Trapped in the Culture: Zombification of Corporate Thinking.

If I had a dollar for every time I walked into a meeting where everyone spent most of the time stopping something new from happening I would be on a yacht in the Bahamas. Seriously, I could just make it my side hustle.

What are we all doing? Trapped in working cultures derived from industrial revolution values? Or in some new world thinking workplace cultures, providing open plan bullying and excessive hours as the stakes centre on millions and billions in order to make it into entrepreneurial circles.

While having drinks in Tokyo, I was fortunate to meet the Head of Strategy of a Fortune 500 company. I asked her how she managed to drive strategy within the teams she served across different nations where the company operated. Her one proviso of bringing strategy into play? ‘Move the negative people out of the team, if not out of the company. Literally get them out of the way.’ And it worked every time. Moving around the culture that had put certain people into a corporate coma was the only solution.

Environments train us to behave in certain ways. Thanks to the amount of time we spend at work, this environment can be either the nourishing fodder for something great or the smothering wet blanket enabling mediocrity. And from this mediocrity comes the shutting down of anything remotely new. 

Through the eyes of a long term consulting background I get to witness the unconscious behaviours at play in corporate meetings.  Or in entire teams. Who holds the power, who makes it hard, who should be sacked but instead manage to drive out those great people around them.

Some teams feel electric with creativity and a can-do energy when you enter their space. Others simply suck the life out of any discussion which could involve the slightest whiff of doing ANYTHING differently. You’re dead before anyone even speaks. It’s a zombie wasteland of work: creating nothing, stopping discussion and making people miserable.

The system will always be defended by those countless people who have enough intellect to defend but not quite enough to innovate.

Edward de Bono

Traditional corporate structures allow people to take on a posture: hive minds are common as is self-protection within this setting. If everyone stays on track then no one gets burdened with more work. ‘Stay still and nobody gets hurt’ comes to mind.

People attend meetings with a reflex that shuts down change

It happens to enable us to cope with the mountainous performance requirements placed on us by managers, CEO’s, Boards.  Each person knowing their role within the energy of the discussion, more of the same, less focus on opportunities, more focus on keeping the status quo from both an individual as well as a corporate level. Corporate rattles on about innovation as an empty buzz word hoping to convince others they are still ahead of the game. We all know we are lying to ourselves.

Innovation is quashed by how much the company has to hide. And people will go to great lengths to cover up – making the culture all about this. ‘Don’t let them know what we’re really doing’.

When we want to share our supposed new innovative direction with others we hide the truth of our lack of creativity amongst the wiggle words and bland spun statements. These divert attention to the hollow complexities of the business instead of to hard won change with beneficial rewards. It’s the literary vomit of big business which no one reads. It’s just there to tick a box. Cast a shadow.

No good having a closed mind with open pockets. You’ll be out of the competition as quick as you can say, ‘The next generation is coming’.

What do we need to consider? Where can our thinking begin so we can change?

1.       Take a long hard look at the wellbeing of your workforce. Their hours, their core remit, how they are supported, how they are asked to perform, why they are asked to perform. How is the business helping them to do the very best? Don’t think training.  Think resources, learning and balance.

2.      How much time are you spending introducing ways in which people can work differently or determine how they work? Do you ask your staff what they need? How they think they can contribute more to the success of the company? 

3.      When did you last invest time and effort into slowing down the pace so people could see the wood from the trees? When did you last allow your staff to be creative? Run a hack? Spend a day in another’s role? Do anything remotely different are-you-getting-my-drift?

Because people are not the sheep. They are not lemmings. We can’t continue to be the pawns in a bigger game of shuffling money around, selling things to people that they don’t need or want. Consumerism at its worst. Bigger, better, more. Is this all it is, this thing we call work? Mass produced stuff designed to fail after the designated time as noted in the business plan. Is this what we’re all about? Is this what we need? No. It’s not. 

What people need is a fuqing rest. 

They need to stop. 

Space to explore, solve their issues and be allowed to try something new.

They need fresh space to think with more people to support the work they are expected to do.

People need to spend time with family or those they love the most. Not one week off where people think it’s ok to ring or email.

If you want to know why business is difficult it may simply because you’ve shut down your greatest asset – your people. Time to get a different drum because people are tired of the march. And here come the portfolio jobs. The small businesses. The return to handmade. The value of communities in transactions. The local economies. The new world, thank goodness.

Libby Fordham