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A Fish Rots From The Head Down
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By Rick Crandall, Ph.D.

You may have heard the expression that a fish rots from the head down. The top leader's job is to create the right internal climate for the organization. Organizational climate embodies the intangible feelings your people have about your organization. Research going back more than 30 years shows that you can measure a wide variety of attitudes of your workers, from job overload, to job satisfaction, to teamwork orientation. This area could be more accurately thought of as psychological climate since it really refers to the attitudes and psychology of the people in your company.

Tale of two cities

My company deals with two post offices located in adjacent towns. In one, most clerks are rather cool. As a large customer, we are often treated as an annoyance, someone who generates extra work. The staff at the other post office makes us feel special because we are a bigger customer. They have bent over backwards to get us refunds and help us save money. Even the clerks at the window are friendlier.

I have met the postmaster at the "sour" branch. He's demanding and aggressive, and has employees intimidated and defensive. One of his chief underlings is a bureaucrat who is more concerned with following the lines in the manual than with serving customers in line.

Perhaps this sort of behavior is to be expected from a monopoly, but here are two offices within a few miles of each other which are far apart in terms of customer service. I think it is very clear that the difference starts at the top.

It's your responsibility

You can't directly control the attitudes of everyone under you. But if you accept the fact that you are responsible, regardless, then you can focus on creating a desirable organizational climate.

When specific programs like TQM or customer service work, it's because your people buy into them and actually have a change of heart. Simply doing the technicalities of a specific program is not enough to change attitudes or hearts!

Too many leaders abdicate their responsibility for morale within their companies. You probably didn't grow up wanting to be a therapist, yet you control much of the psychological climate within your company. Good morale is contagious. Bad morale spreads even faster!

It's not appropriate to yell and intimidate. You need to work with your people in an atmosphere of respect. Your job is to support them in doing their jobs, which ultimately serves customers. You can't change all the external issues that create stress. But your people will appreciate being heard, respected, and involved, and will respond to your efforts to improve things.


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