What Expectations Damage Organizational Culture?

Full Transcript Below

[ANNOUNCER]: Breaking down everyday workplace issues and diagnosing the hidden sickness not just the obvious symptom, our hosts James and Coby.


[COBY]: Did we lose a patient?


[JAMES]: No that’s just my lunch.


[COBY]: Hey thanks for joining us. I’m Coby, he’s James, so let’s get started with a question. What expectations damage organizational culture?


[JAMES]: Okay I love the question but I’m going to take a brief pause and just acknowledge that, if you’re listening to our last episode, I apologize for the poor sound quality. Apparently it helps to actually plug in your expensive professionals microphone. So this one should be a much better, easier to listen to podcast. But our last one it was a great conversation and we didn’t want to try to fake that, the natural flow of it. So we just went with it, but I just want to acknowledge that, yeah that was totally this guy’s fault.


[COBY]: Yes thank you James.


[JAMES]: So what’s the expectations that are damaging organizational culture? I’m going to sum it up by saying it’s about our performative expectations. It’s what are the expectations that we have in the workplace that focus on the look of work, rather than the outcome of work? The performance of, you know, this idea that we have to have some sort of, put on some sort of theater, some sort of act, some sort of play, some sort of performance in order to look like we are actually doing what we’re supposed to be doing. That expectation is the single biggest hurdle to developing an authentic workplace culture. Because people aren’t being authentic, people are acting in a way that they think their managers expect, rather than focusing on you know actually performing organizational outcomes. So a great example is this idea of like, we talk about productivity theater this idea that success only looks one way. You know you can only be successful if you’re sitting in front of your computer or at your workstation from nine o’clock in the morning until five o’clock at night. All that does, that expectation is that it forces people to act a certain way whether or not they are being productive, whether or not they are actually meeting their outcomes. They are forced into this performance, this this play acting in order to meet expectations that you are setting as the leader, as the manager. And it’s not helping your organization.


[COBY]: I think the problem with the performative expectations is that it really isn’t just about productivity. It’s when we value the visual look, the visual appeal of actions, or of components to our workplace, in our workplace culture over the actual unsexy things that actually make a difference. And I think that the performative productivity and the performance of theater, or the productivity theater is good to talk about. But I think before we dig into that, I actually think an even better example is what it, what is the the ideas around performative DEI. Because like what we mean by performative expectations are looking, are prioritizing the visual easy to see and easy to measure aspects of our culture. Rather than the actual changes, the small everyday components, the harder to measure and see easily components that really actually make a difference. I think that the performative DEI piece is something that is so important to talk about because a lot of companies that want to do things well with DEI end up, I would say you know, not intentionally prioritizing, again, the visual easy to see and measure aspects of DEI rather than the components that actually make the real difference. And it’s the idea of this is what kind of creates that, the elements of wanting to kind of have that, the nice picture of all the different, you know, looks and all the different faces and all the different… you know look how diverse we look. And regardless of how this functions in the everyday. Look at how, look at the visual appeal of our DEI efforts. And it doesn’t really, and that can actually do more harm than good.


[JAMES]: Absolutely it’s the idea like when we focus DEI on representation without inclusion. If we focus on this idea that we, in order to achieve, in order to… as if DEI is something that we can actually just you know achieve, or tick a box and say we are done. This idea that if we can just have the right sample of diverse populations in our workplace, then we have accomplished DEI, but if you’re not creating that sense of belonging then your recruitment efforts, your diversity, equity, and initiative, inclusion efforts, they’re wasted. We’ve talked about this idea around you know focusing on inclusion first and you know what are the some of the biggest problems around our current approaches to DEI we’ve got a lot of information that we can talk about on this. But in terms of the performative aspect if you’re focused on what everything looks like for your social media accounts or for your company profile then you’re focused on performative DEI not on actually creating inclusive, productive workplaces.


