Many organizational leaders say they are concerned about their employees and their organization’s culture. That sounds great. Yet, statistics show few leaders are investing in effective solutions that can transform their organizations.
Where Does Your Organization Stand? Be Honest.
Surveys of working Americans, people managers, human resources professionals and executives conducted during late May and early June 2021 found glaring disparities between how members of each group viewed workplace culture during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the key findings were
- Nearly 100 percent of HR professionals “agree that they encourage a culture of open and transparent communication.”
- About 72 percent of executives who held a position of vice president or higher reported “their overall organizational culture has improved since the beginning of the pandemic.”
- Just 21 percent of HR professionals, and a mere 14 percent of working Americans, agreed with those executives’ assessment.
These responses reveal something even more significant and worse than differences of opinion. There is an abundance of denial and dishonesty about what is truly happening in the workplace. As all sides withhold the truth, a leadership blind spot widens. This is what I call the Big Lie. Exposing and debunking it are the major challenges many organizations face today.
The Problem With the Big Lie
Perpetuating the Big Lie leads to a lack of engagement, lowered productivity and increased employee churn. The Big Lie yields a sense of psychological insecurity. When HR and organizational leaders are not being honest about what is happening, it breeds dis-ease. Employees do not feel safe speaking the truth, so they (typically) say nothing. Which isn’t honest, either.
From the HR20/20 Report …
The culture of the organization is the key factor in determining how or if its goals and objectives can be achieved. As a result, the savvy HR professional will develop a deep understanding of the existing organizational culture and how it either supports or inhibits the objectives and basic strategies to drive organizational culture change.
In truth, not even organizational leaders feel safe. They may work toward determining how to address immediate problems brought about by, say, a pandemic, but they will miss opportunities to implement long-term solutions. They are often reactive rather than responsive and intentional.
Leading with honesty and authenticity takes the willingness to be vulnerable and to admit to not having all the answers. That is not an easy position to take today, but it can be a powerful one.
When I speak with clients about creating psychological safety in the workplace, leaders are often at a loss. Even when they understand their employees do not feel heard, leaders have a hard time knowing where to initiate a remedy for the problem. And even if leaders create a feedback loop to gather employees’ opinions, they continue to interpret feedback in ways that validate their own agenda.
When employees are disgruntled and feel marginalized, the challenges to improving organizational culture and boosting engagement can seem insurmountable. It is hard to know where to begin to affect lasting and meaningful change. As a result, very little changes. Employees either become discouraged and leave or, worse, they stay and become apathetic. So, how do leaders affect purposeful transformation?
Tell a Greater Truth
Creating a culture of authenticity and safety takes intention and time. Trust is developed in increments, one step at a time. Leaders have to be committed and consistent. They must show that they truly mean what they say and that they are creating a safe environment for employees to speak up. They must demonstrate that when employees are honest, the honesty will not be used against employees later when leaders make personnel and benefits decisions.
Developing team agreements that are upheld by everyone in the organization is a proven way to start building a culture of authenticity and safety. The following values, intentions and processes should be included in team agreements:
- Everyone has a voice.
- There are ground rules, and all are committed to following those ground rules.
- We understand what is toxic for the group and how to address toxicity when it arises.
- We have a standard and thorough process to handle the onboarding of new team members.
- When members leave the culture, there is a set process for healthy closure.
- We demonstrate trust. Leaders consistently do what they say they will do. We are rigorous and public about this.
- We call out what is under the rug in order to scrub avoidance.
- There is an invitation for team members to grow personally and professionally. We actively keep this alive in the culture.
- There is compassion. We give people room to be human.
I use these nine tips and techniques in my facilitation practice, but implementing them will not instantaneously produce a culture shift. Deep work is required to build teams that contribute to creating a healthy culture that lasts over time. To live by the values, intentions and processes spelled out in a team agreement takes intention, practice and commitment. And, vitally, the chief executive must author and own the integration of those practices into the organization in order to align the actual culture with the desired culture.
Start Having the Tough Conversations
The paradigm of organizational leadership is being shaken to its core. The Big Lie can no longer be maintained, and traditional approaches to organizational culture no longer work. As leaders learn to listen deeply and admit that doing business as usual is not working, they become aware of issues that were buried. They learn to communicate honestly and openly with their teams—often for the first time.
Still, it is hard to face the Big Lie. Most organizations cannot find perspective on their own. They need guidance. Typically, that comes in the form of an objective, skillful facilitator.
Creating a culture of psychological safety involves formulating and following a solid process to move from an agenda-driven culture to a culture of honesty and vulnerability. Investing time, money and resources will be necessary. Yet, for leaders who are committed to cultivating honesty in the workplace, the returns on those investments will be realized long into the future.
Change does not happen overnight. But once the Big Lie is exposed, organizational leaders can see a shift toward greater employee engagement and job satisfaction, increased retention, higher performance and the creation of a culture of well-being.
01 November 2021
HR News Article