I delivered a webinar with Brad Palmer of Jostle yesterday titled “Transforming Your Workplace Culture from Toxic to Humanized.” It was a great event, with 140 people viewing and listening online, many of whom had GREAT questions. It’s the first webinar I’ve been a part of where we ran out of time to answer the audience questions.
And there was a distinct theme among the questions:
Our leaders don’t get it. They’re clueless. Leaders don’t think they can change the culture. People see the leaders as incompetent. In the context of all that, what are we to do?
The participants were in HR, but I don’t think that really matters. I hear these kinds of questions a lot when I talk about creating a social business and making our organizations more effective (and, for the record, I also hear from leaders who feel their employees don’t get it…it goes both ways here). So here’s the advice I frequently give.
Don’t wait. “Proceed until apprehended” is a phrase we use in Humanize (attributed to Florence Nightingale). Do some experiements. Try some new things. Don’t wait for permission if at all possible. And look for experiments that will have some tangible results that you can share with your leaders. All leaders “get” improved results.
Don’t necessarily call it culture change. There’s not an absolute on this rule (sometimes it works just fine to call it culture change), but telling leaders they need to change their culture is usually a risky proposition. If they are the founder, then it’s definitely a challenge, because the existing culture is, by definition, connected to them as a person. And we all know how much we like it when people get in our face and say “you need to change.” But even if it’s not the founder, “culture change” is one of those phrases that can mean 1,001 things, so don’t get attached to it. Say you want to improve some processes, like staff meetings or performance management. They might go along with that, and you can start changing the culture, without calling it that.
Buy them a book. And no, it doesn’t have to be MY book (though come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea!). Share your perspective with leaders. Share the knowledge that you’re acquiring. To be truthful, they’re not likely to read the book. They may skim it. But it might capture their attention, and then they are much more likely to come back to YOU to talk about the issue. The first step to eliminating cluelessness is getting THEM to want to be in conversation about it.
Leave. Don’t choose this option without carefully weighing it, of course, but I think this really needs to be on the table more often. Life is short. Why on earth would we spend so much of it working for leaders who “don’t get it.” That frequently means we end up working in ways that are not consistent with who we are and why we’re here. I noticed this beautiful post yesterday from a palliative care nurse who captured people’s top regrets at the end of their life. The number one regret? Not being authentic. Or, more specifically, “I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” If your workplace is getting in the way of that, then do something about it.
We’re always going to face cluelessness. We should learn to be forgiving of it, actually (because you know as well as I do that sometimes we all are on the clueless side). And by all means, don’t let cluelessness be your excuse for inaction. Each one of us is the hero in this journey, and working through (and maybe around) cluelessness is part of what we signed up for.