The Cohen-Miller Report: A House Divided

by Emily Cohen, Cohen-Miller Consulting

On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech that included the famous quote, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” While Lincoln was talking about the U.S. Government, this same quote is very relevant in today’s corporate culture and is particularly evident within creative and marketing departments.

Often, an “us vs. them” mentality exists and is even nurtured within an environment that lacks role clarity and has poorly defined and documented processes. Leaders that aren’t empowered either personally or professionally to champion the needs of all levels of stakeholders – including those within their department and across the institution – often further enable a divisive workplace. The “them” that is often blamed by creatives are clients or marketers. The “them” are the root of all evil (lack of clear direction, indecision or an overall lack of “taste”), which in turn, result in endless revisions and miscommunications. The “them” are human resources, facilities and IT, who are seen as building roadblocks in the creative process (generic and lengthy performance reviews, cubicle, florescent lighting and firewalls!). This vicious cycle becomes a never-ending process of blaming each other, rather than embracing a more pro-active, solutions-based approach.

Many employees that are “home-grown” and who have been with an organization for a long time, simply “give up” and do their jobs with a minimal of passion or drive. Alternatively, new employees are increasingly frustrated by the overall negative culture and, in order to “survive” quickly learn to compromise and play along without making waves. Sound familiar?

The rare few try to make impactful change and accept that even incremental “wins” are better than giving up. These rare few–the visionaries and change agents–build a strong, solid case for a cultural revolution from within. They look deep within the organization to uncover the core problems that divide the organization and then recommend best practice solutions that slowly build trust and cross-functional collaboration. A visionary doesn’t even have to be at the highest level of leadership – they can be those at junior levels that seize improvement opportunities and take risks.

Change-agents need to find common ground, develop solutions and identify and sell the benefits of change so that everyone can relate and embrace a more solutions-based productive environment. Leaders should encourage a collaborative work environment, where cross-functional teams are encouraged to work together to develop “win-win” solutions that truly benefit everyone, building processes that work across silos. The end-goal? To move from an “us vs. them” environment to an all-for-one and one-for-all approach. Rather than a house divided, build a house unified around common goals.