I am a real advocate of looking up the ladder to role models, for cues and guidelines, so I was truly exasperated to hear the following story:
A young colleague of mine, let’s call her Mandy, returned from a recent meeting so agitated, not even an iced cappuccino (with whipped cream!) would calm her down. Mandy explained to me that at the last minute she’d been invited to submit a bid to a potential client. She had worked around the clock on her proposal, including numerous calls to the company’s HR department, making sure she had all her ducks in a row.
On the big day, Mandy arrived at the company’s HQ, where she was warmly greeted by her HR contact and told she would be meeting both the VP and a senior director. Now Mandy may be young, but she is definitely not a rookie so this didn’t faze her in the slightest. What did throw her for a loop was that as she was shown into the boardroom and introduced to these senior managers, neither one stood to shake hands. It got worse. Mandy’s attempts to make small talk were overwhelmed with a stream of questions, all barked at her, without any attempt to make eye contact because both executives were fixated on their BB’s —throughout the entire meeting! It should come as no surprise that Mandy was knocked off balance. But, she never lost her cool and persevered with the presentation right till the end.
We associate workplace “culture” with the permeating values, attitudes, beliefs and even psychology that form the infrastructure of a company and its code of behaviour. Genuine experts and dedicated scholars, along with your garden-variety, self-proclaimed authorities, continue to debate the differences between organizational culture and corporate culture. In the ivory towers of academia this dialogue is a contentious issue, but to those of us in the trenches, whether it’s called organizational or corporate, is pretty much a non-issue.
What is an issue is workplace culture, itself. It is a very big deal. There are often “boot-camps” for new recruits, to help them get onboard and avoid awkwardness. There are special mentoring programs for experienced hires, to guide them through the cultural transition period. There are constant courses and training, to keep the entire staff current. But every day, in every workplace the preeminent emblem of every organization is the conduct of management — at every single level. In other words, whether you’re a junior supervisor, a director, a president or the CEO, you function as a role model and ultimately, your performance will be a source of inspiration.
I would like to believe that Mandy’s experience was caused by some startling piece of news that unhinged the two executives. I’m not making excuses; they exemplified bad manners, bad form — and bad branding.
A few days ago, I caught up with Mandy. She was her usual levelheaded self. Mandy had withdrawn her bid for the contract. “Who,” said Mandy, “wants to work with empty suits?”
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