Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Culture of Criticism – Part 3

Over the last two weeks, we have been recounting the story of a company that unwittingly underwent a culture shift, moving from a culture that respected and engaged their employees to one that was built around blame and criticism. Eventually the change in culture overwhelmed the company, shifting it from a growing company to one that was struggling for survival. Luckily the CEO recognized that something was wrong and set out to discover the source of the problem and how to get it back on track.

The source of the culture change was traced back to the influence of the newly hired CFO and his deeply ingrained belief in “accountability.” The challenge was that he believed that “accountability” and “blame” were basically the same things. And, while he constantly talked about being “accountable for our actions,” the actual result was a constant focus on blame and criticism within the organization. Employees became afraid to act for fear of being criticized and blamed if something went wrong. The company became paralyzed, all creativity was sapped from the organization, and all of the employees who had made the company great had since left for other organizations.

Now it was time to rebuild the organization and return to the culture that had made it so great in the first place. The CEO knew exactly where to start. “First,” she said, “I need to replace my CFO again. He was the source of this culture change and a tiger doesn’t change its stripes. I’ll replace him with someone who values people and will get us going in the right direction again.”

True to her word, she set off in search of a new CFO. This time her interviews included questions about values and culture, helping her identify someone who shared her same core values. Her new CFO believed strongly in empowering people and encouraged risk taking. When problems occurred, she reviewed the results to identify the problems but used the experiences as a way to learn, rather than trying to blame individuals for their failings.

Unfortunately, this was not enough to turn the business around since the new CFO was now a minority in this thought process, surrounded by people who were used to operating in the “blame” mode. Many of the organization’s employees were not aware of the prior culture and viewed the new CFO with a jaundiced eye. The culture of criticism was now firmly entrenched in the organization, and a single new hire was not going to create the kind of shift necessary to suddenly make the existing employees develop a greater level of trust in their management.

Culture change in an organization is a slow process. It took about a year for the culture to move from one of openness to one of criticism. And, it took even longer to rebuild the original culture. The entire management staff had to be retrained to focus on the employees and to learn to trust the CEO and the rest of the executive team. There is nothing easier to lose or tougher to gain than trust. The management staff could not even begin to rebuild trust with their own teams until they had learned to trust the executives.

There are several lessons that can be learned from this company. First, culture is critical to the long-term success of any organization. Second, you need to pay attention to your culture so that it doesn’t morph into something that you don’t want. Third, rebuilding trust in an organization takes much longer than destroying it.

At ECI Learning Systems LLC, we are dedicated to helping companies get the greatest return from their most valuable asset: their employees. We work with you to align 3 key organizational factors:
• Your Company Culture
• The Leadership Styles of your key managers
• The Expectations of your Employees

When these 3 factors are aligned, you create an energy in your company that improves productivity, reduces absenteeism, increases creativity, and positively impacts your bottom line. Contact ECI Learning Systems LLC today to get your free Workplace Evaluation.

Until next time.....

Dave Meyer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

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