If we follow corporate communication, we may screw ourselves

In every company, there are secrets under the surface that we suspect, but would like to believe that they are not true. If we allow corporate values or communication to navigate us instead of observing what is really going on, we can easily fall into a trap.

A high priority focus point at one of our clients is fostering work-life balance. Flexible working hours are emphasized during the hiring process, employees are taught how to create the balance for themselves, and it’s even drilled into the heads of their managers that it’s a core value of the company. The HR department wholeheartedly believes and communicates how much the company supports it.

Many employees believed this and made a huge mistake. If they had paid a little closer attention to exactly what was going on in the company, they could have made their lives a lot easier. The reality, as seen from the performance review documents, was quite different. We looked at some of the performance appraisal reports and found that those who participated in the work/life programme received lower performance ratings and no (or minimal) bonuses. In the written appraisals, they were mostly labelled as not being team players or sufficiently engaged employees. So the facts did not point in the direction that the company really cared about the work/life program. (Of course, they may have been less efficient and produced lower results, but again, this casts doubt on the legitimacy of the program.)

In another company, integrity was the flagship term: it was included in the corporate values  and even in their Performance Review System. But among the KPIs, the number of contracts signed was the indicator that management really cared about. But then who is responsible for integrity? HR? Why? Are they the ones who make the contracts? Management team members admitted that when they lost their first big contract because the salesperson put integrity first, he was let go. The poor guy thought the company was behind him, because that’s what he had read on the office walls.  

We do much better service for ourselves and our careers when we pay attention to what the company rewards, as opposed to what it communicates.

I have collected some from the web (without company name):

Value Monitoring
Diversity - Valuing and promoting diversity as a source of enrichment and success What recognition is given to managers who employ people with disabilities, women, minorities, etc. in their teams?
Responsibility - We act responsibly in the interests of our company, while being mindful of our social and environmental impacts Has anyone been fired for polluting the environment?
Entrepreneurial spirit Are those promoted who have, for example, 4 of their 5 ideas wrong and one good?
We deliver on our commitments What happens when someone promises something and doesn't deliver?
We trust and respect each other What happens to managers who micromanage their subordinates day in, day out?

The fact is that you can substitute quite a lot of other examples for the ones I’ve picked out.

What are the real objectives of companies?

Let us be under no illusion about what is really important for the company: to stay on top or get there, to maintain its market position and to assert its economic interests – at any cost. E.g.:

Defensive: if the firm feels that your actions could cause legal or economic discomfort (even in conditional mode), they will be out of the saddle as fast as they can.

Money: the firm is a business corporation created to make a profit for the shareholders. For them, not you! If they feel you value your own money more than theirs, you can get the cardboard box to wrap the family photo on your desk in.

Unconditional support: whatever the reason, you don’t clearly support the policy, you’ll find yourself on the street.

The appearance of success: companies like to “surround”  themselves with people who are successful, or at least appear to be. If you are negative or pessimistic, you’ll be replaced by someone who promotes a positive atmosphere. Companies fear a negative workplace climate because it can be contagious to the population as a whole.

Of course, no company puts these on their banner, because let’s face it, they sound pretty uninteresting. Mostly, it communicates good-sounding things to gain popularity with customers or employees. But these will never override the fact that the company wants to squeeze as much out of us as possible, and it wants us to work as hard as we can.

I’m not saying that corporate messages are deliberate misrepresentations, but they can at most be about where the company wants to go or what it considers to be the ideal. You could say that we are still at the beginning of the change and therefore there are no tangible results yet, but unfortunately most of the topics are not 1-2 years old, but at least 5-6, or even 10 in some places… In that time companies should have at least moved out of the origo if they really wanted to.

If you want to prevail, you have to be able to distinguish between intention and reality. If I could give you just one tip, I would suggest:

Pay attention to what key decision makers reward or value, even if they say the opposite, or outright deny or misrepresent.

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