State the Obvious: The Key to Employee Communications

Posted by Richard Moran.

Here’s the deal: Employees always know what’s going on in the organization so why not tell them? State the obvious.

After listening to thousands of employees in focus groups and surveys, two simple truths emerge: 1. Employees always know what is really going on; and, 2. Employees always want more communication from leadership. Then why do organizations go through the charade of trying to withhold information that people already know about? Some examples…

  • When there is a “major” restructuring but all senior team members keep their jobs, employees know that nothing much will change regardless of declarations to the contrary. One smart employee said about such a change, “It’s like rotating bald tires.” Another said, “Same old horses, same old glue.” It’s obvious that change won’t happen.
  • When there is a salary freeze or cuts in corporate travel or bonuses are not paid, the signals are that all is not well on the business front. Any communication to the contrary will be seen as pabulum. It’s obvious the financial performance is going in the wrong direction.
  • When teams are put together to come up with cost saving ideas it is a signal that people are about to lose their jobs because revenue and cost are not what they should be. It’s obvious that employees not engaged on those teams may lose their jobs.
  • When the holiday party is an extravaganza with big bands and lots of celebration, it means the sales team met their year-end goals and it was a good year. This is usually an easy thing to say. It’s obvious that hard work will be rewarded.
  • When the bankers and the lawyers are with the senior team in closed-door meetings all the time, either something good (like an IPO) is going to happen or something bad (like going out of business) is about to happen. State the obvious.

These are just a few common examples of activities that broadcast what is going on in the organization and what people see and believe. Employees are never clueless. In fact they can pick up on clues no matter how hard management tries to be obscure things. 

Telling the truth is always a good place to start and end. Stating the obvious is the first step for truth seekers. Being totally transparent all the time might be too big a step since there are times when total confidentiality is required and respected like in the case of mergers and acquisitions. Employees don’t expect that level of openness. But when something is happening right in front of them and they can see what is happening, don’t try to fool them with happy talk.

“Telling it like it is” will always command more respect and credibility than trying to gloss over any bad news. And credibility is always that one trait of leadership that is valued above all others. Being on a team means there are wins and losses and team members are entitled to know what is happening. My experience is that people can take bad news if there is some line of sight as to how we are going to get out of this mess. 

Try stating the obvious. Even though you may be telling people something they already know, they will appreciate it.

Five Corporate Cultures That Will Suck the Life Out of You

Posted by Richard Moran.

I have often heard the claim, “We Don’t Have a Corporate Culture Here!!!”

Yes you do. You just won’t admit it. It’s the first indicator of living in a culture that is where fun goes to die. The culture is what you walk into every day. Many academic definitions of corporate cultures exist but there are very simple ways to describe it. It’s the way things are done around here; it’s how decisions are made; it’s what it’s like to work here.  If you walk in with a smile on your face and a spring in your step, that is a culture that should be packaged and spread to a bunch of other companies. If you walk in with a sense of dread and apprehension, it’s a culture that could stand some changes.

When I hear the declaration we don’t have a culture here it could mean several things:

1.     We have a culture here but I don’t like it.

2.     The culture here is changing and I don’t like it.

3.     I refuse to recognize the culture that we have developed here.

In any case, the culture that does not want to be recognized is not one that makes one want to show up. Here is a straightforward list of just some cultures that people don’t want to recognize so the claim is that ‘we don’t have a culture here’.

  • The ‘Let them eat cake’ culture – In this world the leaders get all regardless of the performance of the company. Watch for the top people driving around in Range Rovers and flying first class while memos go out about elimination of free coffee. As history proves, there will either be a revolution or the company will fail. It’s a culture on the verge of chaos.
  • The ‘It’s only ten years to retirement’ culture – Ten years is a long time. When people are counting the days and years until retirement it is a sign of a culture that has people feeling trapped rather than feeling like they are doing meaningful work. Looking forward to retirement is a good thing; feeling like a prisoner is not. The culture full of people who feel stuck is depressing.
  • The ‘It ain’t love but it ain’t bad’ culture – Why look for something great when you can settle for something that is mind numbing? Mediocrity is contagious and a culture that settles for mediocrity will create a culture that is not going to grow a company. You can do better.
  • The ‘stick with the ship as it sinks’ culture – It may sound heroic to go down with the ship but it’s probably not. When you hear the phrase, “We are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” it is a sure sign that you are in a sinking ship culture. Could be time to bail out for a better organization with a better culture.
  • The ‘someday my ship might come in but I will be at the airport’ culture – An organization full of people who are waiting to be rescued is one where there is not a lot of commitment. Hope is not a strategy and waiting for something good to happen without action usually leads to disappointment. This is a culture where people are on LinkedIn all day hoping to be discovered instead of building a company. 

Hundreds of other real cultures exist including empowered employees and market or customer driven ones. Those are the good ones. For lots of companies, a powerful culture is the hallmark of success.

Corporate cultures change and adapt to what is happening in the company but there is never “no culture here”. When you hear that, it’s a big red flashing light that something needs to change.

The Smart Frog Always Jumps

Posted by Richard Moran.

The parable of the frog that is slowly murdered by hanging around in ever increasing hot water is a lie. Don’t believe it. 

You know the fable: If a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out to live a long productive life. But if the frog is put in cool water that is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

The test has been performed in labs at great universities as well as by college students in Biology labs to see if the frog will jump when the water frothy. The frog will always jump out of the water as soon as it gets uncomfortable. Turns out frogs may be smarter than some of us who tolerate unbearable situations for too long.

The lesson for us non-amphibians is that we shouldn’t get used to a bad situation. Instead of adjusting to the bad situation we should change it or, like the frog, we will slowly die. We don’t need frogs to tell us we are in a bad situation at work. The lesson that many self-proclaimed gurus talk about is to avoid being like a frog and slowly dying in boiling water. The real lesson is to be exactly like a frog and get the hell out of there. Who wants to suffer?

Another way to think of it is to compare your situation with the frog’s as the water heats up. If you look around your workplace and say to yourself any of these statements, it’s time to jump out of the pot.

  • I am not comfortable with the people I work with; they don’t support me (when the water gets hot.)
  • I don’t believe management when they discuss the state of the company, (or the pot.)
  • I think the financial situation here is precarious and not going to get any better. (It’s getting hotter.)
  • I don’t like my job and it probably won’t change. (the frog knows.)
  • I am not rewarded appropriately and I don’t believe in the comp plan. (the hotter the water, the more I need.)

The frog metaphor is all about change and embracing it.  The frog knows not to settle for mediocrity; to listen to your intuition and pay attention to warning lights and, to make decisions to change. The frog knows life outside of the boiling pot is unknown but life in the pot is miserable.

Who knew lessons from frogs can change a life?