Work: Consultants, surveys, and workshops

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This morning I read this little ditty about “The Wrong Ways To Strengthen Culture.” Here’s the first good pull quote for you:

Each year companies spend $2,200 per employee, on average, on efforts to improve the culture (much of the money goes to consultants, surveys, and workshops) — but only 30% of CHROs report a good return on that investment.

OK. Got it. Then there’s this, a little later:

Gartner’s research shows that on average, 69% of employees don’t believe in the cultural goals set by their leaders, 87% don’t understand them, and 90% don’t behave in ways that align with them.

None of this is truly surprising, and also let’s remember that Garner needs to sell subscriptions to leaders, so they need to paint a “sky is falling” picture with their research. I think most people hate work, truly, but I don’t think a lot of people are spending time worrying about “culture,” to be real. I think that’s mostly viewed as a “HR thing.”

Let’s return to that top quote, though.

Ah, standard thinking

Here’s what the theory is supposed to say:

  • Consultants: They will know better! They’ve probably done this shit with some of our rivals! They’re smart and will get us out of our rut!
  • Surveys: We are data-first now, right? We will get the truth from the data!
  • Workshops: An effective way to learn! Holler!

This is what actually happens:

  • Consultants: Not everyone hires Bain, OK? A lot of consultants are inept hucksters who got in the door of that place because their cousin forwarded an email at the right time to someone who can sign checks. That’s the reality of the situation. If you lined up 100 “HR consultants” in a row, over 50 of them are horrible at their job. Probably 7–10 are very good and the rest are average to middling.
  • Surveys: You’re screwed both ways on this. If you make them anonymous, they have absolute no real value. If you make employees put their name on it, you either get lies because the employees are scared, or you get truth, which pisses off executives, which screws that employee, who gets laid off, and then you get more lies on the survey. It’s a hard game to win.
  • Workshops: #HRCathy with her “Coffee Is My Spirit Animal” sweater droning on about “learning modalities” with some stale cookies in the back of the room? (Sales got the fresh cookies.) That is the absolute reason people don’t like HR. Oh, that and getting fired.

We said “spend $2,200 per employee,” yes? So 100 employees and you’re probably spending $220,000 on this stuff? Well, the consultant might as well be wearing a ski mask.

Why does this always seem to happen this way?

Listen closely.

Suitcase words, like “culture,” are the ultimate executive weapon.

This is what happens: We use a suitcase concept, like for example… we say “We are building a culture of innovative collaboration.”

The reality: everyone works in silos (no collaboration) and the revenue is all legacy products (not innovative). Every single person that works at this place knows this. They know the stuff being said is not the reality.

So they, the peons, get confused and frustrated. But the public message is all the right suitcase/buzzwords.

That disconnect and confusion allows executives to go analyze spreadsheets and talk about money, which is what they want to be doing. The chasm creates just enough tension and confusion that they can retreat, do what they want, and return to spout more buzzwords in about three months. Oh, and they might mention that quarter’s growth. Gotta get that in there.

How would you “change a culture?”

It’s very hard, but I’d say a few things:

  • You almost have to have a financial reversal. If a place is printing coin, no way the culture is shifting. Get along, go along.
  • Define the words. Vocabulary is important.
  • Realize it’s not an executive thing, because they will always talk in lofty terms and buzzwords and whatever. “Culture” is lived on the ground, y’all.

None of the things in the headline of this article are gonna save you, though.

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