Core stability is a useful metaphor to understand what is desperately lacking in many organizations. People tend to have a basic understanding of its importance for our physical bodies: a stable core is critical for injury prevention, rehabilitation from injury, and improved performance.
Oftentimes the apparent vitality of physically active persons--exhibited through speed, muscle strength and tone, flexibility, etc.--masks the precariousness of a weak core. Debilitating injury often is the cruel result.
Core stability isn't everything to human health, of course. Many things can, and do, go wrong with us and undermine our health. No one needs reminding of all the terrible things that may come of us and our loved ones. Nevertheless, core stability is still important. In fact, for many adversities in human life, it's arguable that for a great deal of them, core stability would help.
Likewise, organizations have countless risks and threats, and core stability is helpful no matter what comes up.
So what do I mean by saying an organization needs core stability--what exactly am I referring to?
In working with clients, my firm has come to realize that there is a cultural core in an organization.
When we work with an organization, we often uncover significant, and sometimes, critically dangerous, weaknesses. We uncover sentiments, moods, and behaviors that undermine the organization. Invariably leadership acknowledges that they have experienced significant challenges--low engagement, high turnover, difficulty recruiting, etc.--despite their allegedly great culture. And they are frustrated--or worse, they are in denial.
The reason is that most leaders assume that since their organization has a metaphorical six-pack, pitches a 90mph baseball, or can achieve a crane pose in yoga--they have a healthy culture.
But in fact they are ignorant of their real cultural core.
My colleague, Dr. Marla Gottschalk, recently wrote on this topic:
In this ever-changing world of work, I'm going to go out on a proverbial limb and vote for stability. Not the kind of stability that shoots you in the foot and has the potential to signal an organization's downfall (resting on laurels, complacency, lack of customer connection). I'm speaking of the kind of internal stability that allows your organization's engines to really rev and take flight. The kind of security borne of trust and understanding.
The idea may sound a bit esoteric and difficult to grasp. Never the less, discussing its presence is vital. It is essential because great employees do not simply leave bad bosses--they run (where possible) from an unhealthy culture. We have wrung our hands over various constructs that swirl around that core; engagement; turnover; commitment; loyalty. However, if we do not first take aim to affect our cultural core, forward progress is stymied.
The essence of a strong cultural core is organizational safety.
Employees need to feel safe to assert their autonomy--they aren't company men or women, they aren't cogs in a wheel, they aren't their job description--so their manager needs to knows why they come to work (besides for the money), what their vision of themselves and their goals and aspirations are, and how working in the organization aligns with what matters personally to them.
Employees need to know their managers are their allies--as described in The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age. Managers need to take the time to know and understand their employees, and realize they need to trade more than pay for performance. They need to trade the growth and career development opportunities the employee seeks, in exchange for achieving company goals.
Employees need to know what's really going on--what the organization is really doing, what is the mission and whether it's for real, an obsolescence, or a platitude. Organizations ask employees to put their heart and soul in it, so they have a right know if it's for real.
Employees need to know they're being heard and respected--whether it's the concern "I'm not getting from this what I expect" or "There's a looming problem I see and the higher-ups need to know." Communication must be genuine and bi-directional.
Employees need to know they'll be provided the authority and resources need to succeed--because without those, they realize the organization is insincere and lacks integrity.
The problem we see, over and over, is that there is a disconnect between leadership and their organization's real cultural core. Leaders don't have the right data, they're measuring current performance and assuming all is well (or will get better), and are oblivious to the real damage that has occurred and will worsen without a proper diagnosis and corrective actions.
Indications that your cultural core is in poor shape include: premature turnover of key employees, low engagement survey results, a vibe of low morale, complaints of lack of career development opportunity, difficulty recruiting, complaints about managers, and harmful commentary on Glassdoor. If your organization is exhibiting any of these traits, it's urgent to come to terms with your true cultural core, and take corrective action.
Chip Joyce is Co-Founder and CEO of Allied Talent.