Posts Tagged ‘cultural issue’

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‘We have the best working environment around here’ … ‘we changed the whole competition landscape, we are the best now and our competitors have to live with it’ … ‘Our products/services are not comparable to others, we are the best’

Once such kind of mentality starts flying around your organization, then it is in need for a serious therapy; it is going through the ‘illusion of the best’ syndrome! And once you have it, it is the downhill road thereafter.

There is no doubt that the marketplace is a competition arena. However, deciding who is the best should be left to stakeholders and unbiased observers, certainly not to the organization managers only!

And let’s give it some thought; in a business environment, what is the best? the best compared to what? and in which categories? And should we compare our products/services/practices to our competitors only? in our environment only? or should we do that globally? I am sure you can come up with endless series of question like these …

My argument is that the whole concept of being the best should have no place in a business environment. The ‘best in ….’ is a relative term even if based upon ground measurements, because, at the end, those measurements are based on agreements between a number of people.

The illusion of being the best could be damaging on the long run. It generates demotivation and kills innovation; why should we do more, we are the best?!

It happened that I have being sitting once with one of the so-called-managers of one of the biggest companies in the country and he was talking about how they are conducting some of their business. The strange thing is that he was referring to many managerial flaws in his talking, and he was acknowledging those flaws! I asked him ‘it is great that you can put your fingers on the wrong doings that are causing pressure on your staff and your productivity. So why don’t you solve these issues?’ His reply was ‘this is how we do business around here!’ I said ‘but there are many companies around the world that faced similar problems and there are many lessons that you can get advantage of.’ He replied ‘No No No … do not talk about companies around the world. Tell me about local companies. We are the best company in the area and this is how we are running our business’!!!!

I hope you got what I mean now!!


p.s. I think the ‘illusion of best’ syndrome fits Jim Collins’s stage number one of declining organizations; the stage he calls ‘Hubris Born of Success.’ Read more about it in his book ‘How the mighty Fall, and Why Some Companies Never Give in’ published in 2009.


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One of the most bizarre techniques that is sometimes adopted by weak managers of culturally weak organizations is the use of threatening language in the communication channels across the organization levels!

The repeated use of expressions like (or else … those who are not with us are against us … I will remember that in the annual appraisal … if you do not want to stay on the ship) in meetings, emails, circulations, or even in the company written policy, cause nothing on the long run but the loss of trust, disappearance of loyalty, and performance tardiness.

What provoked this post is a memo by one of the international brands working in Saudi Arabia. It is hanged beside one of its warehouses in front of everyone to see. It is written in Arabic; but here is its translation:

Attention!!!!!!!!!!!! For all staff, please do not set anywhere outside the store unless it is a permitted area. If these instructions are not followed, the store management will have to take any necessary action.

Regardless of the main topic of the memo, which is the staff seating arrangements, the memo was going somehow OK till the threatening language begun. As someone who knows nothing about the internal processes or culture of this company, reading these few lines I can tell that it is based on fear and intimidation. I can picture how demotivated their staff are and how the internal communication channels are filled with tension.

I am not saying that companies policies should not contain rules against misbehavior and so forth, but I am saying use them wisely, trust your staff, and do not threaten them. If you cannot build your company, department, or team culture based on trust, rest assured that you are going … nowhere!

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President Obama and his administration have been under pressure to take a firmer stand against the the tragedy of the oil spill taking place at the Gulf of Mexico. As days were passing by without any hope of a working solution, people frustration was getting stronger and they were expecting their President to do the same. So on one of his TV interviews, Mr. President responded to a question about how the crisis meetings were going on by stating that one of these meetings’ goals was ‘to determine whose ass to kick.’

So ‘Should Leaders Ever Swear?’ was the question asked by Dan McGinn recently on HBR Blog. Should leaders really give up formality in certain situations to attain certain goals? Or such tongues slips could cost the leaders and their organizations later on?

Strangely, the post refers to a study that has been published in 2007 where the researchers emphasized the importance of using unconventional or uncivilized language in the workplace. Not only that, but they also grouped workplace profanity into two categories:

  • Social Swearing: where swearing just pops up in the middle of causal conversations.
  • Annoyance Swearing: which is used in stressed situations to release pressure or used as ‘relief mechanism’ as they put it.

However, both types of swearing mentioned above should not be so much treasured when talking about PR activities, branding initiatives, dealing with staff, or in front of customers. Using improper language could cost the organization a lot of its image and authenticity in the eyes and hearts of its customers. And could definitely makes it a repulsive place to be working in.

Not only organizations, even when we are talking about personal branding of leaders (business or not) and celebrities of any kind, having a bad mouth is a trait that sticks to the person and cannot be easily forgotten.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=Rooney&iid=9151450″ src=”http://view2.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9151450/football-england-algeria/football-england-algeria.jpg?size=500&imageId=9151450″ width=”234″ height=”167″ /]Jack Welch, the infamous CEO of GE between 1981 and 2001 was known, beside his managerial abilities, to have a tough tongue that likes to throw the f-bomb now and then. And for those following up the World Cup nowadays, we’ve just seen the poor kid named Rooney throws some of highly tuned trash at the camera after England’s last match with Algeria (read about it here)!!

