Imagine going to the doctor for a series of expensive tests. Weeks after the pricking, prodding and embarrassing questions are over, she asks you to come back to her office for a private readout of your results. You’re told things don’t look so good, and if you don’t do something fast, you could be in real danger.
Worse yet, she says everyone around you has known how sick you are, but apparently you’ve been in denial for years.
With that, the doctor puts down her clipboard, smiles and says, “Well, I’ll see you in six months. Make sure you get better.”
Unfortunately, this metaphor is happening in companies across the globe. The only difference is that instead of taking a throat culture, the expert is checking on your company culture.
Regrettably, the results are the same.
Your company is sick—something that you have probably known and have ignored.
You Are In Denial
Most companies seem to have done a number of different employee surveys that have generated lots of data about what is wrong, and then they have done nothing with the data.
Sometimes this is because they don’t believe the numbers, sometimes it is because they are embarrassed by them, and more often than not it is because they have no idea how to change them.
The proliferation of these surveys, accompanied by a lack of action on the results from on high, has led to another diagnosis: “survey fatigue,” where leaders and employees no longer want to keep taking their temperature and then be told to “action plan” in a vacuum—with little authority, influence and/or contact with the rest of the company—to solve the problems.
Given all of this, they stop doing the surveys.
Riddle me this, Batman: Is it better to know you are sick and not know what to do about it or to never learn you are sick in the first place?
I believe the unfortunate answer to this question—leaders really don’t know what to do to improve things—is why so many have accepted the current health of their cultures instead of aggressively trying to treat symptoms like fear, lack of agility and low output.
Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He argued, correctly I believe, that you can have the best strategies or innovative ideas in the world, but if your culture is sick, even the best of these will not stand a chance.
So how do you cure a culture that isn’t feeling so well?
According to John Coyle, our resident expert, here are three simple techniques that will get you on the road to recovery, fast:
1) Diagnose, don’t just list, symptoms. Get beneath the symptoms of your cultural challenges to diagnose root causes. This is where a quantitative survey is less useful than just talking to people. A quantitative survey is important; it allows you to track and compare and describes your overall corporate health, but it doesn’t tell you why. A quantitative survey without the insight from qualitative interviews and/or focus groups is like a summary of symptoms without a diagnosis.
2) Communicate with transparency. You can sense fear in any organization. It’s the silence in the hallways and the huddled whispers in the break rooms. Fear is like a mushroom: It grows in the dark. And what people fear most is unexplained change. Left to their own devices—and imaginations—people will always fear the worst. If change is coming to your organization (and in what organization is it NOT coming?), then you can be sure the employees have a sense of it, and what they haven’t been told, they will invent on their own. Tell them, not by email—broadcasting change by email is like fast food; it is quick, it is easy and unhealthy—but face-to-face, in town halls and other forums.
3) Focus on possibility, not negativity: The natural tendency is to try and fix a culture by playing whack-a-mole with all its challenges. Often the best way to move a culture is to redirect its cultural energy toward a positive new outlet, for example: collaboration, creativity or customer focus. Holding a highly visible “innovation competition” with cross-functional teams solving for a known customer problem is a great example of how to harness the strengths of the organization in shifting culture.
It is possible to change your culture for the better. But that is never going to happen if you don’t decide to do it.
Follow me on Twitter @theideamonkey or read my Forbes blog here.
This article was originally published by Free the Idea Monkey