There is a subtle feature to Yankee Stadium that I would have never noticed had I not gone on the official tour: the ballpark was intentionally constructed to leave a gap that allows the subway cars to be visible.
Spectators don’t consciously think about the presence of the quintessentially New York method of transportation, but the franchise felt it was important for the subway to be incorporated into the plans.
It serves as a good metaphor for culture. Those creating it do so intentionally, but those living it may not explicitly notice its presence. Nevertheless, its existence makes an impression and contributes to the overall environment and character of the place.
Think of what is the equivalent of your “subway gap”. Is there an element of your culture that should be intentionally incorporated into your space? Does what makes you “you” physically show up in your organization? The details become the differentiator.
I just returned from a fantastic trip to New York City, a place that could not be much more different from where I live. Everything about Manhattan screams energy and a frenetic pace – quite the contrast from life in small town Iowa.
When was in the Big Apple, I felt transported to another world not just a different city. “New York is a great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there,” I said to my sister. It reminded me of the corollary that is often said about our state: “Iowa is a great place to live but I wouldn’t want to visit.” There is truth to both statements.
It is difficult to describe the environment and sensory stimulation that occurs in much of central NYC just as it is challenging to articulate what makes life on the banks of the Mississippi so amenable to those who live there. Both are their own cultures and different people will be more comfortable in each of them.
Your job is to as accurately and thoroughly as possible describe your organization’s culture to anyone who may aspire to work with you. Are you a New York, an Iowa or someplace entirely different? If you’re asking people to make it their workplace home, it needs to be a long-term lifestyle fit not just a short-term vacation adventure.
I recently learned about a new service called Bookshout, a company that provides audiobook codes to corporations so, in turn, they can distribute “books” to clients, prospective clients or employees. It creates a simple method of distribution, either allowing the recipient to choose which book they read or making it easy to get a required reading into the hands of everyone throughout the company. They claim that through Bookshout, people have read 8,400,820,497 words!
And they would know. Beyond promoting its distribution system, Bookshout also brags about its ability to track the use of the e-reader codes. For individuals, it allows people to set reading goals and track their progress against friends (or strangers) – in short, adding gamification to the leisure reading process. You can see how you rank in total words read vs. others in your social circle if you care to know that information.
For companies, Bookshout will “gather critical data to verify who is actually reading” – sharing with the company the code user’s reading habits and total words read. They promote it as “audio with accountability.” So much for skimming the summary before your corporate retreat!
For some individuals, the tracking feature may be appealing, but in the company realm, it feels too intrusive for me. What kind of a culture does the corporation have if they have to monitor reading habits? And if you don’t trust your employees to read a book, how do you trust them with your product or service? Any goodwill that could be garnered by providing professional development or a common reading experience seems to be lost in the data collection.
Technology allows us to easily capture and report an increased level of detail and data. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. In my mind, that goes for Bookshout, too.
I think time management is harder these days because people have so many different sources of input. It used to be that everything came to us via the mail or by phone, but now we have content coming from multiple social media platforms, voice mail, messaging, texts, email, shared sites like Slack, etc. It is hard to keep track of it all.
I know there are apps out there like Evernote that serve as a collection point for the barrage, but there is still not a way to synthesize electronic and paper. I need a system for quickly finding what I read in a magazine that relates to something I saw on LinkedIn and ties in with a photo I took. I find myself with imperfect methods to do so, and, as a result, spend more time that I would like to retrieve all the inputs I am trying to integrate.
As a time management technique, it is hard to beat the trusty manila file folder that can instantly group together disparate sources of input and the invaluable spiral notebook that can serve as a repository for all the ideas swirling in my brain, but even these are lacking in their ability to be searched or easily shared. So we all move forward with methods that work for us, compensating for the deficiencies by what we gain in familiarity and the efficiencies that come from repeated use.
I think the lesson to be learned is to minimize the clutter of inputs in the first place. If you routinely don’t apply or share information from a magazine, perhaps you should consider canceling the subscription. If your social media feeds are filled with posts from people with whom you have no other contact, maybe a culling of your groups is in order. If you receive regular email feeds that you routinely delete, it may be worth the time to unsubscribe.
Even with all the productivity apps that are available and the advances in communication and technology, we still need to rely on our brain to connect the dots and make meaning of what comes in. Be wise about what (and how much) input that is.
In my work with supervisors, I hear many laments about how hard it is to find people to fill jobs these days. They make it seem like it would be nearly impossible to find people to work the shifts at Milt and Edie’s drycleaners – a service business that is open 24/7/365. Not only do they need people to do the actual laundry, but they also offer alterations and tailoring during all those hours.
Yet Milt and Edie’s has found a way to keep people for extensive periods of time. They feature a large sign on their building that shares the name, the number of years worked and nationality of those who work there, and they tout the cumulative number of years’ experience they provide. Inside are flags of the countries of their employees. Next to the Alteration Center is a pegboard that features pictures of all the employees who are working that day.
Many organizations acknowledge longevity at a once-a-year ceremony or newsletter, but it was front and center at Milt and Edie’s. Think of how you can make your recognition efforts more personal and prominent. The future of your organization depends on your ability to have people operating it.
The arrival of the warmer weather is accompanied by the presence of ticks – those pinhead size insects that, when infected, can cause Lyme disease in humans. Lyme is serious stuff. Even with treatment it negatively impacts those who contract it for at least six months, causing fatigue, joint pain, headaches and even partial paralysis. Over 300,000 in the United States are diagnosed with Lyme each year.
Fleas are also out in full force, and those little bugs can transmit Bubonic plague to humans. The Plague sounds like an ancient disease – and, in fact, did kill over 50 million people in the 14th century – but it is still active today. Over 650 people year contract it and 100 of them die each year from the bacteria.
Even though they spread the diseases, the health of the ticks and fleas are not impacted. That which harms humans does not bother the bugs, thus, it allows for perpetuation without negative consequences to the host carrier.
I think about the parallels between fleas and ticks and the parasites who infect the culture of an organization. Often, they are tiny and inconspicuous – you may need to aggressively ferret them out to find them, but their small bites do tremendous harm to the organism. There is treatment, but no cure, and even with treatment the impact lasts for many months. Initially, you may think your actions have eradicated the problem, but it often lingers.
Just as you need to be diligent about watching for ticks and fleas and properly extracting them when found on your clothing, so it is true with the gossip-spreaders and negative-energy infectors in your organization. They may be small, but do not underestimate how debilitating their bite can be – even when you don’t notice it has happened.
Most organizations don’t go deep enough when articulating to their customers and employees what they truly offer, but one hotel succinctly and clearly articulated their core purpose. You may think that hotels offer beds or showers or shelter, but, as one Holiday Inn Express described it, what they really sell is sleep.
Being clear about this purpose allowed them to take steps to ensure that they could deliver it. Signs were posted in the lobby reminding others to keep the volume down. There were signs on each floor outside the elevator. Each guest had to sign an agreement acknowledging that they understood the “quiet hour” policy and would abide by it. The hotel staff reminded guests of the policies during check-in. They were serious about it, and you could tell.
Think about the core service that you deliver. For banks, it isn’t checking or savings, rather security. For colleges, it isn’t credits or degrees rather opportunity. For restaurants, it isn’t the food, rather the ambiance and dining experience that allows conversation and connection to occur.
The Holiday Inn Express staff were not the only ones delivering “sleep” to the guests. They created an environment and culture where everyone in the facility was working toward the same end. Isn’t that what we all dream of for our organizations?