It's Not Your Managers - It's Your Culture

It's Not Your Managers - It's Your Culture
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This week we ran a workshop on high performance conversations.

One of the things that we discussed was how not enough of our leaders and managers are having them.

You only have to look at the gap in perceptions of performance between employees and employers to see that.

87% of employees feel that they’re being productive; Only 12% of employers believe that they are. 

Clearly some key conversations are not happening.

But why?

(Read or watch - your choice!)

We’ve spoken about the behaviour of silent sacking or quiet firing alongside quiet quitting:

“Quiet firing is a rebranding (rebranding? I’m not sure something like this really warrants a brand but go on) of a concept that’s been around for a while,” says Annie Rosencrans, director of people and culture at HiBob. “It’s when managers have lost faith in the ability of their team members to do their jobs. Rather than giving them direct feedback or opportunities to develop new skills, they hope the person will self-select out.”

Managers: “I don’t want you to be here, but I’m not going to tell you that. Hopefully you’ll just pick up on it and go”

Team members: “Well I don’t want to be here, but I’m not going to tell you that. And I’m not going to leave either. I’m just going to sort of carry on and go through the motions.”

Whilst quiet firing is an observable trend, it’s not always so malicious or intentional on the part of managers. And there are “gateway” behaviours. Behaviours that are very human, and none of us behave in a vacuum. Our environments play a significant role. Our business cultures. So, we shouldn’t point fingers. What does finger pointing ever do anyway?

It’s much better to take a curious approach. 

So let’s.

So what: is this a skills deficit?

Could be. But when we run skills workshops on high performance conversations, most of the time, most people already know what they should be doing. But they’re not.


Usually, the motivation to do it isn’t high enough. And that’s a cultural issue.

A lot of the time, for a lot of people, to have a crunchy conversation is to overcome a natural human instinct - to self protect and avoid conflict or discomfort.

I love Amy Edmonson’s Cost/benefit analysis of why silence wins in the voice-silence calculation:

-- To stay silent benefits that individual, immediately, and the certainty of that benefit is very high.

-- To speak up benefits the organisation, after some delay, and the certainly of that benefit is quite low.

More Safety and higher collective motivation are needed.

To overcome these evasive, self-focused behaviours, our managers need a stronger reason to believe - a stronger purpose. And they also need to create this for their teams.

We ask employees to rate how strongly they agree with the following 5 questions to assess the strength of purpose within an organisation:

1-- I am intrinsically motivated by my work

2-- I am aware of my organisation’s performance and strategic direction

3-- I am contributing to the big picture goals of the organisation

4-- My organisation has articulated a shared purpose

5-- I truly connect to my organisation’s shared purpose

Our organisation’s have to provide this for their people. Our managers have to provide this for their teams. Purpose is a key, founding element to high performance. Without it, people don’t care enough to endure short term pain eg. having a crunchy conversation.

With it, the moral compass in whether to speak up or remain silent is all about what’s best for the organisation over what’s best for the individual.

Taking the “crunch” out of “crunchy conversations

Steve Jobs’ management style may not have been everyone's cup of tea, and certainly not holding him up as the ultimate reference,  but right here he makes an excellent point about giving feedback: 

“The most important thing I think you can do for somebody who’s really good and who’s really being counted on is to point out to them when they’re not - when they’re work isn’t good enough. And to do it very clearly and to articulate why…and to get them back on track.” 

When put so simply, wouldn’t we all want this? What’s crunchy about that? A simple conversation that’s direct, specific and given with the intention to help the person improve. 

All the crunch comes when there isn’t a strong enough reason WHY.

When this isn’t done right away and all of the time, that person goes on doing what they’re doing oblivious to how you feel about their work. We all have blind spots.

And when avoiding these conversations is just part of the culture, without a strong, shared reason to believe, it leads to that huge gap in perceptions of performance outlined at the top of this piece.

It’s all about getting the foundations right:

We have to talk about performance. That’s everyone in the organisation. But we have to create the right level of safety and motivation in our organisations for people to see it as simply too important not to.

Who’s responsible? Well, everyone. But our leaders have to go there first. Being intentional about laying the foundations for high performance to thrive.

So, in conclusion: don’t focus on how to have high performance conversations or to get other people to have them. Focus on building an environment where people care so much that they find it impossible not to.

By Chris Wickenden 23.05.2024