I LOVE 💖 the sight of a beautifully managed and manicured garden. With healthy plants and colorful blooms, I can see that someone or many someone’s devotes tremendous time and energy to maintain and nurture their stunning garden.
I HATE 😡 however the work that goes into maintaining and managing my garden because of the dreaded chore of weeding.
The Weeds are Taking Over!
On the first sunny day of Spring every year, I get the urge to venture outside and spend time sprucing up my wife’s Fairy Garden. That is… until I see all the weeds that have taken root since the last time I was there!
Therefore, I weed and weed and weed ad nauseum until I get the last of them. I brag to myself, “Whew! this will be the last time I will have to do this exhausting chore!”
I can hear you laughing at me because you know that WEEDS HAPPEN!
Seeds and roots left by the weeds I just pulled and new airborne ones will begin to flourish in the rich soil as soon as I go inside for a glass of iced tea.
Silly of me, isn’t it? It is ridiculous for me to expect that I can have a weedless garden.
Yet… the same belief is true about your workplace culture. You think you have a GREAT culture: one where every employee 1) lives up to your highest ideals, 2) take great care of every customer, and 3) makes wise and beneficial decisions. Right?!
Now it is your turn being silly! It is ridiculous for you to ignore this Natural Law about your Culture.
- An unmanaged culture never gets better – it only gets worse!
I know that sounds harsh, an in-your-face way of expressing this truth but it does not lessen the importance of this reality.
Every Leader’s Responsibility is to Manage, Maintain, and Manicure their Culture Garden
This onus applies to both the culture of your team and organization. As a leader you own the responsibility to cultivate the culture garden. Corporate culture is the source of everything good and bad that happens in an organization and team.
A healthy culture is like the garden filled with greenery, blooms, robust plants, and fertile soil. The unhealthy culture is like a garden containing infertile soil, overrun with weeds, and full of unhealthy or dying plants.
The leader is the employee who manages and manicures the garden of their workplace. Unfortunately, this task is something that most everyday leaders ignore or try to delegate to someone else. They see it as a dreaded chore, like weeding a garden.
You may be familiar with the phrase Catch-22. If not, it describes a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or interdependent conditions. Continuing my analogy of comparing a culture to a garden, here are parallel conflicting conditions that every gardener and leader faces.
Catch-22 of Gardening: If I ignore the healthy plants, they will die. If I ignore the weeds, they will thrive and kill the plants.
Catch-22 of Workplace Culture: If you ignore your culture’s defects, they will grow worse. If you ignore the beneficial aspects of your culture, they will die out.
Example – Conflict among employees
Many everyday leaders feel uncomfortable dealing with the conflicts that arise between employees or groups. Ignoring this quite common conflict does not make it go away. However, if employees get along very well and you do nothing to encourage and model that behavior, simple conflict will turn into a much bigger problem. The inability or unwillingness for a leader to prune conflicts before they grow large is an example of a cultural defect, a weed that swiftly grows out of control.
The Dreaded Pop-weed
Where I live there is a certain weed that clearly defines the Catch-22 I just mentioned. I do not know the official name of this weed, but I have dubbed it as the pop-weed. This weed appears in early Spring, starts its life extremely small, and is fast growing. Many everyday gardeners ignore the plant assuming it is benign because it produces a small white flower.
Unwise decision! I discovered that I must cull them out of my garden as soon as I see them because if I do not, I will quickly regret it.
While the ground is moist and the NW rains continue, this weed grows fast and the flowers swiftly turn to seeds. As soon as the weather warms, the plant dries out and becomes insidious. When I try to pull out the mature weed, it immediately sprays a batch of seeds within a 6-to-8-inch radius. Each of these seeds will grow another pop-weed. But if I leave the weed alone and allow it to complete its short life cycle, I am in big trouble! As soon as the plant is drying out, a simple touch pops the seeds. Later, without any intervention on my part, in its death scene, a pop-weed sprays any remaining seeds. This means if I fail to notice AND remove the pop-weed from the garden, one weed will turn into 20 in less than a month.
During Fall and Winter, the pop-weed seeds remain dormant in the fertile soil.
