The CEO of a multimillion dollar company was in the office building elevator one day going down to lunch from his executive suite on level 77. Several floors down three employees stepped into the same elevator all very engaged in a conversation. They paid no attention to him – the CEO – standing in the elevator.
As the elevator door closed with its three new occupants, he quickly became aware, their conversation was a series of complaints and grievances about the company of which he was CEO and founder.
This company had become a global company through a number of recent mergers, and the three employees in the elevator were complaining about workloads, their bosses, slow systems, impossible volume of work and complaining customers.
Airing grievances in pubic
They were airing their grievances in a public place without consideration of who else was listening, or even paying attention to who else might be in the elevator with them.
When the elevator reached the the ground floor, the CEO introduced himself, and expressed concern that their experiences were very upsetting to him and wanted to find out how he could make the appropriate changes. In short, he wanted culture change at his organization. He arranged a meeting and promised he would do something about it.
He was alarmed that his employees were speaking about their grievances and unhappiness at work in public places, and not knowing how to take actions to change their situation.
He acted immediately. He took full responsibility and realized it was time to re-focus and align the corporate culture. I worked with him and his team. In a workshop, entitled “Professional Pride” that every person in the organization attended, including the CEO and the executive team, we focussed on discovering the existing strengths of the organization – the positive core – and we built on those to imagine what else was possible to create the organization that they wanted to be part of and would be proud of.
We discovered the existing strengths, imagined desirable futures and began to design processes, policies and systems to make that desirable future happen.
We focused on language, appropriate, professional behaviors and corporate identity and public image and what needed to happen to ensure congruence between public image and employee experiences. The underlying message was how we talk and behave is the corporate culture.
To Achieve Culture Change, Change the Narrative!
If you want Culture change, you can begin by changing the narrative – the stories we tell each other. What employees say around the water cooler, is enacted in the behaviors and creates culture change which, in turn, is reflected in performance, relationships – at work and at home – and business brand and reputation.