In my book ‘From Bully to Bull’s Eye - Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire’, the first question I ask is - “Is your Workplace Culture a Ticking Time Bomb?” Well since its release in January of 2017 quite a few bombs have exploded.
So today I will ask you the same question - “Is your Workplace Culture a Ticking Time Bomb?” I will also challenge you with another question - “How do you know?”
In most instances where bombs have exploded, leaders have claimed they were not aware, which were, in my view were admissions of gross negligence. Leadership should have known because in most incidences they were open secrets.
The reliance on Human Resources, engagement surveys, 360 feedback, diversity and harassment training and whistleblower hotlines have largely been misplaced and do not address how employees feel.
Just imagine if only 17 percent of your employees feel that their coworkers are appropriately dealt with when he or she is not doing their job.
Just imagine if only 36 percent of your employees feel that their supervisor would support them when things get hard.
Just imagine if only 28 percent of your employees feel that all employees are held accountable for their work, regardless of their position in the company.
Just imagine if 77 percent of your employees feel that people are being unfairly recognized while others with better experience or skills don’t get recognized.
Just imagine if 74 percent of your employees feel that their work environment is overly focused on trivial activities and has overly bureaucratic company policies.
Just imagine if 71 percent of your employees speak poorly about your organization to others.
Now let me break this to you gently.
The odds are that these are the feelings of your employees. These appalling statistics represent how North American employees feel about their workplace. This is based on the Mental Health America/Faas Foundation study called ‘Mind the Workplace’, representing the feelings of over 20 thousand respondents.
Another disturbing statistic comes from the American Psychological Association, which shows bosses cause stress for 75 percent of employees. The question here is how much of this stress is unnecessary.
What these numbers convey is that the conditions for individual and group performance and success are not in place in the majority of organizations, which in my mind is the primary reason for our dismal rankings in performance, innovation and equity, the lack of diversity and non inclusive workplaces.
Beyond the workplace, the impact is more serious considering a 2016 Stanford/Harvard study, which indicates that there are 120 thousand deaths annually that may be attributable to workplace stress. Given that these are premature deaths, workplace stress is a one of the major killers. What has not been calculated is the impact this has had within the family unit. Studies done on the families of war vets who have suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, indicates the magnitude of this issue in society is huge.
The current state of the workplace, combined with the perceptions about new technologies, automation and artificial intelligence, have all of the makings for a modern version of an industrial revolution. Two books help put this into context - ‘The Seventh Sense - Power, Fortune, and Survival’ by Joshua CooperRamo, and ‘Edge of Chaos - Why Democracy is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth - and How to Fix It’ by Dambisa Moyo. Both Ramo and Moyo strongly argue the need for more humanity.
On the new Industrial Revolution, leadership can either wait for it to happen and try to ride the wave; or we could, and in my view, should orchestrate the revolution by facilitating an ‘Emotion Revolution’, addressing that need for more humanity.
The Faas Foundation has partnered with the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence to develop the framework for this under an initiative called ‘Emotion Revolution in the Workplace’, which aims to help organizations create emotionally intelligent workplaces that are psychologically safe, healthy, fair, inspirational and productive.
There are a number of descriptions of what emotional intelligence is out there; however, Charles Wolfe of Emotional Intelligence Roadmap best captured it when he wrote, "Emotional Intelligence is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage your own emotions, the emotions of others – and the emotional relationships with others".
For organizations to successfully do this will require a cultural shift, and for most, a cultural transformation.
First of all, culture needs to be defined as the way an organization operates in everything they do and with everyone with whom they have a relationship. This should not be viewed as a human resource initiative or program. It must be driven from the very top of the house based on a value exchange model that the organization has with all stakeholders, shareholders, customers, employees, vendors, regulators, and the communities in which they operate. And it must be based on what we all learned in kindergarten, the ethic of reciprocity - The Golden Rule - “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Secondly, the conditions for success that I referred to earlier need to be in place.
There are five conditions that need to be in place to achieve success and to become the foundation for a psychologically safe, healthy, fair and productive culture and climate.
First - TRUST - The #MeToo movement, and the exposures of corruption and wrongdoings in every segment of society, has highlighted the need for leaders to evaluate their at-risk positions. Advocacy and activist groups, current and prospective employees, shareholders and rating agencies will demand it. In most of the situations that have been exposed, the situation is secondary to the real issue, which is that they were open secrets for years, and in some cases decades; and leadership was either complicit or negligent. Bystanders and targets of abuse were afraid to expose any injustices or irregularities primarily due to a lack of trust that they would not face retaliation. Unless there is trust, any resources applied will be urinated away. Trust is the magic bullet.
