ALC English Journal Topic December 2014

We are the Company

Many people blame “the company” for anything that goes wrong, and say “the company” should take action on important things. How can I help my people understand that we are “the company”, and inspire them to take action? 


Unfortunately the way most organizations are designed – as top-down hierarchies –  fosters this mindset. Instead of asking “How am I contributing to this problem and what can I do about it?” we see ourselves as helpless victims and wait for someone higher up in the organization to take action.

Usually when people say “the company” they mean “the executives”. Employees frequently underestimate their own power, and overestimate the power of executives to impact the business. While executives play an important role in leading their organization, they cannot achieve much without help. The conductor in an orchestra makes no music! Similarly, the CEO of a polymer company, working alone, can’t make even one ton of plastic, and a bank president doesn’t process a single financial transaction.

No Raindrop Ever Felt Responsible for the Flood. Many problems, as well as achievements, in organizations arise from the collective impact of countless actions by dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of individuals. This makes it difficult for people to perceive their own contributions to the results. Find ways to make the invisible become visible so that your people can see how their own behavior and actions matter. Here are a few ways to do that.

Track Your Collective Impact. Imagine if every employee cost “the company” an additional $1 per day through inefficiency, lost opportunities, or waste. Even a business with only 100 employees would lose $26,000/year. With 10,000 people the impact would be $200,000/month. And companies like Walmart, with 2,300,000 employees worldwide, would lose over two million dollars every day! Challenge your people to work together to take small actions that could add up to big changes. Track their individual contributions on a chart so that everyone can see how their efforts combine to make a meaningful difference overall.

Do a Group Experiment. Invite everyone on your team to make a small change in behavior that could transform your company’s culture in a positive way. For example, practice an “Attitude of Gratitude”, where each person promises to make at least three sincere positive comments to coworkers every day.  Make this promise easy to remember, and more fun, by giving each person three tiny rubber chickens – or other playful items – to carry in their pocket every day. Hold a weekly “Chicken Check In” where people share the impact that their experiment is having on the organization.

Asking Questions is a Powerful Way to Lead. Challenge team members to brainstorm ideas in response to the question “If we were totally responsible for the problems at our company, and we had unlimited power, what would we do?” You will almost certainly discover a few ideas that can be implemented immediately.

If we imagine that we are victims we’ll take no action. Even if we are powerless to change our company’s situation, we have the power to choose our attitude. Help your people realize that they have a choice in how to think and act no matter what “the company” does. Let them know that what they choose makes a big difference to you!

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