[COBY]: Yeah we’ve done lots of work with different organizations and stuff like that too. And like we see things like you know, I remember the story of a business or an organization, I think I believe that might even been a non-profit, I can’t remember now, but they you know were very good at making, patting themselves on the back for their efforts around LGBTQ, right. Like you know the pride month, buying everybody and passing out Pride flags, and putting you know big posters up and changing the The Pride symbol on their social media accounts. ,nd really good at making themselves seem like the greatest allies as an organization. But when it came to talking to the you know employees that you know identify as part of the LGBTQ community, they were like yeah, no that doesn’t trickle down into the everyday. There’s still this idea of you know keep it to yourself, leave it at the door. You know expectation placed on them. They’re really… But like, but they also want us to identify to be the first ones to speak up at events or represent the organization as a whole and talk about how great they are.


[JAMES]: And volunteer for more work that’s unpaid just because yeah…


[COBY]: It’s one of those things where it’s you know again it’s really easy and measurable and visual to put on a good show. But the inauthenticity of it does so much damage, you know kind of like under the scenes. Like you know, you may put a lot of effort into your social media trying to brand yourself as a… your employer brand as being very supportive of a community. But if the staff who identify as part of the community are saying no, they’re not. You know that does you know far more damage than you could possibly imagine. Because inauthenticity that really speaks volumes.


[JAMES]: Well that hypocrisy it just it causes people to check out, right? If you see your organization talking about how amazing they are to the public and then treating you like garbage, then why would you, why would you do anything above and beyond? Why would you, why would you do anything that you’re not specifically ordered to? And why would you actually stay with an organization that operates in that way?


[COBY]: Well and the thing too is that it’s not always that these organizations are trying to be evil, they’re not cartoon villains trying to actually like you know project this this false narrative. They’re not trying to be, to you know gaslight everybody by intention. It often comes back to what we talked about in some of our other episodes. We talked about DEI and inclusion is the difference between integration and inclusion. Because we often think that integration, which is the visible coexistence of different groups, you know, within a single, within the same area or the same location, within the same organization. The visual coexistence, we think that is inclusion a lot of time. We talked about this in our earlier episode that we did, the podcast talking about you know are we actually creating inclusion? And the answer is no, we’re often creating integration. Because the thing is that integration is very visible, the performative expectations around that visible coexistence where people work alongside each other, they look different and it’s easy to see. And you know, there may be some sense of, like you know, ability to kind of you know tolerate each other. But that’s not inclusion and that doesn’t create the culture that we want to create, a strong, healthy environment. It just creates the nice picture. The performative expectation of these people who work together and they don’t hate each other. So therefore, DEI achieved. And then, and I think that missed… the misunderstanding of thinking integration and inclusion as the same thing is often where a lot of the results of those well-intended, but poorly execute DEI strategies come from.


[JAMES]: And you’re right I mean these 99% of the organizations are not cartoon villains who are you know trying to do something nefarious. But that doesn’t matter to the person who experiences the hypocrisy, right? For the person who is experiencing that, the intent is largely irrelevant. It’s still going to cause burnout, it’s still going to cause disengagement, it’s still going to cause job dissatisfaction. Regardless of whether or not the organization had the best intentions in the world and just did it poorly, or whether they are just you know they are the Mr Burns cartoon villain trying to actively undermine their employees. It doesn’t matter, because the outcome is the same.


[COBY]: Simpson’s reference, well done.


[JAMES]: Well I mean hey if we can reference The Simpsons in a podcast episode I’m happy. But it largely it doesn’t matter I mean unfortunately best intentions don’t change the outcome. If the person affected, for the person who’s affected by it.


[COBY]: Yeah no you’re right. And so we actually have some other con… talking about integration and inclusion on our YouTube channel. We have an explainer video, like the difference, we recommend if that’s something that you’re wondering, which do I have in my workplace? We certainly recommend you check out Solutions Explained by Roman 3, the YouTube channel, and look for that integration versus inclusion Know The Difference video, because it’ll help break that down.


[JAMES]: I think the conversation around performative DEI is really, really good. It’s an important one to talk about and if you are engaging in performative DEI, then unfortunately you are causing yourself more problems than you’re solving. But I want to go back to something that I mentioned earlier, which is the idea of productivity theater. This idea that in order to be productive you have to… productivity only looks like one particular thing. We often talk about this in terms of the difference between; are you being busy? Or are you being productive? The idea that if you’re being busy. then you are really just taking as much time as possible to accomplish your goals. The idea that if you’re being productive then you are doing as much as possible within the time frame that you have. Those sound like they’re just slight variations, and they are, you know you can talk about it in terms of splitting hairs. But the distinction is important. Because most businesses believe that they are reinforcing that people need to be productive. That the way to be successful is that to do as much as you possibly can within the time frame that you have. Without realizing that the way what they reinforce, through their compensation, through their expectations, through the way that they structure work, is they actually encourage people to be busy. To take as much time as possible to complete just enough tasks to not get in trouble.


