The Cure For a Wild West Work Environment

By 13 May ’15Blog

“Everyday I when I come to work, I don’t know what to expect. It all depends on who is working that day. Most days, it just feels like the wild west.” 

A few years ago I was doing an organizational health assessment on a small company in the Northwest. They’d been through a lot and weathered some hard changes. Yet, through hard work and loyalty to the company, this leadership team had made it work. However, their work environment was not a walk in the park.

“What do you mean when you say ‘the wild west,’” I asked. The woman across the desk answered “sometimes people act like kids around here and whoever can shout the loudest wins.”

Can you relate to this? Maybe the company you work for is also like the wild west. Maybe it’s not shouting, but maybe it’s conflict avoidance. Maybe it’s back stabbing. Maybe it’s unhealthy competition.  Maybe you have a good culture but you haven’t fully defined it. Whatever it is, if you can relate to any of this, read on.

I’ve found that the #1 problem facing many corporate work environments is an unhealthy work culture. Why is this so important? Simple. You can have the most brilliant strategy on earth. But if your culture is bad – your culture will eat your strategy for breakfast.

It’s no wonder that 50-70% of strategic initiatives fail to take hold in organizations. Bad culture.

What I’ve seen though, is that more and more companies are waking up to the reality that they have to define and actively work on their culture if they are going to execute their mission well. For instance – recently I was able to work with an advertising company in Portland called R2C Group who set out to define their culture.

A good friend and colleague, asked me to join him in facilitating a conversation with the executive leaders and top managers at R2C Group around core values.

We asked some simple questions to leaders at multiple levels like “when have you been most proud of your work at R2C Group?” Then we listened to the stories they told and mined out the value the story represented. It was fun.

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We heard a story about an R2C Group team driving all night through a snow storm to get to a client meeting. We heard about teams pulling all-nighters to get the job done. We heard about team members sticking up for one another. It was quite inspiring.

From these stories, we discovered the inherent values already within their culture. Then we put language on those values. We’re excited to see where R2C Group will go, but their journey is far from over.

After R2C Group narrows down their values to 3-4, then the hard work begins. It won’t be enough to get their values and paint them on a wall. No, they’ll have to live them. Additionally, as a culture, they will have to put processes in place to help train their people to do more of those agreed upon behaviors. Why? Because that’s what values do. They help people know how to behave. This safeguards against having a culture that’s like the wild west.

Having a healthy culture makes it possible to work together in healthier, more productive ways so that you can execute your important mission in the world without getting derailed. How’s your culture?

R2C Group wants to see their culture get so healthy that their teammates would get R2C’s logo tattooed on their bodies! Ok, not really but as a fun exercise, they had temporary tattoos made up for everyone to take home (pictured).

What about you? Are you doing something important enough that you’d get it tattooed on your body? If you need some help discerning what your message is, how to communicate it well and get processes in place to support the execution of your mission – I know a guy. Send me an email.