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WHIN Monthly Bulletin

Sick or Healthy Companies: Measure & Fix Work Culture Dr. Angus I. McLeod

The efficiency of an organization may be measured by accountants. But, it takes Board-level intervention, advised by HR, to transform the soft-skills that lead to productive team-work and to secure top financials in a sector. It is the people that make the difference; they alone can create or reduce the sustainability of a business.

How healthy or sick is your organization? What are the key pathways and choices to changing-up these TWO performance measures: financial performance and ‘performance in soft-skills? How do you tie-in corporate performance (and so drive the numbers) AND stimulate work-culture change that makes it possible to get the symbiotic gain that comes from the two-pronged approach to organizational success and resilience – financial performance and soft-skills performance.

When the two elements of finance-driven targets and healthy work-culture are tied-in, organizations excel and become places where everyone wants to be, work and to experience success.

Health Barometer: Sick or Healthy?

We have a number of choices for measuring corporate health. For our purposes, we will not deal with the accounting numbers (these anyway differ from sector to sector). Instead, let’s concentrate on the other side of the same coin: the human measures of individual & team performance and wellbeing. But, why consider wellbeing at all in corporate efficacy?

Wellbeing can be sacrificed for short periods of corporate-need that is driven by urgency that everyone recognizes. For example, an acute situation in a hospital, or a drive to grow sales before the month-end. Excessive periods of compromised wellbeing lead to dissatisfaction, stress and increased absenteeism and staff turn-over. The costs of these do not appear in the P&L or balance sheet, but let’s not kid ourselves, the costs of corporate sickness are very considerable!

Traditional measures of corporate sickness include the barometer of absenteeism and the barometer of staff turn-over. Where these are high, there will always be other obvious signals of ill-health as detailed below. How does your organization measure up, 0-10? Do you see episodes of ill-health like these, below?

Observable Ill-Health Measures:

  • Bullying
  • Judgemental expressions
  • Caustic speech and/or emails
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Stress
  • Countermanding and under-mining
  • Manipulation
  • Indifference to tasks, people and/or goals
  • Lateness
  • Fire-fighting
  • Cancelling or repeated cancellation of performance-review meetings
  • Blaming
  • Shaming
  • Absence of human concern/support.

Expressions in Sick and in Healthy Organizations

Compare the TWO sequential snippets of conversation below. You are due to have a Personal Development Review (PDR) with your immediate boss. Imagine that your boss is speaking to you:

  1. “I have to show a visitor around the site, so will reschedule your PDR, okay?”
  2. “Reference the postponed PDR we hoped to do today, unfortunately I need to prepare something for tomorrow’s EB (Executive Board), so will have Emma schedule another date for your PDR.”
  3. “Come in. Third time lucky, but I have just twenty minutes for this. There are six things I want to pick up in your PDR. We’ll start with Section 4.”

Contrast that with this experience:

  1. “Where would you like to sit?”
  2. “Have you any concerns about the PDR process this time? My objective will be work with you to agree and report the outcomes and actions, okay?”
  3. Where would you like to start, or would you rather I led you through?”
  4. “What do you base your self-score of 10 out of ten on there?”
  5. “Pick one of your colleagues and imagine where they would set your competency-level for that.”

The well-organization approach does not mean soft. Challenge still takes place to make sure that reframing occurs in order to create realistic and agreed outcomes.

Change Up for Corporate Health

Please look again at the observable measures listed above… imagine what it would be like to work in an organization where the scores for all these measures were very low or zero.

How do we achieve change in that sick environment?

If strategic change is not possible for lack of corporate insight or HR authority, then the little-by-little approach can be tested by you or a small group of interested managers: Identify and educate yourselves in each failing area and so, make differences. Sadly, this little-by-little approach is the norm for the majority of change-work in organizations. If we wish to create a sea-change in behaviors for corporate ‘fitness for purpose’, we need a top-level investment in change. Let’s see what that means in practice here.

Strategic Elements for Successful Change

I list thumbnail sketches of the ‘how to’ in the sections below, from Board-level and beyond. I have signposted specifics by a logical progress, from sickness towards health. You can then easily highlight any single area where you can modify your own approach for change.

