by Morag Barrett

Are you living in a corporate halloween nightmare?

Nov 12, 2015
IT LeadershipRelationship Building

Three steps to help ensure any ghosts and goblins are for trick or treating and do not take residence in your corporate culture.

Since moving to the US I have been continually amazed at how much Halloween is embraced here. Shops appear (as if by magic) mid-September selling costumes and accessories galore. The neighborhood is strewn with “festive lights and decorations,” grave yard scenes and cackling skeletons, spooky cobwebs adorn nearly every front door. The carved pumpkin displays have become more ornate and intricate and replaced the simple Jack-o’-lantern I remember carrying on a stick as a child.

It’s one of those holidays that you either embrace or don’t. Either way, it’s the one night of the year when ghosts, goblins and all things spooky rise up to scare the neighborhood. On October 31st doorbells will ring as the neighborhood comes alive with trick-or-treating antics… hopefully more treating than tricking! The costumes, home-made and store-purchased seem to get more elaborate each year, as does the size of the bag to collect the candy!

Company culture can be summed up as “how business gets done”.  Without care and attention a healthy culture can become toxic, a Hallowe’en nightmare that lasts more than one night a year. 

How do you know if you are living in a corporate nightmare?

Your life-force is being drained. In true vampire style if you find your job is draining you of your energy and will to live then it may be time to break out the garlic and start a counter attack. If you dread Monday mornings and feel chained to your desk then you need to find, or create, an environment in which you can thrive not wither away.

Your colleagues are like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In my book Cultivate. The Power of Winning Relationships I describe four relationship dynamics; Ally, Supporter, Rival and Adversary. The Rival relationship feels like you are working with both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, when it suits your Rival they are all for you and your ideas, and when it doesn’t they are against you. If you find yourself trying to guess who is turning up to your next meeting then you may need to invest time in nurturing and transforming that relationship.

You are surrounded by zombies. Or worse still, you’re the zombie! Most of us join an organization as a rock-star. Someone who is excited to be there, perceived as a team member who can add value and be fun to work with. Unfortunately, over time, that shine can wear off and we find ourselves ‘going through the motions’. Less of the walking dead and more like ‘working dead’. If you are stuck in the ‘zombie walk’ and not simply having an off day then things need to change. Despite what the t.v. shows would have you believe, it is possible to return to being a human and a rock-star!

There are monsters under the bed. I remember being afraid of the unseen monsters under my bed as a child. They kept me trapped under the duvet, unwilling to let my foot poke out for fear of being grabbed and pulled under the bed. While you probably don’t have beds at work, my guess is there are still implicit (and explicit) values and behaviors that keep you and your colleagues trapped. Behaviors that stifle creativity and innovation and stop you from stepping out of your comfort zone (or peek out from under the duvet) in case you get into trouble.

Horror stories take on a life of their own. Every organization has stories that are told, tales that bear some resemblance to what actually happened, and myths and legends that seem to take on a life of their own. What stories are being told around your watercooler? Which ones are the stickiest and refuse to die down? If it’s predominately the tales of bad news and woe then you may want to start weaving a new story and start to reinforce those stories with a happier ending!

3 antidotes to your Halloween nightmare

Halloween is one night of mischievousness, with November 1st, All Saints Day, the antidote to all things creepy that may have occurred the night before. The good news is that your workplace Halloween experience doesn’t have to be an all year nightmare.

In our work with clients around the world there are three immediate opportunities to move a corporate culture forward and make that it is not stuck in the dark night…

  • Take off the Halloween Mask. If you want a corporate culture built on trust, candor, teamwork then your actions need to demonstrate this. If your employees feel the need to wear a mask or costume to fit in and be successful then things need to change.  The change starts at the highest level of the organization – role modeling the expectations, not by a memo or motivational poster.
  • Change the Stories. Do your employees tell spooky tales about your company and of villain’s past and present that work(ed) there? Following a new-hire orientation do your veteran employees tell the new staff “how things really get done around here?” Stories are a powerful way to change corporate cultures.  Look for the opportunities to reinforce and share the good-news stories.  Tales that celebrate the successes and behaviors that are desired, rather than the toxic horror stories of the past.
  • Treat not Trick. Make sure that your reward processes (whether monetary, promotion, or trophies and symbols) recognize the “treat’s” you want reinforced and not the “tricks” that may keep you stuck.

Make sure you are not building or maintaining a Halloween nightmare, remove the masks, change the stories and reward the behaviors that will stand the test of time.

To all your little ghouls and goblins, have a fun Halloween!