The Insidious Nature of Competing Corporate Myths
In Ben Gilad’s Business Blindspots, Gilad asserts that corporate myths are “like a Phoenix- once broken they rise again, unless the company has a process by which myths are continually shattered.” As an example, Gilad details the design accolades showered upon Ford Motor company after they introduced the first Ford Taurus (1986). As a result, Ford Motor Company briefly overtook GM as the industry leader in car design. The key word here is briefly, as Ford designers backtracked from such industry success soon afterwards. Gilad suggests this development was rooted in fear. That is, Ford designers failed to discard the long-standing corporate myth that Ford was to play second-fiddle to GM in design success.
Ben Gilad defines corporate myths as “those assumptions that companies hold about themselves”. Whether in reference to the competitive arena (as above) or to the workforce itself, companies suffer if such assumptions fail to carry positive connotations. Reinforcing positive employee beliefs is thus one way in which companies ensure that employee satisfaction – and hence employee productivity – remain robust. Not incidentally, its often a company’s own employees (!) who assert that “highly productive workers get promoted”, “management values diversity”, or that “there is no glass-ceiling here”. All are examples of corporate myth-making in play (whether true or not).
Such assertions may have little to do with objective reality. Rather, effective managers deploy such myths for the sake of business success (though they might not term them as such). As Marketing guru Steve Yastrow notes, “employee beliefs – the myths within your company – drive the actions employees take that create the customer experience and, ultimately, influence the beliefs and actions of customers.” Thus, achieving positive business results depends upon maintaining positive employee beliefs/myths.
Given that chain of causality, companies should determine what competing myths exist within their workplace as well. These are the less-than-glowing myths employees hold about their employer. Often flying below management’s radar, competing myths are also prone to self-fulfilling prophecy. Over time, competing corporate myths wear down company culture like age wears down an antique rug – slow but insidiously. As an example, Yastrow explains how….
There was a restaurant in my town (it has since closed), in which the servers all took a disinterested, aloof attitude towards customers. I could see right into the soul of this restaurant, getting a clear view of the shared myths among its employees: “Customers are a nuisance. This is a boring place to work. We don’t really value our jobs here,” etc. (link)
Yastrow’s Brand Harmony Results Model shows what happens when these kinds of competing myths flourish: employees act in ways that create a negative customer experience; customers don’t form compelling, motivating beliefs about the restaurant; customers don’t come back very often, and the restaurant loses money… and eventually closes.
Given Gilad’s assertion about myth-longevity, a systematic process to weed out employees that drag down morale may be in order. Simply restructuring a company leaves employees thinking the same way as before. As Yastrow notes, “A myth may or may not be true, but its believers don’t even think to ask that question; they just believe.”
Dispelling such myths also necessitates a closer examination of current company culture itself. That is, how do current assumptions, values, and/or processes exist that undergird such competing myths? Employees who constantly grumble a “boring place to work” are doing so for a reason. Management should take that as its que to remedy current work processes.
As W. Edwards Deming once remarked, ”the climate of an organization influences an individual’s contribution far more than the individual himself”. And yet, managers overlook why competing myths circulate in the first place. Good management requires good listening. Doing so is the first step toward creating a more productive and healthy company culture.