[COBY]: Yeah and I think that the idea around the busy versus productive tends to be the expectation of how you measure performance. Because look, because you’re right, like you know… so we have another video actually where we talk about the difference between busy and productive on our YouTube channel. And the idea is about, yeah the difference between how you measure time and task. Because the idea is that was that when we’re trying to measure performance, we think of well if they’re constantly working during the day, that’s how… that’s a successful measurement of performance, regardless of what they’re actually accomplishing. If they’re looking… if it looks like they’re working then that’s how me, as a manager, assumes that they’re doing good work. But that really ends up being, you know, almost reinforcing like you say the idea of being busy. Of just looking like, providing that productivity theater, having the look of productivity. Rather than the actual results of it. And a good example of that, was we used to do a lot of, again like you know pre-COVID, we did a lot of in-person meetings, and discussions, and sessions with different business groups. I remember we were given this this talk about this idea around you know about Performance Management and busy and productive. And a lot of businesses say “oh no we really focus on productivity, it’s in our mission statement, our values, we’re a productivity focused business”. And then we had one client talking, or one participant talking about their experience in their production facility, and they’re talking about you know how they are very much about, like you know outcome focused and that sort of thing like that. And then they made a couple comments about like hours and shift they had, you know the idea of producing like I think it was like 10 tons per eight hour shift was kind of how they talked about that. So I remember we kind of stopped, we stopped kind of dug into that a little bit more. And we said okay, not to not to pick on you, but we just kind of want to explore this, kind of how it plays out in the every day. And say, so if the outcome, the performance outcome, is they, is an eight hour shift, your team has to complete 10 tons of the outputs. So we said, okay what about this, what if the the your team could produce 10 tons in six hours, you know what what would you do? he said well we expect them to try, and move, but try and achieve 12 tons. If they met, you know keep keep the good work going. We’re like okay, what if your team said to you, hey if we do you know 10 or 10 tons in six hours, can we go home early? And he was like well if they did that we’d I’d say, okay sure but we’re only paying you for the six hours. And that, and to us that really spoke to the heart of it. A lot of the other participants kind of saw our point that he intentionally made for us. That what that expectation does is it creates this idea where employees, they want to get their full days pay and do the least amount of work, make the 10 tons last eight hours.


[JAMES]: Yeah I mean and it makes sense, right? I mean what incentive are you actually providing to people? The incentive is, we’re not going to get any more money regardless of how hard we work. We’re not going to get any more time off regardless of how much how hard we work. So you’re incentivizing people to take as long as possible to do the minimum, as much work as they should to take you know that full eight hours, so that they’re not killing themselves. Why would they work harder? Why would anybody push to produce more than the bare minimum if you’re not providing any form of incentive for them to do so?


[COBY]: Yeah like if, like this wasn’t a client that we worked with. So we didn’t really get a chance to go beyond this conversation. But if this had been a client we would have we would have explored ideas around Performance Management. Like saying you know to kind of to help improve kind of the factors of your workplace and improve things, like you know Wellness, or putting the compensation, or those kind of things that could you look at more ways or more options provide you have the operational flexibility to. Could you have you know pay people for an eight hour shift but once they complete their quota, then they go home, or could you look at like you know a week’s worth of quota, you know instead you know if it’s 50 tons. If it did 50 tons, potentially by Thursday, could they have Friday off? like those..


[JAMES]: Or a half day on Friday or our you know performance incentives of you know shift premiums, or you know if the you’ve got five eight hour shifts, you’re supposed to do 10 tons, if you do 50 great. If you do 60, then you get some sort of incentive, right? If you actually want to and encourage performance, and you believe that you are incentivizing performance, then you need to actually put your money where your mouth. Is either literal dollars or creating some sort of benefit for people to work harder.


