Corporate Culture and The AVL Industry

There’s a pattern of overworked teams in the audio, video and lighting industry. From the manufacturers to systems integrators, the lunch conversations at industry trade shows is almost universally the same: too many projects, not enough time, too many quotas, not enough qualified leads. Some of this is certainly due to a business-as-usual approach that hasn’t shifted to the new digital marketplace, but much of it is because the expectations and deliverables of projects are not well aligned.

If culture is a set by the top of an organization and molded from the bottom up through employees, then the corporate cultural failures that have been well-known for years are most evidenced in the job-hopping of talent across the industry.

Ultimately, the end-user — such as churches in the faith market — experiences the brunt of this swing-and-a-miss in the form of projects coming in late and over-budget. For the most part, this is avoidable.

Telling It Like It Is

Issue #1: AVL industry employees are feeling overwhelmed by the diversity, complexity and poor time management prioritization of their current project workloads. They’re burdened to the point where they’re willing to either verbalize their situation to management or find a new place to work. No doubt, you’ve seen a lot of this over the last decade!

Issue #2: Key team members in management and leadership positions are unable to sustain high levels of performance on existing workloads when additional projects are added without additional resources to get the new work done. These additions are a combination of requests coming from managers and peers, as well as personally taking on more as projects span across multiple teams, wherein the proverbial left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

These issues actually define pain points that are indicative of the symptoms experienced by stressed-out and over-burdened staff. From my perspective, the causality is one of culture more than it is of task/time management. This is likely not noticeable by most of those impacted or the high-level managers who have oversight over large businesses. That does not say a culture is therefore “good” or “bad” — rather, it is a reflection of management’s goal setting practices and how/if feedback loops are present.

The phrase “culture always wins” is true — a healthy culture will be oriented towards clear boundaries, consistent communication, retrospective feedback loops and relational equity. An unhealthy culture will be task- or project-oriented with limited clarity around goals, defined outcomes or milestone progress. Whatever culture is exampled or allowed, wins.

This industry-wide cultural phenomenon I’m noticing is one of overburdened employees. However, that does not say a firm may have a “bad” culture, as these are often staffed by willing, highly engaged, empowered people largely enjoying their work and their teammates. One cannot simply define Issues #1 and #2 above as problems without clear solutions; they are opportunities to objectively – and subjectively – look at why people may be feeling overburdened.

How to Know If You Have a Problem

Are high-level managers surprised when they are receiving this kind of feedback? If so, it would align with what I’ve described. If not, then there clearly has been no progress made on identifying the issue and taking healthy steps to bring resolution and empowerment to team members — and you’re hearing about it again and again. If so, that would be indicative of an even bigger problem signaling a disconnect between senior management and the average AVL worker.

However, let’s assume this is a “new” (or previously lacked awareness at the higher management levels) issue. How does each person understand their role and purpose within their team/unit? There’s only one way: their boss told them. Any other definition of their role may be true, but irrelevant to their measurement/review by their boss — or it’s not true at all.

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Insert your business unit or team name below and work through this exercise:

INSERT YOUR BUSINESS UNIT OR TEAM NAME – What is the purpose of this specific business unit or team? Against what metrics is it measured? What goals exist beyond performance metrics?

It is common to have multiple teams and individuals working on specific goals. It is unlikely that any one team can fulfill the metrics for the entire business. Instead, they are part of an organization that has influence, reach and authority to ensure business goals are met. Whether or not each person on a team knows they have the influence, reach and authority of that organization behind them is reflective of how they’re managed.

To help with making the purpose, goals and metrics visible and understandable, we can use the following statements as methods for articulating it in such a way that it is easily understood by each team member:

We are here to…

This is the mission statement for your business unit or team. It is described only as “defining the why.”

We define success as…

Both through qualified and quantified metrics and analysis, we use this by then goals that are attainable and measurable.

We are better when…

These are the shared values. This goes beyond the data and speaks into the culture we want to create so that our team members are engaged, empowered, and fulfilled in their work.

Unless and until any business, business unit, department, team and individual can apply those statements, management will potentially be measuring the right things the wrong way, only some of the right things or the wrong things altogether. It is when these questions are answered that leaders can re-frame the conversation and put the right framework in place for a healthy culture that revels in clearly defined outcomes (not just roles) and easily manageable feedback loops through consistent communication.

Correcting Cultural Drift

Using the mission, objectives, goals, strategies and actions methodology, I would recommend reviewing all projects and having each employee re-prioritize their workload. I’d then have their managers review their revised workload and identify (to themselves) where there is a disconnect between what the manager expects and what the employee thinks they need to do.

Finally, it’s important that addressing systemic cultural issues should never be about pointing any fingers. It is what it is, but that doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be. Culture is made to be molded, and will in fact be shaped either because of intentional effort or from being left alone. The absence of intentionality is an automatic contributor to frustration, apathy and dysfunction. At the end of the day, this has led to a low repeat business cycle in the house of worship market, where churches are reticent to experience the angst of a firm’s dissonance in a future technology installation.

Beyond the scope of this article, there’s a very powerful model for understanding why employees choose their projects and priorities – it’s called “The Expectancy Theory” (read about it here – it’s fascinating).

Is your organization’s culture building unity or bleeding out talent? Share your views and opinions in the comments below.