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Workplace Culture: This Week’s Culture Killer

Culture KillerA culture killer is what ruins workplace culture in spite of your every effort.  When we were researching our new book, Happy to Work Here: understanding and improving the culture at work, we came to the conclusion that some toxic cultural behavior was the result of people adhering to certain unspoken rules. These rules are unspoken because they are, frankly, unspeakable. But despite the fact that you never hear anybody say them out loud, they can do considerable damage to your workplace culture.  it’s  these unspeakable unspoken rules that we refer to as “culture killers.”

Over the next few months we’ll be publishing here some of the culture killers from our book plus some additional one we’ve discovered since.  Come back here for a new culture killer every week.

The toxic rules and govern an organization can be fatal to healthy culture, but they are, paradoxially, some of the easiest things to fix. Each one is a clear indicator of actionable culture improvement. Once you identify a toxic, unspoken rule, repealing it can be as simple as bringing it into the light of day. When you say the rule out loud, the damage it can do will be readily apparent, as will the work needed to make it go away.

This week’s Unspoken Rule is the one that enables:

Denial

One problem that can be the death of any strategic planning exercise is peoples’ propensity to deny that a potential unfortunate event could ever happen. They continue to deny despite evidence that suggests it could well happen. Sometimes history has strong lessons to be learned about the future, but those too are denied:

The virus will fade away when the weather warms up.
Oil will never again go below $50 a barrel.
The Wall Street banks are too big to fail.
People won’t stop buying our product.
Digital photography will never replace film.
The Red Sox will never win the World Series.
People won’t want to post things about themselves on the Internet.
“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” – Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, 2007.

What unspoken rule is at work here?

Denial is easier than facing uncertainty.

You must have a story or two about the cultures, good and bad, that you’ve encountered, either in your present work or in your past.  Have you been fortunate enough to see wonderful workplace culture in action, and to what do you attribute it?  Or do have an unspoken rule damaging your culture?  If so, what do you suppose was its cause? Tell us about it: cultureproject@systemsguild.com

NEWS

Tom DeMarco’s speculative novel, The One-Way Time Traveler, now available in audiobook in addition to paperback and ebook.  Time traveler John Donegal is thrust forward into  a matriarchal future, and he can’t go back again.  Worse still the great love of his life, Jill is left behind.  Any chance of a happy ending here?  (Don’t bet against Jill.)

Neue und erweiterte Auflage 2 jetzt verfügbar. Adrenalin-Junkies und Formular-Zombies: Typisches Verhalten in Projekten. Hardback Amazon.de

How workplace culture affects workplace performance:  We know they’re linked, but now we know a bit more about how and why: Article by Suzanne and James Robertson in Modern Analyst.

Happy to Work Here. A practical guide to understanding and improving your workplace culture. Available in paperback and Kindle.  amazon.com   amazon.co.uk

The German edition of Happy to Work Here: Betriebsklima verstehen und verbessern has been published by Hanser. Hardback at amazon.de

Two coauthors reflect on some of the unexpected implications that a reader may detect in what they’ve written. YouTube
See Tom DeMarco squirm as a rough critic trashes his most recent work.  YouTube
Tom DeMarco gives away one of the secrets of the new book, Happy to Work Here. YouTube
Understand how to dissect the culture of your workplace as a device for improving it. YouTube
What happens when you challenge cultural norms? YouTube
A video about our new book Business Analysis Agility – solve the real problem, deliver the right solution.  Amazon  YouTube

Suzanne and James Robertson’s Requirements: The Masterclass LiveLessons-Traditional, Agile, Outsourcing. 15+ Hours of Video Instruction

A Ruby Beam of Light, Book I of Tom DeMarco’s Dark World Chronicles saga is now reissued in a new edition.
“This war isn’t going to blow anything up, only turn everything off.
James Robertson’s webinar for Software Education explains how agile stories are best used to ensure the right solution. Download the webinar slides.
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