There is a famous parable shared with business students in colleges across America, used to showcase a tendency of organizations to be unaware of the slow evolution of their internal culture, called ‘the boiling frog’ theory.
The story goes that a frog placed in boiling water will fight like mad to escape, but one placed in lukewarm water that slowly rises in temperature will not notice the changes until it is doomed. While this story has been scientifically disproven, it still pervades our thinking as a metaphor, with good reason.
It suggests that humans, as a consequence of our inherent adaptability, may not notice our surrounding environment changing for the worse, until it is too late to do anything about it.
A toxic work environment may not start out that way, but over time shifts in attitude, performance, personnel, corporate culture, and many other factors can erode the stability and morale of any formerly high-performance culture.
Recognizing Where You Lack a High-Performance Culture
Are you in just such an environment now? Do you need help with your organizational culture? Have things around you in your current employment seem to have “gone downhill lately?”
Often, it can be hard to see the issues as problems because ‘that’s just the way things are around here,’ or they may not affect you directly every day, so they are somewhat harder to notice. By themselves, they often mean nothing, but in the aggregate, they can erode the company culture to the point the company loses quality employees, rather than attracting new ones.
While it is not often useful to dwell upon the negative, we at KeenAlignment feel that being well informed about what goes into making a work environment less productive, less connected, and less capable, can help you to not only avoid these issues in the future but look around and see if they are creeping up on you where YOU work right now.
1. Weak Leadership
Leadership unwilling or incapable of making swift decisions affects the general tone of any corporate environment and often affects the longevity of a company. The free flow of information, the resolution of conflicts and crises, the sense of teamwork and spirit all rely heavily on both the tone and behavior of leadership.
Pace Productivity, Inc. found that while managers overwhelmingly cite “people management” as their most important priority, a typical mid-level manager spends only 3.3 hours per week managing people. Of that time, only two hours are allocated to coaching, training, and mentoring.
The ways in which lack of strong leadership impacts employee performance can be seen easily:
Does your boss drive you to your personal goal’s execution?
Is the appreciation of employee contributions a regular occurrence?
Does management value standards, provide clear expectations and priorities?
Does the leadership culture of your organization act as a catalyst for team performance?
Does your boss set a high bar for their own actions, as well as yours?
Do they approach challenges with enthusiasm or excuses?
Does management show openness to change, or is “that’s the way it’s always been done,” heard a lot?
Does management support, challenge, and ask you to stretch your capabilities?
Leadership development is a crucial part of your organization’s ability to maintain a high-performance environment.
2. Employees Who Can’t, Because They Don’t Know How
Organizations that cultivate a high-performance culture ensure that every employee feels not only vital to success but empowered to act in service to company goals.
In a recent SHRM survey, 70 percent of employees said that feeling empowered to take action when a problem or opportunity arose was a critical element in their engagement.
Involvement is the number one goal of any team-building exercise or action.
The ways in which you are crucial to the success of your company are unique to each organization, but the signs this may not currently be so are common to all:
Do you often find yourself in search of a manager’s approval before you can take the next step?
Does your supervisor explain not only the tasks to be performed but why?
If you had to explain your company to a foreigner, could you? Whose responsibility is that?
When a colleague takes a vacation, do their responsibilities go unchecked?
Does your company offer training, cross-training, or continuing education benefits? If not, why not?
Do you find more gossip at the office than satisfaction?
Empowering employees to excel in their performance is imperative, but often difficult to get started. Strategic People Operations can help elevate and optimize employee contributions as well as satisfaction.
3. No Obvious Path of Growth
This is a big one, a primary component of employee satisfaction and drive.
Some companies occasionally bring out an “off-the-shelf” training module in hopes of developing employees, but those companies that function at the highest level actively engage with employees to evaluate their development needs, help them to identify the path they want to be on, and guide them with ongoing training and skill progression.
Development of leadership potential is a priority to high functioning organizations, not an afterthought.
Be on the lookout for signs that your organization cares less for employee development than you do.
No knowledge, by the company, of your academic standing, or ambitions
Few internal incentives to obtain, or maintain, technical certifications
A “one-size-fits-all” attitude to corporate training
Opportunities to cross-train within the organization are complex or inconvenient
Lack of recognition for highly productive employees
No Leadership Pipeline, or deep bench of talent
Does your job give you the opportunity to use your personal talents and interests?
Employee development is of primary importance in a high-performance culture. Whether ensuring everyone is up to speed working remotely through Covid-19, or improving hiring practices to include goals, or creating and guiding employees along development paths unique to them, empowering employees to make decisions, better serve customers, or reach for higher goals – employee satisfaction is intrinsically tied to their development.
4. Resistance to Change
High-performing organizations are still victims of crisis, circumstance, and chance. How they deal with change, their ability to pivot, adapt, and deal with change as a team is what differentiates them.
Those who function in a high-performance culture view change as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle. New challenges equal new opportunities, new growth, the chance to learn something new.
When a company is through changing, it is through.
The only thing in business that remains the same is the state of constant change. Be watchful for signs that change is not high on the company’s agenda:
Morale seems low, regardless of the company’s financial position
Gossip and interpersonal conflicts are on the rise, a sign of general dissatisfaction
Communication breakdowns occurring, teams operating in silos without sharing
An increase, over time, in employee absenteeism
New ideas, processes, suggestions, or requests are often met with excuses rather than solutions
Do employees prefer to “avoid” new assignments instead of welcoming them as new challenges?
If you want your team to be successful and grow, then demonstrate and reward the growth mindset. As coined by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, the growth mindset embraces opportunities for learning new skills and growing beyond what you can already do today.
Changing the patterns of thought and behavior for your entire employee base takes determination, consistency, and motivation.
KeenAlignment can help your organization optimize its employees and their personal view of their jobs. Schedule a free consultation to see how we can transform your company into a high-performance work culture.