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Turning chalk to cheese

Last week I wrote about Chalk and Cheese and I felt that I may have ended the article on a bit of a pessimistic note. Being an optimist, that was not my intention, so this week I want to state that I firmly believe chalk can be transformed to cheese and to offer some suggestions as to how this can be done.

I also mentioned in that article that the service I received from Chalk could have been the result of the culture of the company or because the employee was disengaged or both. Let me give you a practical example of how culture works.

Many years ago I worked in a large firm which, as most large firms do, had a particular culture. Now there are both good and bad aspects of a culture. The positive part of the culture of the firm I worked for was a commitment to providing excellent service to our customers and our motto was “We take business personally”. My passion for satisfying customers and giving them excellent service was birthed in that culture.

It is interesting that while there was an overall corporate culture, each department also had its own culture and I didn’t fully realise it or identify it until years into my career there. I was in the Consulting Department and one day I went into our Business Information Centre to get something done.

That department provided us with information and also created any documents we needed, such as slides for a presentation or a cover for a proposal or a prospectus etc. That particular day, one of the graphic artists said to me: “You consultants are always coming in here demanding everything right away, as if your work is more important than anyone else’s.”

I had never realized that but when she said it, I saw the truth glaring at me. The culture in our department had somehow become one that said we were the most important department in the firm and therefore we began to assume a certain arrogance and an expectation that we had to be served first.

Having had the behaviour exposed, I was able to see the truth of it and made a conscious effort to change my thinking and then my behaviour followed. I was able to act against the culture of my department.

When you are steeped in a culture, it’s difficult to see what is driving your behaviour. For example I would describe Chalk (my company from last week) as set in its ways, unyielding, and unresponsive. Therefore that was how the person who dealt with me came over; her behaviour reflected the culture of the company.

So how do we become engaged? It’s a conscious decision and it comes when we recognise that the way we are performing our jobs is not bringing us joy. We tend to get joy when we are pursuing our passion. So then we need to identify our passion and bring that passion to our positions. As I say: “Until you can do what you love, learn to love what you do.”

If we have companies full of people who lived by that motto, we would see our cultures transformed and our businesses (and even the nation) become productive and competitive once again.

• Donna Every is the CEO of Arise Consulting Inc. which provides business and motivational training and advice to help individuals and organisations fulfill their purpose. She has written five books and has just released her second novel, The High Road.

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