completely the opposite message. If you are a manager or leader and you require things to come to you for final approval, then culturally you are immediately suggesting your team can’t be trusted to deliver without you, aren’t you? 

If you want your employees to take real ownership in a project or work task, let them deliver the product. Instead of giving opinion or feedback at the 100% completion stage, rework it so the project gets presented to you at 70-80%. Here you can sprinkle your magic dust on it, give them well considered feedback and risk manage effectively; but crucially you leave them to complete task and feel a real sense of ownership rather than a faux version.

Pareto Problems

It’s a pretty widely accepted principle, the ole 80/20 stuff. Yet there’s some deep problems from a cultural perspective. Many manager’s believe that 80% of their best work comes from 20% of their key performers, and on pure outputs that could be seen as a truth. But how often have we seen a star performer (results-wise) been given carte blanche to do their own thing? Cultures are made of common sets of behaviours that adhere to a narrative that binds the group. If your star performer is outside those cultural norms, but you turn a blind eye because they get you results, then short term gain will invariably lead to long term pain and dysfunction.

Not firing anyone

We can’t save them all. It’s a well-meaning but misguided belief that we can align everyone to our ideals and culture. But the wrong people in your building are like a cancer that eats a culture away from the inside out.

The simple fact is not everyone if going to align to your culture, and it’s equally certain that as you require people to change they just won’t be able to make the transition. 

A clear an indicator for a dysfunctional culture is the number of people fired in the past 2 years. Obviously if there’s been a spate of mass sackings, then we’ve got a problem. That’s called acute dysfunction. But if there’s been no terminations (and I’m not talking voluntary redundancies either) in the past two years to speak of, then it’s likely you’ve got chronic dysfunction occurring; people simply aren’t making the courageous decisions to put culture in front of discomfort.

So they are just four (of many) areas of poor alignment that can have dramatic effect on cultures over the long term. How many do you see happening in your workplace? Let us know…