All summed in Culture

An organizational culture is the sum total of all I have discussed in my previous posts. It is the product of your people, your policies, and the way your organization does business.

Before you can define your organization’s culture, you must understand what a culture is. While there are many definitions, this is mine.

On the surface, a culture is how your company does things. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” This behavioral measure of culture is important because it’s the demonstrable result of all you do. But is not the only metric.

Culture is also the sum of the underlying values and beliefs that mold your organization. Those values and beliefs have been the subject of my prior posts in this series. Rolled up, they form the underpinning of your culture.

In a Meta sense, these values and beliefs provide a “reality” that is unique to your organization. It provides a basis for purpose and action. It serves as a means of mainstream … and provides a baseline to evaluate people and decisions.

Every organizational culture is different. Competitors can copy your products, mimic your strategies, and hire your people, but they can never duplicate your culture. It is a living, breathing, changing thing that defines your organization like a fingerprint.

This my readers marks the last post of my “Managing People” series. I hope you enjoyed reading them as I’ve enjoyed writing them. Organizations always plan for business strategies and technology solutions, but seldom do they seriously considering how they manage their people.

Please share the series or posts with your friends and colleagues if you find them of benefit.

Until I write again.

Saud A.

Employee Burnout

Everyone agrees that employee turnover is disruptive and expensive. The Society for Human Resource Management estimates the total cost of turnover can be as high as 200 percent of annual salary.

Then consider that half of employee turnover is due to burnout. It’s a problem worth solving.

Many factors contribute to employee burnout. Among the most obvious are heavy workloads, short deadlines, and the ever-present mobile phone, which makes employees available around the clock.

But HR leaders say that burnout is also fueled when employees don’t see a connection between their role and their organization’s purpose.

Another top cause is a negative corporate culture, which I will address in the next post.

If these are conditions that describe your organization, more focus is needed on the fundamentals of community, engagement, and living the organization’s purpose. Providing employees with the foundation I introduced in the first post — belongingness, self-esteem, and self-actualization — is the best defense against burnout.


Promotions may be the most misunderstood aspect of management.

While promotions create motivation and engagement, and demonstrate recognition of individuals, they are not just a reward for good performance. A promotion is the process of adding more responsibility to an employee’s role in the organization.

Following this logic, the best candidate for promotion is not necessarily your team’s top performer. While the criteria for promotion will differ for every job, there are some common trails to look for.

Perhaps the most important is skilled communication. While good communication is desirable in every position, it is a prized asset in a manager. The ability to handle conflict, give feedback, and manage difficult people makes a strong manager in any situation.

Not to be overlooked is a person’s ability to handle failure. While some employees look for excuses and scapegoats, other will accept responsibility and use the setback as a platform for learning and growth.

Finally, remember that promotions groom your organization’s future leadership. Choosing candidates who understand – and demonstrate – your mission and values ensure the seamless continuation of your organization’s culture.

In summary, promotions are an incubator for leadership. While competency is important, always consider the skills and talents your candidate will need in the future, as part of your leadership class.

Manage Your Team’s Workload

Assigning projects to your team may appear to be a straightforward task, but in fact, it’s a critical and complex process.

In many organizations, top performers are burdened with too great a workload, causing resentment. Meanwhile, struggling employees are avoided, eventually losing interest and motivation.

Compounding the problem is human nature: some employees have trouble saying “no,” while others can all too well.

The disparity between the overworked top performers and the under-utilized weak performers leads to low morale, disengagement, and ultimately, turnover.

It’s easy to understand how this happens. Faced with productivity goals, the manager is simply trying to get the job done with available resources.

Management experts offer several methods to balance workload effectively:

First, match skills to needs. Who does what well?  Assign tasks according to each person’s strengths.

Next, create workload metrics. While employees equate effort to hours worked, the true metric is quantity and quality of tasks completed. The project one employee completes in an hour may take another all day.

Finally, coach and develop weaker team members. Every team has a person or two who are slower, inexperienced, or less capable. You owe it your top performers to develop struggling employees. They will require additional supervision and special, developmental assignments. You may find that these team members don’t have the proper aptitude or the necessary interest in the job. If so, they should be re-assigned.

Workload management is a fluid, ever-changing challenge. Giving it proper attention is key to a productive team.

Value of Training & Development

Training may be the most obvious, but most overlooked strategy for greater productivity.


Training can be expensive, in terms of both time and money. Every hour employees are training they are not directly, immediately productive. Projects can be delayed. But if you think of training as an investment, rather than an expense, you can reap substantial rewards.

A properly trained employee gets work done faster, is more productive, and makes fewer errors. But training also inspires employee confidence. Well-trained, confident employees are more likely to suggest process improvements and work beyond their job description.

Training also creates a company-wide baseline of knowledge. Team members can help new employees get up to speed faster, and can easily fill-in at other jobs when needed.

In addition to training people for specific jobs, consider classes in general industry knowledge. Your employees want your business to succeed. Their livelihood depends on it! Helping them understand how their job fits into the bigger picture of the company and industry will connect them to your mission and goals.

Lead by Serving

Asked to describe the role of their supervisor, many employees will say, “He tells me what to do.”

This is a symptom of top-down management, in which employees are tightly controlled by management. People who stray from management’s rigid agenda are considered dangerous, and either removed or counseled by Human Resources.

Often, this management style leads to turf wars and toxic internal politics. Productivity can be decreased by 30%, or more.

This condition is not only costly, it’s unnecessary.  In most organizations, well-trained employees already know what to do; in fact, they usually know their jobs better than management does.

So instead of controlling employees, serve them. View your job as a service to support your employees to reach their goals.

Research has found that Managers who serve their employees provide them with a strong sense of recognition, independence, and job satisfaction, resulting in an overall higher performance of the organization they belong to.

