In our last post, we left you with the question of how you get everyone focused in one direction within your organization. How do you get your workforce to engage in their work, and creatively, and proactively solve the issues that move your company and everyone in it forward?  

As you work to help your workforce find commonalities and create a culture that motivates unity, you must take specific steps to ensure you’re successful. To start, you must burn the ships.  

Burn the Ships

Burn the Ships” has become synonymous with total commitment to such an extent that there is no going back. The Spanish Conquistador, Hernando Cortez, was famed for his arrival from Spain in Mexico, commanding his soldiers and sailors to burn their ships. They would return with the treasures of the Yucatan in Aztec vessels, or they weren’t returning at all.  

His command removed failure as an option. He required all-in, total commitment. Cortez and his small regimen toppled the mighty Aztec empire in 1519. They were victorious against all odds because there was no plan B. It was either succeed or die.  

Leaders, take a lesson from Cortez.  

If your organization is going to trust you to embrace the new vision and behaviors you committed to, you need to demonstrate dramatically that there is zero tolerance for the old way of operating. The terms which formed the ceasefire and created the opportunity for lasting peace are your all-in call to commitment. Leaders must act out daily their support and adherence to this commitment. “Burning the Ships” means every decision made supports the new vision and principles. Not doing so leaves employees with empty promises, distrust, and betrayal once again.  

Steward Stafford Quote
“Micro-managing creativity kills it. To encourage creative brilliance, foster an atmosphere where it can thrive and then step out of the way and let it happen.” ~ Stewart Stafford

These decisions are hard. You are under a microscope of scrutiny. Trust must be built quickly for the alliance to take hold, so there is no room for weakness. Any individual that encourages a toxic work environment by violating the agreed-upon values and principles must be dealt with swiftly. Some will self-select out as they no longer feel they belong and find somewhere they do. If not, business counseling is one option, but termination is necessary if changes don’t materialize quickly.

Star performers who continue to poison the work environment are not exempt. You may feel “we can’t afford to lose him/her,” but the truth is, you can’t afford to keep them. Lack of action communicates that numbers are more important than people and will destroy the organization. The subsequent lack of engagement, poor production, and ultimately resignations will make the loss of their contribution look trivial.

No, these “old ships” must burn to emphasize the commitment to the alliance with your workforce and send a message that this new way of working is not just the policy of the month. The action demonstrates that who we are as a company, as a community, can’t tolerate toxic people or a toxic environment.  

But it doesn’t stop there.  

It’s not just about weeding out the bad behavior. For the new culture to take hold and avoid backsliding into the old norm, the new behaviors must become part of the company’s DNA. Systems and processes are the mechanisms for institutionalizing the softer side of the business. For management, performance reviews are that mechanism.  

The challenge here is to define cultural management performance metrics that carry sufficient weight in determining promotions and compensation that leaders place as much emphasis on how they manage as what they manage. Like business KPIs, cultural KPIs must be measured and evaluated regularly, or they will lose their value and destroy the attention managers place on their achievements.  

Take action to re-engage your dis-illusioned workforce
Take action to re-engage your disillusioned workforce. Demonstrate dramatically that there is zero tolerance for the old way of operating.

If you aren’t willing to burn the ships, you need to look at your priorities. You must focus on the truth and what’s motivating you. It’s time to burn the ships. No more riding the fence and keeping one foot in the past.

Things are going to be different and it’s time to go all in.  

If you’re ready to take the next step, take a moment to take our Organizational Leadership Quiz. This will provide a baseline for where your organization stands. It’s hard to create a path to success if you don’t know where you are.

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