Second - A sense of PURPOSE - Recommended reading on this is David Graeber’s book, ‘Bullshit Jobs - A Theory’, in which he highlights a UK study that showed 37 percent of people don’t believe their job makes a meaningful difference”. I often relate the story of when President Kennedy visited Cape Canaveral in 1962. While there, he did a walk around and asked people what they did. Most being rocket scientists, he got mostly very technical answers. A janitor he encountered responded with, “well Mr. President, I am helping to send a man to the moon and bring him back safely.” Just imagine if everyone you are responsible for would give that type of answer.
Third - A sense of EFFICACY – The 74 percent of North American workers I referred to earlier, who feel their work environment is overly focused on trivial activities and have overly bureaucratic company policies, suggests that any sense of efficacy is pretty much non-existent. A sense of purpose provides people with the why of what they do. A sense of efficacy is where people constantly ask, “why are wedoing it this way?”
Fourth - FREEDOM of EXPRESSION – Where the ‘Five D’s of Civil Dialogue are embraced by all. They are: Discuss Disagree Debate Defend Defy
The art of civil discourse has been lost. Consider if people in your organization are too afraid to tell you what you need to know, how likely will they give input on how to protect and grow your business? Also, how likely will they expose risks to the business?
Given the number of ticking time bombs that have exploded, leaders are starting to panic, and are desperately trying to find a magic bullet on how to protect their organizations from the huge negative consequences of exposures. Most are doubling down on what has not worked in the past, training and revising their policies.
Fifth - DIVERSITY and INCLUSION – If an organization does not reflect the communities in which they operate and the customers they serve, they are not getting essential perspectives on what they need to know. We are entering an era where the lack of talent is the biggest challenge employers face. Becoming more diverse allows organizations to tap into a huge pool of talent, which is largely under represented. However, without inclusion, diversity will fail. Being inclusive forces the organization to address the equity, conscious and unconscious bias’s, favoritism and old boy’s mentality that is dominant in most organizations.
Chevron, an organization we have established a relationship with, is an example of an organization who has made diversity and inclusion the foundational platform of their culture, which is supported by values and a code of behaviours that are inviolate, not just words on a wall or on a website.
At Chevron, these have been conditions of employment for close to three decades. Leadership there attributes these conditions for their success as consistently outperforming others in their sector, and having only a three percent turnover of staff.
The work we are doing at Yale on ‘Emotion Revolution in the Workplace’ is patterned after what Yale introduced into schools, where through a program called ‘RULER’, helped create upwards of two thousand emotionally intelligent schools internationally. The premise of this program is that emotional skills drive learning, decision making, creativity, relationships and physical and psychological wellbeing.
The schools where ‘RULER’ has been introduced have experienced improved academic scores, reduced delinquencies and fewer hostilities.
For the workplace initiative, we conducted a survey of 20,000 respondents across the United States from all sectors. We asked how employees feel about:
The work they do (the tasks)
The relationships they have at work.
The organizations they work for.
More importantly we asked them to explain why they feel the way they do. These were all open-ended questions seeking their words.
The most significant discovery was how employees who work for an emotionally intelligent supervisors feel versus how those who work for a supervisor who is not emotionally intelligent. If you have a supervisor with low emotional intelligence, you are more afraid to speak up and experience more pressure to conform to organizational demands. This is exactly the dynamic we have seen played out in organization after organization, where ethical misbehavior is occurring, and few are willing to say anything.
Sydney Finkelstein, a management professor at the Tuck School of Management at Dartmouth College, lamented, “Academics have examined and tried to measure corporate cultures for decades, but nobody has cracked the code” adding, “getting valid data on this issue is really, really difficult.” We believe with what this slide shows, and the mounds of data we now have, that we are on our way to “breaking the code”.
This discovery has reinforced for us the need to initially focus on the boss/subordinate relationship. Based on the Mental Health America and Yale research, and that of others, we can safely assert that for the majority of workers, the interaction between the supervisor and employee is limited to the annual or semi-annual performance review, or when things go south. We can also safely assert that introducing emotional intelligence into the equation will help build and maintain positive relationships. The key to this is making people feel comfortable in having positive and constructive interactions/critical discussions.
