• 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.

Reality:

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).

‘Sometimes being in motion is useful. Sometimes we do it because we really need a plan to progress.


‘But often, we do it because it feels like we’re making progress.


Margaret Thatcher once said:


‘If you want something said ask a man – if you want something done ask a woman.’

The secret to company success is action – whoever does it.


Myth 8: The more people a job candidate meets the better


Every jobseeker welcomes an invitation to a second interview - it signals a company’s interest.


A third interview might feel even more positive - or even be the precursor to an offer.


But what happens when the process drags on to a fourth, fifth or sixth round – and it’s not even clear how close you are to the ‘final’ interview?


The issue was debated in a recent article from the BBC.


A software engineer, based in the US, made the tough decision to pull out of a selection process, due to the number of interviews he was asked to attend. He shared his experience in a LinkedIn post that touched a nerve with fellow job-seekers - who’ve viewed it 2.6 million times – with 4,000 comments of support.


LinkedIn is awash with similar stories.


Jobseekers who’ve become frustrated with companies turning the interview process into a marathon.


Google recently examined interview data and determined that three or a maximum four interviews were enough to make a hiring decision with confidence.

Previously, candidates applying for a job at Google could be subjected to more than a dozen interviews. (12)


Reality - a streamlined hiring process gives a company an edge in a competitive employment market.


Myth 9: Good managers can manage anything


This myth may be a bit surprising.


But as the ‘Harvard Business Review’ puts it:


‘You probably known or read about someone who seems to have the golden touch when it comes to management. No matter what they do, their teams seem to excel.

The reason for such success is misunderstood.


Usually, it’s attributed to the manager’s ability to organize people, institute processes, and adapt as new information becomes available. These skills matter. But the other, less discussed aspect of a successful manager’s behavior is this:


They hire and nurture the right people and get rid of those who don’t perform.

No amount of guiding, organizing, or process improvement is going to make a team with the wrong people in the wrong roles perform well.


Good managers know this and do the hard work of getting the people part right.’ (13)

Summary:

  • Myth 1 - Companies have cultures

  • Myth 2: Inclusion is something companies strive for

  • Myth 3: Top bosses know what’s going on

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

  • Myth 5: People are our greatest asset (included to make a point)

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

  • Myth 7: The secret to business success is planning

  • Myth 8: The more people a job candidate meets the better

  • Myth 9: Good managers can manage anything.


  1. Based on the idea behind 9 Lies about work, Marcus Buckingham

  2. The promises of giants, John Amaechi

  3. The No. 1 Employee Benefit That No One's Talking About, Gallup

  4. The business case for more diversity, The Wall Street Journal, 26 October 2019

  5. See Reflections on inclusion at work, EGM blog

  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NULt2WE-e34, for the episode on TGI Fridays

  7. For more on Kodak, see the infinite game, Simon Sinek

  8. Biased,’ Jennifer L. Eberhaut

  9. Minority ethnics face shocking job discrimination, The Guardian, 17 June 2019

  10. See So, who do you trust at work? EGM blog

  11. See Start improving your company culture now, a short exercise, EGM blog

  12. The rise of never-ending job interviews, www.bbc.com, 2August 2021

  13. Three common myths about management, Harvard Business School Online, 27 February 2020.

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