We’ve all heard of the horrible boss. There was even a recent movie that featured three awful managers who make their employees’ lives miserable. The part that stood out for me was how the horrible bosses seemed to have flourishing businesses and staff who worked hard and produced good quality products – at least initially. The comical outcome is that the employees compose elaborate, farcical plots to “eliminate” the bosses through the help of an odd ex con and in the end (spoiler alert) they succeed.
In real life, unhealthy corporate culture is the stuff of tragedy, not comedy, and it is not insults that cause the most harm, but rather callousness about people’s time. After all, time is money for the staff as much as it is for the ISO9001 certification. According to the Harvard Business Review, a horrible boss is someone who expects “subordinates to be on call 24/7 and to hit unrealistic deadlines with limited resources. When the work product is delivered, horrible bosses may ignore it for long intervals, making it clear that the deadline was artificial and the stress unnecessary.”
However, I’m not here to bash bosses. I’ve worked with some amazing ones over the years and I believe that there are far more good bosses than there are bad. Instead, let’s talk about the corporate culture that is created around these bosses and what the implications are to their roles as leaders.
Thunderstorms and Flowers
Every business entity has more than a public identity, a set of policies and procedures and a brand. Beyond these parameters is a thriving culture of human activity, and each organizational group has a unique set of skills, dreams, and passions. Is a healthy corporate culture able to leverage this uniqueness and hone it into superior performance, strong communications, and high quality production? When compared to the alternative, the answer seems obvious.
In a business that has an unhealthy culture, employees act as individuals, performing their duties to meet their own needs or the needs of another individual, often at the cost of their own needs or possibly one of their subordinates. Like in the movie, this type of culture has actually been able to produce productive, high revenue generating machines. However, healthy cultures have not only been able to increase the performance of a business, but also build a sense of comfort and happiness among their team members. When I talk about these two clashing corporate cultures, I imagine thunderstorms verses flowers. Which do you believe is more powerful?
Happiness on Paper
Tony Hsieh (pronounced Shay), the CEO of Zappos and widely regarded as one of the most innovative Internet marketers of all time, believes that his entire business revolves around one thing: happiness.
But corporate culture is not just about nice words on paper. It is about the actions and reactions of an organization’s leaders. When times get tough, how does the CEO, the manager, or the lead hand react?
Stefan Ferrario is the VP of Columbia Containers, a transloading company based out of the Port of Vancouver. Ferrario finds that “it is really the response to stressors that [shows] the true colors of a company, or person, for that matter . . . When Michael McCain, CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, came on TV, surely against the advice of his lawyers, to apologize about the effects of the listeria outbreak – that was a reaction to an event. It is very easy for [Maple Leaf] to say, we have high quality meats and we care about you, but when the CEO gets on TV, emotionally connecting . . . that is a powerful show of their business culture.”
In a company that values workers for their contribution to the business, the employees experience high morale and tend to share common goals. A strong and healthy corporate culture has high employee retention, is able to maintain a positive reputation, has high productivity, and carefully delivers high quality products. The most effective of these cultures go beyond what is on paper and are led by actions rather than by words.
“We have an organic culture built on respect, courtesy, care and helpfulness, for each other and for our stakeholders,” Ferrario explains. “This is something that is increasingly difficult to maintain the larger we get. At first we didn’t have many policies or protocols and as we grew, we added more people from different walks of life; it became obvious that ‘respect, courtesy, care and helpfulness’ is a different standard for everyone.”
Leading by Example
MyYogaOnline.com is a top yoga and wellness video streaming website owned by Fresh Eye Productions Inc. Its CEO, Jason Jacobson, uses his personality, direction, and enthusiasm to guide his employees. Although the other two co-founders of My Yoga Online are yogis, Jacobson is a former amateur boxer. With some, how can I put this, unorthodox yoga poses, he participates in professionally taught yoga classes alongside his staff to build common ground.
“My Yoga Online is a wellness company, and as a result, we strongly take into consideration current and future employees’ interest and dedication to their own health and wellness when hiring and introducing new initiatives. Not everyone can be alike in a corporation . . . but a common interest in one specific realm can really bring a company together. It is not a priority that all staff participate [in our yoga classes], but to date we have had 100% participation. This group act has truly developed a stronger bonding and camaraderie amongst all our staff and as a result led to a much higher comfort level and sense of community amongst our employees.”
Smiling at the Bottom Line
These thriving companies likely have a lot more going for them than just corporate culture, but let’s look at what a recent study on corporate culture has concluded. The Riding the Rapids report, commissioned by PSN and McGrigors LLP and led by Professor Rita Marcella of Aberdeen Business School, is based on interviews with CEOs and directors from major oil and gas operators and contractors in the UK, USA and Canada. The interviewees represented a significant section of the oil and gas industry, employing more than 740,000 people, in over 130 countries.
The details of this report are beyond the scope of this article, but Bob Ruddiman, Head of Energy at McGrigors LLP, sums up the research by saying “companies with a robust corporate culture and a strong understanding of their position in the market place will be best placed to prosper in the long run while companies which are disjointed and constantly fire-fighting will be vulnerable and may not survive the current downturn.”
Despite the type of culture they are nourishing, businesses of all sizes are constantly at a different stage of development – whether they intend to be or not. During stable times, when revenue is high and sales calls are quick, it is often easy to overlook simple things that can bring a group together over the long haul and carry a company through its ups and downs.
It would be nice if everyone loved their work all the time, but business has to go on regardless. “We are all at work to serve our customers one way or another, without our customers, none of us would have the jobs we do – simple as that.” Ferrario goes on to say “When you are not loving your work, you need to realize it is short-sighted, and dangerous, to let temporary negative feelings resonate, at any reach. If the negative feelings are ongoing or permanent, something needs to be changed.”
When life is good and staff are happy, nurturing a corporate culture is still extremely important. As with all aspects of business, when growth is occurring, management is increasingly challenged to become innovative in its policies and procedures, and they need to remain focused on nurturing changes in their culture. This way, when times get tough, the true nature of the business shines through the hardship and staff will smile and work together – not because they are scared of loosing their paychecks, but because they believe in what the company is doing and treat the customers like family.
Thunderstorms are powerful and can break through barriers and ignite a market quickly, but at the end of the day it is the flowers that stay around all season, grow like wild, and come back again and again to impress you with their vibrant and unique colours. A horrible boss will make their staff’s lives miserable. This culture will be reflected in the final product. An outstanding boss will grow with their staff and guide them to use the full potential of their unique abilities and, believe me when I say this, customers will notice.
There is no “one size fits all” solution here. It is about adapting to diversity and bringing a sense of belonging, a sense of happiness to your workplace that will allow your team to stay focused – even when the going gets tough. This is where organizational units will break through the numbers of productivity and output something far beyond, where quality and innovation live.
One of the strongest responses you can get from a customer is a smile. They say the simplest way to get someone to smile is to smile at them first. On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you right now?