What Moldy Oranges Can Teach About Company Culture

mesh bag of moldy orangesI love to eat oranges. And that’s why I never think twice about buying them by the bagful. Just a few weeks ago I picked up another bag of fresh oranges. Upon getting home, I quickly downed a couple and threw the remaining bag into the pantry.

The next morning I kissed my wife goodbye, drove to the airport and left on a four-day business trip. When I returned, I opened the pantry door and was hit with the overwhelming stench of mold. I wondered, “What the heck is moldy? Is it bread? What’s in here?” Picking up the bag of oranges, I noticed that most had turned a sickening shade of green. I quickly closed the bag up and threw them away.

Apparently, an orange in the bottom of the bag had already been moldy, and I had mistakenly left it there. In a few days, the mold spread from one orange to the next like a virulent disease.

How Mold Can Infect Your Business

I’ve noticed over the years that this same offensive transformation can happen with people, too. For instance, if you have an employee who’s not performing up to your expectations or not reflecting your company’s values, he or she can negatively affect other employees.

To be sure, colleagues may witness that this employee is not living the company’s culture and think, “I’m living the culture; I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Why doesn’t he have to? She’s getting paid the same as me, so why should I work hard?”

Over time, this thinking spreads through your business like mold on oranges, infecting everyone. Productivity slips, revenue per employee slips, and soon you have an underperforming, unproductive organization. I have witnessed some companies devolve so quickly from this affliction, they almost go out of business. The entire business turns “moldy.”

This plunge can happen because the leadership tolerated the nonconforming person. In other words, they weren’t willing to make the tough call to throw that rotten orange out of the bag. You must let underperforming people go sooner rather than later, so as not to impact your business negatively in the long-term.

Preventing Mold By Protecting Culture

What can you do to prevent mold from growing on your company?

First, you have to live and breathe your culture, your core values, at all levels of the organization. If someone isn’t living your culture, you have to call him out, regardless of how strong that person might be in a job.

Secondly, you have to evaluate how well someone fits his seat. Does each person get it? Does he want it? Does he have the capacity to do his job?

How to Analyze and Measure Fit with the Culture

Companies that use EOS® leverage a tool called GWC™. Having every person in the right seat is essential to being a great organization and GWC enables you to make those proper placements. GWC stands for Get it (understands all of the ins and outs and requirements of the job), Want it (believes and behaves as if the job is meant for him or her), and Capacity to do it (the time, energy, intellect, reach, curiosity, etc.). These are the three indicators that tell you if a person is operating within his or her real skill set. 

To ensure that your people truly fit your Core Values, the People Analyzer™ will help you cut through the complexity. The People Analyzer uses a system of pluses and minuses to rate compliance to your core values. For example, if one of your values is to act with integrity, you would evaluate your team members like this:

+ He/she exhibits the core value most of the time.
+/– He/she displays the core value some of the time.
– He/she doesn’t exhibit the core value most of the time.

Each company will need to establish a bar over which employees must persist to travel on this journey. For example, a company with five core values will likely have a bar of three +s and two +/–s … but no –s.

Be decisive if you find you have a people issue. That’s when you employ the three-strike rule.

Strike one: Meet with the person and share at least three specific examples of where he is underperforming in his role or not reflecting your values. Note that no minuses can be accepted or tolerated. You must get an unequivocal yes on each of G, W, and C. Meet again in three to four weeks to discuss your progress.

Strike two: In your next meeting, review progress. If your employee is above the bar, great! Most people step up when issued a challenge to improve. A small percentage will still struggle.

If you’ve done your strike one and strike two meetings well, one of two things happens before strike three, letting him go:

  • He steps it up and stays above the bar.
  • He leaves the company because he knows what’s coming and doesn’t want to get fired.

Keeping Moldy Oranges Out of Your Company

Think of these tools—the GWC, the People Analyzer, and the three-strike rule—as techniques for keeping your business free of moldy oranges. Remember, it only takes one moldy specimen to infect your entire organization.

Next Steps

This article originally appeared on the Clear Horizon Leadership blog on November 2, 2016.

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