7 min read

Are norms really normal? On Management #39

"norm (n) - a principle of right action binding upon the members of a group and serving to guide, control, or regulate proper and acceptable behavior" - Merriam Webster
Neon sign, not lit, white letters, blue and red background, "Normal Heights, Adams Avenue Business District"
Normal Heights, by Allen Ferguson, CC BY 2.0

Welcome to your extra hour of sleep.  Or reading!

We talk about innovating, disrupting and culture.  Yet, it’s apparently, um, normal for workplaces to be dominated by white guys named John.  Or Jim.  wth.

On this month’s audio, CV Harquail, author of Feminism:  A Key Idea for Business and Society, talks with me about norms that limit our vision about what work can be.

Also, good things to read, watch, and listen to.

Thank you for inviting me to your inbox.

Healthy norms

If you’ve been reading for a while, you might remember Jason Li’s drawing of my hierarchy of needs at work.

Don’t your team members deserve to be able to make these statements?

(Spoiler alert:  everyone does.)

Leaders can set habits and actions — norms —  to make these statements into truths.  

A limited set of examples:

  • There’s a bounded workday, people take their PTO; we are not always on.
  • Team members and managers work together to articulate reasonable individual and team goals.
  • Because unspoken rules exclude, we aim to clearly state what it means to belong.
  • We share credit.
  • We help people grow — even when growth means that people may move on.
  • We give leaders time to grow and develop junior staff members.

What habits, processes, actions can you set into motion that meet the needs of your team members, and contribute to flourishing?

Let’s go to the dictionary

Thanks, Merriam-Webster.

Feminism has a branding problem

CV Harquail and I talk about the workplace:  popular culture, media, and reality. And our aspirations for a better future:  how can we create teams and workplaces where people flourish?

CV’s new book Feminism:  A Key Idea for Business and Society (Indiebound) (library), is meant to inspire good questions and conversation about persistent workplace norms, and to expand our vision of what’s possible.

Screenshot of Soundcloud player, "Feminism Has A Branding Problem, with CV Harquail: On Management #39

Relevant to our conversation:

CV Harquail has taught leadership and organizational change at the Darden Graduate School of Business, University of Virginia, and entrepreneurship and lean startup methods at Stevens Institute of Technology.  She received her PhD in Leadership and Organizations from the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan.  You can find her on Twitter @cvharquail.

If you’re Deaf, hard-of-hearing, or otherwise need a transcript, send me a note and I’ll be sure you get one.

Disclosures:  our conversation was edited for clarity and length.  CV is a friend, and supporting member of On Management.

A useful idea:  articulate your norms

Now streaming on NYC subway kiosks, The MTA Rules of the Ride.  When 5.4 million people cross your threshold every weekday, a code of conduct can’t hurt.

Most would work for any office.  (Unless graffiti fits the aesthetic.)

Photo of NYC subway rules, "stay off tracks. No graffitti. Be respectful. Spitting, abusive, disruptive or hateful behavior will not be tolerated..." Blue background, yellow and white text

To be clear, and maybe a little bit pedantic, “be respectful” is more value than norm.

A workplace example, one clean desk norm from Aesop.  (Others are here.)

Screencap from Wall Street Journal, paper version (lol) headlined, Clear Your Desk.  Text linked to photo.

The beauty of boldly stated norms:  expectations aren’t secret — they’re not code that’s obvious only to the chosen.  People have a better shot at knowing where they stand.

A truly inclusive workplace requires workplace norms that are safely accessible to all.

A question

What’s your approach to discussing organizational norms with colleagues and team members?

November 10:  #livetweet9to5 with a fun group

One pathway in my conversation with CV Harquail led to the idea of what “flourishing” might look like at the office.

In my mind, an example:  the transformed workplace at the end of the 1980 film 9 to 5, which included on-site childcare, accessible workstations, job sharing, and schedules and part-time work shaped around people’s family obligations…

Basically, imo, a workplace aligned with the feminist business practices CV describes.

40 years later, this workplace is vexingly elusive.  In fact, “9 to 5” is no longer a norm for many of us when emails arrive around the clock.  The gender wage gap is persistent.

If you’ve never seen the revenge fantasy-slash-comedy 9 to 5, it’s a treat.

On November 10, join me, and some of my favorite people on Twitter (and IRL) to watch — or re-watch — this eerily still relevant film:

“Take a beat and circle back”

This Samantha Jayne piece evokes both 9 to 5 and Anna Weiner’s upcoming Uncanny Valley.  (I loved Uncanny Valley, and will review it later.)

h/t for the video:  The Browser.

Silence as a workplace norm

The toxic power of silence as a norm is illuminated in two new books, both by journalists about their experiences reporting on #MeToo stories:

  • Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s She said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement (Indiebound) (library)
  • Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators (Indiebound) (library)

Both describe how institutions — workplaces —  and professional networks worked together to silence women’s allegations of workplace sexual harassment, assault, rape, and more.

Farrow’s personal story about his experience at work adds another layer of heartbreak to his tale.  He worked, wanting to believe that his managers at NBC supported him.

Instead, he alleges, they were working against him to silence his reporting.

Three good pieces:

NB:  Farrow read his own audiobook, which I loved.  (Twitter wasn’t sure about Ronan’s reading.)

And, a few things by my colleagues and/or On Management readers:


Thank you so much for reading!

Supporting members, thanks so much for contributing your moral support —  and financial support — to my newsletter.  Coming soon:  an update, the audio transcript, and a reminder about November 14 Office Hours.


Anne Libby

P.S.  Join me for Performance Review Basics, a briefing

Team leaders, if you’re not comfortable leading performance reviews, you might feel like we’re moving into the least wonderful time of the year.

I’ve got some ideas that will help.

Next up:   Performance Review Basics, in early 2020.  

We’ll talk about what you can do now to prepare, and ways you can leverage your existing management routines to stay on track year round.

My last briefing was Manager as Coach.  Briefings offer basic, essential information about a topic, basics on key skills, and space to ask your own questions, live.

Photo by Christina Morillo

Take a beat and circle back…”