[COBY]: Yeah exactly. I mean but like if the goal is we measure performance by how much they’re working during their shift, regardless of their output, you know or as long as they meet their output, then the idea is again you’re reinforcing busy rather than productive. And again that’s a nice example for the manufacturing or for like, you know some of the you know more non-desk work piece. But when you look at things like you know desk work, work from home has had this massive productivity theater component to it as well. Like I did the video about Productivity Paranoia where I talked about like you know one of the problems that we’re having is that people are actually being very productive in remote work, or work from home, but a lot of managers don’t know what that looks like, or they don’t know what or how they ensure that their employees are actually being productive. So they use time measuring, keystroke measuring, kind of pieces to try and validate the performance, rather than shifting to kind of the results and the outcomes. So we have this Productivity Paranoia from managers worried about what does performance look like when I can’t see you every day, so if they don’t actually have an effective way to measure as a result or outcomes. Then you have employees doing productivity theater where they have to make it look like they’re working, despite the fact of what they’re actually accomplishing, because they’re performing. Because the results and their outcomes are not enough to prove they’re working. And this is kind of the stuff that we have to do in performative expectations are so ingrained in our workplace culture. Because that really does create a lot of damage.


[JAMES]: It does and I mean it’s it’s always I find it so amusing that that topic comes up around work from home when there is as much or more theater happening in the office. Of people just sitting at their desks looking like they are busy, and not like… it’s just, this happens everywhere and it all comes down to what are you reinforcing, and how are you reinforcing it? How are you incentivizing people to act, to perform, to do have good performance? Not just put on a performance.


[COBY]: Right yeah absolutely and I mean and even this idea of performance going most, again beyond productivity theater and performative DEI, we kind of even see this expectation of performance, or this visual easy to see pieces, kind of in recruitment. It’s a little bit different, we kind of see this as almost like an appreciation or expectation of highly extroverted, charismatic people in the job interview pieces. That performance of Charisma and extrovertedness, gives people an advantage. And again in some jobs absolutely. Like sales, or even it’s kind of leadership, you want that kind of charismatic you know piece where people are drawn to you. But a lot of jobs that’s not a requirement, and you have a lot of great, you know introverted quiet people reflective people who would be rock stars in the performance in the measuring results or results and outcomes of the job. But may not look like the expectation around them performing in the job, or it’s hard to visualize them because they’re so quiet, that they get you know that they’re behind the eight ball, they’re giving a disadvantage because we want that performance in the job interview as well.


[JAMES]: And I think a great example is the client that we worked with a few years ago in the small business that was, you know they had been growing and they were gotten to a point where they realized that they needed a financial comptroller. So they were they were hiring for this, like it senior leadership role, but it was a… you know they were looking for somebody like a CPA. They were looking for all of these different aspects for the financial management of the company in order to ensure that it’s, ensure continued growth. We did the recruitment with them, we did the recruitment part for them, interviewed with them, and helped them screen their applicants. And I can remember very clearly so the there was one, there were two clients in particular, or two applicants in particular who kind of stood out for this client. One in a good way, one in a not so good way. There was one client, one applicant who was very personable, very bubbly, very outgoing and they seemed to build a, you know, they were very good at building that initial rapport that you know having a really positive first impression. Contrast it with another applicant who was extremely qualified, had every like, ticked every single box that the client was looking for. You know had the designations, you know had done this exact type of work before in, not in the same industry, but for a company at a similar growth stage. Like talking to this person and the interview with this person was phenomenal because they were so knowledgeable, they were very process focused, they knew exactly what they needed to do to set up the financial management for a small business and to carry it out. But they were not the most engaging person to talk to. They were fairly reserved, it took a little bit of probing to really get some information out of them, about themselves. Talking about their job, talking about their area of expertise, phenomenal, no problems there. But they were not nearly what you know the classical extrovert of, you know, outgoing and bubbly. And you know that was not who this person, was but holy crap could they do the job. And I remember the conversations that and back and forth with the client talking about… well they were leaning towards the bubbly, outgoing personality, who honestly they had some of the qualifications, but they’d never done this job before. They probably could have learned it, I’m not saying that they weren’t a good applicant, but there was an obviously better applicant that we had talked to. But they just they weren’t as outgoing and this idea that well, what you actually need from this role, this is a Financial comptroller role for your organization. You want somebody who is very competent, who is very knowledgeable, who is very process focused, who has done this before, in order for you to achieve your growth goals.


