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A Mouse Tale of Corporate Culture

Corporate Culture CodeOnce upon a time in Mouseville, there were two cheese companies:  Big Cheese Company and Little Cheese Company.

Corporate giant Big Cheese had been around for generations. Upstart Little Cheese was new in town.

Both companies were ramping up seasonal hiring, getting ready for the holiday influx of orders for cheese balls, cheese logs and cheese platters.  Big Cheese had higher starting salaries, slightly better benefits and served wine and cheese at job fairs.  But much to Big Cheese’s consternation, Little Cheese, which humbly offered prospective employees macaroni and cheese, was hiring all the top applicants. Even more troubling for Big Cheese was when some of its best employees decided to switch to Little Cheese.

Big Cheese then spent big bucks hiring a consultant to tell them what to do.  The consultant designed, analyzed, and suggested programs and best practices based on an employee engagement survey and industry data.  This took months to do.  But nothing much changed.   Big Cheese’s lackluster fourth quarter earnings created panic among the top mice in the company.  Big Cheese’s CEO rallied the ranks, “Smile.  Say ‘cheese!’” Managers squeaked to their groups:  “Must. Work. Harder.”

Meanwhile, Little Cheese’s profits grew so much that the seasonal workers were kept on.

All of Mouseville marveled at the minor miracle of Little Cheese’s success.

Why was Big Cheese floundering and Little Cheese flourishing?

In desperation, Big Cheese’s CEO, Gorgy Zola, invited Little Cheese’s CEO, Monty Jack, to the Hole-in-the-Wall Bar.

“Monty, there’s enough mice here to support 10 cheese factories,” said Gorgy.  “I don’t want to steal your business, but I’m hoping you can share some ‘best practices’ for how you have had such success in hiring and keeping your employees.”

“Best practices . . .” mused Monty.  “We haven’t been in business that long!  Our business has grown too fast to always be looking to the past for best practices.”

Gorgy’s whiskers drooped.   “So, you don’t have any advice for me?”

“Well, Gorgy, I do, but you might not like it,” said Monty.

“It’s OK.  If I keep on doing things the same, it won’t matter in a few months,” said Gorgy.  “I won’t have a job.”

“It’s good that you realize you have to change,” said Monty.  “Probably the biggest challenge with looking to the past to decide on the future is that you are never really present in the moment, looking at what is and what could be.  Maybe you need a brand new corporate culture code. Mice, especially the younger mice, want different things now from work:  purpose, meaning, flexibility, great coworkers.”

“Entitlement.  That’s their attitude!” squeaked Gorgy. “In this economy, they should be grateful for a well-paying, steady job with good benefits.”

“Well, you maybe can attract some workers with those things, but you might not keep them.” Monty paused, looked Gorgy in the eye.  He slowly smiled.  “Plus, if money and benefits are the only reasons they’re there, they probably won’t work at their highest level.”

“What else do they want?  Recognition? More training? Free lunch on Friday?” Gorgy asked. “We are pushing employee engagement, but it’s not having the results we had hoped.”

“Maybe that’s the problem, you’re pushing too much and not pulling enough,” said Monty.  “You’ve been so focused on the goal of retaining and hiring workers that perhaps you have forgotten to inspire them, to energize them with your vision, and then empower them to accomplish it.”

“You know that sounds good, but I don’t know what I should do differently,” said Gorgy.

“I can hazard a guess that one of the big differences between your company and my company in terms of employee engagement is simply a matter of size,” said Monty.  “You have more levels of management and bigger teams—that adds layers of communication and process that can be frustrating.  Maybe Big Cheese needs to think more like a small company and have smaller teams.  That’s one possibility.  Why don’t you ask your people? And, why not try asking from the bottom up?  Ask the maintenance mouse what he likes and doesn’t like about his job, and if he were the top mouse what he’d like done differently? You might be surprised at what you find out.”

Gorgy squinted at Monty, “Me, the CEO, chat with the maintenance mouse? What could he possibly know about running the business?”

“Just give it a try, Gorgy,” said Monty. “As you said, you have nothing to lose!  Go back today, give it a shot and call me next week to let me know how it went.”

A week later, Gorgy called Monty.

“Monty,” said Gorgy, “Thanks for your advice!  I actually did start with the lowest position at our company—the new intern in maintenance.  She had an idea involving our factory lighting that will save us thousands of dollars in the next year and it should improve productivity to boot.  And, you know what? I could tell that she felt valued that I sincerely wanted her input.  I told the VP’s about the experience and they’re doing the same thing—talking with people in their departments.  I can feel the increased energy throughout the company.  I know it’s just a start, but it’s a good start!”

“Glad things are going better for you,” said Monty, “I guess my old-school advice on simply talking to people wasn’t cheesy!”

Gorgy laughed, “that’s a gouda one!”

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