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June 7, 2016





         This interview with Stephen Aarstol (see the link) is quite interesting, though not necessarily in a positive or inspiring way…


The lead statement immediately captured my attention: “You may be paying your employees for an eight-hour day, but the truth is most of them are doing about two-three hours of real work, and just taking all day to do it.” Continuing the thought, it is stated that “a ton of time is squandered” and “productivity is being faked.”

Interestingly, the solution for this highly dysfunctional business environment was to cut the employees workdays back to 5 hours. The challenge to the staff was, “With increased pressure to perform, employees had to teach themselves to be highly productive. If they couldn’t do it they would be fired…” The story goes on to demonstrate how the team accepted and rose to the challenge, and loved the results.

As I read through the interview, a single thought kept hitting me, how in the world did such a counter-productive business culture evolve? How could it come to the point where it was presumed that “most” of the employees were cheating the company out of 5 to 6 hours of productivity a day?

Of course, that thought was quickly replaced with several others. Where was the management team as this culture developed? How was it possible for there to be widespread faking of production records? Were performance reviews being regularly conducted, and if so, how was it that these people kept their jobs? How was it that the management team kept their jobs? How did the company even stay in business?

There is, of course no way to get to the bottom of those questions with regard to this company’s history. And, I’m certainly glad for them that they were able to turn it around and become the highly successful company they are today. However, I would like to consider some generic thoughts regarding caustic working environments that foster this type of widespread production loss and dishonest reporting.

I would like to believe that a company’s culture reflects the goals and expectations of its primary stakeholders and management team. Where there is a clearly communicated expectation of excellence, supported by a team of committed managers and leads, there will be a corresponding culture that is pervasively marked by excellence. For those who are unable or unwilling to perform to task, there are remedial steps that will be enacted to lead them up, or out.

It is also clear that a company’s stated culture must be aggressively nourished for it to be maintained long-term. For whatever reason, once the management begins to accept a downward slide in the ethics of any in their charge, the entire culture can become at risk. It could be that the overwhelming majority of the staff believes the culture’s goal of excellence and a fair working environment. Yet, they start to see the downward slide being left unaddressed, and then begin to become discouraged.

When such a slide is first recognized, there are a lot of questions and issues that must be faced. The first, and most primary is, “Who are we? This is a return to the beginning: the mission statement, the culture, and the resulting work environment. The hard questions follow, but none of those really matter without honestly facing the first.

Perhaps the key (if there even is such a thing) is a periodic gathering of the primary stakeholders, management with some key lead staff to consider this primary question afresh. Honestly address successes and failures and the means necessary to keep the culture fresh, true and inspired. If the actual prevailing culture is representative of the company, what is more important than its nourishment and maintenance? To the degree that it is not, what could be more important than addressing it?

Your thoughts?


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