When Julio took on his first corporate role, he entered the world of work with his eyes closed and his hopes high, just as you did. Dreams are a wonderful thing, and the dreams of the naïve are the most wonderful of all, as anything seems possible to those poor innocents.
He struck up a friendship in his first week with another new starter called Bruce who shared both his dreams and his naivety.
It’s frightening to watch how quickly these innocents get their awakening and are hooked into the sub-culture that exits within organizations, the sub-culture of the “Game” that is played out in the name of work.
Julio and Bruce soon find that they have to adjust their plans of creating a better world as they realize that they have no power to do so, and all of their time has to be spent in service of their “superiors” interests (regardless of if those interests are in their organizations or it’s customers best interests). Unwittingly, they had joined the corporate Pyramid Scheme and their focus moves to politicking and raising their profiles.
Humans have a natural instinct when they are confronted with danger, Fight, Flight or Freeze (there is probably a 4th state called Defecate but it has not officially been classified yet).
Some of us come across the Game and check-out (Flight), we move from the world where the Game is played to another world, but unfortunately the Game is played almost everywhere, in some places it is just played a bit more competitively than other places, but it is played nonetheless.
Some come across the Game and become so deeply demoralized that they become stuck (Freeze). They kid themselves that they have checked out of the Game and refuse to play, but in actuality they are playing the role of the sacrificial pawns in the Game.
Then there are those that recognize the Game and learn the rules and plot their rise to the top (Fight). They often start this rise, with great intentions. They say to themselves, “I will learn to play this Game, I will rise through the organization and then I will change this whole system”. This righteous state is where Julio and Bruce find themselves.
They learn the rules quickly, they become good at the Game and they rise. Bruce, recognizing Julio’s superior Game playing skills, attaches himself to Julio, playing his own Game in the service of Julio’s Game.
As Julio rises up the Corporate Pyramid Scheme, he keeps Bruce close to him, as the Game is treacherous and you need to surround yourself with those you trust, those that make you look good, those that keep your secrets.
Julio makes his strategic moves and amasses power. He hands out bonuses, promotions and authorizes overly-generous budgets to those who are loyal to him above all else. He does not question his followers, even when they fail in their core business responsibilities as they are his protection, he must keep his foundation strong and his followers loyal.
Julio is now at the top and he can finally chose to address the rot within the culture of his organization and change it now. He could make life more bearable for the 1000’s suffering in the Game below him. But why would he, the Game has served him well. He is now a master of the Game, and if he stopped the Game, what would happen to all of those Game playing skills that he worked so hard to hone over the years.
Its 7.22am on March 15th, Julio has just arrived, he sees Rachel from HR sitting in his office waiting for him.
“Rachel, can you come back later, I need to…”
Rachel cuts him off mid-sentence, no one has done that to him in a long time, “Julio, can you please come to the Boardroom, there is an emergency meeting taking place.”
Julio’s mind races, he noticed Rachel’s tone, and now they are heading to an emergency meeting that he was not informed of. As they approach the meeting room, Julio can see all of the senior leadership team sat there in mid-conversation, a conversation that falls silent as he enters the room.
Marcus the CFO starts “Julio, this group also met last night and we posted a unanimous vote of No Confidence in your leadership”.
Julio hears the words but does not understand. He looks around the room, a room filled with his followers. “Have I woken up yet” he thinks to himself, “Is this some elaborate joke, is this a roasting, what is this…” he cannot think straight.
Julio’s Fight response kicks in, in one simultaneous move, he stands up, slams a fist down on the table and barks “I want you to re-vote right now, I want to hear it for myself.”
Marcus nods to the room, they we’re prepared for this outburst “All those who vote No Confidence in Julio’s leadership, say I”
One by one, a single word is uttered from each of their lips “I, I, I, I, I…” with each “I” uttered it feels like a knife being plunged deep into Julio’s flesh, until the final death blow, the last “I”…CEO in-waiting, Bruce, says it the loudest, putting real weight behind the word “I”.
“You too Bruce” Julio’s knees go weak and he drops back into his chair.
The Game…why do good people play it, why do good people allow it to be played?
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” Edmund Burke.
The Game is destructive and generates no value whatsoever. It’s a tax that organizations have placed upon themselves by not investing in cultivating a positive culture.
Our dear uncle Peter told us “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast” and I am a firm believer in that statement. If you foster the right culture, your organization will be far stronger and adaptable to change than it would otherwise be (it will be naturally robust, resilient and agile).
It’s fashionable at the moment to talk about how to increase “Happiness” at work. How about instead we talk about the “Unhappiness” at work and actively address that (funnily enough, a by-product of doing that will probably be an increase in happiness at work).
If you desperately want to see change, but are waiting out in the freezing cold for your organization to start to truly invest in its people and its culture, then there is something you can do to affect the culture of your organization even as an individual.
The simplest and purest advice I can offer you, the individual, is “Be the change you wish to see in this world” Mahatma Gandhi
Whilst that may sound clichéd, that is the simplest path to a better culture with each one of us taking individual responsibility for our own actions. We can build a better culture one positive interaction at a time, but we must play our own individual part in making that interaction positive.
“Strive not to be a success, but to be of value” Albert Einstein
My hope in writing about this is simply to shine a light on this dark topic which is not acknowledged enough or discussed openly. Allowing it to live in the shadows of our lives is largely what gives it it’s power, so let us speak of it so it cannot hide anymore.
If you are in a decision-making role in an organization and are considering a true investment in your organizational culture and would like some unbiased guidance, feel free to get in touch and for the price of a coffee I would be happy to make some suggestions to help get you started, if you want to know more than that, it may cost you a croissant too 🙂 .
“I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s going down” Buffalo Springfield
If you believe you work in a No-Game culture I would love to hear about that in the comments section, so feel free to call out great examples of positive culture if you have them.