Organizational Culture Matters: A Bold Stand for A New Paradigm

company culture

Culture Matters:

Are We Human Beings or Human Doings?


Welcome to Earth. The opportunity is infinite. We have evolved to a high state of knowledge and progress:

Do More with Less.  Multi-Tasking Not Optional.  To-Do Lists, longer than the page.

The public corporation (or any business that depends on funding) is responsible for delivering profitable growth. (Even non-profits.) Every quarter. A never-ending upward climb.  I’m not questioning this reality.

I am suggesting we put aside the reality of business profit for a moment, to consider what we’re creating with such a narrow definition of success in business. (Especially given companies need to prepare the next generation of leaders, most of whom are questioning this reality as well.)

There is no natural system on the planet where growth occurs without decline or correction (according to any science I am aware of). It sets up a conundrum to expect innovation and cutting costs to co-exist in never-ending upward cycles that ensure that profits are always an upward trend.  The problem is, PEOPLE are at the epicenter of this bloated expectation! In business, we value what people can DO, as “talent” or “resources” or “FTE’s” – but not their inherent value as a breathing, thinking, creating life force.

People are becoming increasingly stressed and sick as a result of HOW we define success. This is not about the quest for money or winning as wrong. In fact I believe deeply in capitalism.

Yet, when the quest for “money” is valued as more essential than the intrinsic value and unique needs of human beings, the health of our planet … it is a worth question to explore: Are we awake to the true impact of the mindset that permeates our societal culture, of “profit over people?”  

Do we have the courage to question the beliefs and assumptions that have driven our society into this state of dis-ease? 

The Industrial Era and the rise of the corporation has bettered human life in many, many ways. It also means people are viewed as units of production – the same as machines, assets, capital. That which can be acquired and invested to produce a steady, uninterrupted positive return. When that positive return falters, we “cut head count” and perform a RIF (technical for “no paycheck for you anymore”). The People left behind have to Do More With Less. Multi-Task Faster.  The To-Do List grows.  As a result, people are no longer loyal nor do they expect to stay at any given company for long. (2.6 years is the average expected tenure of the Millennial employee.)

People, unlike a machine or an investment fund, come with some unique features: Emotion, hopes, dreams, and free will. And, the ability to disengage from a situation they don’t like. The epi-center of this growing debate on “What is Work” and “What is Leadership” is redefining the social and economic contract of employee/employer.

When people (the raw material of America’s finest product: Innovation) are asked to “check themselves” at work; when their ideas, input, and voice is largely not welcome, it shuts down the very qualities that make us human beings. The creative process dies with it. Adding fuel to the fire, is a state of internal competition most organizations are engaged in, through being asked to “do more with less” and the inevitable tug of war over resources. The big picture of any project is not visible to most. The work itself is not really performed collaboratively. People often work in complete ignorance to purpose or who their efforts are serving. Fostering cooperation is not valued, because work has been isolated to bit-tasks, versus efforts to create an effective or efficient solution to a real and understood problem.  Yet, human beings’ uniqueness, is the ability to reflect and act on emotional connection to meaning and purpose. It’s how we are wired.

This cycle has fostered an unprecedented state of burnout, stress, disease, and unhappiness in our workplaces. Change programs still fail at high rates (even as human beings are change creators.) We all know the Gallup research on disengagement. The situation has not substantively changed in about 8 years.

Aetna recently published a study on a Mindfulness clinical trial:

…. among all individuals who were screened for the study, those reporting the highest stress level (top quintile) had nearly $2,000 higher medical costs for the preceding year than those reporting the lowest stress levels. Participants in the mind-body stress reduction treatment groups (mindfulness and Viniyoga) showed significant improvements in perceived stress with 36 and 33 percent decreases in stress levels respectively, as compared to an 18 percent reduction for the control group as measured with the Perceived Stress Scale. Participants in the mind-body interventions also saw significant improvements in various heart rate measurements, suggesting that their bodies were better able to manage stress.

What Happens Next?

What do you think must happen for our society to expand its definition of success? To one that includes valuing people as much as profit?

What would change if we did so? How would our relationship with the people who are showing up every day in our workplaces change?

I was privileged to be attend a meeting this week, led by a Denver HR professional who is determined to impact this situation. She is imagining an initiative “It’s OK to be Human in Human Resources.” Her think tank is in the early stages of a collaborative dialogue about how to transform seriously over-taxed HR departments, who often feel overwhelmed, beaten down, un-resourceful and un-human. Who are unsure how to best support the people side of the business in the face of increasingly unrealistic demands of their part of the organization. It was a powerful conversation, one that extends beyond the philosophical, to the practical “What does Human Resources actually mean? What do they need, and how can they serve better?”

Many leaders make fun of the Millennial Generation as “the entitled” – and yet, they are the generation who is demanding that the act of making a living and achieving career success, not kill us (and our spirits.)  Approximately 75% of the workforce will be Millennials by 2025.  THEY are different, to WORK will be different. The cynics say “When they grow up and reality hits, they’ll understand what we had to do, and what they have to do.”  Instead, I am hopeful companies and leaders will buckle down to training, developing, preparing them to lead. Like it or not, this generation is kicking up a serious fuss about changing the way work gets done: Job tenures of 2.6 years on average. Insisting on work that has meaning. Stepping out of the rat race. Valuing work with purpose over a big paycheck. Evaluating workplace culture before they accept a position.  Many of the demands they are making, are what we all want. They’re just more vocal and have a higher willingness to step aside from the quest for money alone, to the quest for a better planet and a better life.

I’m not sure there are right answers that are simple. I’m really certain, these are essential questions for leaders to be asking.

To expect this dialogue will improve the state we’re in today, as humans. I hope as leaders, we can embark on a rethinking HOW to demonstrate true value of:

  • People as people. Caring for life. For families. For people’s unique and changing needs. Not people as FTE’s or as head count or an element of talent management or succession planning. A modern twist on the Village model, in which everyone counts. It’s not hard to figure this out. Treat everyone as if they were a guest in your home, and try not to see doing so means they’re your BFF.  (This does NOT mean overlooking bad behavior, tolerating poor performance, separation from people who are not a good fit, or withholding feedback to “be nice to everyone.”)
  • Teams over individuals. We love our heroes in this culture. But even Peyton Manning – one of the greatest football stars ever – always praised the team after a win. Not because he was good at PR (he is) but because it was the truth. Let’s hear it for the Team! Not everyone gets a trophy in my Nirvana. But the team is capable of amazing feats when led well. Let’s teach the next generation how teams really thrive.
  • Trust as the new capital. Anyone in business who declares themselves a leader – whether by title or by power – will create more real value, by how much trust they build around them. Trust creates amazing benefits: People give more (without being monitored). Performance goes up. Profit follows that curve.
  • Self-care is assumed, not something you have to take PTO for. We encourage and create ways of self-care at work, and encourage it outside work as well.

I hope I live to see the day when these ideas and this dialogue has become the mainstream (ie, simply IS.)

To my (Millennial) children: I hope you help build this kind of world. Your children and their children deserve it.

To my blog readers: Please share how you’re building a world in which we redefine success, and Human Beings are truly valued.  We all need inspiration and affirmation about the transformation of business and the workplace.

Cheers to our Human Being-ness.


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