Wanted, Preferably Alive And Having Fun With Your Company Culture

“The grim fightin’ hero’s troubles
are always private –
He wants to know where ‘I fit in’
in herd wars –
Sometimes you see villains so ancient…

…you gotta go a long way in the West
to find a good man –”

–William S. Burroughs, from “Old Western Movies”

That’s when the tumbleweed rolls by, followed by a swirling dust devil. You look at the ragged brochure in your hand and think, This wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.

You’re smack dab in the middle of Main Street, the baked earth of road ahead splits rows of empty storefronts and vacant wooden sidewalks. There’s not a soul to be seen. You lift the too-small plastic cowboy hat from your sweaty head and mop your forehead with your too-small bandana and wishWoodyd they’d sent you a real cowboy outfit, and not Woody’s from the Toy Story movies.

You hear a distant titter, like a child laughing. Then nothing. You walk further into the town of Desperanto, and through the dirty, dimly lit windows on either side of the street, you see ghostly faces staring back at you. Men and women alike, faces soured with misery, shaking their heads.

Then, severely stapled to one wooden post in front of the saloon, you see it: a yellowed poster with your smiling face and the words:

Wanted Dead or Alive:
This Guy (Or Gal)
For His Desperately Needed Skills
Being Happily Engaged Is Optional
It’s Always Optional
Reward: Mounds of Cold, Lifeless Cash

Directly across from the saloon is a drug store. On one side of the entrance is a wooden executive, and on the other side is a water cooler. Your doppelganger is dressed nearly identical to you in Woody’s clothes, drinking from a small paper cup.

He (or she) tosses the empty cup and walks to the middle of the street, actual spurs on boots jingling, and you think, This is really bizarre.cowboy boots

“On the count of three, draw,” he (she) says. “It’s either you or me for this company.”

He (she) sneers and adds, “You’re gonna die with your boots on, baby.”

You open your mouth to protest, but a train whistle cuts you off. You turn, and lo and behold, it’s Thomas the Train. Suddenly the sky rains paper. You grab one page and read:

10 ways to create a positive work environment:

  1. Build Trust
  2. Communicate Positively and Openly
  3. Expect the Best from Your Staff
  4. Create Team Spirit
  5. Give Recognition and Appreciation
  6. Give Credit and Take Responsibility
  7. Be Approachable
  8. Provide a Positive Physical Environment
  9. Make Staff Evaluations a Positive Experience
  10. Make It Fun

“I’ll take ‘make it fun,’” you whisper, and run to the train…

Ah, my world of work daydreaming of late has taken me from skill-starved zombies to old Western in-demand shootouts.

Again, as I’ve mentioned previously, according to BLS’ JOLTS report, or Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, there were 2.0 official unemployed per job opening for August 2014. Job openings were nearly 5 million, with hiring coming in at a lower rate than July. In fact, job openings returned to pre-recession levels while hires have only increased 27% since June 2009, and private sector job openings have also recovered to pre-recession levels while hires have only increased 28% from their 2009 lows.

Add to that the intense skill shortages we’re facing across industries (just to name a few):

  • Finding programmers, especially to fill positions in the growing field of health IT, is a global challenge.
  • The problem of not being able to find enough skilled craft workers is reaching nearly universal levels in the U.S. construction industry.
  • Manufacturing wages are rising at a rapid clip in some major industrial states as shortages of certain skills and gradually falling unemployment rates force more companies to pay up to attract and retain workers.

Highly skilled workers in any field are certainly hot commodities, but it doesn’t have to be like the Wild West. The “10 ways to create a positive work environment” list above, courtesy of Ventana Research, is being applied by more and more companies today, from recruiting to retaining, creating cultures that align personal purpose with passion and the business bottom line.

On the TalentCulture #TChat Show, Josh Levine shared that culture is increasingly a legitimate business concern in the world of work, and that means methods for measuring and managing it are more critical than ever before.

The problem is, when businesses scale at any speed, operational concerns often take priority over people concerns. When left unchecked, rapid growth “grooms” disengaged workers and then the problems mount when leaders realize how difficult it is to hire and retain top talent. That’s when short-term incentives are counter to long-term sustainable business (channeling Roger Martin here).

And by the way, high-performers can smell a poorly managed culture from a mile away (especially when it’s a ghost town). Add to that the fact that employee tenure continues to shrink and the prospect of building a strong, sustainable culture grows even grimmer.

Turnover isn’t just a financial burden; it’s a culture roadblock. For the seasoned organization, culture is inseparable from company brand. Of course, engaged employees are committed to culture and accomplishing valuable things for the world around them, including the company and themselves. We all want the rewarding burden of responsibilities and opportunities to help achieve our mothership’s mission.

Unfortunately over 40% of U.S. employees don’t know what their companies stand for and what makes their brand different from their competitors’ brands, according to the State of the Global Workplace survey.

What to do? I’ll take at least two shots (1 and 10) from the list above:

  1. Build Trust. It doesn’t have to be a constant shootout because of the Wild West of reactivity and short-term incentives. Sure, business can feel lawless and chaotic at times, but if leadership is being as transparent as they can, keeping their workforce informed as to the state of their state, as well as skilled up and rewarded for doing so to help the company grow, with a key focus on purpose and passion, then dammit, they’re gonna give you lots of small town love. It won’t always be a 4th of July picnic, but at least we’ll celebrate the ups and downs together.
  2. Make It Fun. Because work life can seem like a ghost town at times baking in the desert heat, tumbleweeds tumbling by. If the workforce is valued as engaged people driving operations, and not cutthroat operations driving people, then even those most excruciating moments of reactivity, and they will come no matter how great your culture is, companies dramatically increase their productivity and revenue. And then everyone wins (hopefully). Fun isn’t just about the special activities outside of work; it’s about any activity inside of work. Period.

So instead of “Wanted Dead or Alive,” let’s shoot for “Wanted, Preferably Alive and Having Fun With Your Company Culture.”

You gotta a long way in the West to find good culture. Giddy Up.

photo credit: (matt) via photopin cc