Hiding Among the Good Stuff
A Fairy Garden needs plenty of Irish Moss and other groundcover so the fairies can stay hidden. (I am letting you know in case you do not have one.) Weeds revel in this condition as if they had consciousness.
Another reason I hate weeding is because may types of weeds find a home within this groundcover to hide. The get plenty of moisture so they grow fast. Therefore, as I manicure things, I must find those small weeds and pull them out, root and all. Often, I pull out healthy growth too because the weed intertwines itself with a beneficial plant. I do not like pulling out the good stuff, but I must do it to enjoy a GREAT garden.
Now back to your responsibility for maintaining your culture. You culture has pop-weeds and other unwanted plants living and thriving within your existing GREAT culture.
You Have Protecting Groundcover in Your Culture Garden!
Every organization has employees engaging in undesirable behaviors all the time. Some are intentional while the rest are not. Since you a leader cannot be everywhere, you will never know everything that is going on. Non-conforming behaviors are dings to your culture ideals and hide under the cover of 1) a lack of awareness, 2) beliefs that the behavior is appropriate, 3) employees and leaders who condone the behavior, 4) a lack of concern about the behavior, and 5) keeping the behavior under the radar. These serve as groundcover to nurture and hide the culture harming weeds from your sight.
You Have Pop-weeds in Your Culture Garden!
Each day your employees face temptations to take short cuts, seek competitive or political advantage, and overlook something critical due to time constraints. Each day, employees behave in ways that diminish your cultural ideals and corporate values. These usually happen underground.
Consider your current employees. Answer honestly to learn if you are weeding properly.
If only one employee did something that damages your firm’s integrity and reputation once a day, could you live with that?
What if each of your employees only did one culture damaging action a day, could you ignore that?
What if every employee upset one customer every hour of every workday, could you sleep peacefully at night?
These ignored behaviors are pop-weeds.
Consider a new employee, someone who you throw into the deep end of the pool without indoctrination about your workplace norms and values. A newbie who then immediately models the good and bad behaviors of their peers and supervisors.
How will you know if this new plant in your garden is bringing in weeds that infect your ideal culture?
By now you understand why you must proactively tend your culture garden continuously. If you do, I can anticipate your next question: Where do I put most of my weed pulling efforts?
Look for the small weeds that are beginning to sprout. Like my weeds, the little dings that tarnish your corporate culture are already underground within the soil. Like in my garden, the winds of a new employee and societal norms bring in the seeds of weeds too.
Most Common Cultural Pop-Weeds
Looking out from the top of the Org Chart, these dings to your cultural ideals always start out small and yet swiftly grow into major problems.
- Localized conflict between employees or teams.
- Underground disagreement about company goals.
- A thriving Grapevine that spreads inaccurate and negative rumors.
- Unrest about incentives such as a bonus or profit-sharing plan.
- Employee who is ignoring or circumventing company policy.
- Employee who is using company resources for personal use.
- Employee who is criticizing the organization on social media.
- Supervisor who is condoning inappropriate behavior.
- Leader who is modeling inappropriate behavior.
- Undisclosed inequity.
- Undiagnosed bias and prejudice.
- Intentional effort to thwart your inevitable transition to greater diversity, equity, and equality.
That is why a smart High Road® Leader™ monitors their culture daily looking for and quickly removing any pop-weeds, like these on my list.
These are two questions that I receive frequently from senior and experienced leaders with my response to them.
“Do I always have to stay on top of my organization’s corporate culture?”
Your culture is a fertile garden filled with many healthy and beneficial outcomes. But, if you ignore the manicuring, maintaining, and managing duties of owning a garden, it will not be a healthy one for long. If you ignore the innate responsibility to stay on top of your workplace culture, it will transform from ideal to unhealthy to toxic amazingly fast.
“What happens if I don’t have time for this work, or I just do not want to do it?”
Culture is the story that you tell employees and others about your organization’s INTEGRITY. If you neglect the maintenance of your cultural ideals and values, the organization and you will be described as lacking integrity. This can be the kiss of death to a leader and most definitely to an organization.
In every corporate culture including yours, weeds happen! Therefore, tend your culture garden.
Ron Rael Leadership Provocateur, is a keynote speaker, consultant, and author.
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