Organizational transformation

Of Organizations and Men

Sam Frentzel-Beyme Follow Managing Partner & Strategy Director

The Short of It

  • Every organization has a culture.
  • In shorthand, we could say that organizational culture is “the way we do things around here.”
  • Now if an organizational culture existed where there was a lack of or limited respect for the value that front-line employees provide, it wouldn’t be hard to see why that same attitude of disrespect might get reflected back to the customer.

Seth Godin wrote an interesting piece yesterday called, Who let this guy in the building?” Using a couple of negative front-line consumer experiences as examples, his point was that regardless of whether you have authority over the people that create those experiences, your customers are you going to think you do. I couldn’t agree more.

My only issue with Seth’s point is that it could be interpreted as a rationale for simply cutting away the negative parts instead of using them as a diagnostic tool to improve the entire organization and, in time, the negative part as well.

What do I mean?

Every organization has a culture. Edgar Schein, in his book Organizational Culture and Leadership, gives a particularly clear definition. He says that organizational culture is:

“… a pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid, and therefore to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems.”

In shorthand, we could say that organizational culture is “the way we do things around here.”

Now if an organizational culture existed where there was a lack of or limited respect for the value that front-line employees provide, it wouldn’t be hard to see why that same attitude of disrespect might get reflected back to the customer.

It doesn't make it right, but I think it demonstrates a stronger link between how employees act and how their respective organizations perceive and treat them. If we use wages as but one proxy for value, some interesting things emerge.

According to Glassdoor, a Sales Associate at Best Buy makes around $10 an hour and the GMs makes between $85 – 115K. The new interim CEO’s base salary, according to a StarTribune article, is $1.1M with potential performance bonuses of $2.2M (and that for a person bringing very little retail experience to the table).

Ignoring a lot of other variables for simplification, would this type of financial structure set an organization up to work as a strong, cohesive and mutually supportive team? Or would this structure create subtle hostilities where groups are balkanized and naturally antagonistic to one another?

While it is easy for organizations to say that teams just aren’t working or that people aren't doing their jobs right, those are really just excuses for not knowing how to solve these problems. And don’t get me wrong, organizational culture issues can be extremely complicated and, in my experience, are beyond the scope of quarterly thinking. Which is why I think we should be placing those responsibilities squarely on the shoulders of those who are being paid (valued) to do so (read not the person making $10/hr).

So next time you encounter that troubling counter experience, instead of thinking about the person across from you (this is sometimes hard, I know) think about the person behind the scenes who is supposed to be building teams and a winning organizational culture and then ask yourself, "Who let that guy in the building?"

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