Cubicle Mind is an unfortunate and, by my observation, widespread malady in corporate America. And even though I call it Cubicle Mind, the condition can be found in big fancy offices too. I have both seen it and experienced it. Before I talk about a cure, let’s talk prescription. A person may have Cubicle Mind if one or more of the following are evident:
- Feeling of lack of meaningfulness and impact in daily work activities.
- Most of the day spent answering email.
- Most of day is spent in meetings to follow up on actions from previous meetings or to listening to/giving information that is of primary relevance to those providing it.
- The person cannot describe how 80% of their daily actions contribute to one or more strategic initiatives for their team/division/company
- More than an hour a day is spent in bitching or commiseration about “how bad things are around here” or “lack of leadership.”
- Hours spent daydreaming of being somewhere, anywhere else and a surreal sense of pleasure to “have to be out for a doctor/dentist/plumber appointment.”
- Feeling of dread when walking into the building in the morning.
- Feeling guilty about taking a lunch lasting over an hour, spending time finding out about the industry or discovering ways to sharpen needed skills.
Others might call these symptoms of “lack of engagement” or “having the wrong people on the bus” or describe the people as “underperforming.” Fundamentally, Cubicle Mind is a state where people are going through the motions and tolerating where they are. They do the minimum and sometimes a little more –and sometimes a little less.
If that’s the disease, then what’s the cure? Well there are really two pieces: the procedure that needs to be done to assist the sufferer and the part that the sufferer needs to do themselves. The part that needs to be done for the sufferer rests in the hands of their manager. Yes we can say Cubicle Mind is partly the responsibility of the boss. I can and do prescribe many strategies and behaviors for leaders to better connect with and lead their teams. But there is another side of the coin. The sufferer (and indeed the Cubicle Mind is no fun at all) has responsibility and needs to take action too.
The following prescriptions are then focused on what the sufferer of the Cubicle Mind can do to improve their condition.
- Decide to bloom where you are planted. If the situation (job) is not too terrible to leave or economically does not make sense now, then decide you will be the very best you can be right here, right now.
- Link your daily work to key initiatives of the company. Evaluate yourself based on the amount of time you spend on these activities.
- Related to #2, ask your boss the following question: if I had to do or achieve one thing this year to make the biggest impact on the team or organization goals, what would it be?
- Don’t get mad/hurt/defensive if your boss or others don’t think your idea or suggestion was great. You can’t just take your ball and go home in a huff. That’s what kids do. Not all mangers are great at helping people develop their ideas. They may just say “I don’t get it” or “that’s not going to work.” So what? Ask some questions to find out what would make it a good idea.
- Act like you are leaving a legacy. In one of my old jobs I would have bouts of Cubicle Mind. One of the most productive (and happy) periods came when I started looking for my next job. I did not have anything lined up, but I was actively interviewing and researching new positions. AND I made myself a promise to go out on the HIGHEST note. So I started working on the absolutely highest stuff. I made more impact on others by not getting upset at their minor failures. I was not concerned with “busy work” and only focused on the high value opportunities.
- Be the entrepreneur in your company. Are there other ways to leverage what the organization does and apply it to new industries or applications?
- Think like your CFO. Didn’t see that one coming did you? Let’s say your company operating margin (for fellow liberal arts majors that’s what’s left over after cost to make a product and wages is spent) is 50%. That means for every $2 of sales, the company gets to keep $1. Another way to say it is that for every dollar wasted, a company needs to sell $2 more. Any ideas on how to save dollars? Any ideas to sell more to the existing people/accounts your company is already selling to?
- Think like your CMO (chief marketing officer or whoever most involved in marketing). Didn’t see that one coming either? Like finances, the customer or brand experience is critical, but it is very hard to quantify. What ways can you think of to connect with your company clients in fun, enthusiastic and delightful ways?
- Think like your CHRO (chief human resource officer or whoever takes on the HR function most). Are there ways in which you can aspire to better work with others in your team, help to develop others, reduce inappropriate conflict, get great people into the organization, or transfer essential knowledge from experienced people to less experienced people?
- Think like your CEO. What things that are likely on their mind? Almost universally the common thinking by top leaders is how to make the organization and its offerings be better, faster or cheaper. What say you??