The model we are advancing is one of a value exchange, where the manager sets clear expectations on tasks, behaviours and attitudes.
The next step is to ask the employee what they need from the manager and organization in order to deliver on what the employer expects from them. By reaching an agreement on this, it becomes a Covenant. The key to the success of this is to have regular and ongoing discussions using the covenant as the framework, not just the annual or semi-annual performance review.
Emotional intelligence, while embraced by many, is rarely applied in the workplace. The main reason for this is that it is perceived as soft and only serves to make people happy and nice to each other. David R. Caruso (a friend and associate at Yale) and Lisa T Rees in their book ‘A Leader’s Guide to Solving Challenges with Emotional Intelligence’ make it clear that their goal is “not to have you be happy, upbeat and cheery all of the time”; they want you to “engage with and grapple with the toughest leadership challenges.”
Applying emotional intelligence to performance management turns it into a hard skill producing hard results. It forces the critical dialogue that is so severely lacking.
I have used this performance model for years, and found that it not only improves performance, but it also reduces the ambiguity and subjectivity inherent in most performance management systems. Furthermore, it enhances the boss/subordinate relationship; fosters innovation, creativity and inclusion; and reduces surprises and excuses. Perhaps the biggest benefit is that bosses hear what they need to hear.
Here is a story I often tell:
On being appointed to head National Grocers, the wholesale division of Loblaw Companies Ltd., Canada’s largest retail chain, I commenced quarterly visits to all of our distribution facilities across thecountry, where we had town hall meetings with every shift.
In the first of these meetings, we outlined the expectations we had of the facility; and we asked for feedback on what employees expected from us to deliver on the expectations we had of them. Among the expectations were facility improvements including cleaner washrooms, lockers and cafeterias - a pretty basic and easy request to deliver on.
A year or so into my tenure, while I was in a city where we had a facility, I thought I would drop in for a quick visit. Shortly after arriving, I went to the washroom and was appalled by the condition it was in - much different than what we saw during our quarterly visits.
Seething, I went to the plant manager’s office and politely asked him to have someone bring a pail, Lysol, Windex, a mop, sponges and paper towels. Confused, the manager asked why, to which he got my response, “just humour me, ok?” The cleaning supplies arrived; I took off my Armani suit jacket, rolled up my shirtsleeves, and headed to the washroom followed by an anxious manager and the guy who brought the supplies. People working on the floor all observed this, causing a bit of a buzz.
Once in the washroom, I said to the plant manager, “I’ll start with the toilets, and you can do the urinals”; and to the guy who bought the supplies, “you supervise”. Well, both of them (excuse the pun) did not know whether to shit or go blind, but they were smart enough not to argue.
Once finished, I asked whether it was necessary to do the other washrooms on the premises, to which I received assurances that it was not. On leaving, I indicated that I would be back in a week to have a town hall meeting with all shifts.
As you can imagine, this incident was relayed to all of our facilities and offices across the country by nightfall, without me having to say a single word.
At the meetings the following week, I apologized on behalf of management that we had not delivered on their expectations of us on having clean washrooms.
I also expressed my disappointment that they had not delivered on our expectation of them, which was to call us out on when we were failing, saying, “We have no problem in calling you out; and for us to be able to trust each other, it’s got to be reciprocal.”
This single incident solidified a strong relationship we enjoyed for almost a decade, where we moved from being a significant laggard against industry performance benchmarks, to becoming an industry leader.
Many people may view this as an insignificant incident; however, it sent a powerful message - trust and respect are not earned by words alone.
In the ‘Emotion Revolution in the Schools’, a wonderful dynamic that has emerged is what we refer to as a spillover effect, where students in emotionally intelligent schools apply emotionally intelligent skills at home, creating emotionally intelligent families.
We anticipate by creating emotionally intelligent workplaces it will have a spillover effect in the community.
Just imagine how by having emotionally intelligent families, schools, workplaces, communities and countries can change the global downward spiral we are on.
Key to creating this more civil society is having people be allowed and comfortable in having civil discourse; to discuss, disagree, debate, defend and yes even defy.
My challenge to you is lead this ‘Emotion Revolution’ in the environments you are responsible for. Not only will this hugely benefit your stakeholders, it will also help protect democracy.