Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Koliso Perspective: How Can Changing the Game Change Your Culture?

Many leaders ask us how they can change their workplace culture. They ask, “How can we be more creative?” or “How can we build a culture of customer satisfaction?”

Every organization has its own culture and every culture is made up of rules governing what’s right and proper.

Eric Berne, psychiatrist and author of The Games People Play, identified game theory as a great model for understanding culture and behavior in the fifties and sixties. If you’ve ever heard a businessperson refer to win/win situations or zero-sum games, they are using Berne’s framework.

Taking into consideration the game theory of work helps us understand an organization’s culture and how it can be changed. Take the example of football: Football has roles, rules and rewards. These are the three central elements of a game. Players have to understand their role in the game, how the game is played and how to score.

If you want to change the game, you do one of three things: introduce new roles for people, change the rules or change the method of scoring. Exactly the same thing is true in the work place: changing the roles, rules or rewards changes the culture.

Change the Roles

A new employee’s onboarding is crucial to their long-term success. A 2012 article in Forbes referenced long term research that shows the failure rate of new hires and onboarding programs to be steady for the last 15 years at around 40 percent over 18 months. That means that there is a good chance that one in three of those executives you hire won't stick around performing for two years.

The first day, first week, first month and first quarter are critical in helping the new employee understand their role and the expectations that come with it. They have to understand the rules that govern how things get done—from putting in expense reports to authorizing travel and capital expenditures—and they have to understand the payoffs that signal what’s valued and not valued in their new organization. (Koliso practices a 7/30/90-day onboarding program that accelerates this process so new employees don’t have to rely on trial and error.)

Onboarding a new leader or team member is an exceptionally significant opportunity to build the culture you want through the roles, rules and rewards you communicate to the new person. How can altering the rules affect your culture?

Change the Rules

A leader of a significant project asked us to help build a more positive culture. We looked at the organization’s roles, rules and rewards and noticed something off-putting: people were being rewarded for being negative.

When the team examined and communicated their project’s progress, they did it by devaluing prior efforts. In essence, they saw their role as pointing out what was wrong and how they were fixing it. Everyone who engaged in this discussion was playing by a set of rules that focused on the wrong things.

The team didn’t have to produce; they just had to keep demonstrating how much worse things were before it got involved. They were valued for pointing out what was wrong before them. Even managers and customers got involved in disparaging the previous system.

One way we changed the team’s culture was to get them to start honoring and respecting what went before. It’s not so hard to change the viewpoint, “We’re fixing something that’s broken,” to “We’re improving something that people before us worked hard to achieve.” We changed the rules: no more knocking our predecessors. And culture change followed.

Change the Rewards

Previously team members were rewarded with managers’ attention and team resources when they focused on how bad things were before. Now managers were focusing attention and resources on interactions that emphasized what was to be achieved and how things were going to continue improving.

Here was a side effect we noticed: the team became more confident! How did that work? People who devalue everything that went before are probably insecure in themselves. They belittle others in an attempt to increase their worth. These negative discussions feed a very bad dynamic in which self-worth comes at the expense of others’ respect and dignity.

People who praise what went before are probably secure and confident and know their achievements are best judged in comparison to a high standard. Neil Armstrong applauded the work of the Apollo teams who went before him and it made his achievement look even greater. Isaac Newton attributed his success to what went before when he said, "If I have achieved anything, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants."

The more we encouraged the team to talk about positives when discussing what went before, the more they got rewarded by attention, resources and a sense of achievement when they did well. They changed the reward system, and the culture changed as well.

If you want a quick spot-check on your own workplace culture, ask yourself how individuals are talked about when they leave to begin a new job. Are they generally seen as losers, poor performers, people who couldn’t make it? Or are they spoken of as valuable team members who have moved on due to time and circumstances? What does this say about your current team?

Team dynamics and culture issues are both incredibly simple and incredibly subtle. Often an expert eye can see very small opportunities to change culture in big ways with significant results.

Interested in learning more about this topic for your organization? Contact us.

Read the rest of our newsletter. >

Sign up for our newsletter.

No comments:

Post a Comment