Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Your Department’s Reputation = You

Twenty years ago I worked at a company that was and still is known as one of Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For. My department and most of the people I worked with were fun and supportive. We worked hard, had a chance to be innovative, and were appreciated for our efforts.

But one department that I had to work with on a regular basis was a nightmare for me. In fact, the department was so difficult to work with that it had acquired a nickname in the company - the “Estrogen Explosion”.  Needless to say, the top two or three people from the vice president on down were women who perpetuated the B-word. And I don’t mean boss.

I had many run-ins with these women and I often left our bi-weekly meetings feeling frustrated and put-down. My own boss, a very nice man, didn’t have a clue as to how to work with them effectively and so I didn’t receive any coaching on how to deal with their behavior.

I tried everything I could think of to improve the situation. I hosted appreciation events with both of our departments to strengthen working relationships. I tried holding my ground and talking sternly back to them when they got on my case. I tried letting their sarcasm and snide comments wash right over me without reacting. In the end, they “won” as I left the company, feeling exhausted and somewhat abused. My nice boss had left two years earlier and had been replaced by one not so understanding or supportive. Between him and the constant stress from working with the Estrogen Explosion, I needed a long break and I took it.

I was one more person who left a good job with a good company due to poor leadership.

Do you know what your department’s reputation is? Is your team known for being easy to get along with, knowledgeable, and high-performing? Or do other employees dread inter-departmental meetings with your people?

I have experienced both extremely collaborative departmental cultures and the opposite. Sometimes the team is on the whole very cooperative except for one odd person who is insecure or competitive or both. Leaders set the tone - they reinforce the values which become the culture of their areas. If they are competitive, secretive, and power-mongering, then their organization will tend to be the same. If they keep themselves and others accountable to a higher set of behaviors, then those will morph into the culture and reputation of not only their department, but will become their signature leadership qualities as well.

As one (and not the only one) of the casualties of the Estrogen Explosion, I observed first-hand the different leadership styles and their effects on the people around them. This experience was one of the catalysts for changing my career from international sales and marketing to a coach and consultant. So I did get something positive from that prolonged ‘learning experience’. And I pass my hard-earned wisdom on to anyone who needs it.

From my position now as a leadership coach and trainer, I know that there were things I could have done at the time had I known of them. I can see that my behavior style was a direct opposite of the vice-president’s and her manager’s. Had I known then what I know now about flexing my behavior style, I could have mitigated the confrontations to some extent. Roles, responsibilities, and expectations should have constantly been reviewed because there was overlap between our two departments that also contributed to the conflict. And, my nice boss also had a behavior style which was in conflict with theirs. If he had understood what I do now, he could have coached me on quite a few options to try in order to improve circumstances.

What values are you reinforcing? What behaviors do your employees see you employing, especially when circumstances are stressful? Are you keeping others accountable to high behavior standards or do you let them get away with (seemingly) minor transgressions as long as you get the results you want? What you say and do ends up affecting your entire organization, but most of all, it affects you and your direct reports. Find out what your department’s reputation is, and if you want to change it, it starts with you.

Testosterone Explosion? 

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