• Edwin and George

Nine myths about work

EGM On A Mission: Let’s Build Better Companies

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so (Mark Twain).

What do you know about work – that just ain’t so?

Here’s our list.

Add, subtract, agree, disagree, scream…..as required. (1)

Myth 1: Companies have cultures

People and culture consultants - prepare to be shocked.

Companies don’t have cultures.


Departments, offices, and teams do.

Shaped by local managers – their attitudes, behaviours, leadership styles – resulting in ‘what it’s like to work around here. Each individual contributes to culture but it’s up to the leaders to determine which behaviours are acceptable or not.

  • Culture is about choices – driving the actions employees take daily – not policies set by Head Office or solar panels on the roof. (2)

  • People, working for the same company, have dramatically different experiences – depending on where they work.

We join companies (researching the published material, getting a feel for what a company is like) – and we leave teams – or managers. (3)

If you’re aiming for a ‘uniform company culture’ – best of luck.

Myth 2: Inclusion is something companies strive for

So, you’ve recruited a diverse workforce – great, well done.

But, then the harder part – inclusion.

Inclusion means giving people the confidence to draw on their different backgrounds to fully contribute at work - to challenge and innovate – to bring their whole self to the team.

The business case for diverse and fully inclusive teams is well rehearsed:

  • A 2019 study for the ‘Wall Street Journal,’ for example, found that companies with high ratings for inclusive workplaces, vastly outperform financially those companies rated as having non-inclusive workplaces. (4)

The real-world is different.

Companies yearn for control and compliance.

It’s easier managing people who are all the same – these are the teams that can be controlled by policies and processes.

Truly diverse teams need real leadership – to deal with the nuances, differences of opinions and approaches they bring.

And the practices that destroy true inclusion rage on unchecked:

  • Standard job descriptions – so we all do our jobs in similar ways

  • Aligned objectives – so we aim for similar goals

  • Competency frameworks – so we all develop in the same way.

When talented people can’t bring their ‘whole selves’ to work – and reveal their true personality and thoughts, they take one of two options:

  • They leave

  • They change – and become a ‘good fit.’.

Both options are bad. (5)

Myth 3: Top bosses know what’s going on

Ever watched ‘Undercover Boss USA?’ it’s brilliant.

In each episode, a top boss of a company (like Wendy's) puts on a disguise – a wig, spectacles, sticky out teeth – and works in different departments and locations every day for a week. (6)

The top bosses are startled by what they find.

  • The new till system in the drive throughs doesn’t work – that’s why the traffic in Houston has been brought to a standstill, or

  • Every chef, in a nationwide chain of restaurants, is doing their own thing – ignoring the standard recipe manual.

The top boss then vows to make big changes – (giving each of the people he has worked with US$10,000 for being a diligent and hard-working employee - as a PR gimmick). Everyone then cries.

Corporate history is, of course, littered with disasters - top bosses of huge companies ‘asleep at the wheel.’

  • Kodak, undefeatable – with their monopoly on the manufacture of camera film.

  • Blockbuster – who sat and watched in wonder as their markets were pulled away under their feet. (7)

Sad fact is: To get in positions (in a lot of companies) where you have the ear of the top bosses, you need one key attribute:

The ability to say what people want to hear.

Myth 4: Bias at work is a thing of the past

In her book, ‘Biased,’ Jennifer L. Eberhaut, describes research, which set out to explore the impact of race on the job application process.

Identical CVSs were sent to companies advertising roles – identical, except the names were changed to be either black or white sounding.

Candidates with black sounding names were 50 per cent less likely to get a call back – even though their qualifications and experience were the same. The outcomes were similar – no matter what kind of role it was - or whether it was clerical or managerial. (8)

Indeed, candidates who ‘scrubbed’ their CVS of racial clues also did better – using initials instead of full names or removing associations and affiliations (chairperson of the Black Students Association, for example).

The research was published in 2003 – but the results have held up over time.

In 2019, for example, research by Oxford University found that candidates with black sounding names had to send 60 per cent more job applications than those with white sounding names to get a pre-determined number of responses. (9)

Result - if you want to stand the best chance of getting that new job, it might be wise to:

Change your name to Jack (he/him) or Jill (she/her).

Myth 5: People are our greatest asset

Now, we really don’t think this is a ‘myth’ – but we’ve included it to make a point.

Author Marcus Buckingham posted this on LinkedIn:

‘A company’s greatest asset is its people - this is – perhaps surprisingly – false. A company’s greatest asset is the trust between their people. Anything that’s done to reduce the overall level of trust will reduce the value of the organization. Likewise, anything that’s to increase trust will then increase the value of the organization. Want to know if you deserve the best people?

See if your policies are increasing or decreasing the overall level of trust.

  • Things that decrease e trust – surveillance software, performance ratings, 360-degree feedback, cascaded goals.

  • Things that increase trust – great managers, small teams, frequent check-ins, more choice about when and where to work.’

Sadly, ADP Research recently found that only 7 per cent completely trust their senior leaders, team leader or colleagues. (10)

An area for companies to work on.

Myth 6: Company mission statements are works of non-fiction

A colleague once wrote to a train operator saying their timetable was the ‘greatest work of fiction ever.’

He clearly hadn’t read the endless stream of corporate mission statements that executives dream up.

Chances are you’re feeling a bit down at work. Tired of how things are? Here’s something you can do to cheer yourself up:

Go onto your company website.

Read the company mission statement.

Read the ‘about us’ page.

Next, read anything along the lines of ‘what we believe’ statements.

Read about the company culture.

Unauthentic, happy images of some shiny company – where employees are cherished, supported, empowered and developed. Where cheery customers celebrate innovative, market leading products and services – eager to hand recommendations to friends. Sustainability, diversity, inclusion, giving back to the community.

Either you’ll cheer up thinking about the brilliant company you’re working for, or.

It’ll bring a smile to your face (albeit, sadly, ironic) thinking about the rhetoric and current reality.

‘I read a lot of company mission statements, the ‘about us’ pages, ‘we believe lists and descriptions of company cultures. While doing so I come across text that is obviously ridiculous or delusional. Most companies have a sizeable gap between what they promise publicly and what they deliver - particularly in areas like diversity and inclusion. (11)

Myth 7: The secret to business success is planning

In his book, ‘Atomic Habits,’ James Clear writes:

‘It’s easy getting bogged down in finding the optimal plan, the perfect way to go about a project or the pros and cons of how to do something. We’re so focused on figuring out the best approach, we never get round to taking action.’

There’s a difference between being ‘in motion’ and ‘taking action.

  • Being in motion - planning, strategizing, complying, reporting, attending internal meetings.

  • Taking action – doing something that produces the result you want to achieve.

Being in ‘motion’ will never realize the goals you’re ultimately aiming for. You need to take action.

You will never get fit by filling out the forms and joining the gym (motion).

  • You need to run on the treadmill (action) or

  • Lift some weights (action) or

  • Spend ten minutes on the rowing machine (action).

Working on yet another marketing plan, or sales plan or business development plan? (motion).

  • Publishing a weekly blog - which is read by hundreds of people (action).

  • Speaking at a conference - to build the company brand and get more clients (action).

  • Undertaking an outbound sales campaign and signing up a new customer (action).

  • Giving a talk at a local university – to attract the best graduates (action).

  • Attending a networking event and having drinks with a potential new client (action).

  • Asking for repeat business in the client review meeting (action).