Organizational culture

that’s why they pay you

You know the drill. Someone complains about how tough their job is or how much they dislike their work and the immediate response is: Duh! Of course it’s not fun. That’s why they pay you. They know you wouldn’t show up otherwise. We snicker and think: Yeah. Get back to work, slacker. You’re not paid to have fun. Suck it up and cash your check on payday.

What a load of bassackwards crap! (to use the technical term)

On the surface it sounds right and it’s kind of humorous and I’ve certainly bought into it before. Dig deeper and we see it’s a kneejerk response that gets everything backwards and wrong.

It is true that if we didn’t pay people they wouldn’t show up. But it’s not because we’re compensating them for the opportunity to inflict misery on them. It’s because of opportunity costs. People need to feed, clothe, shelter, and take care of themselves and their families and they have only so many hours in a day to do it. Waaaayyy back when, they did all this themselves through hunting, gathering, and whatnot. Today people provide specialized skills in exchange for money to trade with others for the goods and services they need. Even if they absolutely loved, loved, loved their jobs we’d still have to pay them. Otherwise, they’d have to: 1) learn to hunt and gather; 2) starve; or 3) find someone else who will pay them for their skills.

We don’t pay people to endure us, we pay people because they bring knowledge and skills that we can repackage and sell through the products they create or the services they provide. In effect, the company becomes the middle man between the employee and the consumer and hopefully adds some value along the way by combining the talents of the employees to produce more/better/faster than they could do on their own.

If it were true that we pay people because we knew they wouldn’t do the job otherwise then the most miserable jobs in the worst working conditions should (by this logic) earn the most money. So, people become fieldhands and work in slaughterhouses for the money??? Um, no. Conversely, how often have you heard of someone getting a cut in pay because they are too passionate about their work?

The idea that pay and misery are directly correlated makes no sense yet we cling to it. How many employees think that their mere presence is enough to justify a paycheck? How many managers think that their employees would be happier and more productive if they could only pay them more? How often do we justify subjecting employees to unnecessarily rigid work conditions, nanny policies, or toddler-tantrum leaders with a dismissive, “Well, they get paid…” At best, it’s a lousy excuse for pathetic, apathetic, lazy leadership and really bad business decisions.

And employee engagement is down? People are dreaming of working elsewhere? We’re afraid of what they might say about us on social media? Huh, weird. Probably just coincidence. I once heard someone say, “People don’t leave because it’s difficult. They leave because it’s not worth dealing with anymore.” Seems pretty true from my experience and observation.

People aren’t compensated for occupying desks, their difficulties, or as a license to abuse them. People are paid for the value they provide through the problems they solve and the results they create. That’s not revolutionary, just too often forgotten by both employees and the company.

So why do people keep showing up for work? Hopefully, they’re getting appropriately compensated for working on the problems and results they enjoy, find fulfilling, and inspire them to do their best. Ultimately, leaders need their employees more than employees need their leaders. Over time leadership gets the employees they deserve.

What thinks you?



do customers create culture?

I do most of my grocery shopping at two stores. [How’s that for a nail-biting edge of the seat start to a blog?] They are probably less than five miles apart, yet worlds different and these two stores have me wondering about company culture.

There is a lot of talk about company culture and no shortage of ideas and opinions on what it is, how you create it, why it’s important, where, when, etc. For all the discussion, I’ve never come across much on customers’ effect on culture, yet I suspect that they are a very large part of the equation.

It would be easy to argue that there is a chicken-and-egg effect where the culture, appearance, and products/services of a business attracts a certain type of customer, which reinforces the culture. Brew pubs, sports bars, and biker bars all have basically the same product, yet attract very different customers and those customers expect and uphold the culture of the business. Different types of  businesses attract different customers (duh!), but that’s not the case here.

These two stores seem very similar – both are superstores, about the same size, and owned by the same company. Both are the only grocery stores in their areas and the quality and friendliness of the employees is very similar. Where the stores differ is the attitudes of the customers.

Both stores are generally crowded and have narrow aisles, making getting around difficult, especially during peak hours. At one store, there is a relaxed it’s-crowded-but-we’re-all-in-it-together vibe. Customers are friendly, polite, and patient with each other. At the other store it’s a get-the-hell-out-of-my-war-you-idiot atmosphere. Customers are impatient, frustrated, and irritated with each other. It’s a very noticeable difference.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising. Different departments or locations with the same company can have completely different cultures. Just changing one person on a team can have a noticeable effect. So why wouldn’t a group of different customers also create a different vibe?

We tend to think of it as a one-way relationship: we create a culture that will attract and support our target customers. What if it’s two-way and our customers also shape and influence the company?

Does that mean we need more or less effort on culture? Does that mean we should be seeking the customer’s thoughts more (and not in satisfaction surveys)? Does it mean nothing and we should stop worrying about it and get back to work?

What does it mean?

Your thoughts?


flashback friday: good enough isn’t, but great enough is

[This was originally posted on October 14, 2011]

I’m a big believer in the concept that good enough isn’t. Hitting the bare minimums isn’t success, it’s temporary survival. Sadly, most companies seem to struggle to reach even the level of good enough. They shoot for good enough customer service, good enough prices, good enough hiring policies, good enough management development, good enough training, etc. The problem is that, at the very theoretical best, it will only be good enough. In the real world, a bunch of attempts at good enough added together tends to equal not good enough. Aiming for “good enough” seems to get us to “doesn’t completely suck”.

In fact, I’d like to propose a real world rating scale. Feel free to use it for performance appraisals, evaluating processes, due diligence for investments, whatever you need a rating scale for. Here it is:

  1. Sucks
  2. Doesn’t completely suck
  3. Good enough
  4. Great enough
  5. Phenomenal, but exceeds the point of diminishing returns
On this scale, there is only one rating worth hitting: “Great enough.” Although “Phenomenal” sounds like a good thing, there comes a point in any quality improvement where the costs/effort/resources required for additional improvement become an exponential curve while improvements move along a very flat linear curve. In other words, you’re spending tons of resources for ounces of improvement. This is perfectionism getting in it’s own way.
But, “great enough”… Getting to great enough requires a completely different set of questions, decisions, actions than it takes to be merely good enough. Consider this: getting your life to good enough is easy. You’re probably already there. But what would having a great enough life look like and what would it take to get it there?
How freakin’ cool would it be to work for a company that focused on doing everything great enough? How incredible would it be to know that all your efforts at work were consistently great enough? Who wouldn’t sing the praises of a company that only hired people who were great enough?
I’ll give you tonight to mull it over. Tomorrow morning, what are you going to do to start kicking butt and creating great enough relationships with your friends and family? What are you going to do to create great enough health? To start getting your finances into great enough shape? Come Monday morning, what are you going to do to take your team to great enough? If you’re in HR, what are you going to do to create great enough selection and onboarding processes? To help the managers you serve to become great enough leaders? To create a great enough company culture?
Great enough. Love it!