Ideal Outcomes

How Much Pain Can You Take?

by Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc.

I was sitting in a conference room recently for a status update meeting with a couple of senior executives at a major construction company. Like many organizations they had developed a hybrid work environment and gone through a period of adaptation. They had experienced some turnover and found that hiring the right people had become a little more difficult. But it was nothing dramatic. They felt they were in a reasonably good place, all things considered.

But the more questions I asked the more apparent it became that there were looming issues with the overall corporate culture.

I asked them flat out why they weren’t addressing these concerns and had not put as much effort into strategic culture initiatives as they had their operational initiatives. Why hadn’t they done something about the people side of the business?

Their answer: The pain’s not great enough.

They had conducted some pulse surveys and discovered employee satisfaction wasn’t as high as it had been, but this early sign of a potential culture crisis wasn’t ringing alarm bells.  It wasn’t even on their radar. It simply wasn’t bad enough to proactively consider tackling it. They seemed willing to wait until level of engagements, productivity, and profit plummeted.

Like many companies they had a certain pain tolerance. And I had to point out that without being treated the pain was not going to go away by itself and would only get worse. Compare it with a medical condition where you end up needing surgery instead of medication, I told them, thinking about the football injury I’d sustained playing for my college team. To my regret I powered through it until surgery was required, and ended my season.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard corporate leaders say the pain’s not great enough. It’s what I call the pain gap—the difference between the time pain should be treated and when procrastinators (for whatever reason) get around to treating it.

What can you do to make sure this doesn’t happen to you?

Hear the voice of the employee

First, listen to the voice of the employee. Most companies today constantly perform pulse surveys with their customers. You can’t get off the phone with a customer service representative without being reminded several times that there will be a follow-up survey to ask about the quality of your interaction.

The voice of the customer is heard. Organizations have got it figured out for customers, but not necessarily for employees. Why not put a bit of effort into asking for and listening to the voice of the employee?

Don’t delay

If you don’t handle seemingly little issues today they may well grow into big issues tomorrow. And it’s going to be a lot more expensive—and painful—when you get around to it. Be alert when minor issues arrive and nip them in the bud.

Talk with your direct reports

Take action and talk to every one of your direct reports about the relationship you have with them and the relationship they have with their work. It’s a connection that cannot be underestimated. Probe to discover if there are any broken bridges that need to be rebuilt.

Open your eyes to potential blind spots

Get the key stakeholders and representation across the organization in a room for a couple of hours and assess if there are any blind spots in your thinking. You can’t afford to say that the pain is not extreme enough to warrant that kind of action. Don’t be afraid of what you might hear. If you don’t like it—it’s probably something that really needs to be addressed.

Align the ongoing experience

Your employee and customer experience processes need to be aligned with your strategy and your culture, and as you shift and change, they need to be revisited. Such alignment requires intentional planning and ongoing monitoring.

As I wrote in my book, Culture Spark: 5 Steps to Ignite and Sustain Organizational Growth, “The right processes drive engagement, which in turn helps attract and retain the right people. And nothing happens without the right people to make it happen.”

How prepared are you to check your culture before it becomes painfully deficient? A good place to start is to download our free Culture Readiness Tool.