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December 02, 2009

Am I Missing An Update?


Blog cartoon 12-2-09

[Cartoon courtesy of Grantland Cartoons]

Sometimes, after you’ve been at your company for a few years, you feel like you missed a memo. This is especially true if your company has undergone an acquisition and management change (or two or three) since you were hired. What’s awful is sometimes a hip company with, say, liberal-leaning values is acquired by a more conservative, traditional, authoritarian company, and you find your personal culture at odds with the newly formed company’s culture. Or sometimes it isn’t a newly-formed company but a new management team in your department. Imagine the horror of getting hired by a like-minded soul only to find a year or two later your daily work routine overseen by a person who considers you a bother.  In any, and all of the above cases, what does one do?

An expedient (and cold) company weeds out those who don’t match the new and “improved” culture and management teams. But is that the smartest move?  Similar to the feared 2012 brain drain of the Boomers, those you jettison for cultural mismatch reasons take with them stores of knowledge you may not be able to replace without cost in time, money, efficiency, and quality to the organization. What I’ve found is those deemed most essential to the organization, as in those who are thought to pose the greatest danger if they flee, are the presidents of divisions, and, from there, department managers. The idea is they can’t be allowed to leave without a fight because they’re the ones with the business game plan in mind. Those who work under them are only following orders, and so can easily be replaced with another desperate-for-employment-individual capable of grunt work.

The truth is it’s more complicated than that. True, those in non-management positions usually don’t come up with the overarching business strategy, but there’s a lot they do every day that’s based on their own judgment and expertise. On the front-lines that means knowledge of your customer base. If you run a consumer goods store, that daily work judgment means knowing, if you’re out of stock in one item, what customer Lucy Von Fryingpan would like instead. If you’re a business-to-business provider, it means knowing the intricacies of satisfying the workflow of one of the company’s you service or supply. The manager knows the strategy behind the deals you offer the company buying from you, but doesn’t know the individuals the front-line worker who services them each week knows. So, if one of these “non-essential” workers has a culture clash with the new management, is the smartest thing really to let them go?

Instead, would a corporate culture/new work process update be in order?  How would you do it without offending and further maddening the already culturally struggling worker?  It seems like a nearly impossible task. But still worth a try to hold onto that expertise, right?  Instead of complaining about how offensive their professional approach is to the new boss, discuss new work processes and policies. That way it won’t seem like a personal affront. Also feel free to use self-depreciating humor about the way the new regime does business. I’ve heard new bosses, for instance, poke fun at themselves for liking business conducted the way they like it—being comfortable enough with themselves to acknowledge uptightness or pickiness. It helps for trainers to train managers on acclimating “legacy” employees to the new way of doing business. Part of that training should include the ever-popular personality assessment in which newly-installed managers learn about their work styles. Some will doubtless be too close-minded to take to absorb their assessment results, but others may be sharp and broad-thinking enough to use the new self-awareness to better prepare employees to work under them.

I hate to say it, but you might also have to train managers to use what they learn about themselves for the good, rather than the detriment, of those they manage. Let’s say they learn they’re prone to authoritarian leadership. Your new regime is decidedly conservative, but is an authoritarian leadership style that’s more dictatorial than team-oriented what you want in practice? You may have to figure out how to help managers use their assessment results to understand how to fit more closely with your company’s profile of the ideal manager. If you executives haven’t offered you such a picture of the ideal manager yet, it’s something you should consider asking them for. How else will you groom the kinds of leaders they’re looking for, and how else will you teach those managers to groom, rather than dismiss, those under their supervision who may need a little corporate culture help?

I always like humor and innovation in teaching managers and employees what not to do. One idea is to hire a cartoonist, or find a talented member of your workforce, to create caricatures of the faulty manager. With pictures often more potent than words, and our society becoming more image-ridden (I mean oriented) by the minute, that might be just what your managers and employees need to get the picture on what you consider the worst and most perfect management styles.

The embarrassing thing is admitting you happen to like cartoonish managers.


What’s your company doing to ensure managers understand the corporate culture, and know how to encourage workers to stick with the company, rather than flee in horror?


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