Failing the Culture We Build is a Moral Injury

We as organization leaders are striving to build a high performing organization that might look like this:

High-Performance Cultures
Leaders are skilled, admired, and build organizations that excel at results and at taking excellent care of their people and their customers
Clear and compelling vision, mission, goals, and strategy
Core values drive the culture and are used in decision making
Committed to excellence, ethics, and doing things right
Clear roles, responsibilities, and success criteria, and strong commitment to engaging, empowering, and developing people
Positive, can-do work environment
Open, candid, straightforward, and transparent communication
Teamwork, collaboration, and involvement are the norm
Emphasis on constant improvement and state-of-the-art knowledge and practices
Willingness to change, adapt, learn from successes and mistakes, take reasonable risk, and try new things
Attributes of a High Performing Culture

There is a dark underbelly to aspiring to this, leaders who either fail to meet these standards or demonstrate hypocrisy and “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” attitudes. Organizations that aspire, can easily be hoisted by their own petard, and there is an excellent term for this “Moral Injury.”

Moral injury is understood to be the strong cognitive and emotional response that can occur following events that violate a person’s moral or ethical code. Potentially morally injurious events include a person’s own or other people’s acts of omission or commission, or betrayal by a trusted person in a high-stakes situation. For example, look at healthcare staff working during the COVID-19 pandemic who experienced a moral injury because they perceive that they received inadequate protective equipment, or when their workload is such that they deliver care of a standard that falls well below what they would usually consider to be good enough. This is causing a mass exodus of employees.

Give some thought to how to resolve moral injuries when they happen. Include them in your change plan and make them sustainable. They can happen, and when they do they will cripple your organization.

Mental Health and Culture

I’ve been thinking a lot today of this article by McKinsey by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Leanne Williams “Mental health in the workplace: The coming revolution.” It is a fascinating read, not just because we are in the midst of this pandemic which has certainly caused a lot of mental health issues, including depression, in many people. I know I’ve certainly been wrestling with it myself. I’m hopeful this issue remains on the agenda as I think it will provide long term benefits to culture.

I’ve written on how we need to build processes to support our employees in issues like burnout. Mental health is definitely a wicked problem, and will require systematic efforts to address. I am glad that the senior leaders I work with are thinking about this, and I look forward to deepening the conversation.

Burnout Needs a Systematic fix

It is more like being involved in a complicated love affair. One minute it’s thrilling, passionate, engaging. The next, it’s exhausting and overwhelming, and I feel like I need a break.
— Read on

Jennifer Moss, When Passion Leads to Burnout. HBR

It is the responsibility of leaders “to keep an eye on the well-being of their staff.”  Organizations whose staff feel unmotivated due to stress and burnout cannot aspire to achieve a culture of excellence. Our systems need to be designed to eliminate the root cause for stress and burnout.

Five mechanisms can be leveraged to improve organizational system design: 1) Eliminate organizational issues related to roles, responsibilities and authorities of employees, 2) establish a policy of transparency and effective “bottom-up” internal communication channel to permit employee contribution and recognition, 3) establish criteria for resource distribution, 4) establish a commitment to identify needed training and provide resources for the purpose and 5) establish a systemic feedback loop for analysis and improvement of employee motivation based on periodic measurement of employee motivational levels.

If employees know exactly what their tasks are, without sustained overload, with necessary resources and competence, and recognition for the task well performed, there will be no major system-induced reason for demotivation.

This gets to the heart of Deming’s use of psychology in his System of Profound Knowledge. Lean calls it Respect-for-People. This is all about ensuring our organizations are healthy places to work and thrive.