[COBY]: Yeah and especially because that skill set of the financial expertise didn’t exist in the organization. This person had to be the expert.


[JAMES]: Yeah this was the first role of that type, it’s not like they were coming into an established process. They needed somebody who could step in and build a solid financial process for the company.


[COBY]: Yeah and I mean, it’s one of those things where the, you know, the more experienced candid was a little boring. But at the same time you know they weren’t going to be, you know, speaking publicly, doing sales. They weren’t, they didn’t have any direct reports, so there wasn’t a team they had to motivate and stay going. They were kind of be put in the back office, and churning out the results, and making sure that everything… all the the i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed. And they would have been able, and they would have been so happy doing that. But they just as far as the expectations about what you want in an applicant, a new employee, you want that motivation, enthusiasm, and charisma. But you don’t always need it. Because it’s idea of that expectation of all employees have to be bubbly, and this, and that to kind of fit into our existing culture. When really that’s not going to be the best person for the job. And sometimes a matter of realizing what is it that you actually want.


[JAMES]: What do you actually need in the role? Do you need somebody who can actually do the job, or do you need somebody who’s going to be, you know, on display, the king of the company picnic.


[COBY]: Well actually that’s actually a really good thing to kind of build onto too. Is that, when it comes to kind of the performative piece, it’s not necessarily just about the expectation on the individual employee. Sometimes the way that the organizations talk about their workplace culture, we have a great workplace culture because we have this foosball table in the break room. We have this beautiful, you know, like our values are muraled on the walls when you walk in. Or we have this amazing company picnic.


[JAMES]: Yeah the values muraled on the wall thing, man you might as well just slap a Live, Love, Laugh decal up there for all the good it’s going to do you. But you’re right though, we take the same performative approach to our workplace culture. We try to make things, we try to paint a picture, right? We try, so statements on our website, and you know our values plastered on the walls, so that people can see them when they walk in. Even you know, I’m not against the annual company events, but using them as your sole engagement strategy or your sole kind of piece… there’s anyways… we talk, we’ve got many, many episodes that go into the problematic approach that has. But even this idea that like a lot of companies will use an annual barbecue, or company event to put on more performative aspects where they will hold all recognition and rewards to showcase during the company event. Which in itself is not terrible, if you’re also providing that recognition and rewards in real time. And you want to also acknowledge the great successes that people are that people are accomplishing to the entire organization. But that’s not how I’ve seen most companies use these types of events. They’ll use a company picnic event or you know an award ceremony as this big performative display. Where all they’re really worried about is this idea that… look at how successful we have been because we are giving out plaques for five years of service, and 10 years of service, and 20 years of service. And you know these, those things aren’t bad in and of themselves. But when they are focused on the performance, rather than actually rewarding people in real time, and acknowledging the tremendous contributions that your staff make to your organization, it’s problematic.


[COBY]: Yeah I think that like you know one of the one of the problems with the performative pieces around workplace culture is when the focus is on the visual, fun. Right? Like you know, the social media posts of us at the company picnic, or on the retreat, or this is the fun stuff we do we’re having a foosball tournament in the middle of the day, because we’re just a fun place to work. And I mean like anyway we talked about again, we talked about a lot of this stuff like you know in recent episodes about Employee Engagement, and how we’re doing it wrong, and how we actually make it work. So make sure you check those though, but a lot of it too is around, you know, the focus on happiness rather than on engagement. We think that employee happiness is the same thing as an engaged employee, right? An engaged employee is really more about motivation and enthusiasm, but a lot of this stuff is again, what are we trying to get? We’re trying to get the easy to see visual, measurable pieces that prove we have all these things. But really they don’t. But I think what you said before, you kind of said this kind of running through a lot of the stuff that we talked about, we’re kind of villainizing a lot of these things that are common in most workplaces. But we’re not. I think it’s important for us to say they’re not actually bad on their own, sorry they’re not actually bad pieces as part of a larger plan. Having you know, the you know, the I guess told the story about the LGBTQ, like the flags, Pride flags and everything. Those aren’t a bad thing, but… if they’re part of a larger strategy that actually walks the walk, is not just the sizzle it’s actually the steak, then those things can be good. Just like the company picnic, you know, it’s not you know they’re not a bad thing, but if they’re all that you’re doing, or you lean too heavily on it, and they’re not actually part of an actual system that actually makes a difference and improves the day-to-day actions. Or extroverted employees aren’t a bad thing, it’s about you know are you only trying to hire people because they “wow” you? With their charismatic presence? but if that’s really not what the job requires. So it’s important to realize that a lot of things we’ve kind of been saying are not good, it’s important to realize that you know, again, if the only thing you want is the performance, is the visual aspect, then they’re not good. But if they are part of an actual system that actually makes a difference and improves the daily lives of everybody, then they can be an excellent component to a much larger plan.


