Tag Archive for corporate culture

Fit in. Or Don’t.

drseusswhyfitinYou can fit in, or you can stand out. You can’t have it both ways.

There are scores of people and groups out there who are more than willing to describe for you to a well-crossed T how you’re to act/look/think in any given situation or setting. Perhaps they’ve been there since you were a wee lad or lass, encouraging — and sometimes forcing — you to fit in to a given mold.

soldieryawnThink of all the books, scoldings, fringe religious zealots, co-workers, employees, school systems, etc, who took (and take) great pains to establish for you (or others) exactly — and often it really is a precise thing — who or what or how you’re supposed to be, whereas we’d say we want people to just…be.

It can be overwhelming. And paralyzing. And terrifying. When we feel the tug to step outside what’s expected of us, we can feel befuddled, bamboozled, baffled, and bewildered, especially if we’re berated for doing so. What becomes painfully obvious is that we’re really good at clinging to the way things are, and we’re often fiercely loyal to the way we’ve always done things around here.

But back to those folks — many of them well-intentioned — who will give you those subtle reminders that you need to be or look or talk like or believe a certain thing or things.

“This is what a corporate cog…er…individual looks like.”

“This is what an executive looks like.”

“This is what a [insert your follower-of-a-given-religion here] looks like.”

“This is what an affluent kid looks like.”

And so it goes.

But if you fit in too much, you won’t do anything. Think of people who do or have done things in any sphere. Amazing things that made or are making a real difference to different groups of folks. History is full of such people (Jesus of Nazareth, Ghandi, MLK, Michael Jordan, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Churchill, Richard Branson, etc).

weirdisradRarely do they “fit” anywhere. They do great things precisely because they’re willing to challenge conventional wisdom, think outside the box (though I still loathe that expression), innovate, and be, well, different. Isn’t that the very essence of the word extraordinary? Something outside the ordinary?

What groups, churches, organizations, and communities need is just those people, but sadly (though not unpredictably) they’re largely missing. As leaders, we’ve got to create environments where people can explore who they are and become the person they’re meant to be.

Rubber, Meet Road

otherthings-620x412In shocking news, culture is fascinating to me.

OK. Unless this is your first time here, you know I’m being silly when I say that’s shocking news. And if it’s your first time here, um, hi. And um, make yourself at home. Well, actually you probably are already at home, so…moving right along.

One thing you’ll see during a culture shift is when the organization begins to try to live differently, for lack of a better way of saying it at the moment.

You see, it’s all quite easy in the team meetings or on the email threads to say we’re going to do this or that, or be this or that. It’s quite another thing to actually do this or that or actually be this or that.

It’s never easy. And the reason it’s never easy is because doing something different rarely is easy. It’s usually uncomfortable to at least some degree. Even if you’re fully committed to being a thing, the actual being of that thing can cause hesitation, doubt, and even the temptation to rein it in a little.

You’ve got to fight it.

One thing I’ve loved watching here at Mazuma is this very thing happening. We want to put our team members first. We want them to be creative. We want them to do things differently. We want to be open to progressive and different work styles.

That’s all well and good until someone asks to move their desk to the roof and parachute onto it every morning because it inspires their best work.

So it takes some getting used to, both from an organizational perspective and a leadership perspective.

The organization has to move from a prescription mindset, where the powers that be dictated exactly how everything has to be done and exactly how everyone has to act; to a permission mindset, where they have the permission to be themselves, have fun, be positive, find ways to collaborate, be creative (whatever that means for them), learn, and grow together. There aren’t specific ways that every person will do any of those things. That’s why it’s not a prescription. We’re not prescribing anything. We’re describing our values, hiring people who share them, and then trying to make space for them to be the humans they are.

Leaders within organization have a different challenge in that we have to learn how to roll with some of the changes as they’re occurring. The fact is that some of the changes that these unique humans (or in our case Mazumans) make will be ones we didn’t anticipate and may not have suggested. But at the same time, we want to not only allow, but also encourage flexibility, creativity, and being “out of the box” with how we do stuff.

