In business school, one of the first things you are taught is that the answer to almost every question is “It depends.” It’s not like there’s a course called “It Depends” but most case study discussions start with “Here’s the scenario and you could do this OR you could do this… it depends” and the class carries on with a debate about the different iterations of the two options.
Most assuredly, this type of thinking leads to the conclusion that there is some sort of choice on all actions in the workplace. I could merge with this company OR I could reinvest and grow. I could take this job running marketing OR move to Indonesia to open the new office. However, when it comes to corporate culture, I’m going to frame the “OR” somewhat differently.
In the book Good to Great, the “flywheel” became the mantra of organizational change and taught people – you can change things! You can take a good company with good results to a great company by starting with a small bit of momentum- the flywheel of inertia. Come on! You can do it! Be the flywheel… you’re a champion!
In the real world, you are not the flywheel to a workplace culture change. The imagery I conjure is of that scene in Indiana Jones where he is running in the tunnel trying not to get crushed by a boulder. The only thing “It depends” on is whether you are the boulder OR Indiana, and I’m here to tell you, unless you are the CEO, you are Indy.
Let’s progress this image and talk about happiness at work. We all have complaints- process, management, staffing, approvals. Whatever the specifics – each and everyone adds up to “the culture” of the organization. And your boss, however smart or un-smart they are in your view, operates within the confines of the company and culture that is in place right now. Despite all your wishes, hopes, prayers, temper tantrums and rantings, your boss got promoted to be your boss because they adhere to the fundamental tenets of the culture. There is a dirty secret that for some reason we all ignore: Companies don’t change, cultures don’t change and closer to home, spouses don’t change. Period. Boulder or Indy. Love it or leave it. Is that extreme? It could be, I’m not known for subtlety, so it probably is. I know you are thinking “But David, It depends, my company just brought in a new CEO because our results weren’t very good and now he’s hired all their former colleagues….” Boulder or Indy. You choose.
For this reason, I prefer to use a different phrase to guide my career, one that came from an inspirational poster I saw in an email: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Serenity, courage and wisdom. It’s so much better than “It depends.” For one- it’s cute, makes sense and fits in a meme. Second, it’s practical and leads to real analysis. And third and most importantly, I can write an entire blog about it.
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
In the context of corporate culture, here’s my take on that quote. Either YOU can change, or YOU can’t change– but the organization isn’t changing. Either YOU can accept it, or YOU can’t accept it. That’s true wisdom. It took me years of fighting against culture and politics and organizations to learn this lesson, but you don’t have to! You can learn from my mistakes and reap all the benefits with none of the pain! How good does that sound???! Awesome is how it sounds!
Through this lens I want you to think about your happiness at work and evaluate the organization you are in today – not how you wish it was, or it used to be, or it might could be. You either admire and strive to be more like the senior leaders in the company and have a lot of relationships with them, or you don’t. You either trust your boss, or you don’t. You believe in where the company is headed, or you don’t. Because you aren’t the CEO, no matter how hard you try to change it, it’s staying the same. Accept the things you cannot change.
What you can change is you, or at least the way you are within the confines of the company. You don’t have to look very far to see what works – there is a template of success to model: all of the people that are getting promoted. I didn’t know that then. What I know now is that it was my job to get in line with the vision of the CEO. Stay on the bus or get off. That choice was up to me. But change and hope were not part of the plan. At the core, I wasn’t happy because I wanted the culture to be “my culture, my team, my vision” but that wasn’t my job.
So the challenge to you and the way to increase your happiness is to have some quiet time, perhaps in a bubble bath, and reflect – can you accept the way things are at work? Is there a way you can change the way you interact with everyone to make you happier? Can you harness the skillsets that overlap and focus on developing those and expanding them? Can you help develop those in your team and your peers so that as they get promoted, you have more in common with the future leaders of the company? If the answer is “no”, then have the wisdom to know that the time has come to go and find your next adventure.
Ultimately, happiness at work is directly related to your place in the culture and work and your unhappiness is the conscious or sub-conscious realization that you aren’t a fit. Having the wisdom to know if you can accept it and having the courage to face it, will give you the serenity to be happy. Afterall, 40 – 60 hours a week, is a long time to spend unhappy, and that only depends on YOU.