The Traditional Organizational Culture Is Doomed To Fail

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Aug 29, 2017

In my previous article dated titled “Is Workforce Optimization the Missing Piece To Your Organization’s Success?” I wrote about how and why this shift in how organizations work with their employees is critical for future success. Now, let’s delve into a better understanding of why the traditional way that companies engage with their workforce is not very effective and why rigid adherence to this philosophy will lead to future failure.

As human beings, we tend to think and behave in line with the culture in which we were raised. The current hierarchical mindset or model has thousands of years of habit behind it. We can call it the “traditional way” of organizing groups of people. Though our culture is changing, some variation of this model is still prevalent in most of today’s organizations. Does this structure appear typical to you? How much does your organization deviate from the above norms? If your organization has shifted away from this model, what have been the results?

Before we go any further, I am not saying this traditional model is wrong or immoral. I am simply saying that it is less effective than other available options. It conflicts with what is known from behavioral psychology to maximize the potential that lies within people.

The traditional way tends to shift people away from their highest potential (engaged, inspired, creative, focused, committed, honest, high integrity, resourceful) into a survival mode (fear based, anxious, depressed, angry, frustrated, and resentful). It is important to note that when humans (and other animals) are in a survival mode, a “win-lose” mentality pervades since others are a threat. Is there any wonder that cooperation and collaboration is such a widespread problem?

Employees have two jobs

Most employees have two jobs despite having only one job title. The official job is the one for which they are paid. It carries an agreed upon job title and responsibilities. It is the job you want them to focus on every day. You want them to be engaged and committed to this job.

The second job has no title or official responsibilities, but is also paid (often well-paid). This job diverts a large amount of the energy and focus that would be better spent in performing the official job. In this job, the employee is focused on:

  • Managing his/her appearance and image (looking good) while hiding weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
  • Dealing with negative emotions related to some of the job duties for which the employee is misaligned.
  • Interpersonal conflicts with coworkers, customers, vendors, etc.
  • Challenges the person brings to work every day from home.

The visible behaviors you may observe from this second job are too many to list but include distracting behaviors such as:

  • Non work-related usage of the internet, email and cell phone.
  • Complaining about the company, co-workers, customers, etc.
  • Overtly hostile conflict and infighting amongst co-workers.
  • Non-overt, passive-aggressive behaviors towards co-workers and the organization.

When you add up potentially productive time and energy lost because of the second job, what does it cost your organization? How much of your peoples’ potential is squandered? How much turnover occurs as a result? What does this do to your company brand from an employee recruitment standpoint?

Cultural shifts being embraced

Some of the cultural shifts that the most successful organizations are embracing include the following (common initial reactions included in quotes):

  • Developing a culture where people can “be themselves,” expressing opinions and ideas openly even when they contradict organizational leadership or are negative in nature. “That sounds unsettling. You want the inmates to run the prison?”
  • Executives admitting to mistakes and weaknesses and being open about not having all the answers. “Are you serious? That’s crazy, people will lose respect for me.”
  • Valuing and even encouraging differences and diversity of thought, culture and styles. “This looks like a noble social idea but not a great business strategy. If we adopt these things, what is next? Do we do group hugs and sing Kumbaya?”

The reason that many of the most successful companies are doing these things is because they are good business decisions. These deliberate, consciously chosen cultural shifts can lead to significant improvements in productivity, profitability and employee engagement. They are effective because they are consistent with human psychology. Very simply, the traditional work culture causes people to feel unsafe to express who they truly are in some of the aspects of their personality, abilities, vulnerabilities, perspectives and values. Enormous energy is wasted in the attempt to hide these “flaws” and compensate for them. Additionally, the lack of appreciation and acceptance of their uniqueness create disharmony. As a result, people often react with dysfunctional behaviors like the ones listed above. These behaviors reduce employee engagement, productivity and fulfillment and damage the success of their organizations in the process.

Management frequently attempts to address these “second job” behaviors rather than the underlying causes. Interestingly, management often exhibits the same behaviors they wish to stop in their subordinates. As the undesired behaviors continue, morale spirals down.

It is critical to recognize that attempting to stop these behaviors through mandates, consequences and other tactics is not effective and often exacerbates the problems. Therefore, addressing the cultural causes of these behaviors is the only practical way to achieve the desired results. This requires the willingness to truly accept a reality of human beings that must of us would prefer to avoid — negative emotions.

Accept negative emotions

Humans are emotional creatures. We all bring our emotional selves everywhere we go- including work. Telling people that they cannot express their negative emotions at work because it is not the appropriate place drives these emotions underground only to resurface into the second job rather than the official job where it is most needed.

Companies that are practicing workforce optimization and achieving a competitive edge realize this and encourage the “whole person” to come out and express their inner world of emotions, opinions, concerns, fears etc. If these things are there anyway, why not know what they are? When the whole or real person is accepted, the focus and energy that was going into the second job is now freed up to move into the official job. This is the place where you you’re your people to go. The environment that results encourages the development of a great culture.

The greatest recruiting tool you can ever have is a great culture. A great culture is simply a place where your employees truly want to come to work on a regular basis. They are engaged, inspired, tuned into what they are doing, and optimistic about the future. This positive energy about the special place they work gets communicated through their networks of influence, many of whom they don’t even know. This is the type of organization we can create if we are willing to let go of our past conditioning and choose work in alignment with the realities of human psychology.