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Monday, June 30, 2014

Tina Hallis: The culture of the nod


By Tina Hallis
When General Motors recently released its own internal investigation of how a car defect could kill thirteen people and be ignored for more than a decade it was a breathtaking moment.

Breathtaking because it was a peek behind the curtain at one of the world's largest corporations and the view wasn't pretty. GM faulted a culture where no one took responsibility for problems and even claimed its own engineers failed to understand how their cars were built.

How can this happen?

GM's broken and deadly culture made headlines but they are far from alone. Many companies, including the ice cream shop down the street, have work environments suffering from distrust, blame and defensiveness. Large or small, these companies are throwing away billions of dollars every year in lost productivity by suffocating the potential of their people – the single most valuable asset in any corporate structure.

Think about your own business. Your people are a tremendous source of ideas on ways to improve the organization's bottom line, but how often do you listen to them? Would they share their thoughts with you? Or do you make them feel like just a cog in the wheel instead of a valued human being?

Most workers want to give their all. Most want to make a difference. Wisconsin is coming out of an economic malaise where people were grateful to have any job, but that's changing. Instead of just trying to hang on to any job people are looking for opportunities to have an impact. To keep and attract the best talent, companies need to give their people the right tools to succeed. The smartest leaders are already retooling.

The first step is having managers and leaders who care. When bosses care, it's easier for them to understand what their people need to be successful; A sense that what they do matters, opportunities to use their strengths, a culture of belonging, and a boss who will listen to their ideas.

Many leaders may say work is not a place for emotions, it's about getting stuff done. I guess they prefer to hire zombies. I've heard some employees refer to their company as the place of the living dead. What they end up with are people who show up to get their paycheck and do the best they can considering how little they care. But more than ever, we need people who care about what they do, who are fully engaged and eager to bring their best effort.

If you are doubtful, just look at GM and their "culture of the nod." Managers around the table would hear about a problem, nod and then do nothing – no accountability and no sense of pride or ownership. It didn't work for GM and it won't work in your shop.

I see the "nod" happen every day at all kinds of companies. Leaders think if no one is complaining everything must be okay. Your people may not be talking to you, but they are talking to co-workers, family, and their online world of Facebook friends.

Workers won't talk because they think you won't believe them or do anything or worse because they'll get into trouble. No one wants to rock the boat and hurt what little job security they may have.

Sadly, more than two-thirds of American workers, according to a 2013 Gallup Report, feel no connection or sense of purpose in their work. This means that before I even walk through your front door, I know there is a good chance your company's work culture has room for significant improvement.

Leaders love metrics and I've got a good one for you; your bottom line. The profitability of your company is directly connected to the performance and success of your people. Yes, it's difficult dealing with "feelings" in a business setting but get over it. Accept that your workers matter, engage them in your process, and give them the tools to succeed. If they succeed, you succeed.

If you disagree, you can always try the GM way.

-- Hallis, is the founder of The Positive Edge, a Wisconsin company dedicated to helping people and organizations fulfill their true potential.

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