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Using the recession to change corporate culture

April 8, 2009

Why am I talking about corporate culture in a recession? Aren’t there bigger things to worry about?

If you mean hanging on to your job, screw the culture, yes you have a point. Beggars can’t be choosers. Even if they moved your workstation to a back alley, I’m sure you’ll be happy you still have a job.

But if your company has staying power and you’ve long been troubled by workplace morale, perhaps due to some rogue staff personalities, now’s the best time to change the way the river flows, in my opinion.

Its an old fighting tactic. Want to take down an opponent? Wait till he’s most disoriented.

But first, how can employers be troubled by bad culture if they own the place?

The answer: labor rules. In this part of the world, I’m told that unless the employee stole money or punched someone at work, you cannot simply dismiss him, no matter how underwhelming or scheming he may be. You can only do it after a long process that could take years to build, leaving plenty of time for these bad apples to spoil the whole basket.

Couple that with incompetent hiring practices that let more of these psychos in and wa lah…. you have companies that are not much different than bacterial cultures in a petri dish, fermenting all kinds of dysfunctional diseases like office politics.

So no, employers don’t always have control because the law doesn’t allow you to fumigate at will.

But the recession is changing this. I’m not suggesting picking off delinquents one by one and laying them off just because you didn’t like the way they did things. However applying objective performance benchmarks is fair game. A smart employer will always go for a balanced scorecard, one that measures not only how many widgets a person produces (some of the worst manipulators in the office are also its high flyers) but also how he impacts the team, including how his subordinates and peers rate him on things like leadership and professionalism. Honestly done, it’ll set apart team player from predator.

As long as the evaluation is done across the board in a fair manner and the business is forced to downsize out of necessity, you can be justified in moving the furniture around. Smartly done, it can dismantle any nonsense that had institutionalized itself in the company’s culture over the years and leave the door open for new nonsense to come in.

There’s just one problem: How many companies do you think would agree that staff morale has any bearing on bottom line?

From what I see, many have this to say: Gimme the money, screw culture.

If its all about profit at any cost, then the suggestons above will not work.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2009 9:48 am

    Most bosses only look at figures. If the figures are good, they don’t care about the teamwork and the team spirit because the people are delivering what they want.

    Actually in Malaysia, bosses do have the advantage because they can ask you to go for extended unpaid leave without any solid reason. 😉

    Hmm… its amazing that despite these attitudes, people still spend 10-15 years in a company. Wonder if its because they’ve grown immune or they can’t find a job anywhere else.

  2. April 8, 2009 5:45 pm

    They’re either too loyal, cannot find a job…or just too comfortable (aka lazy).

    Or the fear of change is worse than the dissatisfaction with the current work situation.

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