Everyone plays a role in defining an organization’s culture. Culture is a compilation of values, principles, beliefs, and actions that ultimately define how an organization works. Many organizations today use words like efficiency, excellence, customer-oriented and lean to describe their cultures. Here’s an important question: would we add the word healthy to that mix? As authors of the recent book, Survival of the Hive: Seven Leadership Lessons from a Beehive, Matt and I are critically aware of the elements needed in a beehive for it to be healthy. Let’s relate those to an organization and see if there is a link.
We might ask healthy for whom? A healthy beehive is based on both the individual health of every bee as well as the overall health of the entire hive. The same is true in organizations: the accumulation of individual health creates the overall health. So, what are some things that make for a healthy organization?
1. Monitoring the workload. Today’s workforce often describe themselves as having a crushing workload where there is little chance to breathe between tasks, participate in any type of training or outside activities and no opportunity for personal development. The demand of endless emails, multiple projects and insufficient support result in extended work hours and feeling like one never quite completes anything. A beehive culture expands the resources to meet the supply available and the honey demand. The queen is constantly assessing the resource requirement and adjusting as needed. An organizational healthy culture should likewise solicit feedback on workload demand and makes appropriate adjustments when needed. That doesn’t always mean hiring on additional people; sometimes figuring out how to work smarter than harder is the answer.
2. Reducing internal politics. Organizations are tightly-wound power cultures that can literally suck the life out of people, as power players emerge at various levels. The amount of jockeying for position, building fiefdoms and isolating the communication flow is astounding. Who’s in favor? Who’s out of favor? Internal politics creates a huge drain on the health of any organizational culture. In the beehive culture, the roles are simple and clear (house bee, scout, forager, queen) and more importantly, there is a constancy of purpose and mission that keeps every bee focused on a single goal: survival of the hive. On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate the level of internal politics in your organization? If the score is over 3, start doing something to break down the cliques and power struggles.
3. Recovering broken trust. Trust is fundamentally a balance between the “give” and the “get.” Employees today often feel their “give” is vastly greater than their “get” as pay raises, promotions, benefit packages and every other form of perk have been frozen for a long time. Some have been told, “Be happy that you have a job.” While that may be true at one level, there is, at times, a distinct feeling of being taken advantage of in the current workplace. Trust is typically broken because of character failure and it’s restored through demonstrations of competency. Think Bill Clinton: broken by weakness of character with Monica Lewinsky, restored through the demonstration of competency related to the work of his foundation. It’s not that healthy organizations never break trust with their employees; it’s more that they know when they have and know how to recover. It’s that ability to say, “We made a mistake and we’re sorry” that seems so hard for some.” A healthy organization is able to have the real and transparent conversations that validate that what you’re feeling is okay. Zync, our queen-in-waiting in Survival of Hive, discovers this about trust: “survival of the hive is a shared responsibility, a culture built on accountability for the sake of the whole, and a code of dependability among every bee, including the queen. It is a bond of trust between a queen and her bees.”
What would it take for you to list HEALTHY as a core element in your culture? What work/life balance issues would need to be addressed? What displays of power and egotism would need to be checked? What old feelings about violations of trust within the organization – or even your department – would need to be expressed? As Seth Godin says in Poke the Box, don’t invest based on how the organization was last quarter, invest based on what it’s going to do tomorrow. Read a free chapter of Survival of the Hive: 7 Leadership Lessons from a Beehive on us! If you enjoy it, make sure to pick up a copy