One example, just from me personally, would be that I love working outside or from different locations. I just can’t seem to sit still in the same spot in the same office and think well for a long time. (Thanks, adult ADD) So I have to switch it up, etc. Now my boss has given us the flexibility to do things like that, assuming of course that we’re getting our stuff done and assuming of course that we’re not just never at the office and so on. But there’s still this twinge every once in a while where I’m like is it really ok that I’m working on this project from a coffee shop? And I have to remind myself that yes, it’s not only ok, it’s probably a good thing. It’s our culture actually being lived out.

Or the other day, when my team set up beach chairs and an umbrella behind our building and made drinks for everyone. I loved it. But there was also this tiny part of me that was thinking maybe I should send an email detailing what sorts of fun and creativity are a good idea and what aren’t just so we’re all on the same page and all that.


No, no, no. They’re doing exactly what they should be doing — finding ways to live the culture we’ve said we want to live at Mazuma. Will it always look the exact way it should? Well of course not — we’re all different humans. Will it make us uncomfortable sometimes? Gosh I hope so or we probably haven’t changed much or challenged the status quo enough.

Sometimes we’ve got to fight our urge to pull back and just let ‘em dance.

Your Team’s Work Matters

meaningDeprived of meaningful work, men and women lose their reason for existence; they go stark, raving mad. Fyodor Dostoyevsky

It really is a shame, but many employees trudge into work every day on autopilot. They’re corporate-logo-bearing zombies. They punch a clock, meander to their workspace, plop down into what may or may not be ergonomically correct chairs, and begin their daily countdown to 5:00 PM.

For these employees, there’s no real passion, no real desire, no pressing urgency about their work. And why is that? For some, the work just doesn’t matter. Don’t be so quick to assume they just need attitude adjustments. Before we go chalking those feelings up to those employees’ bad attitudes, I think we, as leaders and organizations, need to look in the mirror.

We like to speak in lofty terms about culture, employee engagement, etc; and rightly so. They’re very human, important things. They matter. Our people matter. Their work matters. But sometimes that idea — that their work is relevant — gets lost in the shuffle.

What I’m saying is that our employees need to know their work is relevant. They need to know it matters. And they need to know how it matters and to whom it matters. We’re not just running transactions or making loans or selling widgets.

A while back, I was speaking with some folks in the lending department at a financial institution. I asked them why they came to work every day. I asked them what they did during the course of those eight hours. I asked them if they even liked what they did.

The answers I got were sadly familiar. “Honestly, it kind of sucks,” said one.

“We fill out paperwork,” another chimed in.

Another piped up. “We process loan applications. That’s it.”

“I’m just here because I can’t find another job,” one even said in a moment of painful transparency.

My response? “Man, when you say it that way, your work does suck.”


64ed726b2fcbf319d734269664febc3dI went on to explain what I thought of when I thought of a lending department. It’s entirely different from what they were expressing to me. When I think of a lending department, I think of a group of dream facilitators. These people come to work every day, and yes, perhaps fill out reams of paperwork. They put in long, ridiculous hours. They work their asses off to help make other people’s lives at least a little bit better.

It’s not just empty paperwork. It’s paperwork that is a means to an end.

The lending department enables other human beings to accomplish their dreams on a daily basis. Do you see the huge distinction here? They’re helping people, day after day, accomplish something that’s a big deal to them. They’re consolidating debt to make it more manageable. They’re getting a new car or boat. They’re finally purchasing their first home. After saving for years, they’re buying that retirement condo somewhere warm. The lending department isn’t just lending money – they’re fulfilling dreams. Their work matters. It’s more relevant and meaningful than they know.

Obviously this principle applies across departments. Teams and organizations that get this idea will have more passionately engaged employees. It’s actually a huge competitive advantage for your organization when your employees really understand how relevant and meaningful their work is. The question for us all is this: Do they get it? Do they know and clearly understand how meaningful their work is?

As leaders, it’s our responsibility to make that connection for our teams sometimes. We have to show them why their work matters and to whom it matters. It’s not just meaningless, mindless work. It contributes to something bigger. It contributes in at least some small way to making the world better.