Here are three ways you can serve your employees every day:

  • Coaching

Mentor your staff, drawing on your experience and providing personalized training when needed.

  • Bridging

Provide connections and introductions to other staff and resources who can help them get the job done.

  • Facilitation

Think of this as “running interference.” When your team encounters obstacles, break down barriers to their success.

Servant managers help employees fill gaps, smooth over problems, and break through walls. With this kind of support, employees are more successful and fulfilled.  And as a result, so are you.

The Micromanager

Have you ever had a boss who wouldn’t leave your work alone? Who had to rewrite and approve everything you did, no matter how small? Who was never satisfied with anything, ever?

You were the victim of a micromanager.

Like the name implies, the micromanager has a high need to control the smallest details. From reports to memos to something as small as a color choice, the micromanager is unable to delegate and has to do it himself. If you had the misfortune to work for one, you know how demoralizing it can be.

If you manage one on your team it’s best to address the problem now, before it results in turnover.

Sometimes this behavior is an extension of personal control issues, as you’d expect. But in others, it is actually based in fear of failure.

Consider how managers are promoted to their positions. Typically, they have above average competence at individual skills, and their work has earned them recognition and advancement. But once promoted, they manage employees who are less competent. Sometimes, especially when new to their role, these managers fear that work produced by their team is expected to be as good as their own individual work. Not comfortable with delegating, they feel the need to do the work themselves.

You can help shield the micromanager’s staff in several ways. First, model good managerial behavior, particularly with the micromanager. Demonstrate trust and proper delegation. Try talking through the problem with the micromanager, being sure to praise positive behavior.

Help the micromanager understand that there’s a difference between “his way” and the “wrong way.” That employees may get the task done differently than the micromanager expected, but the result is still valid.

Micromanaging is a difficult habit to break, but with patience and support it can be overcome.

A Sense of Community in the Workplace

Much of what we believe about management has its roots in the Industrial Revolution. The concept of the organization as a “well-oiled machine” with a rigid, almost military hierarchy, is leftover from a time when jobs were simple, repetitive, and mindless.

In fact, organizations of 100 years ago mimicked machines… and many still do. The manager sits at the top, pulling levers to cause specific actions. The employees become replaceable parts, fueled to do repetitive tasks with ever-greater efficiency.

Today, in the light-speed digital age, anything mindless and repetitive is already done by a machine, or soon will be. You need people to contribute critical thinking, creativity, and judgement to your business.

This is best accomplished by dropping the machine metaphor and viewing your company as a community of individuals.

While the community has a purpose of its own, it is supported by a foundation of people, each with their own unique hopes and dreams.

Creating a sense of community in your workplace is essential to satisfying two basic employee needs I described in the first article: belonging and recognition.

I’m sure you’re thinking, “This is great theory, but how do I create community in my workplace?”

First, you must discard the myth that the needs of corporation are greater than the needs of the individual.

I know, this is heresy by Industrial Revolution standards. But we all instinctively know it’s true.

Saying it out loud — and displaying it through your company’s behavior — has an almost magical effect: it allows your employees to shed their “you versus me” thinking and embrace the purpose of the company.  By recognizing them as individuals, they will know their needs are, to at least some degree, important to their employer, as well as themselves.

Finding “Purpose” at Work

Of all the methods available to increase engagement, productivity, and performance, the most powerful is meaningfulness.

Simply defined, meaningfulness is a company mission that employees can relate to as people. It’s a statement that reassures them their work is making the world a better place. For this reason, I like to think of it as a “higher purpose.”

A “higher purpose” touches on all key human needs: belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization.

According to a survey by The Energy Project, employees who find meaning in their work are three times more likely to stay at their job, report 1.7 times greater job satisfaction, and are 1.4 times more engaged at work. It had the highest impact of any variable tested.

If your company has been through a mission statement process, review your mission and goals. If they describe market share or leadership in a business category, think higher. Virtually every business has a higher purpose.

An easy one would be a medical product manufacturer, whose purpose could be “to ease pain and promote healing.”

An accounting firm can aspire to “protect wealth and create security.”

An ad advertising agency stated its purpose as “making the world a better place by the way we conduct business and the messages we send into the world.”

This is not just new-age, spiritual silliness.  Your higher purpose is more than words for your employees; it can be a guiding principle for the way you manage your business. It’s a baseline for decision making, personnel policies, and even marketing strategies.

Once your employees see that your purpose is more than words on paper, you will begin to see an uptick in job satisfaction, a decrease in turnover, and greater employee engagement.

So what is the purpose of your work?

Work Engagement

If you gave each of your employees a check for 5 million dollars, how many would show up for work the next day?

Your answer is a window into the basic health and culture of your business.

Sure, it seems absurd that anyone would continue to work without the need for a paycheck… but money alone is not why people go to their jobs every day.

A survey conducted by Make Their Day, an employee motivation firm, and Badgeville, a gamification company, shows the most desired rewards from work are recognition and meaning. Compensation ranked sixth.

This is not surprising. People do not suspend their lives when they are working. They do not become fundamentally different when sitting behind a desk or standing at a machine.

In a modern society, where people’s needs for basic shelter and safety are met, they desire belongingness, self-esteem, and self-actualization. There’s no reason why work should be excluded from those desires, yet in most organizations, these needs are either disregarded or not taken seriously.

But there’s good reason to do so: Employees who sense belongingness, self-esteem, and self-actualization on the job experience a condition called “engagement.” Engagement has a profound affect on job satisfaction and creates an even more profound increase in productivity.

Only 30% of people are engaged at work and more often than not, you’ll find them at top-ranked, highly effective organizations. In this series of posts, I will explain more about the steps required to create engagement and in turn, turbo-charge your organization’s success.