There’s an old mantra in business which runs to the effect that whatever you do when you are talking to a customer, don’t run the opposition down. That’s not because of any sense of chivalry in business, it is simply that when you badmouth others it reflects badly on you.
Of course, the way in which we talk about our competitors is only one aspect of a web of behavioural expectations which sit at the heart of organisational culture. We may not articulate these values but nevertheless unless our people engage with them they can be what makes or breaks not only the smooth running of our business but its reputation as well.
When we look at our organisation it is all too easy to deal in things and concepts rather than in the more messy stuff of human behaviour. So strategy and vision and mission statements are relatively straightforward. We may even find it easy to translate the vision into values and on into competencies but it is when we get down to the underlying behavioural expectation that things can become a little more complex.
Much as you would sometimes prefer them not to be, people are complex individuals with their own internal value sets and attitudes. Give two people the same situation and the chances are they will react in markedly different ways. For organisations, this is both a strength and weakness. In business, diversity breeds strength, provided it is harnessed in the right way. Having a diversity of opinions and approaches and attitudes will not only resonate more readily with the consumer base, it can also lead to the development of game changing innovative solutions and ongoing business strength.
However, that diversity will only work in the organisation’s favour, provided that its people have first engaged with the underlying culture and behavioural expectations of the organisation. You see, fully engaged employees will always work to further the aims of the business. So they will think before they speak and consider before they act and will do their utmost not to do or say anything which could harm the business or reputation of the organisation.
The danger comes when individuals are hired to do a job or to produce results and any induction which they receive is solely geared towards that end. Whether the target is to develop a new product, to sell certain number of units, or to win a particular tournament; if the brief is focused on outcomes and results then the individual is never going to be engaged with the culture. That’s when actions are taken to the detriment of the organisation, that’s when individuals unthinkingly speak out of turn; leading to at best reputational damage and a swift departure.
Who is at fault? Whilst it may be true that you cannot change the underlying nature of an individual, you can temper an individual’s approach, actions and behaviours by actively taking steps to engage them in the underlying ethos and culture of the organisation. That doesn’t come by signing a contract or producing some sort of expectations sheet. It comes firstly through the executive team working hard to define and instil the desired culture in the organisation as a whole and secondly through working with new members of the team to engage them in the culture.
When an individual speaks out of turn they may not be doing themselves any favours but they are also highlighting an underlying culture and engagement problem within the organisation. Rather than simply appoint a replacement who through lack of engagement may well make the same mistakes as their predecessor, it may be time for the leadership to take a fresh look at the underlying culture of the organisation and the way in which they help people to engage with it.