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Workplace Anecdotes Shape Culture

It’s the anecdotes and stories that employees tell each other, which truly reveal and shape work-place culture.

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Culture is how people behave

Organisations spend loads of money and effort in defining their culture. Little do they realize that it is the anecdotes and stories, that employees tell each other, which truly reveal and shape work-place culture! 

Employees believe these anecdotes more than they do the vision, mission and policy statements. And it is from these anecdotes that employees take their cues on what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.  

CEO’s must understand that they are defined by what they do and not by what they say and that the anecdotes reflect that. To reshape culture, they need to behave differently and thus facilitate emergence of new anecdotes.  

Let’s now examine two real events.

The Technology Company

This company placed great emphasis on its core values of upholding individual dignity and respect, and employees were encouraged to report any breach. 

One day a Sr. Manager noticed that a junior officer had placed his ID card and lanyard in the top pocket of his shirt. 

“ Who the hell do you think you are? The ID Card must be clearly visible all the time. Take it out and wear it properly,” shouted the Sr. Manager. 

One could hear a pin drop in that large hall! 

The terrified junior officer quickly removed the ID card from the pocket. “Sorry Sir, I just returned after washing my face.” 

“ Don’t make excuses. If this happens again, I will sack you,” shouted the Sr. Manager.  

An employee reported the episode to the CEO who after due investigations instructed the Sr. Manager to go to the employee’s seat, in the large hall, and apologize to him. 

Employees, proud that the company always walked the talk, often repeated this story.

Not surprising that this company always ranked high in best-places-to-work surveys.

The Engineering Services Company

This Rs. 10,000 cr. listed company started off as a family run entity twenty years ago. The MD and Founder, keen to triple revenues in five years, lured a reputed HR Head from his largest competitor.

The HR Head leveraged his network and brought in some outstanding talent. But the MD had his set of old loyalists and professionals soon left the company.

“ Why are all these people leaving us?”  Asked a concerned MD.

A large poster behind the MD, which read, ‘ A true leader must have an open door policy,’ possibly encouraged the HR Head to spoke up.

“ Sir, there is a perception that there are many old timers here who don’t contribute much and yet earn the highest salaries.” 

The MD’s reply was terse;  “It’s my prerogative whether I feed grass to my race horses or pistachio’s to my mules.” 

The HR Head resigned soon.

Employees have a new slogan,  “An open-door policy does little for a closed mind.”

Revenues are now down to a third!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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workplaces anecdotes corporate magazine 16 Aug 2021

Jayaram Easwaran

Author, Consultant, and Independent Board Director at Jindal Stainless

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