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It does not matter how highly you think of yourself or your abilities, you are not a superman (nor a batman, nor a hulk, nor anyone of those super heros for that matter!) And what goes for the men goes for the ladies as well, so ladies, there is no chance for you to be the bionic woman.


According to this interesting blog post on HBR, doing more than one thing at a time kills your productivity by about 40%. Our brain is not programmed to multitask,  it is programmed to focus on one thing, and one thing only at a time. So you cannot really drive and talk on the phone, you cannot be in a meeting room discussing something and checking your emails, and you cannot be liesetning to your wife and texting someone at the same time.

Now the strange thing is that we are always expected to multitask as if it is the normal thing to do! When your coworker just drop on your office while you’re working on an important report, he is expecting you to answer his questions right away! When your manager calls at any moment, he is expecting you to pick up the phone no matter what! He will call you three consecutive times on your office following that by a series of mobile phone calls! And what really pisses me off is when someone sends you an email and in 10 seconds, he is calling you to tell you that he just sent you an email!!!! Even if you started reading his email, you will be distracted by his call! As mentioned in the same HBR post, peopel living under constant distractions during the day could face a 10 points fall in their IQs, this is equal to losing a one night sleep, and more than twice the effect of smoking marijuana!

The disaster is that some managers who should be the ones maintaining and elevating the productivity levels of their subordinates, they are the ones who usually cause the performance of their teams to drop. Keep surprising the staff with unplanned meetings, always changing and coming up with new processes, and most importantly, disrespecting the staff off times are all playing a major role in pushing the performance to its lowest levels.

Sit back now, relax, and start thinking about your day … How many marijuana did you have today??

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Do you remember the first day of your new job? or first day at school? you must’ve been through what is known as ‘the orientation phase.’ It is the phase when you are guided around to be familiar with your new environment, and along the way, the seeds of the new place culture are implanted in your head!

So, we have all been there, right? But have you ever been through the ‘disorientation phase’? Whether you realized that or not … the answer is … YES!

I am using this phrase, disorientation, influenced by this interesting article I just read in New York Time about the American University in Cairo. However, although the phrase itself might not be widely recognized or used in the management circles, it has some origins in organizational culture studies. Look at this definition of organization culture by Edgar Schein:

“A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way you perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.”

For that, companies with strong culture usually use the concept of disorientation to realign the new staff to their internal values, beliefs, and practices. Yes they recruit based on competitive advantages, experiences, skills, etc, but still, a bigger part of their decision to choose someone is based on the ability of the candidate to fit in the organization culture. They have clear understanding of their identity, of what they need from an employee, so the selection process is clear and consistent. Examples of such companies are 3M, Google, Apple, P&G and Starbucks.

On the other hand, companies with weak cultures are only trying to imitate the companies with strong ones; the only problem is that they do not know how!! It could be argued that cultures cannot be imitated, they can be created and enhanced with distinctive efforts and exceptional leaders, but not imitated. Look around and you would see a lot of companies claiming day and night, mostly for PR purposes, that they have unique values and super practices. And for a new staff in there, he/she will be disoriented alright! but in a way that he/she will be loosing, or at least suppressing anything good he/she brought with him/her just to fit in this poor culture!!

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What is really interesting about management, and social sciences in general, is that they do not believe in one and unique answer. For each and every topic, there is a number of theories and point of views that sometimes come to be as contradicting to each other as it can gets. There is no equations that should be balanced, but there are interests that should be maintained and situations that should be studied. And if you come to think of it, unless you are talking about mathematics or physics, this is life in general, there is rarely a one answer.

For that, if you are a manager and you, somehow, think that you possesses the answer to every problem. And if you, for some reason, think you can force everybody to follow your brilliant ideas, then you better leave your managerial chair because you do not deserve it.

And if you, by any chance, hold one of those master or PhD degrees (MBA included!!), and you do not know how to engage in a scientific debate and you do not believe in others’s right to have their own opinions about a certain subject, no matter how strongly you believe in your own point of view, you better burn that piece of paper you hang on the wall because it does not mean a thing.

Now, the above concept of being open to different ideas and point of views is a vital corner of answering this important question; why we do not have a number of great leaders? In a matter of fact, it is one of the major problems we have as a whole society.

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Peter Drucker had once said ‘To Satisfy the customer is the mission and purpose of every business.’

Now, I am really wondering how many companies are living, or even believing in such kind of business philosophy. Needless to say, the purpose of existence and company’s mission are not things to be taken lightly. And I remember that I read somewhere about a leader who was gathering his top executives from time to time to ask them to state their company’s purpose of existence each from his/her own view and responsibility.

Now imagine extending the philosophy of customer satisfaction we started this post with to each and every part of the organization, to really believe in the concept of internal customers* and that each and every department has an ultimate goal of satisfying its customers.

Do not you think that adapting such a concept would ease the struggle between teams and different departments? Do not you think that it would actually release the pressure of the constant power struggle within organizations?

I believe it will … but let’s be honest, how many companies do you know that are adapting this concept; and I mean really applying it and not only talking about it for PR purposes!!

* The concept of internal customer has been recognized by Joseph Juran in his famous quality trilogy. Internal customers can be anyone in the organization, anyone who is painting a small part of the big picture that will eventually represent a product or a service provided to an external customer.

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