[JAMES]: Well and you’re right I mean going back to our original question, is what are the, what expectations are destroying or holding back or limiting our organizational culture? And these actions are important, the things that like having company picnics, yeah they’re great. But we default to the performative, we default to this showy this, because it’s easier for us to measure, right? It’s easier for us to tick a box and say we have accomplished this, because I can see it. I can see it in front of me, we held a company picnic, check. We held an award ceremony, check. We hired a bubbly candidate, check. We you know whatever else you know, we’ve hired a diverse workforce, check. We can see these things. But that tick box approach to workplace culture is a very short-sighted strategy. I’d be hesitant to call it a strategy at all, but we’ll say it’s a it’s a short-sighted strategy. It’s not going to accomplish what… and build what we consider to be a productive, inclusive, profitable workplace culture. Which should be the outcome, right? We’re engaged, as businesses we are engaging in these activities. Yes, they are the right thing to do, there is a moral imperative around diversity, equity, and inclusion, it is the right thing to do. It is also the profitable thing to do, if done properly. And we cannot necessarily separate those things. I don’t think that it’s bad to approach these things from an, from a standpoint of how is this going to help better our company? And there are direct bottom line benefits to all of these things, but they have to be done with intention, with strategy, and not from a performative, visual standpoint.


[COBY]: No you’re right. Okay I think I’ll do a bit of a wrap up, this was a good conversation, we got to vent a lot of our frustrations.


[JAMES]: Isn’t that the point of the podcast?


[COBY]: I believe so. What expectations damage organizational culture? Well what they really comes down to is the idea of performative expectations, that are easy, visual things that you can see, and measure, and point to, that you know are really not making the difference that we actually need. Which is about improving the day-to-day employee experience. Things like performative DEI, where we use tokenism, we put a stuff on social media that talks about how great we are, but we actually don’t walk the walk. Or we focus on integration and having that visual coexistence of differing groups, rather than inclusion where employees feel like they belong and are accepted in the workplace. We engage in productivity theater, where we actually value being busy and using as much time as we can with the tasks that we have, rather than being productive where we use where we do as many tasks as we can with the time that we have. We have Productivity Paranoia, where employers don’t believe their work from home employees are actually you know achieving or actually being productive, so they put in a lot of more visual pieces so they can see how well they’re working. Rather than measuring their actual outcomes and the results. Which makes employees do a productivity theater, where they look as busy as possible when the boss is around, or the boss noticing, so that the boss thinks they’re actually working. Sometimes this trickles into how we recruit and we want the visual extroverted employees, regardless of whether or not those qualities that may kind of “wow” us in the interview, if those qualities aren’t really part of the job itself then we may be putting that expectation needlessly on the applicants. And we look at performative workplace culture, where we focus on the fun. Where we do things about putting on a big show, and having a lot of things to point to about how great our culture is. Where we also may be having problems with micromanagement and you know lack of respect and all these other issues. But we want that, we want that polished veneer and that polished look rather than the actual meaningful results. So it’s important for us to realize that the performative expectations, how things look, things we can point to, are not actually going to move the needle on making a more productive, more inclusive, and more profitable workplace culture. All right so that about does it for us. So for a full archive of our podcasts and access to the video version hosted on our YouTube channel visit our website at roman3.ca/podcast. Thanks for joining us.


[ANNOUNCER]: For more information on topics like these don’t forget to visit us at roman3.ca. Side effects of this podcast may include improved retention, high productivity, increased market share, employees breaking out in spontaneous dance, dry mouth, aversion to the sound of James’s voice, desire to find a better podcast…

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