How many times a day do you hear someone refer to “the real world” when they are trying to get someone to see an opposing point of view? Of course, everybody’s “real world” is different, so the new-speak translation of this line is really more like “you should really think more like me.” My world is usually a pleasant place to live, but I’ve been looking for this real world according to others and sometimes it is not a very pleasant place. Life has its little minefields (an excellent analogy) since you never know when or where problems will arise. It is always better to locate and defuse the mines rather than to find them by stomping around until they explode. Whether you are a corporation, a manager or an individual, when reality kicks your butt, you have two choices: defend yourself or pretend that it didn’t happen. You are responsible for the outcome either way.
Social Media Branding Blindness
A rigid brand image which ignores reality and conforms uniformly to an unswerving militaristic corporate model reflects something about the underlying culture. Adding social media to a conservative branding approach can be a little scary. “What if somebody says something negative?” to which I answer, “How can you stop them?” If you don’t believe me, look at the successful 12-year run of walmartsucks.org or the Facebook page I Hate Microsoft. In May of last year, one of the boldest presentations on doing it right was at the Recruiting Innovation Summit when Larry Nash from Ernst & Young gave a presentation on recruiting college students using social media. The first key element of his program was in identifying the stereotypes that had to be overcome, such as a list which included “the company is too conservative.” Then they had the courage to make a decision to adopt rules which allowed adverse comments on their Facebook page…to which I add my thunderous applause. Where better to negate negativism than to avoid the appearance of censorship. Of course, this took a bit of courage not usually found in such a traditionally conservative industry and I imagine there were some reservations from the legal eagles, but it provided an opportunity to respond quickly and soon college students knew that they would get fast answers to their questions. This alone gave this brand authenticity by showing that it wasn’t just another marketing creation. People have become so skeptical of glitzy marketing ploys that it has become difficult to form positive images in the minds of consumers and candidates. As one crusty old marketing genius once told me, “You can’t gift-wrap a turd!” Probably a more politically correct, less colloquial phrase would be “You can’t camouflage reality with shiny stuff.”
The Culture of Management by Executive Edict
Most organizations do not really adopt the idea that all knowledge is centered in the top boxes of the organization chart, however the ability to foster a “listening” culture in search of reality means that the top bosses must let ideas percolate up to the top without being subjected to intermediate filtering. Within reason, radical new ideas must be given the chance to be heard and evaluated. Likewise, grievances and complaints should have the opportunity to be addressed regardless of source or perceived validity. If we have learned anything in our attempts to develop a diverse culture in the workplace it should be that discrimination does not have to be real in order for serious problems to occur. Listening and identifying problems is the only way to form viable solutions. It can be assumed that the best corporate vision comes from the top simply because leaders often have better insight to available resources, obstacles and profitability than the rank and file. This does not mean that input from the organization is unimportant. Deidre Campbell outlined in a Harvard Business Review article several key points about the culture of great organizations and among them is making an investment in employees and the recognition that culture is critical to talent retention. When I think of the word “culture” the analogy of “yogurt” comes to mind: Often the good stuff is on the bottom and it must be stirred to the top and spread throughout for the best results.
While we all have a breaking point with regard to negative feedback, to ignore the reality of the negative is to pretend that you are perfect the way you are…and you probably aren’t. One of the most difficult things for anyone to do is to find a lens that projects an image of how you want to appear without the filters imposed by others. Some input will be harsh, some will be painful and some will cut deeply. To ignore reality in favor of your utopian viewpoint means that you want it to get better without doing the hard work necessary to get there. Sometimes it IS your fault that you are where you are. Yes, there are hostile work environments and toxic bosses, but if the problem is internal to you it will never be possible to rise above the fray. On more than one occasion when I have been counseling job seekers on their unsuccessful efforts, I listen empathetically about the evil black hole, the impersonal ATS systems and uncaring recruiters and then ask “How many people in your network have you called today?” Silence…dead silence. “How many resumes have you sent out today?” answered by whimperings about the total uselessness of it all. Sometimes a little tough love is needed to make the breakthrough in an honest point-counterpoint analysis. Here is what might be wrong…here is how to fix it. You don’t make the bad stuff go away by ignoring advice from those who care about you and would probably help any way they can. You can’t assume that your management is only out to use you if you have not done your best and faced total reality. You will never have a shortage of potential enemies, so it is not advisable to treat your friends as if they are enemies.
So, can you handle the truth? Are you paranoid or are they really out to get you? Dealing with the truth, no matter how painful, will trump putting your head in the sand every time. Life is hard enough without ignoring events that need to be analyzed to set things straight. Addressing a problem head-on is not a guarantee that sunny days are on the horizon, but the alternative is to do nothing and lock-in the affirmation of the negative which is always going to be there anyway.