Board Level Change and Essential Factors

  1. Whole Board commitments
  2. Board level behavioral 1-2-1 coaching towards behavioral norms (see below)[1].

Restructuring of HR Practices

  1. Reward & Recognition based on performance AND behavioral norms
  2. Employment contracts and codes of conduct positively-stated and including behavioral norms
  3. Measurement systems for monitoring effective and embedded change, over time
  4. Support structures to help and encourage change for people struggling to gap-manage
  5. Effective, facilitated performance and behavioral reviews at least quarterly and without delays
  6. Champions scheme, working at all levels, to underpin the new way of being a ‘well’ contributor.

Leadership & Development Upscaling

  1. Facilitation, coaching and/or leadership training
  2. Antidote training to counter over- and under-managing
  3. Option: A strategic change to ‘Coaching Organization
  4. Option: Mentoring scheme for both performance and behavioral upscaling
  5. Option: ‘Human at Work’ program[2].

Consensus, Buy-in and Adaptation

  1. Disseminate corporate strategy in terms of individual-level benefits
  2. Acknowledge, in-depth, what is already ‘well’ in the organization
  3. Explain individual challenges that may occur
  4. Explain support mechanisms for those eventualities (group, mentoring, coaching etc)
  5. Adapt the details of the strategic plan from feedback taken at all levels
  6. Communicate results of plan-revisions and cite individual’s contributions
  7. Option: Create Workgroups to share and develop tie-ins with the corporate objectives for performance, behavioral norms and wellbeing.

Measurement and Ongoing Review

Any roll-out must be steadily held over the longer term. Long ago, change would be considered a 7-10 years commitment. Now, using coaching-leader performance and behaviors as a leadership skill-set, including those desired behavioral norms (supported by corporate recognition and reward), these changes can be driven much faster. The key elements of this approach include:

  • The top-down acquisition of the new norms in behaviors and performance
  • Investment in the pace of delivery.

The pace of delivery is critical. Too slow and the change becomes siloed, creating only pockets of embedded, successful change. So, all executives should be engaged in programs and a structured learning-journey within the first six months of roll-out. The learning journey needs to be an average of 15-18 months with options to vary the interventions with individual and group needs. For example, some executives may need to engage in Action Sets or receive extra training-sessions to catch up.

Significant behavioral change in people may take anywhere from a few minutes to about 18 months. This variable time-period is due to[3] individual ‘preparedness for change’ and the personal (largely emotional) demands that required-change can create. Preparedness for change may also be context-specific; an individual may be ready to change-up certain relational behaviors, but not yet ready to accept and work on feedback, for example. All we can do is give them support mechanisms: time and support to encourage them to try and change. It is a given that some people will leave the organization because they remain inflexible. In the longer-term, retention statistics will prove that the well-organization is working.


Organizational performance is not driven only by numbers. Human factors are key. While many organizations fail to tie-in both aspects of corporate performance, those that do, get both the rewards of success AND happy staff. Fixing both sides of the coin creates a more robust business that keeps and nurtures its talent.

How Else Can We Encourage the Healthy Organization?

Think about services and structures that relieve staff of some of their life-pressures. Depending on the size of your work-force, these might include some of the following:

  • Head & shoulder massaging service
  • Laundry service
  • Family Canteen
  • Child-care
  • Flexible working around a core-time
  • Work-share
  • Pet policy (for example, bring your dog if colleagues do not object)
  • Personal-life break-out periods (for example: 08:00-08:30 free time and calls to deal with domestic issues).

End Note

We can create healthy organizations that perform. Most people in HR are limited to sticking-plasters when it is blood-transfusions that are needed! HR craves to make a difference. Senior Management, take note and use the HR talent you have; create a well and better-performing organization.

[1] The senior team all need to be shifting towards the ‘desired work-culture made obvious by the behaviors and performance of the top team and down.
[2] Contact the author for more.
[3] Preparedness for change’ is a psychological measurand.