The defining moments of the culture transformation journey are those moments when someone decides to sign up, go beyond compliance, and truly commit to a cause greater than themselves. These moments can come about when someone reads something, hears something, engages in a conversation, or has a certain experience, and suddenly feels a connection to the movement. These defining moments have the possibility of occurring all around us every day, but we can only seize those opportunities by keeping ourselves open to them by keeping ourselves in the right conversations and frame of mind, connecting with the person or groups we are speaking to, and by being on the lookout for reasons to choose to offer up our own genuine commitment to the cause. To convince others to join the cause, they need to know that we are not just interested in going through the motions of implementing programs and checking boxes while skirting the real issues and avoiding the real conversations. Unfortunately, most of these opportunities are squandered while we are too busy talking about them but not really saying and doing anything that makes a real difference. More often than not, it is the corporate leadership that has difficulty conveying and cultivating these defining moments, if for no other reason than the fact that they often take bird’s eye view, while frontline leaders are in the trenches and can quickly tell what works and what doesn’t.
Before I continue with this post, allow me to pre-emptively address some criticism: I know to some people I’m already “cussing in church” when it comes to the title! I am well aware that I’ve already offended those of you who invest so much in the hallowed tradition of making sure that just one of your employees feel special every month. You maybe have clicked on this post just to object! If that is you, then I’d ask you to bear with me. I realize I have a strong opinion about this topic and I’d like to make a case for my opinion. I also respect your strong opinion to the contrary and if you write a post or comment in support of your position, I promise to read and consider it. With that said, let me tell you why your “Employee of the Month” program—and a few other things you do in the name of recognizing your people—may be doing you more harm than good.
Nothing kills the momentum of a new initiative like the folkloric stories of past failed attempts that circulate whenever a leadership team attempts to unveil a transformative vision. This collective memory—usually circulated in hushed, cynical tones behind the scenes—that the organization has of similar initiatives that were introduced with enthusiasm, only to fail to produce any real results in the past, is exactly what ensures that history will repeat itself again. Whether we have labeled an initiative the “program of the month” as an excuse for not getting on board or we have heard the phrase from those who are not as enthusiastic as we are about what we are about to embark on, we know that it could turn into a self-fulling prophecy and slow down progress unless we clarify our messaging.
It is apparent to me that leaders are often looking for that new process or procedure or tool guaranteed to create engagement and improve their results. My experience has been that, while access to the latest technology often acts as an effective catalyst, the fundamental attitudes and behaviors that make or break a team are timeless and universal. While their particular manifestations can and should change depending on each unique situation, the fundamental beliefs that undergird them invariably cultivate the sense of personal accountability that directly impacts the results that the team produces, no matter when and where they are implemented.
What do you think about when you hear about someone who has spent the better part of the past 25 years of their life abusing hard drugs and going in and out of prison? Would you be surprised if I told you that I recently met a bunch of people who fit this description, and that I could not have been more impressed with their strength of character, integrity, commitment, and leadership? Would you believe me if I said that they constitute an ideal model of how business culture should function in the world? Well, it’s true!