How to Avoid a Dilbert Culture

The famous comic strip, Dilbert, is a brilliant look into the dysfunctional world of business, where apathy and incompetence reign.

It’s so popular because readers everywhere see reflections of things and situations in this cartoon culture that resonate in their own business world.

Most of us laugh at the cartoon. But when it happens for real in our business culture, it’s not funny at all.

Business culture is a complicated thing but the simplest way to define it is,  “The ongoing behaviors we allow from each other”.

Here’s what  one of these “allowing behaviors” might look like…

Everyone is supposed to be ready to start at their desk, office, or work station at 9:00 am.

But, at 9:00 am, people are in the parking lot, hanging up their coats, coming up the elevator, or getting a coffee so that the workday in this culture actually starts between 9 and 930.

If nothing is done about this, it becomes the norm – the expected behavior.

This means that if a meeting is supposed to start at 9:00, the chances of people being on time isn’t good – so the meeting will start anywhere between 9:00 and 9:30.

And, here’s where it leads to a slippery slope

Because if we give ourselves permission not to be on time for one thing, we are UNCONSCIOUSLY giving ourselves permission not to be on time for other things – such as the deadline for a project, a client meeting, a business event, submitting a report, etc.

So, in this culture, tardiness becomes a general and accepted norm. It’s the beginning of a Dilbert culture which allows non-performance – which by default, is then rewarded.

As long as there are no negative or punishing consequences, this general tardiness will never change. The culture moves towards the lowest level of mediocrity that everyone is prepared to tolerate and allow from each other.

To change this, the entire management team must agree, individually and collectively, that they need to start measuring and reinforcing the appropriate behaviors AND disallowing the inappropriate ones. In other words, effectively identifying and dealing with non-performance.

That’s because management completely controls the business culture. Non-managers don’t control it.

Instead, they reflect what is “measured and reinforced” back to the managers. This ongoing reflection then defines the business culture.

So, if you’re a manager and you don’t want any Wallys, dogberts, and pointy-haired bosses, take control of your culture simply by measuring and reinforcing what you want.

Do not leave it to chance.